Mexico vs Costa Rica: A Comparison Guide

written by local expert Anna Faustino

Anna is a co-founder of Adventure in You and has been traveling the world for the last 9 years. She has spent time living in Thailand, Mexico, Indonesia, and Spain and is our local expert in these areas. Her expertise on travel, gear, and building businesses have been featured on Foundr, Business Insider, Yahoo Travel, and more.

Planning a trip but wondering how Mexico vs Costa Rica compares? In this article, I will walk you through my honest comparison of these two beautiful Latin American countries.

As full-time travelers, we spent a year living in Mexico and exploring its rich culture, history, and natural wonders.

We’ve also had the pleasure of traveling all around Costa Rica, enjoying its stunning beaches, lush rainforests, and vibrant wildlife.

Both countries are very unique and have a lot to offer as both are very popular tourist destinations!

In this article, I’ll be comparing and contrasting some of the key aspects of these two destinations. It will include beaches and natural attractions, transportation, safety, food, and culture.

My aim is to provide you with an in-depth comparison guide that will help you decide which country to visit or give you some inspiration for your next adventure!

Mexico vs Costa Rica: A Comparison Guide

Quick Answer: Mexico vs Costa Rica

If you’re looking for some amazing destinations, Mexico and Costa Rica are both incredible options.

As someone who has traveled extensively throughout Latin America, I can attest to the fact that Mexico and Costa Rica offer a wealth of experiences that are truly unique.

Mexico is known for its beautiful beaches, lively cities, and rich cultural heritage. Whether you want to party in Cancun or explore the historic sites in Mexico City, there’s something for everyone. Plus, the food is amazing – have you tried tacos or tamales yet?

Popular beach destinations include Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum. Meanwhile, cities like Merida and Oaxaca offer a diverse range of historic landmarks, museums, and art galleries.

Costa Rica, on the other hand, is a nature lover’s dream. With its lush rainforests, sparkling beaches, and majestic volcanoes, it’s the perfect place to get away from it all.

Popular beach destinations in Costa Rica include Manuel Antonio, Jaco, and Tamarindo. While natural attractions like Arenal Volcano and Monteverde Cloud Forest draw visitors from all over the world.

Costa Rica is also known for its emphasis on sustainable tourism, with many eco-lodges and nature reserves offering opportunities for travelers to experience the country’s natural wonders while minimizing their impact on the environment.

It was actually very impressive seeing their ecological efforts first had when we were there!

Editor’s Note: Want to know more about Mexico? Check out our article on Fun Facts about Mexico

What more can they offer?

When it comes to safety, Costa Rica wins hands down as it is one of the safest countries to travel to. It is also common knowledge that Mexico has a higher crime rate however, personally speaking, as long as you stay away from any drug related activities, you should be fine.

We even wrote full articles on safety in Mexico which you can check out below:

Transportation-wise, both countries offer plenty of options, from buses to taxis to rental cars. Costa Rica’s roads can be a little tricky, but it’s all part of the adventure!

So whether you’re looking for a cultural experience or a natural paradise, Mexico and Costa Rica both offer something truly special. It all comes down to your personal preferences and what you’re looking for in a trip.

As you keep reading, I will share how each place fares when it comes to comparing their food, transportation, and safety.

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Infographic on Mexico vs Costa Rica

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Travel Guide: Mexico vs Costa Rica

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Mexico Travel

Mexico is the ideal pick if you’re searching for a bright, action-packed vacation spot with something for everyone.

Millions of tourists visit this beautiful nation every year, attracted by its stunning beaches, rich cultural heritage, and delectable cuisine. Honestly, the food in Mexico is UNREAL.

In fact, Mexico receives more than 40 million foreign visitors annually, making it one of the most traveled nations in the world.

And it’s easy to understand why: Mexico has plenty to offer everyone, from the famous Chichen Itza Mayan ruins to the stunning beaches of Cancun and Sayulita.

There are numerous options to pick from when it comes to well-known tourist attractions.

Beach lovers and party goers alike like traveling to the Yucatan Peninsula, which encompasses Cancun, Tulum, and Playa del Carmen.

If you’re more of a city person, Mexico City along with PV, and Oaxaca are fun places to spend time in.

To get to the country, most people opt to take a flight. The busiest airport is Mexico City International Airport (MEX), which is located just 5 miles from the city center and is the hub for several major airlines.

Other major airports in Mexico include Cancun International Airport (CUN), which is the gateway to the popular beach destinations of Cancun, Cozumel, and the Riviera Maya.

The other flight hub is Los Cabos International Airport (SJD), which serves the popular resort areas of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo.

Relaxing at Holbox, Mexico
Relaxing at Holbox

Currency in Mexico

It’s crucial to remember that the Mexican peso is the official currency when visiting Mexico. It’s a good idea to always have some pesos on hand, especially for little transactions, even though many shops will accept US dollars.

Spanish is the country of Mexico’s official language, however English is also extensively spoken in tourist hot spots.

Mexico is a genuinely unforgettable tourist destination because of its fantastic gastronomy, friendly people, and breathtaking natural beauty.

