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So you’re trying to decide between Mexico vs Costa Rica for your next vacation? I’ve spent a lot of time in both, living in each for several months at a time.
Both destinations have a lot to offer, but there are some key differences that may make one more appealing than the other for you.
So, where should you go?
Mexico is known for its stunning beaches, crystal-clear waters, and lush jungles. So is Costa Rica 🇨🇷 Costa Rica also has a rich culture and history, which you can explore during your stay. So does Mexico 🇲🇽
There are plenty of things to do in Mexico, from swimming and snorkeling to hiking and zip-lining. The same can be said for Costa Rica! No wonder they’re such popular destinations for tourists ✈️
In this blog post, I’ll talk about the differences and similarities between Costa Rica and Mexico. This way, whether you should go to Costa Rica or Mexico for your next vacation!
A brief overview of each country
Mexico is the second largest country in Latin America by population that’s home to over 130 million people. It’s bordered by the United States to the north and Guatemala and Belize to the south. Mexico is known for its beautiful beaches, ancient ruins, bustling cities like Guadalajara and Oaxaca, vibrant culture and rich history that dates back to the Pre-Columbian times.
Costa Rica is a small Central American nation with a population of just 4.9 million people. It’s bordered by Nicaragua to the north, Panama to the south, and the Caribbean Sea to the east. Costa Rica is known for its lush jungles, stunning beaches, and exceptional biodiversity.
✔️ Learn about the best things to do in Costa Rica for any taste and budget 💰
Both countries offer a wide range of activities and attractions for travelers. From swimming with whale sharks in Mexico 🦈 to hummingbird-watching in Costa Rica whale 🐳 there’s no shortage of things to do!
Mexico vs Costa Rica: Budget
Both destinations offer travelers great value. However, which one is best for you will depend on a variety of factors such as accommodation, activities and the timing of your trip.
Mexico travel cost
Accommodation in Mexico can be quite affordable, especially if you’re willing to stay in budget hostels or apartments rather than hotels.
How much does food cost in Mexico?
Food in Mexico is generally inexpensive, unless you want to eat in fine restaurants. Street food and local restaurants offer great value for money. Expect to spend around $50-70 USD on accommodation and food in Mexico per person, if you are traveling on a strict budget. Unless you want to dine out every day, you can easily spend less than $100 on food per week in Mexico.
✔️Check my guide to tipping in Mexico to know how much money to leave for wait staff and tour guides.
If you want to stay at a luxury all-inclusive resort, your Mexico travel budget will look a lot different, and could involve mean spending hundreds of dollars per day. The upside is that everything will be included, and many resorts even offer round-trip airport transportation 🚙
✅ Tulum is one of the best places in Mexico if you want to pamper yourself. Check my guide to the best beachfront hotels in Tulum with incredible views of the Caribbean, boho decors and top-notch amenities.
Costa Rica travel cost
In Costa Rica, accommodation can be a bit pricier than in Mexico. Luxury hotels, eco-lodges, or villas can cost anywhere from $50 to $300 USD per night. But you can still find budget hostels and apartments that offer great value for your money 💵
Food is also a bit more expensive in Costa Rica, with street and local food being affordable. However, restaurants and groceries in Costa Rica often cost about the same as they do in the United States.
The average traveler should expect to spend around $60 per day on accommodation and food in Costa Rica, assuming you don’t splurge on an all-inclusive resort there.
What to know about renting a car in Costa Rica
🚗 Renting a car in Costa Rica is typically more expensive than in Mexico.
Not only are likely to pay more for a car rental, but you will also shell out more for gas in Costa Rica than in Mexico. You also need to book your car ahead of time, as it’s not uncommon for Costa Rica to run out of car rentals during the high season due to the low supply and high demand.
👉I always rent cars with Discover Cars. They have hundreds of available cars in their inventory, and have no hidden fees unlike other car rental companies. You can just select your travel dates and specify the car you care looking for and browse through the dozens of available options.
Overall, your trip to Mexico or Costa Rica will depend on the type of experience you’re looking for and your budget. Whether it’s a luxury beach vacation or a budget eco-adventure, both countries have something to offer, so choose wisely.
🚗 CLICK HERE TO SAVE MONEY ON CAR RENTAL IN COSTA RICA
Mexico vs Costa Rica: when to visit
When you’re planning your trip, it’s important to take the climate into consideration when deciding between Mexico and Costa Rica. Mexico has a dry, arid climate in many parts of the country and can be quite hot in the summer months.
