Costa Rica and Mexico are two popular vacation destinations that offer a diverse range of experiences for travelers. 

Costa Rica is known for having breathtaking lush rainforests, national parks, and incredible natural attractions. Mexico is known for its pristine white-sanded beaches, rich culture, ancient Mayan ruins, and delicious authentic cuisine. 

Both places have an abundance of tourist activities. They also have many natural attractions for those seeking an adventure. 

However, they have key differences that set them apart. This guide will give you the key differences between Costa Rica and Mexico including the cost, climate, nightlife, and more.

By the end of this guide, you’ll know the key attributes of Costa Rica and Mexico so you can choose where to vacation to next. 

Costa Rica vs Mexico

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a Central American country located in the Pacific Ocean to the west of the Caribbean sea. The landscape in Costa Rica consists of lush rainforests, volcanoes, steep mountains, and tropical beaches. 

A very popular tourist activity is touring a coffee plantation since Costa Rica is home to 50,000 coffee farms. Due to its climate and soil conditions, Costa Rica is known for producing some of the world’s most flavorful Arabica coffee beans. 

Costa Rica is incredibly biodiverse and it has an abundance of natural attractions that attract visitors. Whether you’re looking to hike through an active volcano or lush rainforest with hidden waterfalls, Costa Rica has lots to offer.

Image by: Marcelo Villalobos

In addition, the country is home to a variety of stunning golden-sanded beaches that are ideal for swimming and watersports.

Some tourist attractions that are very popular in Costa Rica include the Manuel Antonio National Park, Arenal Volcano, Monteverde Cloud Forest, and the Britt Coffee Farm Tour. 

The Manuel Antonio National Park is a lush green rainforest that has an abundance of wildlife, including koalas, diverse bird species, and monkeys. The national park has 5 white-sanded beaches where you can go to swim as well. 

costa rica
Image by: Selina Bub

Costa Rican food is similar to Mexican food, with beans, rice, and corn being staples in the diet. However, Costa Rican food is hearty and uses more starchy foods like yucca and plantains. 

Popular dishes you won’t want to miss while visiting include gallo de pinto (rice and beans), sopa de pejibaye (hearty seafood soup with conch), and patacones (mashed green plantains). 

Similar to Mexico, locals in Costa Rica are friendly and welcoming. Costa Rica is culturally rich and festivals are commonly held throughout the year. 

One of their largest festivals, the Palmares Fiestas, is held every second Thursday of the year. This unique festival features a horse parade, bullfighting, fireworks, fiestas, live music, and more. 

The capital city of Costa Rica is where you’ll find museums, historical landmarks, and some of the best restaurants. The nightlife is lively and exciting in San Jose. Additionally, the San Jose Central Market is a popular market where you can pick up handmade clothing, souvenirs, spices, and fresh local ingredients. 

All in all, Costa Rica is an exceptional vacation destination if you’d like to tour a coffee plantation, hike through lush rainforests and volcanoes, or simply relax on a beach.


Mexico is located in the southern portion of North America, bordering to the north of the United States. It is known for its rich history and culture, stunning beaches, delicious cuisine, and lively nightlife. 

Similar to Costa Rica, Mexico has a diverse landscape. The landscape consists of tropical beaches, jungles, rainforests, dry deserts, canyons, and steep mountains like the Sierra Madre. 

Image by: Anna Sullivan

Mexico has 2,454 municipalities, so it offers numerous top cities for vacation. The three most popular cities for vacation include Mexico City, Cancun, and Playa del Carmen. Mexico City is a large metropolis city that’s home to the ancient ruins of Teotihuacan and museums.

Cancun is a popular beach town that has picturesque white-sandy beaches, luxurious resorts, and a vibrant nightlife. Playa del Carmen is another popular coastal town that has upscale resorts, beautiful beaches, and ancient Mayan ruins.

Mexican cuisine is beloved around the world and it’s one of the top reasons why you should visit. Mexican cuisine is incredibly flavorful and it incorporates cilantro, spices, avocado, chilies, and corn. From tacos al pastor to chilaquiles, there’s no shortage of delicious authentic Mexican food to try. 

The nightlife in Mexicos’s main cities is very lively and festive. Cities like Mexico City, Guadalajara, Playa Del Carmen, Cancun, Acapulco, and Puerto Vallarta all have bustling nightlife scenes. You can expect to find plenty of bars, nightclubs, live music venues, and potentially street parties in certain cities. 

Image by: Jezael Melgoza

Mexico’s culture is a blend of indigenous traditions and Spanish colonial heritage. The country celebrates many festivals throughout the year, including Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), and Independence Day. 

Overall, Mexico is an incredible destination for those looking to party on a beach, experience Mexico’s vibrant culture, visit ancient Mayan ruins, and try delectable traditional cuisine.

Which vacation destination is better?

