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Mexico vs Costa Rica: Where Should You Visit?

Are you torn between Mexico vs. Costa Rica for your next vacation? 

Both destinations offer stunning landscapes, rich cultures, and plenty of things to do. Choosing between them can be tough!

We live in Costa Rica and think it is an amazing place to visit, but Mexico definitely is better than Costa Rica in some aspects.

So, we decided to compare the costs, climate, available activities, and more to help you make an informed decision for your romantic getaway, family trip, or solo adventure.

Differences Between Costa Rica and Mexico

When it comes to choosing between Costa Rica and Mexico for a travel destination, there are several differences to consider. 

Costa Rica is renowned for its stunning biodiversity. Plus the country offers a tranquil retreat for nature enthusiasts with lush rainforests, diverse wildlife, and pristine beaches. 

On the other hand, Mexico is a huge country with many different climates and cultural aspects. With its ancient Mayan ruins, vibrant food scene, and colorful festivals, travelers seeking a cultural immersion will likely love Mexico. 

Similarities Between Costa Rica and Mexico

Despite their differences, Costa Rica and Mexico share several similarities that make both of them appealing travel destinations. 

Both countries are blessed with stunning natural landscapes, from pristine beaches to dense rainforests. They provide plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventures such as hiking, snorkeling, and wildlife spotting. 

Furthermore, both nations have a rich cultural heritage, with Costa Rica’s indigenous Boruca tribe and Mexico’s Mayan civilization offering fascinating insights into the region’s history. 

Their cuisines are both characterized by bold flavors and fresh local ingredients. 

Lastly, their warm and welcoming locals make both places appealing.

Mexico and Costa Rica on a Map

Here you can get a better idea of where each country is located on the world map.

mexico vs costa rica map

As you can see, Mexico is a much larger country that is sandwiched between the United States to the north and Guatemala and Belize to the south. Mexico is part of North America.

Costa Rica is sandwiched between Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south. The country is part of Central America.

Costa Rica vs. Mexico Weather

When considering a vacation to either Costa Rica or Mexico, the weather is an important factor to consider. 

Costa Rica is located closer to the equator. The country has a tropical climate with a fairly consistent temperature year-round, averaging around 27°C (80°F). 

It has two seasons; the dry season (December to April) and the rainy season (May to November), with the northwest region being the driest.

Mexico vs Costa Rica: Where Should You Visit?

In contrast, Mexico’s weather varies significantly depending on the region due to its vast size. The coastal areas have a hot, tropical climate, while the inland highlands are cooler. 

Cancun and the Yucatan Peninsula, popular tourist destinations, have an average temperature of 27°C (80°F), similar to Costa Rica. 

Mexico’s dry season is from November to May, and the rainy season is from June to October. 

Winner: This is a tie. Choosing between Costa Rica and Mexico largely depends on the time of year and the specific regions in Mexico you would like to visit.

Mexico vs Costa Rica Wildlife

When it comes to wildlife, both Costa Rica and Mexico offer an array of biodiversity.

Costa Rica, despite its small size, is home to a staggering 5% of the world’s biodiversity.

This includes more than 500,000 species, such as the iconic resplendent quetzal, the endangered jaguar, and the vibrantly colored poison dart frog. 

Costa Rica’s numerous national parks, like Corcovado and Tortuguero, provide protective habitats for these animals.

Mexico, on the other hand, is classified as one of the 17 most “megadiverse” countries in the world.

It boasts over 200,000 different species, which accounts for 10-12% of the world’s biodiversity.

Its varied landscapes from deserts to rainforests are home to unique species such as the monarch butterfly, the Mexican redknee tarantula, and the axolotl. 

The country’s commitment to conservation is evident in its extensive network of protected areas, which covers more than 25% of its land!

Ultimately, the choice between Costa Rica and Mexico for wildlife enthusiasts will depend on the specific species and habitats they are interested in exploring.

Winner: I’m going to give this one to Costa Rica. The reason is, Costa Rica is a smaller country that still is home to several microclimates and tons of wildlife. This makes it much more accessible to view tons of different animals such as sloths, monkeys, and toucans all without driving for several hours. However, for viewing marine life, I would vote that Mexico is the better option. 

Costa Rica vs. Mexico Landscape

In terms of landscape, both Costa Rica and Mexico offer a variety of breathtaking scenery.

