Unsure whether to travel to Costa Rica or Ecuador for vacation? If so, this article’s for you!

Costa Rica is known for its beautiful lush rainforests, abundant wildlife, volcanoes, and exceptional national parks. Ecuador is known for its charming old colonial towns, Amazonian rainforests, volcanic crater lake, and the Galapagos Islands. 

But, which place is better for vacation? I’ve visited each of these places in the past.

Although they both have beautiful natural attractions, there are key differences that set them apart. 

This guide will cover the key differences between Costa Rica and Ecuador’s landscape, climate, nightlife, cost, and more.

costa rica and ecuador

By the end of this guide, you’ll know what each country has to offer so you can choose your next vacation! 

Quick Comparison of Costa Rica and Ecuador


Costa Rica



19,730 square miles

98,985 square miles


Lush rainforests, steep mountains, cloud forests, coffee farms, volcanos, and tropical beaches

Lush Amazonian rainforests, Andes mountains, colonial cities, Galapagos Islands, and tropical beaches

Things to do

  • Manuel Antonio National Park
  • Monteverde Cloud Forest
  • Tamarindo Beach
  • Arenal Volcano
  • Quito’s Historical Old Town
  • Quilotoa Volcanic Crater Lake
  • Charles Darwin Research Center 
  • Otavalo Market
  • Nightlife

    Lively (night markets, sports bars, karaoke bars, dance clubs)

    Festive and abundant (disco clubs, nightclubs, bars, and dance parties)


    The average daily cost is $111 per person

    The average daily cost in Ecuador is $63 per person

    A Brief Overview of Costa Rica

    Located in Central America, Costa Rica is a small country that has 19,730 square miles. Its landscape consists of rainforests, volcanoes, cloud forests, mountains, and tropical beaches. 

    Guatuso, Costa Rica
    Photo by: Marcelo Villalobos

    From hiking through active volcanoes to going on a tour through a coffee plantation, Costa Rica has a handful of unique activities for tourists.

    Additionally, Costa Rica has beautiful white and gold sand beaches that are ideal for swimming and surfing. 

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

    The Manuel Antonio National Park is a rainforest that’s home to sloths, diverse bird species, and tons of fascinating wildlife. Within the national park are 5 white-sandy beaches where you can go to swim as well. 

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

    The cuisine in Costa Rica is similar to Ecuadorian cuisine, with seafood, beans, rice, corn, and plantains being staples in the diet. Some of the most popular dishes include gallo de pinto (rice and beans), sopa de pejibaye (hearty seafood soup with conch), and patacones (mashed green plantains). 

    Locals in Costa Rica are warm and hospitable. If you’re looking to immerse yourself in the culture, make sure to book a trip when a festival is held. Palmares Fiestas is their largest festival held every second Thursday of the year, and features a horse parade, bullfighting, fireworks, and fiestas. 

    In the capital of San Jose, there are museums, butterfly gardens, and the San Jose Central Market. The Central Market is a lively market where you can pick up handmade clothing, souvenirs, spices, and fresh local ingredients. 

    The nightlife in Costa Rica is abundant and there’s a lively party scene in San Jose’s Barrio California, and the beach town of Tamarindo

    Overall, Costa Rica is a remarkable vacation destination if you’re looking to observe wildlife, tour a coffee plantation, hike through beautiful rainforests, or simply relax on the beach!

    A Brief Overview of Ecuador

    Located on the equator in South America, Ecuador is a country with one of the most breathtaking landscapes.

    Galapagos Islands
    Galapagos Islands (Photo by: Nathalie Marquis)

    Ecuador is 98,985 square miles so it is nearly 5 times larger than Costa Rica! Its landscape consists of lush forests, the Andes Mountains, cloud forests, lush rainforests, volcanos, coastal lowlands, and the prized Galapagos Islands.

    ecuador city
    Quito, Ecuador (Image by: Mauricio Munoz)

    The capital of Ecuador, Quito, is a colonial old town that’s home to the UNESCO World Heritage site, museums, and other magnificent historical sites that are worth a visit. 

