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Costa Rica vs Cancun – Which is the Better Vacation?

Last updated on January 17th, 2023 at 04:58 pm

Costa Rica vs Cancun – Costa Rica and Cancun are two of the top vacations that come to mind when you want a beautiful trip in the West. And while both Costa Rica and Cancun are popular for their incredibly beautiful beaches, both offer a different experience. Read here Aruba vs Cancun and a comparison Cancun vs Cabo

Costa Rica is a better choice for a varied vacation with a lot of time with nature and more activity based, while Cancun is a beach-type vacation with Caribbean beaches and hotel stays and parties. Let’s look at how you can compare both so. you can choose the best trip for you.

RELATED TRAVEL GUIDES:

Read here best Costa Rica eSim, best Costa Rica Sim card for tourist and how to get from San Jose airport to city center

Comparing Costa Rica vs Cancun

If you want more activity on your trip, Costa Rica is the better choice. You’ll have beaches, but also national parks and volcanoes so it’s exotic and unique. If you want an all-inclusive beach trip with sandy white beaches and nightlife without so much movement, go for Cancun.

Things to Do in Costa Rica – Costa Rica vs Cancun

Tortuguero National Park

Situated in one of the most culturally diverse places in Costa Rica, Tortuguero National Park is biodiverse. Although it is a park, Tortugeuro is different than others. Aside from the observable richness of its flora and fauna, you could also enjoy boat trips into its canals and just enjoy the ride.

Tortuguero National Park have multiple nature trails like Gavilan Trail, La Ceiba, La Bomba, Harold, Mora, and Chiquero.

From San Jose, you could go here by Plane, Bus, Shuttle, or boat. The boat costs for about 3 USD to 8 USD and the Bus costs about 8 USD. The plane ride costs about 60 USD but it is the fastest route available. If you fancy a Shuttle then you’ll have to pay 50 USD per person. 

Click here for Tortuguero’s accommodation best deals

Puerto Viejo Talamanca

Costa Rica vs Cancun - Which is the Better Vacation?

A surfer’s haven as they call it but it is more than that. Puerto Viejo Talamanca shows you how to relax and enjoy doing nothing as time pass by. It doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything here but the laidback vibes really take over. Get a hammock, lie down, and relax. It is absolutely refreshing!

It is also a lively party place that leans to Reggaeton music a lot. Also, the party’s music has a really good harmony with the sounds that the animals make. Backpackers also often visit Puerto Viejo Talamanca because of the vibes. For 5 hours, you could go to San Jose from Puerto Viejo Talamanca,it is worth 10 USD. You should say “talamanca” because there is another Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica.

Click here for the best accommodation deals in Puerto Viejo Talamanca

San Jose

 Costa Rica vs Cancun - Which is the Better Vacation?

The capital of Costa Rica, San Jose is great because of the combination of old and modern hints to the city, blending traditions and innovation. The city also likes their museums and galleries like the most visited Museo de Jade, house of beautiful jade collections.

Also, they like serving their new ideas with food. The Paseo Gastronomico La Luz in Barrio Escalante gets you hungry and craving even after you’re full!.San Jose is the best place to start before engaging in more exciting experiences around Costa Rica

Click here for the best accommodation deals in San Jose

Monteverde Cloud Forest

Costa Rica vs Cancun - Which is the Better Vacation?

I know that a lot of places in Costa Rica is biodiverse but this place is highly biodiverse. With 2500 flora and 620 fauna, it is really amazing to experience being up close to some of them. There are tours inside for Butterflies, Hummingbirds, Coffee, Chocolate and Sugarcane. You could also hike the Monteverde reserve or take exhilarating photos at their zip-lines and suspension bridges.

To go here, take a bus from San Jose to Santa Elena. The buses have services in 6:30 AM and 2:30 PM. If you’re taking a bus the trip would take 4 hrs but if you’re taking the shuttle the trip would take 2 hrs and a half only.

