Mexico vs Costa Rica Compared: What is Better to Visit?

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Mexico vs Costa Rica Comparison

Mexico and Costa Rica are both popular tourist destinations that are visited by warm weather enthusiasts from all over the world. Both of these countries are simply lovely and are worthy of not just one visit, but many.

In both Costa Rica and Mexico, you’ll find friendly people, beautiful terrain, spectacular beaches, rich cultural heritage, and immense national pride. These two countries have so much to offer their residents and visitors.

These places are alike in many ways, but many differences set them apart from one another as well. Even though both countries are great, most people who have visited both have one that they prefer, and they can likely tell you why that’s the case.

It’s interesting to compare and contrast Costa Rica and Mexico and to consider both their similarities and differences. If you’re looking for a side-by-side comparison between the two, read on. If you’re trying to plan a trip or are just interested in learning more about these two nations, you’ll learn a lot about both of them below.

We do recommend visiting them both! Mexico and Costa Rica are wonderful places for a vacation or longer stay. Viva Mexico and Pura Vida to you!

TL;DR

Categories Mexico Costa Rica
Population 126,190,788 5,048,317
Land Area 761,600 square miles 19,370 square miles
Language Spanish Spanish
Weather Various but mostly dry and arid Various but mostly wet and humid
Safety Mostly Safe Very Safe
Cuisine Rice & Chicken & Beef & Corn & Vegetables & Fruit Rice & Chicken & Fish & Vegetables & Fruit
Attractions History and Nature Nature and Adventure
Activities Cultural, Adventurous, and Relaxing Natural, Adventurous, and Relaxing
Beaches Active, Beautiful, and Varied Quiet and Beautiful
Culture Indigenous, Spanish Colonial, Catholic Spanish Colonial, European and Caribbean influences, Pura Vida!

Weather in Costa Rica vs Mexico

Sunset at Bay of Papagayo Costa Rica
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

If you like warm weather, then you’re going to love the climate in both Costa Rica and Mexico. Due to the location of these two nations, you can expect a warm climate no matter what the time of the year, although there are of course slight dips in temperature in both places during the winter months.

Both of these countries experience wet and dry seasons, rather than the four seasons you may be used to up north. However, even with that said, much of Mexico is dry and arid, whereas most of Costa Rica is wet and humid.

This is the biggest difference between these two countries when it comes to weather. Of course, both of these countries have different areas and ecosystems, so the weather and temperature will vary greatly based on where you go within them.

Aerial view of a campground in Valley Of Fires, New Mexico
Pierrette Guertin / Adobe Stock

Mexico is quite large – it’s the thirteenth largest country in the world by area, after all – so you’ll experience very different weather in the north than in the south and on the west coast versus the east. It’s best to research the specific area that you’ll be visiting in Mexico if you want to be sure about what to expect.

Costa Rica also has somewhat different weather from place to place within the country. You’ll experience different temperatures and weather in the high-elevation Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, for example, than you will at the oceanside Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific coast.

Also, you can expect rain daily in Costa Rica during the rainy season, and sometimes briefly even during the dry season as well. You won’t have to worry about that much when visiting most parts of Mexico.

Safety in Mexico vs Costa Rica

Police officers in Mexico
Manuel / Adobe Stock

One thing that is always on everyone’s mind when traveling abroad is safety. Although you should always stay alert and be street-smart when you travel anywhere, it’s wise to research crime in the places you plan to visit to ensure that you’ll stay safe during your adventures.

Both Costa Rica and Mexico are safe places to visit for the most part, although, like anywhere, there are certainly people in both countries who are looking to take advantage of unsuspecting tourists.

However, most experts will tell you that Costa Rica is quite a bit safer than Mexico. There is far less crime in Costa Rica than there is in Mexico, and that’s mostly due to the fact that there is a lot of corruption in Mexico due to its many drug cartels.

Although much of the violence perpetrated by Mexican drug cartels is amongst the cartels, more and more of it is carrying over into the cities and towns that tourists frequent like Cabo San Lucas, Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Vallarta, and Mexico City. Occasionally, this can lead to theft and violence for tourists.

Tsunami Evacuation Sign in Costa Rica
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

On the other hand, Costa Rica is considered to be one of the safest places to travel in Central America. Costa Rican culture is peaceful, and the local people are friendly and welcoming to tourists. Whether you’re traveling in touristy areas or off the beaten path, you won’t have much to worry about other than petty theft.

With that said, though, it’s always wise to pay attention to your surroundings and to keep your guard up when traveling in Costa Rica. You are, after all, a tourist traveling in a foreign country, so you must stay on top of your game.