Best time to go to Mexico
Mexico is a great place to visit at any time of year. However, some times are better than others. The high tourist season along the coasts is during the winter months when it’s colder in Central and Northern Mexico.
The low tourist season on the coasts is during the summer when it’s hot in other places. And the shoulder season is kind of in between those two times.
Central Mexico has a separate high, low, and shoulder season due to its topographical features.
If you want to visit the arid cultural center of Mexico, like San Miguel de Allende, Puebla, or Mexico City, it’s best to go during shoulder months like October and November or April and May, when the weather is warmer.
Central Mexico gets so chilly in the winter months that jeans, hats, and coats are essential. And many homes and hotels offer heaters to keep comfortable.
Best time to go to Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a good place to go at any time of year. It has a tropical climate throughout the year, with wet and dry seasons.
The dry season in Costa Rica runs from December to April. It’s the busiest time in Costa Rica when most tourists visit the country. Prices also increase at that time 💸 If you are looking for a great weather, it’s the best time to visit Costa Rica, but the trade-off is that you will spend a lot on hotels, tours, rental cars and flights.
The low tourist season is during the summer when it’s hot in other places. This is also the rainy season in Costa Rica. The benefit of visiting during the rainy season is there are fewer tourists, but there are usually heavy rains in the afternoons and overnight.
The shoulder season is a couple of months between the low and high seasons. They’re also great times to visit if you want to enjoy smaller crowds and save on your trip.
✅ Check my complete guide to the best time to visit Costa Rica
Mexico vs Costa Rica: beaches
Best beaches in Mexico
The best beaches in Mexico are located on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. Some of the most popular beaches include:
- Cancun: This beach is known for its white sand and crystal-clear waters. It’s a great place to enjoy swimming, snorkeling, and diving. Isla Mujeres, a small island off the coast of Cancun also has excellent beaches.
🎒 Read about the best guided tours from Cancun to plan your adventure
- Los Cabos: This beach is located at the southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula and is known for its stunning views and dramatic cliffs.
- Puerto Vallarta: This beach is located in Jalisco on Mexico’s Pacific coast and is a popular destination for surfers and sunbathers.
- Tulum: This beach is located on the Yucatan Peninsula and is famous for its Mayan ruins that overlook the water. Playa del Carmen, just north of Tulum, also has excellent beaches.
- Campeche: Located along the Gulf of Mexico, Campeche beaches are some of the most underrated in Mexico. They boast green emerald waters and rough sand with a lot of sea shells. They also see relatively few tourists compared to some of the most popular beaches in Mexico.
- Oaxaca: Famous for their surfing, Oaxaca beaches boast gorgeous tropical scenery amid the lush mountains and golden sand beaches. Whether you are headed to Punta Cometa in Mazunte, Bahia De Huatulco or Puerto Escondido, you will have a great time here!
✅ Check my complete guide to where to stay in Tulum for any budget!
Best beaches in Costa Rica
The best beaches in Costa Rica are located on both the Caribbean and Pacific Coasts. Some of the most popular beaches include:
- Playa Negra: This beach is located in the province of Limon, near Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. It’s known for its clear turquoise waters and black sand beach.
- Playa Hermosa: This beach is located in the province of Guanacaste, in Jaco, and is known for its soft golden sand and gentle waves. Since it’s right in town, it gets busier than some of the other beaches. But there are also excellent dining amenities nearby.
- Playa Dominical: This beach is located in the province of Puntarenas and is known for its surfing waves and rainforest backdrop. Most days, vendors set up food and souvenir shops on the road along the beach. It’s a great place to do a little shopping!
- Manuel Antonio Beach: This beach is located in the Manuel Antonio National Park and is known for its clear blue waters and stunning white sand beaches. It offers great waves for beginner surfers, as they aren’t as large as other beaches a bit further north.
- Playa Tamarindo: This beach is located in the province of Guanacaste and is known for its world-class surf breaks and lively nightlife. It also offers great boogie boarding closer to shore, for those who don’t want to take on the bigger waves further out.
👉 Check my guide to 7 days in Costa Rica from Liberia, the gateway to Guanacaste.
Mexico vs Costa Rica: culture
What’s the Mexico culture like
The culture in Mexico is very friendly and welcoming. Mexicans are always willing to help out a foreigner, and they’re always happy to have a conversation.