Click here for the best accommodation deals in Monteverde

Tamarindo

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Are you looking for another surfer’s haven? Well, surfers of all levels could enjoy this place because of wave consistency. But if you don’t know how to surf, it’s a great place to know how because there are many surf shops around. It will be a little bit cheaper to get help from local surfers who you can trust. You could also relax on a cruise sunset sailing, great for couples and families.

Coming from San Jose,the bus will take 6 hrs to get from here. The cost would only be 10 USD per person. The shuttle could take 4 hrs to go here but would cost 45 USD to 55 USD per person and you’ll share the trip with other people.

Click Here for the best accomodation deals in Tamarindo

Arenal Volcano (La Fortuna)

Costa Rica vs Cancun - Which is the Better Vacation?

La Fortuna is the home of the country’s largest lake and beautiful volcano. The volcano is symmetrical cone shapes wonder standing tall above Arenal Lake, where you could kayak and enjoy the views of the towering Arenal Volcano. You could also enjoy hiking to La Fortuna Waterfall, a place to swim and enjoy the coldness of the water falling from the top while enjoying beautiful surrounding views.

If you’re going to Arenal Volcano with a car, the shortest route is through the Panamerican Highway towards Puntarenas. This route would only take you 3 hrs. But if you’re going with a shuttle that costs 50 USD, it would take you 4 hrs. And for the bus, it would take you 10 USD for 6 hrs.

Click here for the best accommodation deals in Arenal Volcano

Corcovado National Park

Costa Rica vs Cancun - Which is the Better Vacation?

Corcovado is the largest national park in Costa Rica and arguably the most beautiful. The ecosystem will surely mesmerize its visitors. There are plenty of researchers and visitors in the area because here, you’ll always learn something new about the animals. The wildlife of this place will not disappoint you.

The travel time is fairly long from San Jose to Corcovado. It varies from 6-8 hrs depending on the stops that will be made. From San Jose, you could go here for 20 USD for a public bus. 

Click here for the best accommodation deals in Corcovado

Montezuma

Costa Rica vs Cancun - Which is the Better Vacation?

Montezuma is the Perfect place to find a good beach to swim. One example is Playa Montezuma a beautiful beach perfect for sunbathing and swimming. The waves are not strong so it’s perfect for casual swimming. Also, there is a stunning waterfall that is easy to hike from the village. The Montezuma waterfall has three cascades that are perfect for everyone

The easiest way to go to Montezuma is through bus and ferry. First, from San Jose you need to go to Jaco by bus for only 4 USD for a 2 hr ride. Then, you need to take a ferry to Jaco going to Montezuma for 42 USD for a 1 hr ride.

Click here for the best accommodation deals in Montezuma

Manuel Antonio Park

Costa Rica vs Cancun - Which is the Better Vacation?

Known as the park that is most visited by tourists, Manuel Antonio Park is densely populated with mammals and birds. Don’t be shy to ask your guide if you’d like to observe an animal. Apart from this, there are also beaches around the park like Espadilla Sur Beach and Manuel Antonio Beach. It is best to go to the beaches first and then the nature trails

It is fairly cheap and easy to get to Manuel Antonio Park by bus. It would only cost you 6-8 USD and would take only 3 hrs and a half. But if you have rented a car, it would be faster with a 3 hr ride, not much of a difference actually.

Click here for the best accommodation deals in Manuel Antonio

Manzanillo

Costa Rica vs Cancun - Which is the Better Vacation?

Looking for a white sand beach that offers snorkeling and swimming? Manzanillo is the perfect place for that. The afro-caribbean culture gives this place colors. Also, because of the proximity to fishing spots the town has delicious food in it. They serve very good sea food on the market!

Because of its proximity to Puerto Viejo Talamanca, it is better to go there first then here. Take a bus going to Puerto Viejo Talamanca and then take a taxi going to Manzanillo. The ride from San Jose to Puerto Viejo Talamanca takes about 4 hrs and costs for 10 USD. While, the taxi ride from Puerto Viejo Talamanca costs for about 10 USD as well for a short 20 min ride.

