Of the 7 weeks that we spent in Costa Rica, only 7 days were rain free. We didn’t plan to drive through the country during peak rainy season (September and October happen to be the wettest months), but we’re actually grateful that we did. The rain makes the land so lush and green and it makes the tourist crowds much thinner.
The rain tends to come down hard in the afternoons, which means that driving, chores, and sightseeing are best done in the morning. In a way, the rain helped us to stick to a nice travel routine: get the important stuff done before noon and hunker down in the van before beer o’clock.
In 7 weeks, we visited both coasts of Costa Rica (Pacific and Caribbean) and the highlands in between.
There’s a big difference between rain in the mountains and rain at the beach:
- Rain at the beach feels mercifully cool and fresh.
- Rain in the mountains feels uncomfortably cold and clammy.
We saw our fair share of cloudy skies…
Rainy Day Fun
On rainy days, Gregor and I managed to keep ourselves occupied inside the van doing leisurely activities.
We played Scrabble:
We practiced ballroom dancing:
And, of course, we did some gangsta rapping:
River Crossings on the Osa Peninsula
The rain provided very entertaining driving conditions on the gravel roads of Peninsula de Osa.
Parts of the road to Drake Bay were completely submerged under water.
Unfortunately, the last river was way too deep and soft for our 2-wheel drive, so we had to turn around. We never made it to Drake Bay.
Mildew Problem in Sámara
We had been in Costa Rica for over 3 weeks before we finally got a rainless day. That was on the Nicoya Peninsula at Playa Sámara.
While the sunshine at Sámara helped us to work on our tans, it also revealed a serious mildew problem on Lucky’s tent canvas.
Determined to remove the offending mildew/mold, Gregor scrubbed the canvas with soapy water in the heat of the day.
He got rid of most of the mildew but unfortunately he also removed the water repellant coating on the canvas. During the next downpour, rain leaked through the canvas and onto Gregor’s side of the bed.
The next day, I searched the entire town of Sámara for anything that could restore water repellency to the canvas. All I could find was a beeswax candle. With rain forecasted for the afternoon, Gregor and I took turns madly rubbing wax into the fabric, sweating and bickering along the way. The candle left ugly clumps of beeswax all over our canvas, but it actually worked to keep Gregor dry during the next rainfall.
Lucky Gets Stuck in Monteverde
After two fun-filled weeks of surfing and chilling at Playa Sámara, we headed to the central highlands to visit the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
We camped in a nice grassy parking lot at La Colina Lodge and stayed cozy inside the van while it rained all night. The next morning, Gregor and I got ready for a wet and chilly hike in the cloud forest.
As we backed out of our parking spot, we felt Lucky struggling to move beneath us. I poked my head out the window and saw Lucky’s wheels spinning in the wet grass. Gregor drove forward again and gently reversed, but we didn’t get very far.
I jumped out to survey the situation. Yup, we were stuck. The lawn was completely saturated with rainwater and turned into a slick muddy carpet. To make things worse, our spinning wheels created a slippery track that was impossible for Lucky to grip onto.
Gregor and I scavenged the lodge grounds for anything that we could throw under Lucky’s tires to give her some traction. Gregor pulled an old swath of carpet from a garbage pile and I found a rusty metal grate. We threw them under the back tires and Gregor reversed one more time. She made it out of the tracks, but when Gregor continued up the gentle slope towards the paved road, Lucky started slipping again. We needed a push.
Fortunately, there were two other campers in the parking lot: Fraser and Jason. These young Canadians were driving through Costa Rica in a cool rental camper outfitted by Costa Rider Camper Van. Fraser and Jason were asleep while we were hopelessly trying to get out of the parking lot. A gentle knock-knock on their camper and a polite plea for help, and suddenly we had a full work crew to push Lucky out.
Gregor took the wheel while the rest of us slipped in the mud behind Lucky. It took several failed attempts, but she made it out. We ended up pushing Fraser and Jason’s van out of the grass, too. Boy, did we make a mess!
Monteverde Cloud Forest
Not surprisingly, it was drizzling when we arrived at Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. With rain jackets on and umbrella in hand, we hiked 5 km of beautiful forest trails that passed through waterfalls, hanging bridges, and viewpoints of the Continental Divide.
We didn’t see many animals because of the rain, but it was fascinating to see so many different kinds of trees and plants in such a small area (the Monteverde Reserve contains over 2,500 plant species).
With such pricey admission fees ($27 CAD/$20 USD), we were happy to know that 100% of the fees go to research, preservation, and educational programs that will help to protect the forest and its wildlife for generations to come.
