Thinking of heading to Costa Rica in December? December is a popular, and time to visit Costa Rica, and there are some things to keep in mind because of Christmas and other festivities happening during this month.
There are a few perks to visiting Costa Rica in December: December in Costa Rica marks the end of the rain season and start of the dry season, which means the weather will likely be great during that time. There are also Christmas festivities near the holiday season, so you can expect some unique Costa Rican festive experiences that wouldn’t be possible at other times of the year.
Regardless of whether you celebrate Christmas, or are looking for a chance to experience Costa Rica and December is the right time – we’re going to walk you through what you can expect during your trip to Costa Rica in December.
Costa Rica in December: Sunrise/Sunset Times and Weather
There are almost 12 hours of daylight in Costa Rica during the month of December. The sun rises at 5:37and 5:52 am and sets sometime between 5:13 and 5:26 pm. This is similarly true of the rest of the year in Costa Rica; being close to the equator means 12 hours of dark and light 24/7.
The weather during the month of December in Costa Rica is one of the reasons why this is a popular time to travel to Costa Rica at this time. In December, the weather in Costa Rica is at its best. In December, the temperature in Costa Rica has a high of 32°C (89.6°F) and a low of 22°C ( 71.6°F). The cooler temperatures tend to be more prevalent in the mountain areas (the Central Valley – La Fortuna or Monteverde.) If you’re near the coast, you can expect temperatures to be at the warmer end of that spectrum.
Things to Keep in Mind about Costa Rica in December
Here are some things you need to know about vacationing in Costa Rica in December
1. It’s busier
The later you visit into the month of December, the busier it will be. Aside from March, December is the most popular time to visit Costa Rica, so you can expect longer wait times in customs, car rental pickup, waiting to check in to your hotel, and things like that. You’ll still have a great time (its popular for a reason) but you’ll need to be patient at times.
Pro Tip: Book everything you want (hotels, and and activities) far in advance (4-6 months before your date of travel.)
2. You can expect to pay a bit more
Because its busier, the prices might be a bit higher. You still might be able to find some low-season rates in the early days of December, but as it gets later into the month, the prices will increase along with the demand. The costs for accommodations and tours goes up around peak times, although this is true for most of the dry season. (December through April.)
Make sure to: Check cancellation policies of things that you book in Costa Rica for December. You don’t want to be locked into paying extra for something that it turns out you have to cancel. One thing I like about booking.com is that you can usually get good cancellation policies from hotels there.
3. The beaches (especially around the holidays) will be more crowded
Obviously more tourists = more people on the beach, so that goes without saying. But one thing to keep in mind for December is that there will be many Costa Rican families enjoying the beaches too. Most schools in December end for break in mid-December, and many families will go on vacation, sometimes for the holidays, or the entire month.
So, this just means that there will be more people on the beach all together, and not just international tourists. The good news, is that there are a variety of beaches in Costa Rica, some which don’t get as busy as others.
4. Christmas and New Years
Most Costa Ricans identify as Christian, and Christmas is a big holiday in Costa Rica. Most businesses that cater to tourists will still be open on Christmas Eve and Day, but they may close earlier on Christmas Eve. Grocers and shops can get very busy then, because of the influx of tourists and the Costa Rican vacationers, so there might be limited supply.
Pro Tip: If you’re arriving in Costa Rica right before or on Christmas, then I recommend bringing some supplies you may need in your luggage (toiletries, snacks, baby items if you’re in Costa Rica with a baby, etc.)
5. El Tope Festival (December 26th)
Costa Rica celebrates Tope, which is a festival and parade with horses. The largest Tope festival is held in San José on December 26th each year, which means that trying to get out or into the city would be a traffic nightmare. When booking your flights for Costa Rica in December, make sure that you aren’t needing to get in or out of San Jose or December 26th.
6. It can still rain
Going to Costa Rica during the dry season doesn’t mean that it doesn’t rain. One trip we took to Costa Rica in March, it rained almost every day. So I recommend preparing by bringing a rain jacket or poncho, even if the risk is low.
Things to Do during December in Costa Rica
Here are things to do in Costa Rica during the month of December (remember to be sure to plan and reserve these types of things well in advance, so that they don’t fill up before you have a chance)
1. Try Rompope
Rompope (pronounced “rom-pom-peh”) is a type of eggnog made in Costa Rica for Christmas. Its very similar to eggnog; the only difference is that its recipe uses only the egg yolk (which gives the drink a yellow tint) and some almonds to give it a hint of a nutty taste. You can try rompope by buying it from the grocery store in Costa Rica, or ordering it as a drink in a bar.
Fun fact: As well as Costa Rica, rompope is also popular in other Latin American countries around Christmas time, such as Nicaragua and Mexico.
2. Take surfing lessons
For all ages (2 years old) to adult, and ability levels. Learn to surf in one of the best beaches in the world. Try this lesson here offered on Tamarindo beach, if you’re heading to the Guanacaste area.
3. Visit a volcano
This tour takes you to Poas Volcano, and bonus: it even takes you to the one an only Starbucks coffee farm where you can try Starbucks coffee fresh from where it originates.
3. Go hiking in the rainforest
The Costa Rican rainforests are incredible. Some people prefer the beach, but the rainforests are the reason I travel to Costa Rica. My favourite is the forests with hanging bridges which are usually hundreds of feet high and give you a bird’s eye view of the jungle.
The rainforests are mostly located in the La Fortuna, Monteverde and Manuel Antonio regions. You can do guided, or self-guided tours. Regardless of which you choose, be sure to book as soon as you can to avoid it filling up, as they do have capacity limits.