    The Galapagos Islands are one of the most prized places in Ecuador. The Galapagos are a group of 127 islands that are home to volcanic mountains, biodiverse forests, white-sandy beaches, and an abundance of wildlife. 

    The cuisine in Ecuadorian food is diverse. Some of the most popular dishes include ceviche, fried plantains, roasted guinea pig (cuy), and seafood dishes.

    Like Costa Rica, the nightlife in Ecuador is lively and festive. In nearly every city of Ecuador, there’s a nightlife district. The cities of Quito and Guayaquil have a variety of popular bars, clubs, live music venues, restaurants, and casinos. 

    Similar to Costa Rica, Ecuador is culturally rich and festivals, parades, and carnivals are commonly held throughout the year. 

    All in all, Ecuador is an excellent place to vacation if you’re looking for a truly unique experience. Whether you’re looking to walk through the colonial old buildings of Quito or spend the day observing wildlife at the Galapagos, Ecuador has something for you!

    Differences Between Costa Rica and Ecuador

    • Costa Rica is 19,730 square miles whereas Ecuador is 98,985 square miles
    • Costa Rica is part of Central America, and Ecuador is in South America
    • Costa Rica has 79 islands while Ecuador has 127 islands
    • Costa Rica has 32 national parks whereas Ecuador has 11 national parks
    • June is the dry season in Ecuador but the rainy season in Costa Rica
    • Costa Rica doesn’t experience snowfall while Ecuador does in the Andes Mountains
    • Costa Rica’s currency is the Colon (₡), whereas Ecuador’s currency is the US dollar

    Similarities Between Costa Rica and Ecuador

    • They both have lush rainforests, active volcanoes, national parks, and abundant wildlife
    • Each place has cities and beach towns with lively nightlife scenes
    • Uber and public transportation are available in both places

    Which place has the best beaches?

    Both Costa Rica and Ecuador have stunning beaches where you can go swimming or snorkeling. In Costa Rica, you can find beautiful white-sandy beaches surrounded by lush rainforests in Manuel Antonio National Park.

    It’s also home to lively beach towns like Jaco where you can stay at a resort, go shopping, and explore the nearby tourist attractions.

    In Ecuador, some of the best beaches are located in the Galapagos Islands. Tortuga Bay Beach is one of the most beloved beaches that’s home to turtles, iguanas, and diverse wildlife. In addition, Salinas is a popular beach town where you can go on a whale-watching tour, eat at a waterfront restaurant, and go salsa dancing at night!

    These are some of the top beaches in Costa Rica. 

    • Manuel Antonio Beach
    • Tamarindo Beach
    • Santa Teresa Beach
    • Playa Conchal
    • Playa Hermosa

    These are some of the best beaches in Ecuador.

    • Los Frailes Beach
    • Tortuga Bay in Galapagos Islands
    • Montañita Beach
    • Salinas Beach
    • Playa Puerto Lopez

    Things To Do In Costa Rica

    Whether you’re looking to tour a coffee plantation or hike through a cloud forest, Costa Rica has something for you. 

    One of the best places to visit in Costa Rica is The Manuel Antonio National Park. The national park has lush green rainforest, scenic waterfalls, stunning white-sanded beaches, and a wide array of wildlife. You can expect to see sloths, monkeys, squirrels, and diverse bird species throughout the park!

    Additionally, Costa Rica has over 30 other major natural parks so there’s no shortage of fascinating wildlife to observe while there.

    The next must-see attraction is the Arenal Volcano, a large active volcano with walking trails. You can hike through the Las Colados trail or the “lava flow trail”, a 1.2-mile trail that marks the location of the 1992 eruption of the volcano. 

    Arenal Volcano
    Arenal Volcano (Image by: Rikin Katyal)

    Costa Rica is home to over 50,000 coffee farms and is known for producing some of the world’s most flavorful Arabica coffee beans.