Costa Rica is renowned for its lush rainforests, stunning beaches, colorful coral reefs, and active volcanoes like Arenal and Poás

The country’s diverse topography also includes the cloud forests of Monteverde and the dry tropical forests of Guanacaste, each offering unique eco-adventures.

Mexico’s landscape is equally diverse, ranging from the arid deserts of the north to the dense rainforests of the south. 

It is home to the Sierra Madre mountain range, the spectacular canyons of Copper Canyon, the cenotes of the Yucatan Peninsula, and the stunning beaches of Cancun and Tulum. 

The country’s rich geographical features also include active volcanoes such as Popocatépetl and underwater caves in Quintana Roo. 

Winner: I’ll give this one to Mexico. The landscape is much more diverse, but the country is also wayyyyy bigger than Costa Rica. As far as seeing a variety of landscapes within a small area, Costa Rica is the better choice. 

Costa Rica vs. Mexico Cost

When comparing the cost of travel between Costa Rica and Mexico, there are several factors to consider. 

Generally, Mexico tends to be more affordable than Costa Rica. Accommodation, food, and local transportation options like buses and taxis are typically cheaper in Mexico.

The country also offers a wider range of budget-friendly options, from low-cost hostels to inexpensive street food.

Costa Rica, on the other hand, is often seen as one of the more expensive countries to visit in Central America.

The cost of accommodation, dining, and some activities can be higher, especially in popular tourist areas. 

Hotel Cost Comparison

When it comes to comparing hotel costs, Mexico generally offers more budget-friendly options.

A stay in a mid-range hotel in Mexico can cost around $40 to $70 per night, while luxury accommodations typically start at around $100 per night.

 On the other hand, in Costa Rica, a mid-range hotel stay can cost approximately $70 to $120 per night, with luxury accommodations often starting at $150 or more. 

It’s important to note that these prices can vary significantly, depending on the location and the time of the year. 

Both countries offer a wide range of options to suit different budgets, from budget hostels to luxury resorts. 

However, from a strictly cost perspective, Mexico tends to provide more affordable options for travelers.

Activity Cost Comparison

In Mexico, due to its extensive cultural heritage, visiting historical sites and museums can be relatively affordable. 

For instance, admission to the world-renowned Mayan ruins, such as Chichen Itza, typically costs around $25. 

Similarly, activities like snorkeling in the Yucatan Peninsula or exploring the cenotes can be enjoyed for as little as $10 to $30.

In contrast, Costa Rica’s focus on eco-tourism can sometimes translate to higher costs for activities. Exploring national parks, such as the Manuel Antonio National Park or the Arenal Volcano National Park, usually requires an entrance fee of around $15 to $20 per person. 

More specialized activities like zipline canopy tours or guided wildlife tours can cost anywhere from $50 to $100, depending on the provider and the length of the tour.

In summary, while both countries offer a rich array of experiences, the cost of activities can be generally lower in Mexico than in Costa Rica. 

Restaurant Cost Comparison

When it comes to dining, both Mexico and Costa Rica have an array of culinary experiences to offer.

In Mexico, food costs can be quite affordable. Street food, a staple in Mexican culture, often costs less than $2 for items like tacos or tamales. Mid-range restaurants typically charge between $10 and $20 for a main course. More upscale dining experiences in Mexico City can run upwards to $50 to $100 per person, excluding drinks.

Costa Rica, on the other hand, has a slightly higher food cost due to its focus on organic and locally sourced produce. 

A typical meal at a ‘soda’ (local restaurant), serving traditional dishes like ‘Casado’, might cost between $5 and $10. Dining at a mid-range restaurant, especially in tourist areas, can cost around $15 to $25 per dish. For high-end dining in places like San Jose or Guanacaste, expect to pay over $50 per person.

In conclusion, while both countries offer diverse and exciting culinary scenes, dining in Mexico can be less expensive than in Costa Rica. 

Winner: Overall, Mexico is more affordable than Costa Rica in all categories.

Fun Activities to Do in Costa Rica and Mexico

Both Costa Rica and Mexico offer a wealth of engaging things to do that cater to diverse interest groups.

In Costa Rica, nature lovers can explore the country’s renowned biodiversity through activities like bird-watching, hiking, or zip-lining in the cloud forests of Monteverde. 

