Are you and your family planning a paradise vacation but struggling to figure out where to go? Here we place two countries, Costa Rica and Mexico, side by side and compare their key attributes.
Both Costa Rica and Mexico offer beautiful beaches, rich cultures, plenty of outdoor activities and are located in Central America. But their cultures and geography are very different and its key to do some research to find out which destination is right for you and your family.
Read our tips on Mexico and Costa Rica below and find out which country will fit you and your family’s travel needs.
Mexico v Costa Rica: General Information
Mexico is a familiar destination to many Americans as 30 million tourists visited the country in 2016. As the most visited international destination for Americans, it is a fairly easy trip to book and organize. The country itself is very diverse and offers a plethora of activities and resort destinations. The accommodations range from budget lodging to luxurious hotels and resorts. While tourists flock to Mexico throughout the year, it typically gets crowded only around major holidays.
A popular retirement destination, Costa Rica has been on American’s travel radar for many years. However, in the past five to ten years, more Americans have been traveling to Costa Rica to experience the wildlife and Pura Vida lifestyle. Known for its beaches, volcanoes and rich wildlife, this exotic location offers a plethora of activities for any type of traveler. Costa Rica has the highest density of biodiversity of any other country in the world and contains 4% of species estimated to inhabit the planet. There is never a dull moment with all of the various plants and animals that call Costa Rica home.
Mexico v Costa Rica: The Beaches
Many tourists flock to Mexico for its beautiful, white beaches. With hundreds of resorts and all-inclusive hotels lining the beaches, there are multiple choices when choosing your accommodation. The resorts are relatively affordable and have everything you need for a vacation.
Mexico’s beaches tend to be more busy and offer more amenities like bars, beach chairs, and vendors than Costa Rica. Some of the most popular and beautiful beaches in Mexico are:
Play del Carmen
Cabo San Lucas
Costa Rica’s beaches are more natural and less crowded. However, unless you are staying in a busy beach town like Jaco or Manuel Antonio, don’t expect many amenities on the beach. Costa Rica does have a very active and popular surfing scene so if you want to hit the waves head to Dominical or Playa Naranjo and enjoy some incredible surfing. Major swell season is April to October while the clean surf season is December to April.
Manuel Antonio Beach
Costa Rica’s highest rated beaches are:
Mexico v Costa Rica: Pricing
Generally, Mexico is a very affordable travel destination. The currency in Mexico is the Peso and as of August 2, 2017 the Dollar to Peso ratio is 17 to 1. However, certain areas like the Yucatan are more expensive due to its popularity and location. All-inclusive resorts are very popular in Mexico and offers travelers a way to save money while they visit. Typically, an average traveler can expect to spend $45 – $50 a day while vacationing in Mexico.
Costa Rica is affordable but is one of the more expensive countries throughout Central America for tourists. Costa Rica is a huge tourist destination so past travelers and American retirees have driven up prices in the country. A typical tourist can expect to spend $55 – $60 a day while in Costa Rica. The activities you decide on will effect your daily budget tremendously. The Costa Rica Colon as of August 2, 2017 is at 572 Colones for 1 U.S. dollar.
While it is pricier than its neighbors, there are still budget friendly options for families looking to save money. Eat at local “soda” restaurants, opt for public transportation and choose budget lodging outside of major tourist areas.
Mexico v Costa Rica: Historial Sights
A major draw for tourists in Mexico are the historic ruins from the Aztecs and Mayans. They offer a glimpse into the rich history of Mexico and give you and your family an educational bonus while on vacation. The people of Mexico have done a wonderful job of preserving their history and keeping the indigenous culture intact. The most visited ruins are Chichen Itza which is a two hour drive from Cancun and Teotihucan which is less than an hour from Mexico City.
Chichén Itzá, Mexico
While the history of Costa Rica dates back to precolonial times, historic ruins are few and far between. Many of the indigenous structures and sights have been lost to time but there are still a handful of places you can visit to look into the history of Costa Rica.
East of San Jose you will find El Guayabo National Monument which is the largest architectural site in Costa Rica. The country also has dozens of architectural museums that hold over 2,600 artifacts and an overview of Costa Rica’s rich history. Although there are few historic ruins to visit, Costa Rica has a rich history and culture that is still evident today.
Mexico v Costa Rica: The Food
Mexican food is well-known across the world for its vibrant, spicy flavors and draws tourists who are eager to try the food straight from the source. Whether its street vendors in Mexico City, fresh fruit along the Caribbean, or cold Margaritas, Mexico will offer food and drinks with bold,bright flavors.
The food in Costa Rica is known for being fairly mild with rice and black beans being a main component of most dishes. Traditional dishes rely heavily on fruit and vegetables and are almost always made from scratch with fresh ingredients.
Costa Rica ceviche
When most tourists talk about Costa Rican food, comfort is most often mentioned. A home-cooked vibe is felt while you are eating the food whether you’re eating the most famous dish Casado, or fresh ceviche. Costa Rican food is made with love and has a healthy spin on many other traditional Central American cuisines.
