Wondering whether to visit Costa Rica or Cancun for vacation? If so, this article is for you!

Costa Rica is known for its exceptional national parks, volcanoes, and lush rainforests teeming with wildlife. Cancun is known for its luxurious resorts, delicious Mexican cuisine, and ancient Mayan ruins.

But, which place is better for a vacation? I’ve stayed in both of these places, and am putting together this guide to help you plan your next trip!

My guide will cover how they compare in terms of cost, climate, tourist attractions, nightlife, and more.

So, keep on reading to learn which destination is best suited for you!

costa rica vs cancun
Image by: Sterlinglanier Lanier | E Mens

A Brief Overview of Costa Rica and Cancun


Costa Rica



Rainforests, active volcanoes, lush jungles, towering mountains, tropical beaches

White sand beaches, cenotes, mangrove jungles, lagoons

Tourist Attractions

  • Manuel Antonio National Park
  • Monteverde Cloud Forests
  • Arenal Volcano
  • Coffee Plantation Tours
  • Ancient Mayan Ruins
  • Playa Delfines 
  • Isla Mujeres
  • Xcaret Park


  • Gallo Pinto (rice and beans mixed with salsa, peppers, and onions)
  • Casado (plate of rice, beans, plantains, tortilla, and salad)
  • Chifrijos (fried pork belly and beans)
  • Tamales (meat filled corn based dough)
  • Tacos al pastor (grilled pork tacos)
  • Castacan (fried pork belly)
  • Marquesitas ( dessert crepe with chocolate, condensed milk, and cheese)


Beach bars, night clubs, karaoke bars, comedy clubs

Beach bars, fiestas, lively nightclubs (Coco Bongo nightclub)


The average daily price for one person to visit is $113, on average

The average daily price for one person to visit is $145, on average

Costa Rica 

Located in Central America, Costa Rica is a popular destination for tourists, and for good reason! Costa Rica is famous for it’s lush rainforests, magnificent volcanoes, and tropical beaches. 

Costa Rica has numerous tourist attractions, including national parks, waterfalls, coffee farms, animal reserves, cloud forests, volcanoes, and more.

Whether you want to visit scenic waterfalls in a rainforest, or go on a coffee-tasting tour, Costa Rica has something for you.

costa rica
Image by: Atanas Malamov

Costa Rica is known for producing some of the world’s most flavorful Arabica coffee beans, due to its nutrient rich volcanic soil. In fact, Costa Rica has around 50,000 coffee farms, with many farms offering tours.

If you love coffee, I highly recommend you go on the Britt Coffee Tour. It’s a 1.5 hour long tour of their coffee plantation and roastery, followed by a traditional Costa Rican lunch.

The Britt Coffee Tour is one a 30 minute drive from the capital, and tickets are $44 USD for a tour with lunch provided.

Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park
(Image by: Atanas Malamov)

A must-visit place for anyone visiting Costa Rica is the Manuel Antonio National Park. This national park is surrounded by lush rainforests, scenic waterfalls, and an abundance of wildlife.

The park is home to koalas, monkeys, sloths, diverse bird species, and other impressive wildlife. 

In addition, there are 5 white sand beaches located within the national park where you can go to swim. The beaches within the park are some of the most stunning beaches you’ll find in Costa Rica. 

Arenal Volcano
Arenal Volcano
(Image by: Rikin Katyal)

Other popular tourist attractions include the Arenal Volcano and Monteverde Cloud Forest. The Arenal Volcano National Park has multiple hiking trails, with breathtaking views of the massive Arenal Volcano.

The Monteverde Cloud Forest is a forest nestled on the Tilaran mountain range, at such a high elevation you can touch the clouds! 

Monteverde, Costa Rica
Monteverde, Costa Rica
(Image by: Florian Delee)

Although not as flavorful as Mexican cuisine, Costa Rican cuisine is comforting and delicious.