Adventure enthusiasts can indulge in white-water rafting in the Pacuare River or surfing at the spectacular beaches of Guanacaste.

For those seeking a more leisurely pace, a visit to the coffee farms in the Central Valley or a soak in the thermal hot springs of Arenal Volcano can be a serene experience.

Mexico, on the other hand, offers a unique blend of historical and cultural exploration along with modern excitement. 

History buffs can visit the ancient Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza or the Aztec pyramids of Teotihuacan. 

Those interested in cultural experiences can attend a traditional mariachi performance or explore the colorful Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festivities. 

Beach lovers can unwind at Cancun’s pristine beaches or snorkel in the crystal-clear waters of Cozumel.

Winner: This is a tie. While both countries offer distinct experiences, Costa Rica leans more towards eco-tourism and adventure activities. Mexico provides more opportunities for historical, cultural, and beach-side offerings. 

Costa Rica vs. Mexico Beaches Comparison

When it comes to beaches, both Costa Rica and Mexico offer stunning coastlines, but with different appeals.

Costa Rica’s beaches are famed for their natural beauty and biodiversity. The Pacific Coast, with areas like Manuel Antonio and Guanacaste, boast golden sand beaches surrounded by lush rainforests and a variety of wildlife. 

On the Caribbean side, places like Tortuguero and Cahuita offer pristine shorelines, a laid-back vibe, and opportunities to witness sea turtles nesting (in Tortuguero).

Mexico’s beaches, particularly those in Cancun and the Riviera Maya, epitomize the idyllic sun, sand, and sea experience. They are distinguished by their crystal-clear turquoise waters, powdery white sand, and vibrant coral reefs. 

Furthermore, the amenities and infrastructure around these beaches, including high-end resorts, a plethora of dining and entertainment options, make them attractive for those seeking luxury and convenience along with beach-side relaxation.

Winner: I think this is a tie. It really depends on what you are looking for. For tropical beach vibes, Mexico wins. For raw coastal beauty, Costa Rica gets this one. 

Costa Rica vs. Mexico Surf Comparison

When it comes to surfing, both Costa Rica and Mexico have much to offer, each with unique highlights.

Costa Rica is often referred to as a surfer’s paradise. The country presents consistent year-round surf conditions. Pavones, Tamarindo, and Santa Teresa are among the top surf spots, known for their warm waters and mix of breaks suitable for beginners through to expert riders. 

A vibrant surf culture, friendly locals, and sustainability efforts further enhance the Costa Rican surf experience.

Mexico, on the other hand, is famed for its powerful Pacific swells and world-class breaks. Notably, places like Ensenada, Zihuatanejo, and the legendary Puerto Escondido are spots of choice for surfers seeking huge waves. 

Surfers also have the chance to come across some of Mexico’s unique wildlife, including whale sharks, dolphins, and rays.

Winner: I’ll give this one to Mexico mostly because there are more opportunities for really insane waves. If you are a beginner surfer, come on over to Costa Rica. 

Costa Rica vs. Mexico Food Comparison

When it comes to food, both Costa Rica and Mexico offer flavorful meals that reflect their rich traditions and histories.

In Costa Rica, local cuisine is characterized by its simplicity and fresh ingredients. Gallo Pinto, a traditional dish of rice and beans, is a staple for breakfast and is often accompanied by fried plantains, fruit, and a fried egg.

Another popular dish is Casado, which typically includes rice, beans, salad, a choice of meat, and fried plantains. 

Mexican cuisine, on the other hand, is renowned worldwide for its bold flavors and diverse range of ingredients. 

Mexico is the birthplace of dishes such as tacos, enchiladas, and tamales, all of which come in a variety of styles and flavors depending on the region. 

Mexican cuisine also features a variety of salsas, like the smoky chipotle or the tangy tomatillo, each adding a unique flavor profile to the dishes. 

Corn, beans, and chili peppers form the backbone of many Mexican dishes, with an emphasis on fresh ingredients.

In my opinion, eating actual traditional food in Mexico after growing up in the United States on the watered-down, Americanized version of Mexican food is reason enough alone to go to Mexico.

Winner: Mexico takes this one hands down. Sorry Costa Rica. I love you, but your food culture just can’t compare.  

Costa Rica vs. Mexico Hotel Comparison

When it comes to accommodation, both Costa Rica and Mexico have a wide range of options to suit every type of traveler.

