Are you considering a trip to either Mexico or Costa Rica and wondering how they compare? In this article, I will provide an honest comparison of these two beautiful countries so you can make a well considered decision. I will outline the advantages and disadvantages of visiting each country, and share my personal favorite along with the reasons why.
As full time travelers, we have spent a few months exploring Mexico and Costa Rica, immersing ourselves in the beautiful nature, interesting culture and history, and natural wonders. Both countries have their own distinct charms and are extremely popular among tourists. Costa Rica is known for its lush rainforests, beautiful beaches, and volcanic landscapes, while Mexico has a diverse geography that includes deserts, mountains, beaches, and tropical forests.
There is definitely a huge difference in which country you should choose for your next vacation depending on your interest. So in this comparison guide I will explain the differences of Mexico vs Costa Rica in terms of safety, climate, food, nature, activities, beaches and more!
Mexico vs Costa Rica – Language & Culture
Mexico is a much larger country than Costa Rica, both in terms of land area and population. With a population over 130 million people, Mexico covers an area of about 1.9 million square kilometers, while Costa Rica has a population of about 5 million people and covers an area of around 51,000 square kilometers.
Spanish is the official language in both Mexico and Costa Rica, but there are some regional variations in dialect and slang. Costa Rica has a distinct accent and uses certain words that are not commonly used in Mexico for example. In both countries most people speak at least some English. In the touristy areas you can expect all people to speak pretty well English, so it’s not necessary to speak Spanish. However, it will always make your life a bit easier if you know some words!
Mexico and Costa Rica both have unique cultures, with different customs, traditions, and ways of life. Mexico is known for its vibrant music, colorful festivals and rich history. Costa Rica on the other hand is known for its natural beauty, eco-tourism, and pura vida lifestyle.
Safety in Mexico vs Costa Rica
Safety in Mexico is generally good, however there are areas of Mexico that have a higher risk of crime and violence, particularly related to drug cartels. The majority of drug cartel violence occurs in northwestern Mexico. Whereas Costa Rica is not affected by the same conflict.
When traveling through Mexico you should exercise common sense and remain vigilant, especially in crowded areas, tourist spots, and public transportation. It’s also recommended to avoid displaying valuable items and carrying large amounts of cash.
Costa Rica on the other hand is generally a relatively safe destination to travel through. In fact, Costa Rica is considered one of the safest countries in Central America for travelers. However, you should still pay attention and take necessary safety measures. Petty theft, such as pickpocketing and theft from vehicles can occur in crowded tourist areas and transportation hubs.
Is Mexico or Costa Rica safer?
Yes, in general, Costa Rica is considered a safer country for travelers compared to Mexico. While both countries have their own unique safety concerns, Mexico has higher levels of crime and violence, particularly related to drug cartels.
Personally we felt safe in both countries and we traveled through both countries with a rental car. We did get stopped in Mexico, Tulum, during a police control which did felt pretty intimidating. But it was a kind of routine control in search for drugs. Costa Rica on the other hand feels more laid back and we didn’t had any tense situation.
Is Mexico or Costa Rica cheaper?
This question is hard to answer as the spendings can vary drastically per person. Prices also vary depending on the area where you are in either Mexico or Costa Rica. Tulum for example is extremely pricey which is reflected in restaurant prices, accommodation and beach club entry fees. But Puerto Vallarta for example is much more affordable with reasonable food prices and quality accommodations without having to break the bank.
In general, Mexico is considered to be a cheaper destination than Costa Rica. While both countries have a range of accommodation options and activities at different price points, the cost of living is generally lower in Mexico. This is especially true for food, transportation, and other daily expenses. However, specific costs can vary depending on the region and type of activity, so it’s important to do research and plan accordingly.
Climate in Mexico vs Costa Rica
Both Mexico and Costa Rica have a tropical climate with temperatures that range from 70°F (20 degrees) to 90°F (30 degrees or more) throughout the year. However, Mexico has a more diverse climate than Costa Rica, with a range of temperature and precipitation patterns. The northern regions of Mexico, such as Baja California and Chihuahua, have a desert climate with hot, dry summers and mild rainy season. In contrast, the central highlands and southern regions of Mexico have a subtropical climate, with rainy summers.