Click here for the best accommodation deals in Manzanillo

Fun Things to Do in Costa Rica – Costa Rica vs Cancun

Surfing

 Costa Rica vs Cancun - Which is the Better Vacation?

If it wasn’t obvious by now there are really lots of places to surf in Costa Rica. The places vary on difficulty but all offer unique experiences. Costa Rica is one of the places in the world that surfers purposefully seek. The surf schools available are also worth it because you’ll definitely learn at the end of the courses.

Learning Spanish

Another learning opportunity in Costa Rica is to learn Spanish. There are a lot of Spanish classes in Costa Rica offering packages with different services. Some packages have it all like the AIFS Study Abroad in San Jose. Some specialize in teaching students quality Spanish classes and some focus on cultural immersion in school.

 Costa Rica vs Cancun - Which is the Better Vacation?

Biking around beaches

There are lots of mountains wherein you could have fun with your bicycle; if you don’t have one, you could also rent it out. One place that has a cycling trail is Arenal Volcano, La Fortuna. The views are just astounding. You could feel that you’re surrounded by beauty as you wander on the trail and cycle slowly. Seriously, you need to try this!

 Costa Rica vs Cancun - Which is the Better Vacation?

Nightlife in Costa Rica

Costa Ricans love to party. That’s why you’ll see lots of bars, clubs and restaurants. Some of the most active places to party at night are Jacò, San Jose and Tamarindo. If you have time after doing your day activities you could always take it up a notch by partying in these places.

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Limón Carnaval

The port city in Limòn hosts Limòn Carnaval, a one week celebration of Costa Rica’s cultural diversity. They celebrate the members of the community from all races. The festival is full of energy and colors. You won’t see anyone not smiling as they celebrate this festival. As a tourist, you’ll love the cultural immersion in this Carnaval. 

Costa Rica vs Cancun - Which is the Better Vacation?

Horseback riding

It is really a classical way to explore places but it is still universally remarkable. Horseback riding is popular with tourists because it is easier to be one with nature in this way. Many places offer horseback riding tours. Examples are places in Monteverde, La Fortuna, Jaco and Cocles.

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Scuba Diving

After sunbathing and swimming, you might want to dive into the colorful life under water. There are lots of places to dive in Costa Rica but if you’re a beginner you might want to go the Caribbean coast because you’ll enjoy the peaceful dive. If you’re intermediate to advance you might want to go to the pacific coastline because there you’ll see manta rays and sharks.

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Try Gallo Pinto

Gallo Pinto is the favorite breakfast of Costa Ricans. They add black beans or red beans to their rice and pair it to other dishes. There are many variations of Gallo Pinto in Costa Rica but each variation proves that Gallo Pinto is better than old plain boring rice in the morning.

 Costa Rica vs Cancun - Which is the Better Vacation?

Try Fresh Tropical Fruits

Costa Rica has lots of fruits all over the region. Examples are bananas, watermelon, guavas, mangoes, coconuts, papayas, cantaloupes, blackberries, pineapples, passion fruit, and carambola. Costa Ricans really like their fruits served as juice or shakes. An example is their coconut shake that is really creamy and sweet. You’ll often find restaurants or even kiosks selling shakes

 Costa Rica vs Cancun - Which is the Better Vacation?

Festivals in Costa Rica

Limon Carnival

Limon Carnival happens on the port city of Limon. This carnival has a lot of vibrant feels to it. The people are very energetic and you’ll rarely see people not smiling. They celebrate the unity of different cultures residing in Costa Rica with music and dancing. This is the best time immerse in Costa Ricans culture because they show off their food and people.

