For a lot of tourist destinations, vacationing during their shoulder season is not that big a deal. Although the temperatures may be colder (or hotter depending on which hemisphere you’re traveling in), crowds are often less, along with costs of air tickets and hotel rates. However, shoulder season travel definitely has its disadvantages too, especially in certain parts of the world. Here are two countries in which shoulder season travel truly applies.
Costa Rica: When I studied in Costa Rica for four months I was fortunate to be there during its dry season, which lasts from approximately mid-November to April (I literally left just as the dry season was ending). The remainder of the year is the rainy season (also known as the green season) when droves of rain is a daily (and sometimes annoying) occurrence, often resulting in impassable traveling conditions. (The condition of many of the country’s roads and highways is poor during dry weather so rain only exacerbates their state.) The country’s Caribbean coast though is the exception, as rain occurs there year-round. In the time between my first and second visit to the laid back beach town of Puerto Viejo, serious flooding had occurred making walking around certain areas of town anything but ideal (When I was there, there were only two paved roads; I wonder if things have changed since then.) I remember walking from our “hotel” into town for dinner one night and along the way stepping into a deep pile of mud and losing my flip flop in it. Being somewhat of a city prima donna, I had never felt more grossed out than at that moment. On the other hand, for being such a small country (it is slightly smaller than the state of West Virginia), Costa Rica has an incredible variety of geography and biodiversity as well as weather; certain areas of the country don’t experience as much rainfall as others do during the rainy season. Also, the rainy season literally turns everything green, including the typically brown and arid Guanacaste province. I was there in February and I couldn’t believe how lifeless the scenery was. The landscape reminded me of pictures I had seen of the African savanah. And from what I had read, I knew in a couple of months the scenery there would be as green as that of the cloud forest in Monteverde (which translated literally means “green woods).
South Africa: First and foremost my main reason for wanting to travel here would be to go on a safari, to see animals in their natural habitat as opposed to at a zoo. Although I know South Africa is host to a large number of interesting things besides just animal viewing (wineries, incredible landscapes, historic edifices), for me it’s the animals that would make me spend $1200+ on an air ticket for a 20 some hour flight. And so, I would want to visit when the animals are at their best in terms of viewing, when they’ll be home to “receive visitors.” I’ve read that South Africa’s mid-summer (November-March) can be extremely hot, along with daily bouts of afternoon showers. The animals are said to be at their best, the birds in abundance, yet high grasses and foliage from all the rain can make spotting them difficult. Winter (May-September) brings cold temperatures (sometimes freezing at night) along with dry and colorless bush, yet that can be considered a plus since it would be easier to spot the animals. A happy compromise does seem to exist in the forms of spring (September and October) and fall (March to early May) when there are less people, animals are giving birth, and the temperatures are less extreme.
I haven’t been back to Costa Rica since I studied there, but I probably would want to travel during the dry season for no other reason than not wanting heavy rain to ruin my vacation. Should I ever get to travel to South Africa, I would have to do considerably more research as to what all around is the best time of the year to go.