The 7 Harbingers of Summer in the Southern Costa Rica Mountains

Whenever I mention that "summer" is coming to Costa Rica to non-expat friends, they often look puzzled. They are thinking that we share the same summer season with North America since we are above the equator, and technically they are right. However, the tropical Trade Winds pick up this time of year and they are what divide our seasons into wet and dry.

Our summer in this part of Costa Rica runs from mid-December until the middle of April when the trades begin to weaken again. Northern Pacific provinces have longer summers and the Caribbean's seasonal changes are less distinct, but roughly reversed from ours.

Right now, it's a densely overcast, drizzly day with intermittent showers, so you'd never guess that summer is just around the corner (we hope). But, there are plenty of other signs that say, yes, the arrival of La Zona Sur's summer is imminent.

Coffee Season

Ripening Costa Rica coffee
Coffee cherries ready to pick

Coffee up here in the mountains is harvested later than in the lowlands and right now we are in the thick of the harvest. That means that around the corner of any country road you are liable to have delays due to farmers' trucks loading or unloading their bursting sacks of red coffee cherries. The crop this year is a bumper and the price is high too, so most of them are smiling big.

truck off loading coffee blocking the road
Our neighbor unloading at the recibidora
 We love coffee season, not only because it signifies summer's arrival, but because the neighborhood comes alive with the activities of the harvest and there are new arrivals, the pickers, who add a bit more color to our already colorful world. Since the neighbors are out and about more, it's also a great time to stop and chat.

New Blooms

Costa Rica sugar cane blooming
Sugar cane in bloom
Other sures signs of the seasonal change are the blooming of the sugar cane the "girasol silvestre", which sends out hundres of miniature yellow imitations of sunflowers. These don't have much else going for them since they are a very weak tree, always falling over and without any practical value for humans.

New Birds

Our bird feeder gets very busy this time of year. Most of the banana trees have given all they got and the bananas still on the plants are slow to mature. So, our feeder, stocked solely with mature bananas, becomes a popular bird restaurant.

Yellow tanager and Red Barbet at feeder
Yellow tanager and grumpy-looking Red Barbet

Also, there are many birds migrating down from the north this time of year, such as Baltimore Orioles, so we often see transient species and other colorful hungry locals that are otherwise scarce. Even the local squirrels find a snack here. Our favorite Christmas visitors are the local Blue Crowned Mot-Mots though.

Gorgeous Sunsets

Orange sunset over red poinsettia in Costa Rica
Sunset over Reddening Poinsettia
During the "winter" months, the sunsets are often gray, but as summer comes along, the rain tapers and the intensity of the sun setting over the distant mountains and ocean builds.

Each is unique and they range from bright, foggy smears to intense, 360 degree light shows of orange, red, pinks, blues and purples.


 Marchamo Time! Win Big!


Sign reminding folks it's time for yearly marchamo payment Costa Rica
Pay Your Marchamo Here, Prizes of 300K Colones!

A less pleasant reminder that the year and season are changing are the ubiquitous reminders that your car's annual tax and fees are due. Signs pop up everywhere, since there are many private businesses, especially insurance agents and banks, where you can pay for your new annual title and get the necessary window sticker. Most try to attract customers with a raffle.

Christmas Tamales

Costa Rican tamales, usually pork or chicken, are around all year, but never in such abundance as they are in December when lots of your neighbors will be making huge mounds of them to sell for various fundraisers.

They are mouth-watering delicious and make the perfect "fast food" as they only require a quick re-heat in the microwave to bring out their fresh aroma and taste. They are also cheap. Unlike tamales you may have had in a Mexican restaurant, these are wrapped in steamed banana leaves and tied off with string.

Holiday Decorations

Christmas decorations in San Isidro, Costa Rica square
The central square in San Isidro decked out
Christmas is a big deal in Costa Rica, but not quite the pedal-to-the-metal marketing and sale meleé it is in the States. There are swarms of shoppers out and the streets are clogged with cars, but piles of presents under the tree are not the norm here. Ticos are much more low-key about the gifts and more keen on the time off, socializing with friends and family, being thankful for what the year brought to them and hopeful for the next.

They do put up a lot of the same style decorations though that we do back in N. America, even if it does seem somewhat odd to see Santa Claus, evergreen firs and snow in the Tropics.

Is It Summer Yet? Quien sabe!

As the afternoon wanes, the showers have let up and I see a bit of blue breaking through. Perhaps tomorrow summer will start. There's no announcement, of course, and typically you don't know when summer started until a couple of weeks after when you realize the rain is not coming back anytime soon.

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