When is rainy season in Mexico?
The rainy season in Mexico lasts from May to mid-October, and the dry season, which lasts from mid-October to April. However, the impact of the rainy season can vary depending on the region. In the dry northern regions of Mexico, the rainy season is usually not a significant concern. On the other hand, in the southern regions of the country, the rainy season can bring tropical showers that usually occur in the late afternoon or evening and last for a few hours.
When is rainy season in Costa Rica?
In Costa Rica the climate, humidity and precipitation varies depending on the region. The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, including popular destinations like Tortuguero, Puerto Viejo, and Cahuita, tends to be more humid due to its location and proximity to the rainforest. The northern region of the country, including Arenal and Monteverde, also tends to be humid due to its cloud forest environment. However, the humidity does feel a lot different when being at the coast or higher up in the mountains of the rainforest.
Overall the coastal regions of Costa Rica have a tropical climate, with hot and humid weather year-round. The rainy season in Costa Rica lasts from May to November which helps to keep the lush vegetation thriving. In contrast, the highlands of Costa Rica have a temperate climate, with cooler temperatures and less humidity.
Hurricane risk in Mexico vs Costa Rica
One significant difference between Mexico and Costa Rica’s climate is their hurricane risk. Mexico is more prone to hurricanes, particularly in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean regions, where the hurricane season runs from June to November. In contrast, Costa Rica is outside the hurricane belt, and the risk of hurricanes is lower.
Activities in Mexico vs Costa Rica
When visiting Mexico or Costa Rica, you are coming to see some of its natural or cultural attractions. Because both countries are hard to compare with its diversity in landscape, culture and wildlife, you can get a completely different experience in either Mexico or Costa Rica. Therefore the activities and tours you can do in both Mexico and Costa Rica are completely different as well.
The Yucatan peninsula of Mexico for example is famous for having the most cenotes in Mexico. While inland you can find some of the most amazing waterfalls in Mexico, especially in the state of San Luis de Potosí. Furthermore Mexico is famous for its cultural and historical attractions such as one of the world wonders, Chichen Itza.
Some other popular activities in Mexico include visiting other historical sites the colonial architecture of cities like Guadalajara and Mexico City. Outdoor activities such as hiking in the Copper Canyon, swimming in the cenotes and snorkeling or scuba diving in the Caribbean Sea are also popular.
Costa Rica is more geared towards outdoor adventure and eco-tourism which is a major draw for tourists. The country is known for its rainforests, volcanos, wildlife, and beaches. Therefore activities such as zip-lining, white-water rafting, hiking, surfing, and wildlife watching are popular choices.
Eco-tourism is also big in Costa Rica. There are plenty of opportunities to explore national parks and nature reserves. Some of the most famous are Manuel Antonio National Park and the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Additionally, Costa Rica is famous for its coffee production, and coffee tours are a popular activity.
Difference in nature between Mexico vs Costa Rica
Both Mexico and Costa Rica offer a wide range of natural wonders to explore. However, there are some differences between the two countries.
Mexico is known for its diverse landscapes, which range from deserts in the north to lush rainforests and tropical beaches in the south. Some of the most famous natural attractions include the copper canyon, monarch butterfly reserves and the stunning beaches of Cancun and the Riviera Maya. Mexico is also home to a wide variety of wildlife, including jaguars, monkeys, and sea turtles.
Costa Rica is known for its incredible biodiversity and eco-tourism. The country is home to a wide range of ecosystems, including rainforests, cloud forests, and stunning tropical beaches. You can explore the Arenal Volcano, hike through the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, or relax on the beautiful beaches of the Nicoya Peninsula. Costa Rica is also home to an incredible array of wildlife, including sloths, toucans, and howler monkeys.
Both countries offer a wealth of natural attractions and unique ecosystems to explore. But the specific landscapes, attractions and culture vary, making both countries unique to explore.
Beaches in Mexico vs Costa Rica
If you’re wondering what the difference is between the beaches in Mexico vs Costa Rica, then read on! With over 9,000 kilometers of coastline, Mexico has a wide variety of beaches, from rocky coves to long sandy beaches. Some of the most popular beaches in Mexico include Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum on the Caribbean coast. Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas, and Mazatlán are some of the most popular beach destinations on the Pacific coast.