Humidity Issues in Santa Elena
From Monteverde, we drove 10 km to the town of Santa Elena so that Gregor could work for a few days without worrying about getting Lucky stuck in the mud. We chose to park at a hostel called Pension Santa Elena based on reviews in the iOverlander app. For $16 CAD/$12 USD, we got to sleep in the comfort of our van and still use the hostel facilities, including hot showers, blazing fast wifi, communal kitchen, and lounging areas.
Santa Elena was a great little town with excellent access to adventure tours, nature museums, restaurants, and amenities like grocery stores, hardware shops, and laundry services. The only downside to the town was the incredible amount of rain that poured on it every afternoon and evening. Compared to other places that we visited in Costa Rica, Santa Elena seemed to have the shortest window of sunshine – only a few hours in the morning.
With all the humidity, everything in the van started to feel damp. Clothes, cushions, bedding, kitchenware – once they got wet they never seemed to dry completely. I eventually gave up on hang-drying clothes in the van. Everything needed to go to the laundromat for a machine dry.
Rain in the Roof Box
During our last morning at Pension Santa Elena, Gregor discovered two holes in our Thule roof box. The holes formed right at the contact with Lucky’s rear roof mounts – probably caused by driving on too many bumpy roads.
Rain got into the holes and made all our technical camping gear wet. Down jackets, Coreloft jackets, Goretex jackets, down sleeping bags, backpacks – thousands of dollars of gear, all damp. We were horrified to find our $400 MSR tent covered in little spots of mildew.
Fearing that all our gear would suffer the same fate as the tent, we decided to hang stuff to dry in the little sunshine we had.
While I spread out our gear in the parking lot, Gregor patched up the roof box with duct tape. He then bought aluminum rods to reinforce the base of the box so that it wouldn’t bounce as much.
Just as we finished up the roof box repair, rainclouds were coming in fast so we needed to pack up. Unfortunately, we had to put our stuff away partially wet. To save our gear from turning into a moldy mess, we decided to drive to Alajuela and pay for a big air-conditioned hotel room where we could dry out the gear and wash the mildew off our MSR tent.
Before packing our stuff back into the van, we wrapped everything in industrial sized garbage bags. We also bought two cans of 3M Scotchguard from the Walmart next to the hotel. The rain made us completely obsessed about waterproofing everything we owned.
Drying Out on the Caribbean Coast
After our roof box incident we drove to the town of Cahuita, located on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica.
The locals and expats in the uber-wet highlands kept telling us to expect way more rain on the Caribbean Coast, so we were prepared for the worst. It rained like crazy on the drive to Cahuita, but fortunately it didn’t rain much during the five days we were there. It was a really nice change.
Cahuita’s laid-back Caribbean vibe and colourful wooden buildings brought back good memories of our travels in Belize.
During our five days in Cahuita we stayed at Camping Maria, a lovely sea-side property owned by a very energetic and friendly Costa Rican divorcee named…you guessed it…Maria. Every morning, Maria stopped by our van to chit-chat and gave us a thermos of coffee and fresh fruit from her garden.
We shared the facilities at Camping Maria with 14 Australian teenagers accompanied by a teacher and 2 chaperones. They were in the last days of a “28-Day Challenge”, a program in which the teenagers travel as a group in a foreign country for 28 days. The teens must plan their route together, manage their own budgets, and generally fend for themselves while they travel (with adult supervision).
This year, the program took the kids to Nicaragua and Costa Rica, where they participated in adventure tours and educational activities almost every day. What an awesome way to get young people interested in traveling! Unfortunately, by the time we met the group, everyone looked like they were completely exhausted and very desperate to go home. Apparently, kids get travel burn-out, too.
Two days before entering Panama, I prepped Lucky for our 9th border crossing by doing a full van cleanup at Camping Maria. As I vacuumed the van floor, I noticed that the passenger side carpet was soaking wet. Our last torrential downpour was during our drive into Cahuita, which meant that the carpet had been sitting there soaking for five days. Once again, we had to dry things out as best we could.
Gregor figured that the rain leaked through the windshield washer nozzles and seeped under my rubber mat. So he pulled out the silicone and sealed the heck out of every spot he thought water could leak in. And for good measure, he pulled out a can of Scotchguard and reinforced the beeswax waterproofing on Lucky’s tent canvas.
Right up to our very last day in Costa Rica, we were fighting the relentless dampness and humidity that comes with rainy season. Despite the moisture issues, we enjoyed traveling through Costa Rica in the country’s wettest months. We would even consider coming back. But next time, we’ll put extra silicone, duct tape, and Scotchguard in Lucky’s first-aid kit.