Costa Rica and Mexico are incredible vacation destinations that have rich cultural histories, breathtaking landscapes, and endless activities for tourists. Due to its size, Mexico has more to offer overall. Mexico is 761,700 square miles, whereas Costa Rica is only 19,730 square miles. 

If you’re looking to explore lush rainforests with waterfalls, observe diverse wildlife, hike through active volcanoes, or tour a coffee plantation, Costa Rica is for you. 

costa rica
Image by: Atanas Malamov

If you prefer sunbathing on a white sand beach, trying some of the world’s most flavorful cuisine, visiting historical landmarks, and exploring Ancient Mayan ruins, Mexico is for you. 

However, both places offer diverse and unique experiences for travelers. The best vacation spot will ultimately depend on your preferences and the types of activities you enjoy. 

Similarities between Costa Rica and Mexico

These are a few similarities between Costa Rica and Mexico.

Lively Nightlife

Both Costa Rica and Mexico have lively nightlife scenes. Popular nightlife hotspots in Costa Rica include Sharky’s Sports Bar in Tamarindo, and Antik Restaurant & Bar, and Club Vertigo in San José. Jaco is another coastal town known in Costa Rica known for its vibrant nightlife scene, with beach bars and lively nightclubs. 

In Mexico, popular nightlife spots can be found throughout the country, especially in Cancun. Cancun is home to Coco Bongo, a well-known nightclub that features flying acrobats, live DJs, and dance parties. Playa del Carmen also has famous clubs like La Vaquita and Mandala Beach Club.

And if you don’t want to venture outside of the capital, Mexico City has a thriving nightlife as well, with hookah lounges, nightclubs, live music, and trendy bars. 


The official language in Costa Rica and Mexico is Spanish. However, Aztec, Mayan, and other indigenous languages are spoken throughout Costa Rica and Mexico.

In addition, the dialects of Spanish can differ slightly. For example, you’ll find that people in Costa Rica do not pronounce “r”s in the same way that Spanish speakers in Mexico do.

Differences between Costa Rica and Mexico

These are the key differences between Costa Rica and Mexico.

Tourist Activities: Costa Rica

There are numerous activities for tourists in Costa Rica because of its diverse landscape. From touring a coffee plantation to hiking to a hidden waterfall in a rainforest, Costa Rica has something for you!

A very popular national park in Costa Rica is The Manuel Antonio National Park. This park has lush green rainforests, tropical beaches, and a wide array of wildlife. The admission fee is $18 for adults, and $5.65 for children 2 to 11 years old. You can take a guided tour for $59 if you’d like to get the best chance of seeing sloths, monkeys, and hidden waterfalls.

The next popular attraction is the Arenal Volcano National Park. The Arenal Volcano is a large active volcano with walking trails that were created from the last eruptions of the volcano. Throughout the national park are waterfalls and hot springs that offer you the chance to relax while hiking. 

arenal volcano
Image by: Patricia Palacin

Due to Costa Rica’s volcanic soils, it produces some of the world’s most flavorful coffee beans. There are around 50,000 coffee farms throughout Costa Rica, where coffee tours are held for tourists.

Costa Rica is also home to beach towns with resorts where tourists often stay. Tamarindo is one of the most popular beach towns in Costa Rica that has golden sand beaches, national parks, watersport activities, restaurants, gyms, and breweries. If you’re looking for a blend of beaches and nightlife, staying in Tamarindo is a great idea.

Additionally, there’s a moonlight night market held every Thursday night from 6 PM to 9 PM in Tamarindo. The moonlight night market features live musical performances, DJs, fire dancers, and clowns for kids. 

All in all, Costa Rica has the perfect mix of natural attractions, beaches, and nightlife events. 

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

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

Tourist Activities: Mexico

Mexico offers an abundance of activities for visitors to explore. In Mexico City, there are many notable museums, cathedrals, castles, monuments, and historical plazas so you can get a glimpse into Mexico’s rich cultural heritage.

While you’re in the capital city, there are countless incredible restaurants where you can savor traditional Mexican cuisine. 

Mexico is home to many ancient Mayan cities, with Chicken Itza being one of the most frequently visited by tourists. Chichen Itza is located in the Yucatan peninsula and it’s a complex of majestic pyramids, temples, and ancient ruins. 

chicken itza ruins
Image by: Marv Watson

These are some of the most popular tourist attractions in Mexico.

  • Chicken Itza Ruins
  • Frida Kahlo Museum
  • Teotihicuan Pyramids
  • Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe
  • Interactive Aquarium Cancun
  • Tulum
  • The Arch of Cabo San Lucas
  • Xcaret Park

Beyond the capital city, Mexico has a variety of outstanding coastal towns, such as Cancun and Playa del Carmen.

Both Cancun and Playa del Carmen have beautiful white-sanded beaches, vibrant nightlife, and numerous activities for tourists.