Mexico v Costa Rica: Safety
Unfortunately, Mexico isn’t the same as it once was. Carjacking, robberies, kidnapping and even homicide have filled the headlines in Mexico and in America . The U.S. government has even issued a travel warning in certain areas of Mexico that hare are high risk to tourists. There is danger no matter when or where you travel, but if you do decide to travel to Mexico, be aware of the current risks in the country and keep updated on any warnings. Currently, the U.S. is warning tourists of tainted alcohol throughout Mexico following the death of a Wisconsin woman and to seek medical attention immediately if you feel ill after drinking.
Drinking tap water is also an issue if you are visiting Mexico. Stick to bottled water for drinking and even for brushing your teeth to avoid getting sick by Montezuma’s revenge.
Tourists are targets for thieves and scams no matter where they travel to and it is no difference in Costa Rica. While Costa Rica is a very safe country compared to its Central American neighbors, petty crime and theft are common for tourists. Good Samaritan scams are common in popular tourist areas so be aware of your surroundings and of your belongings.
Also, Costa Rica is in an active volcano and earthquake zone. The country has two volcanoes near San Jose that have increased their activity in recent years so be aware of current conditions when planning your vacation. The tap water in Costa Rica is safe to drink unlike Mexico. If you are in rural parts of the country, its better to be cautious and drink bottle water but generally tap water is safe to drink.
Arenal Volcano Costa Rica
Mexico v Costa Rica: Nightlife
If you are looking to let lose whether you are planning a couples trip or Spring Break, Mexico is your place to be. Non-stop partying all year round brings in a lot of the younger crowd looking to have a good time. Be aware there are busy times for college kids so if you and your family would like to avoid the party, book accordingly.
Finding nightlife in Costa Rica isn’t as easy as in Mexico. It varies from city to city and ranges from small gatherings at local bars to packed nightclubs in the city. If you are in search for the party scene in Costa Rica, staying in busier areas is key. Cities like San Jose, Tamarindo and Jaco offer nightclubs and bars that have a mix of tourists, college students and locals that dance the night away.
Mexico v Costa Rica: Leisure Activities
Mexico is a large country that has a diverse climate and geography. If you vacation in Mexico, your family will have many recreational options to choose from whether you stay on the beach in Cozumel or in Mexico City. There are many choices such as horseback riding, rafting, paragliding, scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing, surfing, and even bikini just to name a few. Since Mexico is so large and diverse, pick a part of the country to stay at that offers you and your family activities you’d enjoy.
Costa Rica is an adventure lovers dream. Since the country has such a diverse landscape, tourists’ choices for outdoor activities are nearly endless. Depending on where you are staying in Costa Rica, you can choose from surfing, zip lining, deep sea fishing, hiking, ATV rides, white water rafting, scuba diving, kayaking, bird watching, etc. We guarantee you won’t be bored on your vacation in Costa Rica!
Another huge draw for foreigners are the multiple yoga retreats throughout Costa Rica. It’s a popular activity for locals and tourists and the country offers some of the best yoga training in the world. While you are enjoying your tropical adventure, you can relax and experience a memorable yoga retreat.
Mexico v Costa Rica: The People
The Mexican people are known for having a kind and social spirit. Mexico is a welcoming country and this is felt as soon as you step foot in the country. Religion is very important to the people of Mexico and is at the core of their culture.
Mexico is also a very class-conscious society built on a strict hierarchy and this is evident while you visit the country. The upper class and lower class individuals are very divided and most people of Mexico feel strongly that their path in life is preordained. Mexico’s deep value of heritage is one main reason this social stratifications is still so apparent.
One of the major reasons vacationers keep returning to Costa Rica is the lifestyle and attitude of the locals. “Pure Vida” is the country’s motto/phrase and is simply defined as pure life, but it has a much deeper meaning to their culture. Pura Vida is a way of life and is an attitude engrained in the people of Costa Rica.
Con Amor’s CEO Troy Eckard in Costa Rica with locals
The locals in Costa Rica (Ticos) use the phrase to say hello, goodbye, or that everything is okay. But it isn’t necessarily the words that create this deep emotion when saying Pura Vida. It is the way the Ticos live their day to day lives. They do not stress about trivial things and take things much slower to enjoy every day. Costa Rica has been named one of the happiest countries in the world and their lifestyle of Pura Vida reflects this happiness. No worries, no stress, no rush and to always think positive is their daily mantra. Pura Vida is infectious and you will soon be saying “Pura Vida” and taking things a bit slower.
Both Costa Rica and Mexico offer travelers great food, culture and adventurous, outdoor activities. No matter which destination you choose for your vacation, make sure to do your research and find out what country meeds you and your family’s needs. Whether you are sipping margaritas on a beach in Cancun or white water rafting on the Savegre River, Mexico and Costa Rica will give you and your family a vacation you wont’ soon forget!
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