In Costa Rica, you can find everything from eco-lodges nestled in the rainforest to luxury resorts offering views of the Pacific Ocean. Many Costa Rican hotels put a strong emphasis on sustainability and being in harmony with nature.

Conversely, Mexico’s hotel scene is incredibly diverse, with accommodations ranging from quaint colonial-style inns in the heart of its historic cities, to world-class luxury resorts along the Riviera Maya. 

Mexico’s hotel industry is renowned for its hospitality and meticulous attention to detail, ensuring a comfortable and welcoming stay for guests.

Winner: Tie. If you want luxury resorts without spending a ton of money, Mexico wins. If you are interested in eco hotels with a boutique feel, Costa Rica is where it’s at.

Costa Rica vs. Mexico Transporation Comparison

Transportation in both Costa Rica and Mexico is varied, offering you options depending on your comfort, budget, and adventure levels.

In Costa Rica, public transportation is common among locals and tourists.

Buses are cost-effective and extensive, reaching even remote rainforest locations.

For more convenience, there are private shuttles or you can rent a car (which we recommend).

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On the other hand, Mexico’s transportation is more diverse due to its larger size. Public buses range from modern deluxe coaches to more local “chicken buses”.

In tourist areas like Cancun and Cabo, reliable taxi services are readily available, while in cities like Mexico City and Guadalajara, the metro system is an efficient way to get around.

Winner: Tie! Whether you prefer the simplicity of Costa Rican buses or the diverse modes of transportation in Mexico, both countries offer a range of options to suit different travel needs and preferences.

Costa Rica vs. Mexico Safety Comparison

Safety is definitely something to consider before you plan your visit to either country. 

Both Costa Rica and Mexico have areas considered safe for tourists, but it’s always best to stay informed and vigilant.

In Costa Rica, violent crime is generally low, but petty theft can be a concern, particularly in tourist areas. Always keep your belongings secure, and avoid displaying expensive items openly. 

In contrast, Mexico’s safety situation varies widely between regions. Tourist areas such as Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Cabo San Lucas are typically safe, with security measures in place. 

However, some regions of Mexico face issues with organized crime, and travel advisories are frequently issued for these areas.

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Regardless of your destination, it’s important to stay informed about the local safety situation, avoid risky areas, and practice common sense precautions. 

Winner: I’m giving this one to Costa Rica. I almost always feel generally safe here. With the organized crime issues in Mexico, I think Costa Rica is the winner.  

Costa Rica vs. Mexico Language Comparison

Both Costa Rica and Mexico share Spanish as their official language. 

However, subtle differences in accent and vocabulary exist between the two, influenced by regional dialects and indigenous languages.

In Costa Rica, the Spanish spoken is often described as ‘clean’ and ‘soft’, with less slang compared to other Central American countries. 

Interestingly, Costa Ricans often use the phrase “Pura Vida”, meaning “pure life”, embodying their laid-back and optimistic outlook on life.

In Mexico, Spanish is infused with a rich tapestry of indigenous influences, making it distinctively diverse. 

Different regions in Mexico have their unique dialects and accents. Mexican Spanish is also characterized by the use of informal language and slang, which is widely used in everyday conversation.

In both countries, English is commonly spoken in major tourist areas, making it generally easy for English-speaking travelers. However, learning a few basic phrases in Spanish can go a long way in enhancing your travel experience in either country.

Winner: I feel like Costa Rican Spanish is a bit easier to understand throughout the country because there are not tons of different dialects. However, if you understand some Spanish you should be OK in either location. Plus, in both countries, you will have no problem speaking English in touristy destinations. 

Costa Rica vs. Mexico Culture Comparison

The cultures of both Costa Rica and Mexico are a vibrant blend of indigenous heritage and Spanish influences. They both take pride in their rich traditions, arts, and cuisines.

In Costa Rica, the culture is rooted in a peace-loving and nature-preserving lifestyle. This is reflected in the abolition of the military, the country’s commitment to becoming a carbon-neutral country, and its numerous wildlife reserves. 

Mexican culture, on the other hand, is known for its color and vibrancy, strongly influenced by ancient civilizations like the Aztecs and Maya. 

The Mexican culture includes elements such as Mariachi music, folkloric dance, and a rich gastronomic tradition recognized as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. 