Costa Rican cuisine has mild flavors and uses starchy ingredients like beans, rice, potatoes, and plantains. Their national dish is “gallo pinto”, a dish of rice and beans mixed with pepper, salsa, and onions. 

In the capital city, San Jose, there are museums, historical sites, theaters, restaurants, cafes, and the San Jose Central Market. The San Jose Central Market is a bustling market where you can purchase everything from handmade clothing, to meat and spices. 

Overall, Costa Rica is an excellent place to visit if you enjoy exploring nature, hiking, and trying delicious coffee. 


Located on Mexican’s Caribbean Coast, Cancun is a popular destination for travelers seeking a relaxing vacation. Cancun is known for its pristine white sand beaches, magnificent ancient Mayan ruins, and exciting nightlife.

cancun mexico
Hotel Zone, Cancun
Image by: Gerson Repreza

Being that it’s on the Carribean Coast, Cancun is home to beautiful white sand beaches.

Cancun’s most popular beach is Playa Delfines, or “Dolphin Beach”, which is a long stretch of powdery white sand with crystal clear waters. The beach has a laid-back atmosphere, and you may get to spot dolphins in the waters!

Similar to Costa Rica, Cancun is an excellent vacation spot for families. The Hotel Zone has amusement parks, aquariums, water parks, pirate shows, and more to entertain kids.

chicken itza
Chichen Itza Ruins
(Image by: Filip Gielda)

What sets Cancun apart from Costa Rica is it’s ancient Mayan ruins, and cenotes. Cancun is home to numerous ancient Mayan sites, including the Chichen Itza, Tulum, and El Rey ruins.

Additionally, the ruins are near cenotes (natural pools), that are open to the public for swimming! You can spend the day exploring ancient Mayan ruins, and go swimming in a cenote to cool off.

Cenote Ik Kil
Cenote Ik Kil
(Image by: Laura Labrie)

Another popular tourist activity in Cancun is visiting Isla Mujeres, a small island located about 13km from the coast. Isla Mujeres has some of Cancun’s most beautiful beaches, and is a great spot for swimming and snorkeling.

Isla Mujeres
Isla Mujeres
(Image by: Gerson Repreza)

To get to Isla Mujeres, you can take a 20 minute ferry from the coast of Cancun. On Isla Mujeres, you can swim with whale sharks, or go on a snorkeling tour to the MUSA Underwater Museum.

If you’re a foodie, there’s no shortage of delicious Mexican food in Cancun. From tacos al pastor to fresh tamales, you’ll get to try some of the best authentic Mexican cuisine while in Cancun.

Cancun is also known for having some of the liveliest nightlife scenes in the world. There’s boat parties, fiestas, rooftop bars, and lively nightclubs. The Coco Bongo Nightclub is a popular venue that features live DJs, musical performances, flying acrobats, and more

Overall, Cancun has pristine beaches, impressive ancient Mayan sites, delicious food, and lively nightlife.

Where To Visit in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has a diverse landscape and is full of natural beauty. Whether you’re looking to explore an active volcano or relax on a beach, Costa Rica has something for everyone. 

The most popular tourist attraction in Costa Rica is the Manuel Antonio National Park.

Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park
(Image by: Simone Dinoia)

This national park is a tropical jungle with mangrove forests, waterfalls, white sand beaches, and diverse wildlife. The admission fee is $18.08 USD for adults, and $5.65 for children.

As you explore the national park, you’ll get to see monkeys, sloths, and over 100 different animal species! Additionally, the park has 5 serene white sand beaches you can stop by to have a picnic. 

The Arenal Volcano National Park is another must visit destination in Costa Rica. It’s a large national park with excellent hiking trails, swimmable hot springs, and waterfalls.

arenal volcano
Arenal Volcano
(Image by: Patricia Palacin)

Within the Arenal Volcano National Park is the stunning La Fortuna Waterfall. This is a 70 to 75 meter tall waterfall that’s surrounded by lush green rainforests.

