Costa Rica vs Mexico – Which Country To Choose For Your Next Vacation?

Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica

Costa Rica and Mexico are popular destinations among United States travelers. Since both have much to offer, it is not easy to decide which country to choose for your next vacation.

Mexico would win if it were only about distance since it is closer. And indeed, in 2023, around 25 million tourists traveled from the U.S. to Mexico. Compared to that, Costa Rica welcomed only 1.5 million tourists from the U.S. in 2023, albeit its smaller size.

Both Costa Rica and Mexico boast unique features, offering experiences you can find in one but not the other. This article highlights the distinct charm and adventures each country has to offer.

What Makes Each Special?

Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s terrain runs amok with sun-kissed beaches, mystical cloud forests, cascading waterfalls, volcanoes, and a land teeming with exotic wildlife. Despite covering only 0.03 percent of the Earth’s surface, Costa Rica is home to nearly 6 percent of the world’s biodiversity.

But that’s not all Costa Rica has to offer. The country boasts a remarkable Spanish colony history and is influenced by traditional indigenous culture. Tourists will find Spanish cottages, colonial churches, and unique cuisine.


On the other hand, just across the border, Mexico beams with pride over its pristine coastlines, archeological sites, and the occasional glimpses of pre-Colombian culture.

The country boasts intricately white sand beaches, carved temples, historical ruins, Spanish-colonial architectural works, and breathtaking cenotes. Of course, Mexico’s cuisine is in its own league, offering tourists mouth-watering delights in every bite.

Costa Rica vs Mexico Beaches

Costa Rica

Lined with beaches along both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, Costa Rica boasts a paradise for surfers and swimmers.

The Pacific coast along Playa Tamarindo gathers surfers who can’t help but cruise along its wild waves. Beachgoers love its active nightlife, making a simple beach trip into a passion-filled night. This beach is also the departure point for scuba diving around the Santa Catalina Islands.

“Diving here, I encountered hundreds of fish species, turtles, manta rays, whales, and sharks, allowing for an up-close look at these magnificent creatures in their natural environment,” says Pamela Drager about her Santa Catalina diving experience.

If you move a little toward the south along the Pacific coast, you’ll find a serene beach near the Manuel Antonio National Park, where capuchin monkeys hang from the branches and sloths gently peek from the bushes.

In Puntenaras, tourists will love Jaco Beach, which is known for its calm waves and active nightlife.

But cross coasts to the Caribbean, and you’ll find something completely different; the Caribbean coast is much more relaxing and vibrant, offering destinations like Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, a coastal town where Salsa Brava waves test even the finest surfers. It borders the jungle, so naturalists and beachgoers find it thrilling.

A little further ahead, tourists will find Punta Uva, a blissful destination awaiting kayakers and snorkelers.


Mexican beaches have always been alluring, offering everything from a serene destination to a vibrant nightlife.

Stretched along the Caribbean coast, the Riviera Maya sports illustrious beaches, including the infamous Playa del Carmen, whose vibrant coast attracts hundreds of tourists.

On the other side there is a secluded beach of Celectun. “You can take a small boat amongst the flamingos and then swim in a sulfur spring,” says Jen Barnett, who visited the Celestún Biosphere Reserve when she was considering moving to Mexico.

Isla Holbox is a small island on the Northern coast of Yucatán. It is extremely idyllic, with no motorized vehicles and beautiful beaches.

The Pacific Mexican coast doesn’t hold back either; Cabo San Lucas sits at the tip of Baja California and invites tourists to indulge in its lush beaches, which leave nothing behind but a craving for more.

Cabo San Lucas’ dramatic landscapes, particularly Lover’s Beach, where limestone rock formations and the ocean unite, make for an exciting stay. Tourists will even find diverse opportunities to explore marine wildlife in the Sea of Cortez, or as the world calls it, the Aquarium of the World.

Things To Do

Costa Rica

If Costa Rica’s diverse landscapes weren’t enough, it also encourages ecotourism so visitors can enjoy its beauty without impacting the environment.

Honoring its varied wildlife and dense rainforests, almost all places in Costa Rica offer guided birdwatching tours to see any of its more than 900 Costa Rican bird species.