Celebrations play a significant role in Mexican culture, with famous festivals like Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).

Though both cultures share a love for family, community, and festivity, their distinct histories and influences make the cultural experiences of Costa Rica and Mexico beautifully unique in their own ways.

Winner: I’ve got to give this one to Mexico. I feel like there are way more opportunities in Mexico to learn about the history and embrace the culture between ancient ruins and cities that are rich with cultural influences, Mexico takes first place.

Costa Rica is Right for You If….

Costa Rica might be the perfect destination for you if: 

  • You are a nature enthusiast and are passionate about biodiversity conservation. The country’s commitment to sustainability and preservation of wildlife makes it a haven for eco-tourists. 
  • You’re looking for a peaceful, laid-back atmosphere and an escape from bustling city life. Whether you enjoy hiking in cloud forests, exploring the rich underwater marine life, or simply relishing the tranquility offered by the pristine beaches, Costa Rica has it all. 
  • You’re a fan of adventure activities. The varied topography offers TONS of opportunities for surfing, rafting, and zip-lining. 
  • You’re intrigued by the idea of immersing yourself in a culture that cherishes peace and environmental stewardship, Costa Rica is the place for you.

If you are ready to start planning your Costa Rica vacation, we’ve got you covered! Head on over to our Start Here page to have us help walk you through every step of the planning process.

Mexico is Right for You If….

Mexico could be your ideal destination if: 

  • You are drawn to rich historical heritage, vibrant traditions, and an extraordinary culinary scene. Mexico’s pre-Columbian civilizations and Spanish colonial periods have together created an intriguing tapestry of historical sites to explore.
  • You are a foodie. Food aficionados would fall in love with Mexican gastronomy, with its blend of Mesoamerican cooking and Spanish influences. 
  • You are looking for a resort experience on a budget.
  • You are interested in a city trip filled with culture.
  • You are a tropical beach lover. Mexico’s coasts, such as the Riviera Maya and Baja Peninsula, offer pristine beaches and beautiful diving spots. 

If you are ready to start planning your adventures in Mexico, we suggest the blog Travel Mexico Solo written by a woman from the United States living in Mexico.

Conclusion: Costa Rica or Mexico for Vacation?

Choosing between Costa Rica and Mexico for your vacation ultimately hinges on your personal preferences.

If you’re an adventure enthusiast who relishes exploring rich biodiversity, engaging in adrenaline-pumping activities, and immersing in a culture centered on peace and environmental preservation, Costa Rica could be your dream destination. 

However, if you’re captivated by the allure of deep-rooted historical heritage, lively traditions, an extraordinary culinary scene, along with stunning beaches and adventure opportunities, Mexico would make a great choice. 

But, in my opinion, both countries are amazing and worth visiting.

If you have any questions on deciding between Mexico vs. Costa Rica do not hesitate to leave us a comment below. We are always happy to help you out!

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🚗 Should I rent a car in Costa Rica?

Having a rental car will give you the most flexibility when traveling in Costa Rica. This will also allow you to take fun day trips on your own.

🏄🏽 How can I book things to do?

We find that Viator tends to have the most comprehensive selection of activities with secure booking and good cancellation policies.

🍍 I’m overwhelmed with planning. Can you help?

Of course! I suggest joining our Facebook group for specific questions and head to our Start Here Page to get started planning.

✈️ What is the best way to book a flight?

Usually, we have the best luck finding great prices with Skyscanner. Check for flights to both San Jose Airport (SJO) and Liberia Airport (LIR).

🛏️ What is the best way to book my Costa Rica hotels?

We highly suggest Booking.com for hotel bookings and typically use VRBO for Costa Rica vacation rentals.

🗣️What is the main language in Costa Rica?

The main language in Costa Rica is Spanish. Most people working in tourism speak at least some English.

💰 What is the currency in Costa Rica?

The currency used in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colón (CRC). However, the US dollar is widely accepted in most tourist areas

📞 What is the best way to stay connected?

An eSIM from Airalo is the easiest way to get 4G data while traveling in Costa Rica.

🌴 Is Costa Rica safe?

Generally, Costa Rica is considered safe for tourists. However, like any travel destination, it’s best to use caution and be aware of your surroundings.

🛂 Do you need a passport to go to Costa Rica?

Yes, Costa Rica is its own country. You will need a passport to visit.