Food in Mexico vs Costa Rica

Costa Rica Tico breakfast
sarahjane71 / Adobe Stock

The food of both Mexico and Costa Rica is quite good, and you will find many similarities and differences between the cuisine of these two places. Both nations are fond of rice and chicken and use a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables in their most popular dishes.

People living near the coasts in both countries also consume a lot of fish and other creatures from the sea. There’s one big, noticeable difference, though, when it comes to comparing Costa Rican cuisine and Mexican food, and that’s cheese.

You’ll find that Mexican dishes often include cheese, but Costa Rican dishes rarely do. Costa Ricans also don’t eat nearly as much beef as Mexicans do, although you will find at least one beef dish on most restaurant menus.

When it comes to fruits and vegetables, Costa Rican chefs tend to incorporate a lot of local products into their dishes. The tropical climate in Costa Rica means that many common and unique fruits and vegetables are grown there.

Most of them have made their way onto breakfast, lunch, and dinner tables. In many cases, they were plucked from a tree or pulled from the ground just moments before.

Mexican cuisine blends vibrant flavors against the backdrop of Mexico's rich cultural heritage, often symbolized by the iconic sombrero
lunamarina / Adobe Stock

Mexican chefs also love to use vegetables and fruits in their cooking, but the range of what is used often isn’t as diverse as what you’ll find in Costa Rica. That’s simply because the arid climate of most of the nation makes farming more difficult.

Mexican cuisine is heavy with corn. You can also expect to enjoy vegetables like squash, potatoes, peppers, onions, tomatoes, jicama, and cabbage in many of the dishes you try.

One other major difference that you’ll notice is the fact that there are many very different regional cuisines in Mexico, whereas Costa Rica’s cuisine is less diverse. This can again be attributed to the fact that Mexico is far larger than Costa Rica.

The differences in the regions in Mexico are far more vast and distinct, meaning you’ll have a ton of options as you travel throughout the country. There’s great food to enjoy in both countries, even for the choosiest or most sophisticated palates.

See Related: Best Coffee Tours in Costa Rica

Attractions in Mexico vs Costa Rica

Las Grutas De Tolantongo in Mexico boasts extraordinary thermal pools
Galyna Andrushko / Adobe Stock

The types of attractions you’ll find in Mexico versus those you’ll find in Costa Rica can be quite different. In cities like San Jose and Mexico City, you’ll find similar attractions like museums, historical buildings, and shopping, but in the countryside, you’ll see that these two countries have a contrast in what they offer.

Mexico has a rich history and as a result, many of the most interesting attractions in Mexico celebrate that history. If you like visiting and learning about people who lived long ago and want to see ancient Mayan ruins, then you’ll love exploring the more rural areas of Mexico.

There are over 200 different Mayan ruins in Mexico that are known and many of them are open to visitors. Chichen Itza, on the Yucatan Peninsula, is one of the most famous in the world.

It’s just one of many similar attractions that you can check out during your stay. There are also beautiful natural places to visit in Mexico like Tolantongo Hot Springs, for one example.

Kyle Kroeger, visiting La Leona Waterfall, Costa Rica
The hike to this waterfall was epic (Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers)

On the other hand, if you’re more nature-oriented and like exploring national parks, then you’ll prefer Costa Rica. Costa Rica is known for its lush rainforests that are full of wildlife and beautiful plants and flowers.

These forests are one of this Central American country’s biggest attractions. You’ll surely want to go hiking in them while visiting, with or without a guide.

You’ll also find waterfalls, volcanoes, rivers, mountains, and so many more beautiful natural things in Costa Rica. Visits to national parks like Arenal Volcano National Park, Manuel Antonio National Park, and the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve are on the bucket lists of most travelers to Costa Rica. Don’t miss them!

See Related: Best Activities in Costa Rica: Top Outdoor Adventures

Activities in Mexico vs Costa Rica

Aerial view of Ik-Kil Cenote in Mexico
Marius / Adobe Stock

Because both Mexico and Costa Rica gain much from a constant influx of tourists, both of these nations offer a wide variety of exciting activities for their visitors to try and enjoy during their stays. In this area, these two countries are quite similar, as you will find many of the same activities in both places.

If you like being on or near the water, you’ll easily be able to find water sports of all kinds and other similar activities near beaches and oceans. Whether you want to go boating, fishing, surfing, parasailing, jetskiing, or snorkeling, you’ll find plenty of opportunities along the stunning beaches and shores of both countries.

If you like high-adrenaline adventure activities, you’ll find them in both countries, too. ATV riding, horseback riding, zip-lining, mountain climbing, hiking, scuba diving, and more are all available to you when you visit Costa Rica or Mexico.