Fiestas Palmares

After Christmas and New Year, there is another festival tourists are excited to. Fiestas Palmares is two-week long fiesta on January that celebrates culture of Costa Ricans and having fun. What I mean by fun is bullfighting, soccer games, outdoor concerts, comedians, horse parades, beer and many more! Well, if that’s not fun I don’t know what is.

Envision Festival

A transformational festival that is said to transform human potential. Yes, it is spiritual and a fun way to get loose. VICE said that is like a “hippie jungle festival”. Combination of yoga for partying, dancing that removes your inhibitions and many more. 

For more destinations in Central America, check our guides to visit Guatemala, Nicaragua, Colombia, Bolivia and Ecuador

Things to Do in Cancun – Cancun vs Costa Rica

Beaches in Cancun

Costa Rica vs Cancun - Which is the Better Vacation?
Hotel Zone Strip in Cancun – Cozumel vs Cancun

Playa Delfines

Costa Rica vs Cancun - Which is the Better Vacation?
Playa Delfines – Cancun vs Cozumel

Playa Delfines is the most popular beach in Cancun, with its crystalline turquoise waters, and the panoramic views of Cancún. To see the best of Cancun from here, you can take a look from the hilltop deck view, El Mirador.

Important note: Waves in Playa Delfines is strong, so if you’re not a good swimmer, caution while swimming is highly encouraged. If you won’t swim, lounging is also a great thing to do here.

Playa Langosta

Playa Langosta in Cancun, Costa Rica vs Cancun - Which is the Better Vacation?

One of the most beautiful beaches in Cancun, with long stretches of white sand and of course the signature blue beaches, is Playa Langosta. This is also located in the Hotel Zone.

Playa Marlin

Playa Marlin is in the central part of Cancun’s eastern strip, picturesque and magical!

Playa Gaviota Azul and Playa Forum / Forum Beach Cancun

Playa Gaviota Azul in Cancun, Costa Rica vs Cancun - Which is the Better Vacation?

Both of these beautiful Cancun beaches are on a single beach strip, with one flowing into the other.

Forum beach Cancun , Costa Rica vs Cancun - Which is the Better Vacation?

Costa Mujeres

One of the newest beaches with a bit of a challenge to reach is Cancun’s Costa Mujeres. This is inside the gated area of several all-inclusive resorts and is about 30 minutes north of Cancun’s Hotel Zone.

Here you’ll find Isla Blanca, Chacmuchuc Lagoon, and archeological sites. The beach is believed to have kept its cleanliness and untouched beauty because it’s away from most public beaches.

Playa Tortugas

Costa Rica vs Cancun - Which is the Better Vacation?

Playa Tortugas is another beautiful beach in Cancun, amazing for swimming, and lots of water activities are available in the area.

Caracol Beach / Playa Caracol

Costa Rica vs Cancun - Which is the Better Vacation?

Caracol Beach is one of Cancun’s beautiful beaches.

La Isla Cancun Shopping Village

Now if it’s shopping you’re looking for in the Hotel Zone, you can do this in Cancun’s open-air concept shopping mall, a very popular thing to do to get some time away from swimming – if you’re ever into that!

More Top Things to Do Outside Cancun

Isla Mujeres – Costa Rica vs Cancun

Costa Rica vs Cancun - Which is the Better Vacation?

Isla Mujeres is a beautiful island off of Cancun, just across the Bahia de Mujeres (Bay of Women). If you have more days to spend on your trip to Cancun and want a quick break from the parties and the lounging to do some underwater activities like snorkeling and diving, a trip to Isla Mujeres is perfect. If you’re arriving around May-August, you might be able to do whale watching in Isla Mujeres as well.

From Cancun Airport, it’ll take you about one and a half hours to arrive at Isla Mujeres. Alternate ways to go to Isla Mujeres are from Playa Tortugas and Playa Caracol.

Isla Mujeres Transport Guides

Playa Norte

One of the most beautiful beaches in Mexico is actually a part of Isla Mujeres, Playa Norte is found on the northern part of the island.