I highly recommend you walk the Bogarin trail to see sloths and other impressive wildlife while exploring the Fortuna waterfall. The entrance fee is $15 USD for adults, and $35 to $60 USD for a guided tour

La Fortuna Waterfall
La Fortuna Waterfall
(Image by: Etienne Delorieux)

If you have the time, the Monteverde Cloud Forest is well worth visiting.  This rainforest is sitting on a mountain at such a high altitude you can touch the clouds.

Entrance fee is $25 for adults, $12 for children, and is open daily from 7AM to 4PM. 

Monteverde Cloud Forest
Monteverde Cloud Forest
(Image by: Selina Bubendorfer)

The Monteverde Cloud Forest is a 3 hour drive away from the Arenal Volcano, or a 3 hour drive away from San Jose.

The drive to Monteverde Cloud Forest can be bumpy, so you may want to rent an SUV if you plan on visiting the Arenal Volcano/Monteverde areas.

I highly recommend and always use Discover cars to rent a car while in Costa Rica. They have the best deals and offer free cancellations for 48 hours up to your reservation.

Although not as notable as Cancun, Costa Rica has many excellent beaches. Jaco Beach, Tamarindo Beach, and Tortuguero Beach are some of the best beaches in Costa Rica.

Distance from San José:

  • Jaco Beach: 1 hr and 30 min
  • Tamarindo: 3 hr and 38 min
  • Tortuguero: 2 hr and 23 min

Jaco Beach is the closest beach town to San Jose, and it’s known for its dark pebbled sand and large waves for surfing. Tamarindo is a tourist hotspot and has restaurants, resorts, gyms, bars, and beaches with water sport activities.

Tortuguero beach is a village located on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast that’s a major nesting site for sea turtles. If you visit Costa during July to October, you’ll have a good chance of spotting sea turtles. 

Within the capital city of San Jose, there are cafes, museums, theaters, historical landmarks, parks, and the San Jose Central Market. The San Jose Central Market sells handmade clothing, jewelry, fruits, spices, meat, and more. 

Here are some of Costa Rica’s top tourist attractions. 

  • Manuel Antonio National Park
  • Arenal Volcano
  • Tamarindo Beach
  • Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve
  • Tortuguero National Park
  • La Fortuna Waterfall
  • National Museum of Costa Rica

Where To Visit In Cancun

Cancun is most known for it’s luxurious resorts, but it has plenty of hidden gems for tourists. Whether you’re looking to swim in cenotes or go on a whale shark tour, there’s something for everyone. 

Hotel Zone, Cancun
Hotel Zone, Cancun
(Image by: Carlos Huchim)

In the Hotel Zone of Cancun, there are shopping centers, aquariums, golf courses, and amusement parks, near all of the resorts. One of the closest beaches to the Hotel Zone is “Dolphin Beach” or Playa Delfines. 

Playa Delfines is located south of the Hotel Zone, and it has powdery white sand, crystal clear waters, and calm waves. To visit, you can take a bus from the Hotel Zone for $10 to $12, and the ride will take around 35 minutes. Taxis are also widely available, but they’ll be more expensive. 

Playa Delfines
(Image by: David Vives)

Cancun is known for having several fascinating Ancient Mayan ruins, with Chichen Itza, the El Rey Ruins, and the Tulum ruins being popular sites.

The El Rey Ruins are about 30 minutes away from the Hotel Zone, so they’re the closest ruins to the resorts.

The Tulum ruins are 1 hour and 30 minutes away from the resorts, while Chichen Itza is around 2 hours and 45 minutes away. The Tulum ruins sit on striking cliffs overlooking the ocean, and they’re often less crowded than the other sites.

Tulum Ruins
(Image by: Anna Sullivan)

If you have the time, I highly recommend you visit the Chichen Itza ruins.