If you’re a vacationer who loves a lot of pampering, both Costa Rica and Mexico are full of resorts and spas. You can relax all day and be waited on hand and foot, if you wish.

Hanging Bridge in Rincon de la Vieja
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

One thing that you’ll especially notice when you visit Costa Rica, though, is the vast amount of eco-tourism adventures available. Because of Costa Rica’s rainforests, national parks, and diversity in flora and fauna, there are so many activities that help people get out and into this country’s natural beauty to see it all with their own eyes.

It’s one of the most beautiful countries in Central America, after all, and the people who live there love any opportunity to show it off. Eco-tourism exists in Mexico, but on a much smaller scale.

You can certainly take tours to learn about the plants and animals in Mexico when you visit it, but there aren’t yet as many offerings for these types of tours as there are already in Costa Rica. Tthe best places to go to experience nature in Mexico are cenotes. Definitely plan on visiting one while you’re there.

Top Mexico Activities:

Take a tour to a cenote and the famous Chichen Itza Mayan ruins

Check out Xochimilco, Coyoacan, and Frida Kahlo’s home and studio in Mexico City

Go whale watching in Cabo San Lucas

Top Costa Rica Activities:

Visit a waterfall, hot springs and the Arenal volcano near La Fortuna

Take a guided tour of the Cloud Forest near Monteverde

Go sailing and snorkeling near Tamarindo

Beaches in Mexico vs Costa Rica

Riviera Maya Paradise Beach in Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Simon Dannhauer / Shutterstock

Both Mexico and Costa Rica have long coasts on both the Pacific and Atlantic or Caribbean, and that means that they’re both chock full of stunning beaches. These beaches are truly the cherry on top of any trip to either place.

Although you can have a fantastic time in either country without visiting the coasts, you’ll really be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t get out to the beaches. Many of the most popular beach destinations in Mexico have become quite developed over the last century. As a result, the beaches in many of these places are wide and are adjacent to resorts, shops, restaurants, and other amenities.

Although there are smaller, laid-back beaches in places like Baja California, the majority of beaches you’ll visit in Mexico will likely have a lot of action and activity, which is fun and exciting. On the other hand, most beaches in Costa Rica are of the more laid-back variety, with a few exceptions.

Every small town along the coast has a beach that you can enjoy. Some have lounge chairs that you can rent, but there are many more where sunbathers simply relax on a towel or blanket while they sun themselves and listen to the waves roll in.

Tropical Costa Rican beach with swaying palms and serene blue waters.
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Beaches in Costa Rica are quieter and more relaxed than those in Mexico. Due to less beachfront development, you’re also more likely to find a beach in Costa Rica that’s lined with palm trees where you can relax in the shade if you wish.

Of course, there are many exceptions to both of these descriptions in both of these countries, too. If you know the kind of beach that you like best, you’ll likely be able to find it on either trip.

Either way, you’re going to love relaxing by the ocean during your visit to Costa Rica or Mexico. The beaches in these two countries are some of the very best in the world.

Comparing the Culture of Mexico vs Costa Rica

Main Street of Coco, Costa Rica
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Immersing oneself in a different culture is a big part of why people choose to travel abroad. In both Mexico and Costa Rica, you’ll find rich, unique cultures and strong national pride. After visiting, you’ll leave with an understanding of the people who live here.

Mexico and Costa Rica are fairly close to one another. From Mexico’s southernmost point to Costa Rica’s northernmost point, there’s only a distance of about 600 miles. Both countries are primarily Spanish-speaking, both were colonized by the Spanish, and the majority of citizens of both countries are adherents to Christian religions.

Both Costa Ricans and Mexicans tend to value close relationships with their extended families and friends. When it comes to leisure time, these countries are full of major soccer enthusiasts, too, and both Costa Ricans and Mexicans are enthusiastic about holidays, celebrations, and parties.

Woman adorned in the traditional attire of Guanacaste, Costa Rica
bartsadowski / Adobe Stock

Mexican culture and Costa Rican culture are quite different though, too, as these two countries are full of very different people with very different pasts and influences. The Spanish spoken in these two places sounds different.

Even if you’re a native Spanish speaker you’ll notice vastly different accents, sentence structure, and slang. Try to keep up when listening to others speak and when participating in conversations!

You’ll also find that in Mexico, the local culture can vary by region. Much like the United States, the Mexican culture is much different in the south than it is in the north, and you’ll find differences between east and west, too.

Costa Rica is known for the “pura vida” lifestyle. It can be found everywhere you go in that nation – even within cities like San Jose. Pura vida is hard to define, but you’ll know it when you find it.