However, it’s important to be aware that Mexican culture is very different from American culture. There are a few things to avoid doing when visiting Mexico to make your trip more enjoyable.
✔️ Avoid being overly direct – Mexican people are very indirect and will not tell you straight in the face even if they don’t agree with you or don’t like something. Avoid being too straightforward if you want to get on better terms with the locals.
✔️ Don’t expect things to start on time – Mexico has a very different concept of time compared to the Western World. It’s not uncommon for things to start late, whether it’s guided tours, meetings or classes. Just go with the flow and know that it’s not uncommon to have a 10-15 minute delay in many situations.
✔️ Understand the meaning of “ahorita” – When you travel in Mexico, you will often hear people say “ahorita” which means right now. But even if someone tells you “ahorita,” it doesn’t mean that something will happen this very moment or in the next 5 or 10 minutes. Depending on the context, ahorita could have many different interpretations, and you should not expect the momentary action when you hear it.
✔️ Learn some Spanish. Although English is spoken in many parts of Mexico, it’s best to try and learn some Spanish phrases before your trip. This will show respect for the culture, and locals will appreciate your effort.
✔️ Respect the customs. Mexicans don’t like to be rushed, so it’s best to take your time when dealing with locals. They also don’t appreciate loud or rude behavior, so be sure to keep your voice down in public.
💛 To avoid mistakes and better adapt to the new culture, check my guide to Mexico travel tips.
What’s the Costa Rica culture like
The culture in Costa Rica is very laid-back and relaxed. People are very friendly and welcoming, and they’re always happy to help out a foreigner.
Costa Rica is also known for its relaxed dress code, as many people spend time enjoying the beaches and surfing 🏄♂️ People tend to wear bright colors, and you’ll often find locals wearing sandals or flip-flops.
When planning a trip to Costa Rica, remember cultural aspects for a more enjoyable experience. Costa Rica is known for its Pura Vida lifestyle, which means taking time, enjoying life, and being friendly. It’s a good idea to adopt it when you come here
Although English is spoken in many parts of Costa Rica, especially on the Pacific Coast, it’s not universally spoken throughout Costa Rica. Especially if you visit the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, you’ll need some Spanish words for ordering food, grocery shopping and taking tours to places like Cahuita or Tortuguero National Parks.
✔️Respect the rules when visiting parks or nature preserves. Costa Rica takes its conservation efforts seriously, and you should too. Keep your distance from wild animals and keep places as pristine as you have found them.
Mexico vs Costa Rica: food
Food in Costa Rica
The most popular foods in Costa Rica are hearty soups with local vegetables, stews made of beef or chicken and rice, and seafood dishes. For breakfast, locals usually eat eggs or gallo pinto (a tasty mix of rice, black beans, and spices).
One staple of Costa Rican cuisine is the Lizano salsa. It’s a tangy, mild brown sauce that is served with most meals in Costa Rica. It’s not spicy at all, and goes great on everything from eggs to steak!
Food in Mexico
The food in Mexico is incredibly varied, and there are a variety of regional dishes. Common Mexican dishes include tacos, enchiladas, tamales, burritos and quesadillas.
The key ingredient in most Mexican recipes is chili pepper. In Mexico, it’s often served fresh with salt or with cooked tomatoes, onions, and garlic as a salsa. Other common ingredients include beans, potatoes, and seasonal vegetables.
Mexican food is often spicy, so be sure to ask your server if you’re unsure about the level of spiciness in a dish. There’s usually something for everyone, whether you like it mild or extra-spicy 🌶️
Mexico vs Costa Rica: safety
Is it safe to travel to Mexico?
However, it’s important to use common sense and take precautions when visiting Mexico. Be aware of your surroundings and avoid dangerous parts of towns or cities. Northern Mexico and parts of Central Mexico tend to have more cartel activity than coastal Mexico where a lot of tourism is concentrated.
✅ To stay safe during your trip to Mexico, I recommend purchasing travel insurance.
Safety Wing is one of the best insurance plans for long-term travelers and digital nomads that covers you in the event of stolen and lost luggage, hospital visits and other unforeseen events that can affect your trip.
WorldNomads is a popular travel insurance option that offers option for long and short-term travel. I’ve used this insurance several times, and had a positive experience with them.
It’s also important to be aware that certain crimes, such as petty theft and scams targeting tourists are more common in Mexico than in other countries. Leave your valuables at home, dress down and avoid carrying large amounts of cash.
Is it safe to travel to Costa Rica?