    If you plan on visiting Costa Rica, taking a tour through a coffee plantation is worthwhile. The Britt Coffee Tour is a popular 90-minute coffee tour that’ll take you through the plantation, and send you off with freshly roasted coffee beans. 

    If you’re looking to enjoy time out at the beach, Tamarindo is a great beach town to stay at. It has some of the most stunning gold-sanded beaches in Costa Rica, along with national parks, surf shops, gyms, restaurants, and breweries.

    Every Thursday night from 6 PM to 9 PM in Tamarindo is the Moonlight Night Market, a festival held from 6 PM to 9 PM that hosts live musical performances, DJs, fire dancers, and clowns for kids. 

    The capital city of Costa Rica, San Jose, has a handful of museums, parks, butterfly gardens, and the lively San Jose central market.

    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
    • Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve
    • Tortuguero National Park
    • La Fortuna Waterfall
    • National Museum of Costa Rica
    • Corcovado National Park

    Things To Do In Ecuador

    From cloud forests to volcanoes, there are endless places to explore while visiting Ecuador. 

    The Galápagos Islands are well-known volcanic islands known for their unique wildlife and fascinating tourist attractions. While visiting the Galapagos Islands, you won’t miss visiting Tortuga Bay, a white sandy beach that’s home to iguanas, turtles, sea lions, and more unique wildlife.

    Another must-see attraction is the Charles Darwin Research Center, which is home to the large Galapagos Tortoises. It has a cafe and the admission is free so it’s a great place to stop while exploring the islands. 

    Another must-visit destination in Ecuador is Quito, the country’s historic capital. You can explore the UNESCO World Heritage site and the well-preserved colonial old town. This little town has charming cobblestone streets, plazas, museums, and historic churches. You can take a ride on the Teleférico cable car to get a breathtaking view of the city. 

    One of the most noteworthy tourist attractions is the Quilotoa crater lake, which is around 4 hours from Quito. This is a crater lake in the Andes mountains that was formed by the collapse of a volcano! You can visit the town of Quilotoa and hike 3 to 5 hours to get the perfect panoramic view. 

    ecuador crater lake
    Quilotoa crater lake (Photo by: Robinson Recalde)

    If you want to immerse yourself in the culture, Playas Del Ponchos in the city of Otavalo deserves a visit. Playas Del Pochos is the largest market in Ecuador where you can pick up handmade ponchos, sweaters, and art. While you’re in the city of Otavola you can visit Peguche waterfall, a beautiful waterfall surrounded by lush green vegetation. 

    Beyond this, Ecuador has plenty of museums, national parks, historical landmarks, and nature preserves in Ecuador’s most populated city, Guayaquil. 

    Here are some of Ecuador’s top tourist activities.

    • Galápagos Islands
    • Quito’s historic old town
    • Chimborazo Volcano
    • Intiñan Site Museum
    • Laguna Quilotoa
    • Nambillo Waterfall Sanctuary
    • Cotopaxi National Park
    • Otavalo Market
    • Peguche Waterfall
    • The Equator line
    • Mindo Cloud Forest

    How does the climate differ?

    Unlike Costa Rica, the climate varies greatly in Ecuador. In the eastern part of Ecuador, the climate is hot and humid year-round.

    On the other hand, the temperature in the town of Quito ranges from 47 to 68 F throughout the year. The average temperature in Ecuador’s port city, Guayaquil, ranges from 69 F to 89 F throughout the year.

    Costa Rica’s temperature is warm and humid year-round, with temperatures ranging from 75 F to 90 F throughout the year. 


    In Costa Rica, the official currency is the Costa Rican colón, whereas the official currency in Ecuador is the US dollar. However, the US dollar is widely accepted throughout Costa Rica. The exchange rate for Costa Rican colones to dollars is: 1 Costa Rica Colon = 0.0019 USD. 


    Spanish is the official language in both Ecuador and Costa Rica, spoken by the majority of the population.