The ruins have pyramids, temples, and are nearby to several cenotes, including the famous Ik Kil Cenote. This is the most popular cenote for swimming, and it’s open to the public daily from 9AM to 5PM

chichen itza ruins
Chichen Itza Ruins
(Image by: Marv Watson)

Another popular attraction in Cancun is Isla Mujeres. Isla Mujeres is a tiny island located around 8 miles off the coast of Cancun.

To visit Isla Mujeres, you can easily take a 20 minute ferry from Playa Caracol, Playa Tortugas, or El Embarcadero beach. The ferry service is available every 30 minutes, and the ride costs $21 USD for a round trip.

Isla Mujeres, Cancun
Isla Mujeres, Cancun
(Image by: Alex Person)

Isla Mujeres has some of the most beautiful beaches, and diverse coral reefs. On Isla Mujeres, you can snorkel, scuba dive, or book a tour to swim with whale sharks. 

A popular night time event in Cancun is the Xochimilco Mexico floating fiesta. You’ll get to party with locals on gondolas moving through the Mayan jungle, while enjoying food and music. The tour lasts 3 hours, and it’s only 25 minutes away from the Hotel Zone. 

Beyond tourist attractions, Cancun is home to many incredible beaches. The beaches have water sport equipment rentals, boat tours, sunset cruises, and excellent street food vendors. 

Here are some of the top tourist attractions in Cancun

  • La Isla Paradise Experience
  • El Rey Archaeological Zone
  • Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins
  • Tulum Mayan Ruins
  • Xochimilco Mexican Floating Fiesta
  • Xcaret Amusement Park
  • Interactive Aquarium
  • Tierra Del Sol Golf Course

Which place is better for a vacation?

Costa Rica and Cancun both offer endless opportunities for fun and adventure. 

If you’re looking to hike volcanoes, tour a coffee farm, and explore some of the world’s most biodiverse rainforests, Costa Rica’s the place for you.

If you’re looking to visit ancient Mayan ruins, try authentic Mexican cuisine, party till dawn, or simply relax on a white sand beach, Cancun is the place for you. 

Regardless of which place you choose to visit, you’ll have an amazing time. 

If you plan on visiting either place, the ideal length of time to stay is 10 days. 

Costa Rica vs Cancun


Costa Rica and Cancun each have tropical climates, with relatively warm weather year-round. The average temperature in Costa Rica ranges from 75°F-90°F, while the average temperature in Cancun ranges between 67°F-90°F.


Cancun and Costa Rica both have beautiful Caribbean beaches. The beaches in Cancun are long white sand beaches with crystal clear waters that are perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and snorkeling. One of the best beaches in Cancun is Playa Delfines, a 14 mile white sand beach with umbrellas and free lounge chairs to relax on! 

Costa Rica has Caribbean beaches as well, but they’re farther away from the capital. You can drive 3 hours and 30 minutes from San José to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, which is home to Costa Rica’s most stunning beaches. 

However, the majority of Costa Rica’s beaches are known for surfing because they have large waves. Jaco Beach and Tamarindo Beach are popular spots for surfing, and they’re surrounded by restaurants, hotels, and bars.

Here are some of the best beaches in Costa Rica. 

  • Manuel Antonio Beach
  • Playa Hermosa
  • Tortuguero Beach
  • Jaco Beach
  • Playa Tamarindo
  • Cahuita
  • Punta Uva
  • Manzanillo

Here are some of the best beaches in Cancun.

  • Playa Delfines 
  • Tulum Beach
  • Playa Tortugas
  • Playa Caracol
  • Playa Langosta 
  • El Niño Beach


The official currency of Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colón, whereas the official currency in Cancun is the Mexican peso. US dollars are widely accepted in tourist places, but you should convert to their currency for most purchases. 

The conversion rate of Costa Rican colones to USD is: 1 Costa Rican Colon = 0.0018 USD. The conversion rate of Mexican pesos to USD is: 1 Mexican peso = 0.059 USD. 