3. Visit the Beach
We mentioned that the beach will be more crowded, so this is inevitable. But if you love the beach, then stay nearby, and get there early in the day. There are so many beaches in Costa Rica, and a fair number of them are family-friendly.
People who want to go to Costa Rica for the beaches and resorts often go to the Guanacaste, Jaco or Manuel Antonio region. These areas will all be popular in December, so be sure to book your hotels close to the beach in advance.
Pro Tip: The best beach for you in Costa Rica will depend on if you want a family-friendly beach, or beach ideal for surfing. Playa Tamarindo however, is good for both!
4. Visit a sustainable farm
One of our favourite things to do in Costa Rica is to visit the farms – they have coffee, chocolate and fruit farms.
The best farm tours that we’d recommend:
- This farm tour out of La Fortuna serves a farm fresh lunch at a family farm
- We did this tour (pictured above, left) and we highly recommend Don Olivo Chocolate Farm tour. Come hungry, and bring your camera!
What to Bring to Costa Rica in December
Here are the things you want to make sure you bring to Costa Rica during the month of December (or any time of year really)
- Good hiking boots, for adults or for children. This mostly applies if you’re going to be doing jungle tours. This pair is good for men, this for women, and this one for children.
- Light weight rain gear. I can’t stress this enough. It can rain even during ‘dry season’ in Costa Rica. You want rain gear that is very light – like this set, because you don’t want to be boiling (its still hot and humid even when its raining.)
- A good sunscreen, this is a must. Buy a reef-friendly one ideally, that isn’t killing the oceans, like this one
- A mosquito repellant, which you should have at any time of the year in Costa Rica.
Celebrations in Costa Rica in December
Here’s what is celebrated in Costa Rica during the month of December
1. La Navidad (Christmas)
82% of the population in Costa Rica identify as Christian, so Christmas is a holiday thats widely observed. Costa Ricans like to decorate their houses with tropical flowers at Christmastime, and its also common for them to attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.
Christmas is a popular time to visit Costa Rica, for a few reasons: the holidays in North America, and also, its during the dry season which is the most common time to visit Costa Rica by default. Most businesses that cater to tourists will remain open on Christmas Day (hotels, restaurants, stores and tour agencies.)
2. El Tope
El Tope is celebrated in many villages throughout the country in Costa Rica, with the largest festival being in San José. Horses are an important animal in Costa Rica, and El Tope commemorates Costa Rica’s colonial past when most people relied on horses. The festival draws horse owners with their horses from around the country.
3. El Año Nuevo (New Years)
New Year’s Eve in Costa Rica is a time to be with family. Even older teens and young adults often spend the holiday with their family, not partying with friends as is typical in North America. Costa Rica has introduced strict laws in recent years limiting the use of fireworks (‘fuegos artificiales‘) due to their negative impact on wildlife, so don’t expect to see fireworks on New Year’s Eve in Costa Rica.
However, many hotels organize special dinners or activities on New Years, so depending on where you’re staying, you should enquire to see if they’re doing something special you might want to take part in.
Costa Rica in December FAQ
Here are the most commonly asked questions about visiting Costa Rica at Christmas
Should I go to Costa Rica for Christmas?
December is very popular time to go to Costa Rica. If you enjoy beaches, rainforests and volcanos, then there’s no reason not to spend Christmas in Costa Rica. Christmas is an important holiday in Costa Rica, so its widely celebrated, but depending on what climate you come from, it may look very different in Costa Rica from what you’re used to at home. Most tourist-centred businesses will still be open on Christmas; they just may close earlier on Christmas Day.
Is Christmas a big holiday in Costa Rica?
Yes, Christmas is the most popular, and commonly celebrated in holiday in Costa Rica, with over 80% of the population self-identifying as Christian. Costa Rican children write letters to Niño Dios (Baby Jesus), families attend midnight mass, and you will also see decorations of tropical flowers outside Costa Rican homes. December however, is still a popular and a great time to visit Costa Rica as a tourist, and despite the popularity of the holiday season, there shouldn’t be any disruption to your tourist plans.
What is the name of the traditional drink in Costa Rica at Christmas?
Rompope is the traditional Christmas drink in Costa Rica, and its an eggnong-like drink. Its made with eggs, vanilla, milk and some nuts. Unlike eggnog being mainly a children’s drink in North America, rompope is for adults as there is liquour added to it. There are recipes online for you to make your own rompope without the alcohol, however.
Is everything closed in Costa Rica on Christmas Day?
Most businesses that cater to tourists will be open during the Christmas season, even on Christmas Day. Some businesses may close early on Christmas Eve. Its recommended that you buy any supplies you need well before Christmas Eve in Costa Rica, as many of the aisles are stripped thin from the tourists and locals.
What is the temperature in Costa Rica at Christmas?
At Christmas, the average temperature in Costa Rica is typically between 30°C (86°F) if you’re in the areas near the beach, such as Guanacaste or Manuel Antonio. If you’re in the Central Valley, near the mountains, then the temperatures will be cooler – 18-22°C (64-72°F).
What is the main alcohol in Costa Rica?
The main alcoholic beverage in Costa Rica is a liquor called Guara. Guaor is a clear liquor made from sugar cane, and is considered the national drink. Beer is also a big part of Costa Rican culture, and there are a handful of Costa Rican beers to try while you’re there. If you’re in Costa Rica during the month of December, be sure to try the festival holiday alcoholic drink, rompope.
Costa Rica in December: Final Thoughts
There is truly no bad time to visit Costa Rica – there are incredible things to do year round. Costa Rica is a diverse country with a lot to do. Even though December is very popular, you will still have an amazing time there. A little bit of extra preparation and advance booking is needed – but with that, you can still have a fulfilling, amazing time on your December vacation to Costa Rica.