Costa Rica has a smaller coastline than Mexico, with over 1,200 kilometers of coastline on the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. Some of the most popular beaches in Costa Rica include Manuel Antonio, Tamarindo, and Jaco on the Pacific coast. And on the Caribbean coast Cahuita, Puerto Viejo, and Tortuguero are popular beaches. Some beaches in Costa Rica are also black sand beaches such as Uvita beach and Playa Negra in Puerto Viejo.
Trendy beach clubs or untouched beaches?
What we’ve personally noticed as the biggest difference is the huge development along the beaches in Mexico. Big beach resorts and trendy beach clubs are easy to find along the beaches of Mexico. Especially in Tulum, Playa del Carmen and Cancun.
The beaches in Costa Rica on the other hand are mostly untouched by development. Therefore they feel still pure and raw. Some beaches are even part of a protected nature area such as in Nosara. This definitely gives a different vibe when visiting the beaches in either Mexico or Costa Rica. In general there is also more a surfers vibe in Costa Rica, especially in the Nicoya peninsula near Santa Teresa. This adds up to the laidback Pura Vida vibes of Costa Rica.
So if you love to stay in luxurious beach resorts, then Mexico is the place to be for you. But if you love untouched beaches and eco tourism, then Costa Rica would be your best pick.
Transportation in Mexico vs Costa Rica
Depending on your budget and preference you can travel through both Mexico and Costa Rica either by rental car or public transportation. In Mexico, the most common form of public transportation is buses, both intra-city and inter-city. They are usually inexpensive but can be crowded and not always punctual. In contrast, Costa Rica has a well-developed bus system. Particularly in the capital city of San Jose, which is a clean, reliable, and safe transportation service. You can easily travel by bus to the popular tourist destinations in Costa Rica making it an easy and affordable way of transportation.
In both Mexico and Costa Rica, taxis are widely available, but they differ in terms of pricing and safety. Taxis in Mexico can be cheap but may not always be safe, especially at night. In contrast, Costa Rica’s taxi fares are higher but generally considered safe.
If you don’t have a rental car and the bus is not an option as well, then a taxi is the solution. However, it’s not the cheapest option. Luckily there are application-based car services such as Uber and Cabify available in many Mexican cities that generally offer a safe alternative to taxis. In Costa Rica you can check the availability for Uber and Lyft in the major metropolitan areas of San Jose, Liberia, and San Carlos.
Of course both Mexico and Costa Rica have well-developed air travel networks, with international airports located in major cities. However, air travel in Costa Rica can be expensive compared to Mexico due to the country’s smaller size and limited competition between airlines.
Food in Mexico vs Costa Rica
Mexican and Costa Rican cuisines share some similarities, but they also have many differences.
Mexican cuisine is known for its bold and spicy flavors, often featuring ingredients like chili peppers, tomatoes, and beans. Some of Mexico’s most famous dishes include tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and enchiladas, which are typically made with corn tortillas and filled with a variety of meats, vegetables, and spices. Mexico is also known for its flavorful sauces, such as salsa and mole.
Costa Rican cuisine on the other hand is more mild and often features fresh, natural ingredients like seafood, tropical fruits, and root vegetables. Common dishes in Costa Rica include gallo pinto (rice and beans), ceviche (a dish of marinated raw fish), and casado (a dish that typically includes rice, beans, meat, and vegetables). Costa Rican cuisine is also known for its use of plantains, which can be served fried, boiled, or mashed.
Both countries have their own unique dishes and flavor profiles. We personally enjoyed both cuisines a lot and enjoyed the fresh and flavorful ingredients.
Street food in Mexico and Costa Rica
In Mexico, street food is widely available and deeply ingrained in the local culture. You can find everything from tacos and tamales to elote (grilled corn) and churros being sold from food carts and stalls on almost every street corner. Some of the most popular street food items in Mexico include tacos al pastor (spit-grilled pork tacos), quesadillas, and chilaquiles (tortilla chips with salsa and cheese).