Tourists can also hike any of the six active or 61 dormant volcanoes. The most famous one is Arenal Volcano, where lava fields and hot springs combine to provide a versatile experience.

Those seeking more nuanced encounters with Mother Nature can head to Tenorio Volcano National Park and visit the stunning jewel that is Rio Celeste Waterfall. Thrill seekers can zipline through this stunning destination while the coast offers inviting opportunities for white-river rafting, canyoning, or tubing.

Of course, if you’d rather have a cup of coffee or a piece of chocolate, visit one of the plantations (fincas in Spanish) for organic products.


The splendid beaches in Mexico have tons to offer, from swimming with marine animals to taking shots at the beachfront nightclub, but Mexico has so much more to offer.

Tourists can visit San Juan Teotihuacán, an archeological complex that has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. It boasts the Avenue of the Dead and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl.

Or get a guided tour exploring the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza and Tulum, where impressive structures beat Father Time.

If you’d like to stay close to shore, beaches lined in Cancun and Los Cabos demand attention. You can snorkel, swim, surf, and dive, but if you’re up for a breathtaking dip into one of the most impressive natural landmarks in the world, explore the cenotes along Riviera Maya.

If you plan your trip a little later in the year, you can enjoy the Day of the Dead. This traditional Mexican holiday celebrates the afterlife with decorated altars, vibrant costumes, and remarkable performances.

“What I loved about Mexico is its diversity, and we only visited the Yucatán and Quintana Roo. Here you’ll find some of Mexico’s most-visited attractions, including Cancun and Chichen Itza. But you’ll also find incredible ruins in Tulum, Coba, and Uxmal. If you don’t mind renting a car, the Puuc Route is a marvelous road that takes you along 5+ historic Mayan sites in the span of hours, away from the tourists.” says Marjolein Dilven, founder of Spark Nomad.


Costa Rica

You wouldn’t expect a simple cuisine to attract thousands of tourists, but foodies love Costa Rica’s Pura Vida lifestyle, where even the simplest combinations become a tantalizing affair.

Break apart a traditional Costa Rican lunch called casado, a combo meal of rice, beans, salads, plantains, tortillas, and a side of chicken or your preferred meat. This dish sits at the core of Pura Vida and offers a delightful munch.

Of course, other Hispanic food like gallo pinto is worth every bite, too; this flavorful combination of rice, spices, beans, and herbs like cilantro is topped with a heavy serving of eggs, sour cream, and tortillas, making it a breakfast champ.

You’ll also love the crispy caramelized slices of fried plantains and the abundant fruits, including guavas, papayas, mangoes, and pineapples.


If you don’t trust foodie reviews, look up UNESCO, which lists Mexican cuisine as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Mexican cuisine is worth every bite, offering a flavorful blend of aromatic herbs, colorful vegetables, and influences from Spanish and indigenous cultures.

While we’re pretty familiar with the humble taco, dishes like mole deserve separate praise. This unique sauce contains a powerful blend of spices, nuts, and Mexican chiles, making even plain boiled rice into a star-studded dish.

“You’ll even find hints of chocolate in some chili recipe variations, which surprisingly tie up the dish altogether,” says Nandor Barta, a food blogger at My Pure Plants and an avid Mexican food lover.

If you’re wondering where Mexican cuisine gets most of its umami, the answer lies in Mezcal, a rich distilled spirit made from over 30 types of agave. A spritz of Mezcal enhances every food, be it a simple beverage, a cocktail, or even a savory marinade for salmon.

Where to Stay

Costa Rica

Costa Rica offers many high-end eco resorts and eco-lodges, inviting guests to wake up in the middle of the rainforest surrounded by dense flora and fauna.

The Origins Lodge in Alajuela offers bungalows lined across its private rainforest reserve, where you’ll have a 180-degree view as far as Nicaragua. Its garden and extended premises are home to more than 250 Costa Rican bird species, from hummingbirds to toucans.

If you are an adventure seeker, another ideal destination is Rios Lodge. Since the Lodge is nestled in the middle of a primary rainforest, you can only get there if you join a whitewater rafting tour. Zip-lining, canyoning, tubing, and other adventures wait for visitors there, all in one place.