Chichen Itza

El Castillo in Chichen Itza, ancient Mayan Ruins near Valladolid Mexico

El Castillo in Chichen Itza, one of the most popular ancient Mayan ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula is usually done as a day trip from Cancun, so it’s best to book this activity with a tour. However, if you’re going by public transport, this is about 2.5 hours away from Cancun.

Travel Budget in Costa Rica – Costa Rica vs Cancun

If you’re already informed, it is true that Costa Rica is one of the most expensive countries to travel into. But, it is possible to travel to Costa Rica with a low budget of $40 USD a day. You could check a lot of your “things to do in Costa Rica” bucket list even with that budget. Some hostels only cost about $5-6 USD and the food is $3 USD per meal. Public buses cost only about $3 USD – 15 USD depending on the destination.

The cheapest food for breakfast and the most popular is Costa Ricans Gallo Pinto. If you want some fresh tropical fruit juice, it would only cost you $3 USD. Seafood costs about $10-15 USD and chicken costs $8-12 USD. If you’re craving a pizza, $11 USD will help you get that craving off.

For backpackers, street restaurants are actually cheaper than branded restaurants. In my 2 Week Itinerary in Costa Rica, I came from Nicaragua overland and I visited the Pacific Coast. From visiting the Pacific Coast, I found out that Montezuma is one of the most visited places for surfing in Costa Rica. Actually, you can spend a few days surfing or even a week if you have time because it is really fun.

I suggest that you visit San Jose the capital of Costa Rica and from there, you could transfer to the beautiful Corocovado National Park. Arguably, a must-place to see for backpacking Costa Rica. Then, you can transfer to the Caribbean Coast where you can visit amazing beaches like Puerto Viejo or Manzanillo.

This is a perfect place to spend for a few days or even a week. After satisfying your beach urges, you could still move around the area and stay because that’s ideally better if you are planning to visit Panama overland as your next destination.

Best Time to Visit – Cancun vs Costa Rica

Best Time to Visit Costa Rica

The best time to visit Costa Rica is between December and April. These are the months that are driest and you’ll get a lot of sun. If you want to travel during the “green season”, you’ll find National Parks much quieter, and you can travel to Costa Rica from around from May to June or in November.

Best Time to Visit Cancun, Mexico

There is 2 seasons dry and wet season. The rainy season starts in May. The best time to visit Mexico is from the months of November to April because it is the months of the dry season. However, lots of tourists prefer to travel from January to March since it’s not peak season but it can be rainy for a few days.

Click here to know more about the weather in Mexico

Cash and ATMs – Cancun vs Costa Rica

Cash and ATMs in Costa Rica

The currency of Costa Rica is called Colòn and as of now, $1 USD is worth 567 Colòn. It is wiser to exchange your currency after arriving at your hotel, avoiding exchanging so much money at the airport. But if you have a larger amount of cash to exchange, you should go to a local bank if possible.

Click here to know more about exchange rate in Costa Rica

Cash in Cancun, Mexico

Mexico has its own currency called the Mexican Peso. A $1 USD=19 MXN. There are lots of ATMs and exchange currency in many parts of the country. And you have to know that the country’s dollars are very common and well-accepted. Click here to know more about the exchange rate of Mexico.

Final Thoughts: Which is Better Costa Rica vs Cancun?

Winner for us is Costa Rica! Now you can’t go wrong with either as Costa Rica’s Pacific Oceans are incredibly beautiful and Cancun’s party scene partnered with the white Caribbean beaches is unbeatable.

Personally, we love that Costa Rica allows for varied and much more active travel. Costa Rica has volcanoes, national parks, and hiking and trail options but beautiful beaches and Cancun has some of the best beaches in the world. Let us know what you ended up choosing and good luck on your trip!

Ruben Arribas is the co-founder of Gamintraveler and a Spanish traveler who has traveled to more than 100 countries around the world. He is now a full-time digital nomad.