December in Costa Rica: Weather, What to Pack, and What to See

Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica

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For travelers who enjoy nature, adventure, gorgeous beaches and rainforests, and wildlife encounters, Costa Rica is a fantastic place to visit. This Central American country is an amazing option for those who are looking to get away from the cold winter that some countries experience during December. The country's dry season, from late November through April, is the most popular (and expensive) time to visit. Visitors will find not only some of the most favorable weather of the year but many fun events ranging from holiday festivals with music and dazzling lights to horse parades with drinking, dancing, and locals dressed as cowboys.

Costa Rica Weather in December

December is the middle of the winter season for most of the northern countries. However, Costa Rica experiences some of its best weather of the year—just in time for the Christmas holidays. In most of the country, the rainy season is officially over by the middle of November, when the climate gets a bit colder, windier, and less muggy, providing gorgeous clear skies and sunny days. This happens in much of Central America during this time of the year.

  • San José: 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius) / 66 degrees Fahrenheit (19 degrees Celsius)
  • Puerto Limón: 84 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius) / 69 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius)
  • Alajuela: 81 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius) / 63 degrees Fahrenheit (17 degrees Celsius)
  • Heredia: 77 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius) / 66 degrees Fahrenheit (19 degrees Celsius)

Areas around San José are relatively dry during December, receiving around 1.6 inches of rainfall, but other regions like Manuel Antonio on the Pacific side and Limón on the Caribbean side receive much more. The latter can receive upwards of 12 inches throughout December. The country as a whole is quite humid, with humidity occasionally exceeding 88 percent in many areas.

What to Pack

Costa Rica is a small country, but it's also home to 12 different microclimates, which can make packing tricky. As a general rule, casual attire is OK throughout the country. May through November is the rainy season in Costa Rica, but it can still rain any time of year, so bringing a raincoat or poncho is a good idea. You'll also likely want to pack hiking boots or comfortable walking shoes, insect repellent, sunscreen, and a sun hat.

If you're spending a lot of time on the beach, a few other items that are helpful to include:

  • Water shoes
  • Rash guard
  • Beach towel
  • Dry bag

December Events in Costa Rica

Costa Ricans love a good celebration, and there are tons of cool events that you can take part in during the month of December. On Christmas Day and the week after December 25, most of Costa Rica erupts in celebrations with fireworks, fruits, and festivals. Many Tico (native Costa Rican) children celebrate Santa Claus, and traditional food is everywhere.

  • Festival de la Luz: This event full of Christmas spirit has taken place in San José since 1996. The festival includes lighting displays, concerts, parades, floats, and fireworks after dark in the park.
  • Fiesta de los Diablitos: Held in Boruca starting in late December, this event features local villagers in colorful devil masks, dressing as the indigenous in mock battles against Spanish conquerors.
  • Fiesta de la Yeguita: During this mid-December event, you will see bullfights and a parade in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe, followed by a large Tico style party at the central park of Nicoya with food, concerts, and fireworks.
  • Misa de Gallo: Locals dress up for this Christmas Eve midnight mass (mass of the rooster, literally). Afterwards, everyone enjoys the main Christmas meal, typically including tamales, drinks like rum punch and egg nog, and desserts.
  • El Tope: The country's biggest and most popular horse parade goes through downtown San José on December 26. Visitors and locals drink, dance, dress like cowboys, and enjoy.
  • Carnival of Desamparados: Enjoy costumed participants, musical groups, dance ensembles, and floats along San Jose's main streets on December 27. 

December Travel Tips

  • While the Christmas season is an extraordinary time to visit Costa Rica, it’s also hectic. Children are on school holidays usually starting the second week in December, so many families are on vacation and the beaches will be a bit more crowded than usual. Many businesses are also closed all week.
  • Since December is the peak travel season in Costa Rica, it's a more expensive time, so book your accommodation and other reservations early. Ideally, you'll want to confirm reservations before the end of October.
  • El Niño and La Niña weather systems can occasionally impact Costa Rica. These systems kick the dry season into a gear a few weeks earlier than normal. Travelers should also be aware of papagayos, strong winds that are common in the northwest.
  • If you're planning to drive, roads can be tricky in early December, especially in more rural areas. Months of rain can cause landslides that lead to road closures and other detours.
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