Travelers seeking refined, luxurious accommodation can head to any of the all-inclusive resorts. Adults hoping to rendezvous in Cancun can reserve a suite in Secrets: The Vine Cancun, a luxury adults-only resort by Hyatt.

Or opt for a more sustainable choice like Playa Viva, promising wooden treehouses, gourmet dining, and a glorious spa.

Of course, those flocking to Mexico to save costs can spend the night in Bungalows Zicatela, a three-star resort in Puerto Escondido. Those on a minimal budget can head to the Cabana Areca in Acapulco.

How Much It May Cost You

Costa Rica

A trip to Costa Rica can be expensive, especially if you book around peak times and choose to stick with luxurious and more popular activities. Based on this, you could easily spend around $850-1,450 a week and about $2,500 or more with high-end destinations.

Here’s a simple breakdown:

  • Hotel Costs: $35-150 + per night ($280-1,200 for 8 days)
  • Food: $25-80 per day ($200-600 for 8 days)
  • Activities and sightseeing: minimum $60-200 depending on the activity
  • Transport: $5-20 per day ($40-160 for 8 days)

Rough estimation: A trip to Costa Rica will cost $600 for an economical 8-day trip and $2,160 for a high-end 8-day trip.

Flights can cost around $500-550 per person, averaging a two-person trip to roughly $1600 for an economical and $3,160 for a high-end trip. Of course, prices are subject to change depending on the season, time, and choice of hotel and activity.


A trip to Mexico can be pretty affordable unless you spend your time in luxurious destinations.

Here is a simple breakdown:

  • Hotel Costs: $35-200 + per night ($280-1,600 for 8 days)
  • Food: $15-50 per day ($120-400 for 8 days)
  • Activities and sightseeing: minimum $10-200 depending on the activity
  • Transport: $5-50 per day, depending on the mode of transit ($40-400 for 8 days)

Rough Estimation: A budget-friendly eight-day trip to Mexico can cost around $500-$600; a high-end stay can cost up to or more than $2,500.

Flights won’t cost you much since the U.S. is so close to Mexico, and you can even cross the border directly by car.

Best Time to Visit

Costa Rica

Costa Rica shines during the dry season, which runs from December to April. This is when the weather is perfect for outdoor activities like exploring the cloud forest and visiting the beach.

However, this peak season attracts thousands of tourists, so prices surge, which could upset your budget.

Victoria, who travels Central America as a writer and photographer, advises that visiting from November to April increases the likelihood of good weather despite higher costs. She believes the investment is worthwhile for the enhanced experience compared to the rainy season.

The rainy season, mainly from May to November, doesn’t attract many crowds, and prices drop to discounted rates. However, the rainy weather makes planning outdoor activities difficult.

I recommend planning your trip between April and May for the South or February and March for the North, so you can still visit in pleasant weather and enjoy discounted prices. If you’re visiting later, plan the journey before September to October, the wettest months in the country.


Mexico is an all-time destination, but most tourists flock between December and April during the dry and colder season. This is when the weather is pleasant enough to explore the outdoors without breaking into sweat, and the sun is warm enough to get a nice tan. Naturally, prices take a dramatic surge during this time.

The rainy season, April to November, attracts fewer tourists, so most hotels and destinations lower prices. However, unexpected cloud bursts and hurricanes are common between the wetter months, June and October, so you’d better plan your trip in March, April, or May.

“I have been to Mexico dozens of times and now that I mostly travel with my family, we prefer to go at less popular times, typically September and October. Especially, if you are visiting one of the popular resorts, traveling during the shoulder season means you don’t have to worry about snagging a pool chair by 8 am or waiting in line for dinner,” says Alexandra Casparo, a frequent traveler and blogger at Delish Knowledge. “You can usually grab a cheaper airfare, too. Our trip in October was almost half the price of the same ticket in December.”

When it comes to Costa Rica vs Mexico, you really can’t go wrong!

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Emese Maczko is a travel writer and content creator behind Eco Lodges Anywhere. Having explored several destinations around Europe, the US, Central America, Indonesia, and Australia, and resided in Germany, the United Kingdom, and Luxembourg, Emese possesses a keen understanding of diverse cultures and an appreciation for the beauty of each destination she visits. She advocates for sustainable travel and ecotourism.

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