Cancun has long white-sanded beaches and many opportunities for watersports and snorkeling.

cancun mexico
Image by: Gerson Repreza


Mexico has a diverse climate range, with tropical areas in the lowlands and cooler temperatures in the central highlands. The average temperature in Mexico City ranges from 41F to 81F.

On the other hand, Costa Rica has a predominantly tropical climate throughout the country, with the average temperature ranging from 75F to 90F throughout the year. 


In Costa Rica, the official currency is the Costa Rican colón, and the official currency is the peso in Mexico.

Although U.S. dollars are widely accepted in tourist areas in Costa Rica and Mexico, you should use their currency for the vast majority of purchases.


The cuisine of Costa Rica and Mexico are both delicious but there are notable differences. Costa Rican food has mild flavors and incorporates ingredients like cassava and yucca. Mexican food is known for having bold flavors and incorporating citrus and spices.

While each country has delicious cuisine, Mexico’s culinary scene is beloved worldwide for its diverse flavors. That said, you won’t struggle to find delicious food in either place. 


Mexico is generally much cheaper to travel to than Costa Rica in terms of hotels, restaurants, and tourist activities. The majority of cities in Mexico are relatively cheap to visit. However, certain Mexican cities such as Cancun or Cabo San Lucas can be more expensive than Costa Rica.  


Costa Rica is generally very safe for travelers in tourist areas. Mexico is also safe in many cities. The safest cities in Mexico include Merida, Playa del Carmen, Merida, La Paz, Guanajuato, and Campeche.

Mexico City is safe in the majority of tourist areas, but you should exercise increased caution outside of tourist areas. Like any other vacation spot, you should always take proper precautions to protect yourself and your belongings. 


Both Costa Rica and Mexico have beautiful beaches, but they offer different experiences. One of the most popular beaches in Costa Rica is Manuel Antonio Beach, located within Manuel Antonio National Park.

This secluded beach is surrounded by lush rainforests and it’s a popular spot for people to go surfing. On the other hand, some of Mexico’s most popular beaches are located in Cancun, Cozumel, and Puerto Vallarta.

Mexico has white-sanded beaches with turquoise waters that are perfect for swimming, snorkeling, and sunbathing. 

These are some of the best beaches in Costa Rica.

  • Manuel Antonio Beach
  • Playa Hermosa
  • Playa Conchal
  • Jaco Beach
  • Playa Tamarindo
costa rica beach
Image by: Selina Bub

Here are some of the best beaches in Mexico.

  • Dolphin Beach (Playa Delfines)
  • Punta Esmeralda beach (Puerto vallarta)
  • Sayulita (Puerto vallarta)
  • Playa Norte (Isla Mujeres)
  • Playa Chen Rio (Cozumel)

FAQs: Costa Rica vs Mexico

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. However, the cheapest months to visit Costa Rica are between May to November

When’s the best time to visit Mexico?

The best time to visit Mexico is between December to April during the dry season when it’s the least likely to rain. The cheapest time to visit Mexico is from July to October, however, this is during their hurricane season (May to November) so the weather may not be ideal. 

How far is Costa Rica from Mexico?

The distance between Costa Rica and Mexico is approximately 2,521 kilometers (1,566 miles). 

How do you get to Costa Rica from Mexico?

The fastest way to get to Costa Rica from Mexico is by taking a flight. The flight from Costa Rica to Mexico takes 2.5 to 3 hours. You can also take a bus to save money. The bus ride from Costa Rica to Mexico will take around 2 days and costs around $160 to $220

How long does it take to bus to Costa Rica from Mexico?

The bus trip from Mexico City to Liberia, Costa Rica takes approximately 18 hours and 11 minutes. However, the trip may take up to 2 days depending on the bus service. 

How long is the flight from Costa Rica to Mexico?

The flight time from San Jose, Costa Rica to Mexico City, Mexico is approximately 2 hours and 54 minutes on average. However, the flight duration will vary slightly depending on the specific departure and arrival cities.

Is Mexico or Costa Rica cheaper for a wedding?

Mexico generally tends to be more affordable, with the cost of a destination wedding in Mexico ranging from $2,000 to $8,000 on average. On the other hand, the cost for a destination wedding in Costa Rica ranges from $5,000 to upwards of $15,000 for larger crowds, on average. 

Is Costa Rica or Mexico better for families?

Costa Rica and Mexico are two excellent spots for a family vacation. Costa Rica has plenty of natural parks and unique wildlife to entertain kids, whereas Mexico has theme parks, waterparks, and aquariums.

In Costa Rica, you can visit the La Fortuna Waterfall, hike the Arenal volcano, explore the Manuel Antonio National Park, and go zip-lining. In Mexico, you can explore ancient Mayan ruins, visit the Xcaret Park in Cancun, or go swimming with dolphins in Isla Mujeres. 

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