Costa Rica and Cancun have incredible traditional food. However, Costa Rican cuisine is not the same as Mexican cuisine. Costa Rican food typically has mild flavors and uses starchy ingredients like rice, beans, potatoes, and plantains. 

costa rican food
Image by: Loren Biser

Compared to Costa Rican cuisine, Mexican cuisine is flavorful and incorporates more spices. The staple ingredients in Mexican cuisine are corn, beans, and chiles. In Cancun, you’ll find everything from street taco vendors to fine-dining seafood restaurants by the beach. 

mexican food
Image by: Chitokan C

Here are some of the most popular dishes in Costa Rica.

  • Gallo Pinto: Rice and beans mixed with salsa, peppers, and onions
  • Sopa de Pejibaye: Creamy soup made out of palm fruit 
  • Casado: Plate of rice, beans, meat, salad, and fried plantains.
  • Olla De Carne: Thick, spicy beef stew
  • Rosquillas: Cornmeal biscuits with with cheese or sour cream 

Here are some of the most common dishes you’ll find in Cancun.

  • Tamales: corn based dough filled with meat or cheese
  • Tacos al pastor: tacos with thinly sliced marinated pork 
  • Cochinita Pibil: slow roasted pork
  • Marquesitas: crispy crepes filled with chocolate, condensed milk, and cheese
  • Empanadas: flour based dough filled with meat or cheese


Costa Rica is generally more affordable to visit than Cancun. The average daily price for one person to vacation in Costa Rica is $111, and $145 in Cancun. However, you can cut costs visiting Cancun by visiting during their off season.

The cheapest time to visit Cancun is typically from December to April, and from May to June. On the other hand, the cheapest time to visit Costa Rica is from May to September


Cancun and Costa Rica have plenty of bars and clubs, but Cancun has the best nightlife overall. Cancun has everything from fiestas to energetic nightclubs.

Cancun’s top nightlife spot is The Coco Bongo Nightclub, located in the Hotel Zone. It features acrobats, live performances, confetti, DJ’s, and more. Additionally, Cancun has sunset cruises, boat parties, and the Xoximilco floating fiesta. 

In contrast, Costa Rica has a more laid-back night life. The best nightlife spots in Costa Rica are in San Jose, Tamarindo beach, and Jaco beach. There are lively nightclubs in San Jose, and several bars along the beaches of Tamarindo and Jaco. 


The official language in Costa Rica and Cancun is Spanish. Around 38% of the Costa Rican population can speak English fluently, and almost everyone can speak English in Cancun. 

When’s the best time to visit Costa Rica?

The best time to visit Costa Rica is between December to April, during the dry season. But if you’re looking to save money, the cheapest months to visit are between May to November

When’s the best time to visit Cancun?

The best time to visit Cancun is generally from December to April. But if you’re looking to save money, the best time to visit is from December to April, or May to June. This is typically when hotel rates and plane prices are the lowest. 


Costa Rica is generally very safe for travelers in tourist areas, but you should exercise caution in non-tourist areas. Cancun is also very safe for travelers, but you should still exercise caution in non-tourist areas.

Stay safe by being aware of your surroundings, concealing your belongings, and avoid walking alone at night. In addition, read about the areas you plan on visiting beforehand. 

Also read:


How far is Costa Rica from Cancun?

Costa Rica is approximately 2,104.9 kilometers away from Cancun. 

Is Cancun or San Jose, Costa Rica safer?

Cancun and San Jose, Costa Rica are generally very safe in tourist areas. However, you should exercise increased caution in their downtown areas. 

What airlines fly directly from Cancun to Costa Rica?

Airlines that fly directly from Cancun to Costa Rica include Copa airlines, Avianca, Volaris, and Aeromexico. 

How long is the flight from Cancun to Costa Rica?

The flight from Cancun to Costa Rica is 2 hours and 12 minutes, on average.

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