    Many people in Costa Rica speak English fluently, which is not as common in Ecuador. However, English is widely spoken in tourist locations.

    Which place has the better cuisine?

    Both Costa Rica and Ecuador have delicious traditional cuisine, with beans, rice, and plantains being common staples.

    A popular Costa Rican dish is “gallo pinto,” which is a plate consisting of rice, beans, eggs, cheese, and plantains. Other common favorite dishes include tostones (fried plantains) and sopa de pejibaye (hearty seafood soup).

    One of Ecuador’s most popular dishes are “llapingachos”, which are fried tortillas made out of potatoes, cheese, and spices. Other popular dishes include roasted guinea pig (cuy), and bolon de verde (fried green plantains). 

    Here are some of Costa Rica’s most popular dishes. 

    • Gallo Pinto: (traditional rice and beans dish)
    • Sopa de pejibaye (hearty seafood soup)
    • Tostones (fried plantains)
    • Olla de Carne (hearty beef stew)
    • Tres Leches Cake
    • Sopa Negra (black bean soup )

    These are some of Ecuador’s most popular dishes. 

    • Llapingachos (fried potato patties stuffed with cheese)
    • Bolon de Verde (fried mashed green plantains)
    • Encocado de Pescado (fish cooked in a coconut)
    • Cuy Asado: (roasted guinea pig)
    • Locro de Papa: (creamy cheesy potato soup)

    Is Costa Rica cheaper than Ecuador?

    No, Ecuador is generally much cheaper to travel to than Costa Rica. The average daily cost in Ecuador is $63 per person, whereas Costa Rica is $111 per person.

    However, there are plenty of ways to save money while visiting Costa Rica. View this article for more guidance on how to travel to Costa Rica on a budget


    The nightlife in Costa Rica and Ecuador is lively. However, the nightlife is more abundant in Ecuador. In each city of Ecuador, there’s a Zona Rosa or nightlife district with plenty of opportunities to play. 

    Common nightlife hotspots In Costa Rica are Sharky’s Sports Bar in Tamarindo Beach and the discos, casinos, clubs, and bars along the shores of Jaco Beach. 

    One of the best spots for nightlife In Ecuador is the beach town of Montanita which has an energetic party scene and numerous lively nightclubs. Another great spot for nightlife is in the port town of Guayaquil, which has everything from disco clubs, to theatre centers with live comedy shows.


    Costa Rica and Ecuador are generally safe for travelers in tourist areas. However, the US Department of State’s Travel Advisory states that you should exercise increased caution when visiting both Costa Rica and Ecuador due to crime. 

    Costa Rica Vs Ecuador: Best Time To Visit

    The best time to visit Costa Rica is between April to December, whereas the best time to visit Ecuador is between June to September.

    The worst time to visit Costa Rica is during June to late November during their hurricane season and October to May for Ecuador during their rainy season. 

    Which destination is better for families?

    Costa Rica and Ecuador are both incredible places for a family trip. Both places have an abundance of wildlife and tons of natural attractions to explore.

    You can take your kids to Manuel National Park, the Mistico Hanging Bridges Park, or tour the Don Olivo chocolate factory in Costa Rica.

    In Ecuador, you can go horseback riding through Cotopaxi National Park, ride in a cable car to overlook the old city of Quito, or visit the Charles Darwin Research Center in the Galapagos.  

    Summary: Which vacation destination is better?

    Costa Rica and Ecuador are two excellent vacation destinations that have culturally rich backgrounds, delicious cuisine, and impressive landscapes. 

    If you’re looking to explore some of the world’s most beautiful national parks, observe fascinating wildlife, and tour coffee plantations, Costa Rica is for you. 

    If you rather walk through Quito’s charming historical old town, view the iconic Quilotoa crater lake, or explore the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador is the place for you.

    That said, there’s no shortage of natural beauty and things to do in either place!

    Regardless of which place you choose, you’ll be left with memories to last a lifetime.

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