In Costa Rica, street food is also popular, but the options tend to be more limited than in Mexico. Some of the most common street food items in Costa Rica include gallo pinto (rice and beans), empanadas (stuffed pastries), and tamales. You may also find vendors selling fresh fruits, coconuts, and pipas (young green coconuts with the top cut off, which are popular for their refreshing water).
Culture in Mexico vs Costa Rica
Mexico and Costa Rica have distinct cultures shaped by their history, traditions, and geographical location.
Mexico’s culture is heavily influenced by its indigenous roots, colonial past, and vibrant contemporary art and music scene. The country is known for its colorful festivals, such as Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), which celebrates deceased loved ones. Another festival is Cinco de Mayo, which commemorates the Mexican army’s victory over French forces in the Battle of Puebla.
In contrast, Costa Rican culture is influenced by its Spanish colonial heritage, as well as its indigenous and Afro-Caribbean populations. The country is known for its “pura vida” (pure life) philosophy, which emphasizes living a simple, stress-free life and enjoying nature and the outdoors. Costa Rica is also famous for its coffee culture, with coffee production being a significant part of the country’s economy.
Both countries have a rich culinary tradition. Mexico is of course known for its spicy and flavorful cuisine, including tacos, tamales, and mole. Costa Rica on the other hand is famous for its gallo pinto (rice and beans dish), ceviche, and fresh seafood.
In terms of arts and crafts, Mexico is known for its colorful pottery, traditional textiles, and intricate silver jewelry. Costa Rica is famous for its intricate wood carvings, pottery, and brightly colored fabrics.
Overall, both Mexico and Costa Rica have unique and vibrant cultures. If you are interested to discover the different cultures you will have a wealth of experiences and opportunities to learn and appreciate their respective histories and traditions.
When is the best time to go to Costa Rica
Costa Rica has two primary seasons. The dry season that lasts from December to April and the rainy season that runs from May to November. Both seasons have their advantages, but here are some considerations for each season:
Dry Season (December to April): This is considered the high season in Costa Rica. The weather is generally sunny, and rainfall is minimal, making it an ideal time for outdoor activities like hiking, beach visits, and exploring national parks. However, since it’s the peak season, popular tourist areas can be crowded. Therefore prices for accommodations and activities may be higher as well.
Rainy Season (May to November): Despite being the rainy season, it does not rain continuously throughout the day, and you can still enjoy sunny mornings. The vegetation is lush, and wildlife is more active. The rainy season also offers lower hotel rates and fewer crowds, making it a good option for budget travelers. However, it’s important to note that some remote areas or unpaved roads may be more challenging to access due to heavy rains.
It’s worth considering the specific regions within Costa Rica as well, as weather patterns can vary. For example, the Caribbean coast tends to have more rainfall throughout the year compared to the Pacific coast.
When is the best time to go to Mexico
Because Mexico is such a large country with different altitudes, the climate varies by region. For example, the Yucatan Peninsula experiences a tropical climate with high temperatures year-round, while central and northern regions have more distinct seasons.
The high season runs from December to April and is the peak tourist season in most parts of Mexico. Especially in popular beach destinations like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Los Cabos. The weather is generally warm and dry during this time, making it ideal for beach activities, exploring ancient ruins, and outdoor adventures. However, prices for accommodations and flights tend to be higher, and popular tourist areas can be crowded.
Shoulder season is in May and June and September to November. These months have fewer crowds and moderate prices. The weather can be pleasant, although there may be occasional rain showers. It’s a good time to explore popular destinations with fewer tourists and take advantage of lower rates. However, you should be aware of hurricanes in these months,
There isn’t really a low season in Mexico, but the months that do see a lower amount of tourists are July and August.However, this period coincides with the summer vacation season in Mexico. So popular tourist destinations can be still crowded with local Mexican tourists.
More Mexico travel inspiration
I hope you enjoyed this extensive comparison guide about Mexico vs Costa Rica. For more Mexico travel tips, head over to our other Mexico guides.
More Costa Rica travel inspiration
For more Costa Rica travel inspiration, head over to our COSTA RICA TRAVEL GUIDES