Costa Rica is generally safe for tourists. The country has a low crime rate and violent crime against tourists is rare. However, there are certain areas where you should be more careful, such as downtown San Jose and the port city of Limon on the eastern side of Costa Rica.
It’s also important to be aware that petty crime. While Costa Rica doesn’t have violent crime like some Central American countries, pickpocketing in Costa Rica is common, and you should also don’t leave any belongings in plain sight in your car while you are away. Leave valuables at home and avoid carrying large amounts of cash.
Tourist scams in Costa Rica
Some of the most common tourist scams in Costa Rica are taxis without meters (or with broken meters), sketchy time shares, super cheap car rentals that hide exorbitant fees and insurance price and incorrect currency exchange rate.
🛑 Always remember that if something seems to be too good to be true, it probably is.
Never take valuables to the beach in Costa Rica. If you must take something important, like your keys or cell phone, put them in a waterproof pouch and take it in the water with you. Always be aware of your surroundings and dress down to avoid unwanted attention even if you are visiting popular destinations that feel relatively safe.
Why go to Mexico?
Mexico is one of the largest countries in Latin America that boasts rich history and diverse culture with many regional differences. Mexico’s landscape range from the deserts and mountains up north to lush jungles and stunning beaches in the south. Whether you want to hike, surf, mountain bike, indulge in delicious food or visit historic sites and museums, Mexico has something for everyone.
Why go to Costa Rica?
Costa Rica is a model for conservation and one of the most popular destinations in Central America. It enjoys a reputation as the safest country in the region and has a well-established tourist track with places like Arenal, Guanacaste and Monteverde receiving the most tourists. Costa Rica boasts untouched landscapes, gorgeous national parks, and wonderful wildlife that you can find in places like Tortuguero and Manuel Antonio National Parks.
Costa Rica vs Mexico: FAQ’s
Is Costa Rica or Mexico better?
This depends on what you’re looking for. Mexico offers a wide variety of activities and attractions, from ancient ruins and vibrant cities with plenty of culture to fantastic beaches. It’s much bigger than Costa Rica, and offers more diversity in landscapes ranging from deserts to mountains and the lush jungles.
Costa Rica is known for its stunning natural beauty, stunning beaches, amazing wildlife and strong commitment to sustainable tourism. It’s even home to Monteverde Cloud Forest, which is one of the smallest yet most diverse biomes on earth.
Both countries offer something unique, so it’s up to you to decide which is best for your vacation plans.
Is Costa Rica expensive compared to Mexico?
Costa Rica is generally more expensive than Mexico, especially when it comes to accommodations and food. Prices in Mexico tend to be cheaper as you can find great deals.
However, Costa Rica does offer more of an ‘eco-tourism’ experience and a greater variety of attractions.
Which one is cheaper Costa Rica or Mexico?
Mexico is cheaper than Costa Rica. However, many of the higher costs of Costa Rica is what helps the government maintain the environmentally focused nature of the country.
Is Costa Rica safer than Mexico?
Costa Rica is generally considered to be safer than Mexico. The country has a low crime rate and violent crime against tourists is rare. However, as with any country, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and take precautions.
✔️Whether you are traveling to Mexico or Costa Rica, I always recommend World Nomads is a popular travel insurance that will cover you in the event of accidents, lost or stolen luggage and many other unforeseen events that could impact your travel plans.
Both Mexico and Costa Rica are great tourist destinations, each with their own unique advantages. They each have vibrant cultures as well as unique foods, activities and attractions.
Mexico is a large country with a lot to offer tourists, from ancient ruins and vibrant cities to stunning beaches and gorgeous deserts.
Costa Rica is smaller and known for its natural beauty, with amazing beaches 🏝️ jungles 🍃 and wildlife 🦥
Mexico is generally cheaper than Costa Rica, but Costa Rica offers more of an ‘eco-tourism’ experience. Costa Rica also have a better reputation when it comes to safety, although I find the safety concerns about Mexico often to be exaggerated, after having travelled the country.
No place is perfectly safe, and just like anywhere she, things could happen to you whether you are in Costa Rica or in Mexico.
Stay on guard, use common sense and most importantly, do your homework. You are the sole person responsible for your safety, and it’s on you to do all the research before planning your trip.
Overall, between Costa Rica and Mexico there isn’t a bad choice for a vacation. Having visited both places for several months at a time, I love them both for different reasons. My best advice is plan to visit both at some point, and then decide which you like best!