In English, pura vida means pure life. In Costa Rica, the phrase is used for hello, goodbye, thank you, that’s funny, take care, good luck, and countless other meanings. But it’s more than a phrase – it’s a way of life.

It basically means all is well, life is good, and everything is right in the world – so we all should embrace it. Costa Ricans live the pura vida lifestyle better than anyone anywhere, but you’re sure to slip into it yourself during your visit.

Mexico & Costa Rica Both LOVE Soccer

Mexican soccer player on the field in a stadium
beto_chagas / Adobe Stock

One thing you’ll find in both of these incredible countries is an intense love for the sport of soccer – or football, as they (and everyone else) call it. This sport is something that is deeply ingrained in the culture of these nations, and children are practically born playing it already.

Soccer can be seen everywhere in both Mexico and Costa Rica. From pickup games played by children in the streets, to local, and after-work leagues, to large-scale, national matches and international championships – it’s all here. If you love soccer too, then you’re sure to find plenty to enjoy when visiting either place.

These two countries are soccer rivals, too, and frequently face each other on a national level as part of CONCACAF. So – just remember – wherever you do decide to go, make sure you’re rooting for the home team!

Mexico vs Costa Rica: Which Is The Better Choice?

Toucan in a Tree in Costa Rica
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

When it comes to planning a vacation, which is the better destination choice – Costa Rica or Mexico? Even after reading all of the above, you may find that you aren’t any closer to an answer.

That’s because it all depends on you. What do you like? What kind of vacation are you looking for?

Are you looking for a larger country with lots of places to explore? Choose Mexico. Need a smaller and more intimate experience? Costa Rica it is. Do you like to visit large cities and active resort towns like many you’ll find in Mexico, or are you looking for a more laid-back and quiet destination like Costa Rica?

Are you more into historical attractions (Mexico) or natural beauty (Costa Rica)? Both of these counties are fantastic choices for a vacation. It just depends on what kind of vacation you seek!

See Related: Most Stunning, Unique Costa Rica Animals

When Is the Best Time of Year to Visit Costa Rica or Mexico?

Aerial View of Papagayo, Costa Rica
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

The best time of year to visit both of these countries is between December and April, but any time is lovely for either one. Most people visit during these months because it’s the dry season, so you’ll experience little rain. However, the influx of tourists during these months can also lead to high prices and crowds.

Consider visiting Mexico or Costa Rica during the less popular months, like the off-season and shoulder seasons. You’ll still experience warm weather and all of the other great things about them both.

But – you won’t have to deal with as many fellow tourists. And, you’ll likely find better deals on hotels and activities.

Which Country is More Expensive: Costa Rica or Mexico?

Colorful Costa Rican colones with receipt on wooden table
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Costa Rica and Mexico are similar when it comes to pricing and cost. Of course, in both places, you can find great deals if you do your research and know where to look. You could also spend thousands of dollars per night staying at extremely high-end luxury resorts.

You can save money by eating street food in both Costa Rica and Mexico, or you can treat yourself to a wide variety of fine dining establishments. You can’t go wrong.

It’s easy to have an expensive vacation or an affordable vacation in either place – it just depends on your tastes and desires. In general, your average spend will likely be similar in either destination.

Quick Answer: Mexico vs Costa Rica

Chichen Itza, Great Mayan Pyramid of Kukulkan
marco_cesarano / Adobe Stock

I’ve been to both Mexico and Costa Rica many times. I’ve explored most of Costa Rica, and I’ve been to several places in Mexico – although I always want to go back and see more of it.

I’ve had great times in both countries, and every time I return, I find that there are more and more things to discover. I’ve met amazing people, and I’ve never encountered any real problems in either one. Both of these nations are two of my favorite places to visit in the world.

However, with that said, if you ask me which one I like better personally, then the answer is simple. I love Mexico, but I absolutely adore Costa Rica. I try to go back to Costa Rica nearly annually.

Iconic Beach Sunset in Costa Rica
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Yes, Mexico is much larger, and there’s much more there to see and do, but Costa Rica, to me, feels to me like my home away from home. I highly recommend it to every single traveler.

If you can visit both Mexico and Costa Rica in this lifetime – do it. You’re going to love both of these incredible countries, and once you visit each of them once, there’s no doubt that you’ll want to return to both of them time and time again.

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Christy Articola
WRITTEN BY

Christy Articola

Christy is was born and raised in upstate New York but she has lived in Denver, Colorado for the past decade with her partner, Billy, and their cat, Lucy. Traveling is her favorite thing to do in the whole world, but she also loves writing, reading, being outdoors, seeing live music, cooking, creating art in many mediums, napping, spending time with friends and family, and laughing heartily as often as possible.

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