Must-Visit Attractions in Mexico

Chichen Itza: This is probably one of the most well-known Mayan Ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula. It frequents by tons of tourists daily! When visiting Chichen Itza, I recommend going early to beat the heat and the crowds.

San Miguel de Allende: If you want to wander around a beautiful historic town, head on over to San Miguel de Allende. It is one of our favorite spots along with Merida!

Tulum: Tulum is nowadays known as the party central of Mexico. As you walk along its stunning shoreline, you can find a ton of upscale Tulum beach clubs, fancy restaurants, and boutique resorts. Personally, I am not a huge fan of Tulum and find it quite touristy and expensive but to each his own!

Teotihuacan: If you’re in Mexico City, a visit to the famed Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon is a must. The best way to explore the area in our opinion is to see it from above on a hot air balloon! Absolute bucket list.

Palenque: This spectacular Mayan ruin and temple complex in the Chiapas region encircle by a dense jungle.

Cozumel: If you want to experience some of the best diving in Mexico, head to Cozumel. Diving in Cozumel is world famous due to its crystal clear waters and gorgeous coral reefs. We spent a few days diving here and it was fantastic.

Las Grutas Tolantongo: This natural hot springs and cave system in Hidalgo is a hidden gem, featuring turquoise pools and breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains. Whenever we get friends who visit Mexico City, we recommend them to check out Las Grutas Tolantongo!

Cenote Hopping: Cenotes are natural sinkholes found throughout the Yucatan Peninsula and are a popular destination for swimming and snorkeling. Popular cenotes include:

We’re a little bit crazy about cenotes so make sure to check out our detailed guides for each one to help you plan your trip to these amazing natural attractions.

Anna, founder and editor of Adventure in You in a cenote
Founder of this blog, Anna swimming in Cenotes in Mexico

Costa Rica Travel

If you’re looking for a super chill tropical getaway with tons of natural beauty and adventure, then Costa Rica is definitely the spot for you.

Over three million visitors hit up this little Central American paradise every year, and it’s easy to see why.

Costa Rica is known for its breathtaking attractions like Arenal Volcano, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, and Manuel Antonio National Park, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to get your ecotourism on. Honestly, when we planned our trip to Costa Rica, we had no expectations.

We knew it would be an amazing place to travel through but we were blown away at how lush and beautiful everything was.

If you’re an adventure junkie, Costa Rica’s got you covered too. Whether you’re zip-lining through the jungle, white water rafting, or chasing hidden waterfalls, you’ll never be bored.

And let’s not forget about a few surf spots in Costa Rica like Tamarindo and Jaco. If you want to check out the best Costa Rica surf camps, check out our full guide.

To get to Costa Rica, most visitors arrive by air, with the two major airports being Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) in San Jose and Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport (LIR) in Liberia.

We’ve actually been to both airports (once was when we traveled Costa Rica) and once to Liberia airport when we crossed the border to head to Nicaragua.

The official currency is the Costa Rican colon, but don’t sweat it if you’ve got US dollars – they’re widely accepted in touristy areas. Spanish is the main language, but you’ll find plenty of English speakers.

With its stunning scenery, friendly folks, and endless adventure opportunities, Costa Rica is one of the most unforgettable places you’ll ever visit.

Beautiful sunset at Uvita
Beautiful sunset at Uvita

Must-Visit Attractions in Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio National Park: This beautiful national park on the Pacific coast has its stunning beaches and abundant wildlife, including monkeys and sloths. It is probably one of Costa Rica’s most visited National Parks.

While the park itself can get busy, there are beautiful hiking trails that you can follow which takes you through the forest areas and out to the beach. This hike was actually one of our favorite activities in the national park.

Arenal Volcano: This iconic volcano in the northern region of Costa Rica is a must-see for nature lovers.

Visitors can hike in the surrounding rainforest or relax in the natural hot springs. We stayed in a hotel called Casa Luna and absolutely loved our stay as we had the most brilliant view of the Arenal volcano from our balcony.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve: is a protected region in the northern highlands that attracts many birdwatchers since it has a distinctive environment and a wide range of bird species.

Uvita: This small coastal town on the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica has its beautiful beaches, whale watching tours, and the famous Whale Tail formation of Bahía Ballena. We had some friends who were living here so we got to spend some time enjoying the beach and the surf.

La Fortuna: This charming town in the northern region of Costa Rica is the gateway to Arenal Volcano and offers a variety of outdoor activities, including ziplining, horseback riding, and waterfall hikes.

Corcovado National Park: This remote and rugged park on the Osa Peninsula is home to some of Costa Rica’s most diverse and pristine rainforest, with rare species like the Baird’s tapir and the harpy eagle.

Osa Peninsula: This remote and rugged peninsula in the southern Pacific coast is home to some of Costa Rica’s most diverse and pristine rainforest, with rare species like the Baird’s tapir, jaguars, and scarlet macaws.

This was probably our favorite spot in ALL of Costa Rica as it just felt so remote and rugged. We would constantly see macaws flying from our hotel balcony.

Tom and Anna photos in La Fortuna
Tom and Anna in La Fortuna

Comparing the Landscape of Mexico and Costa Rica

Summary: Comparing the landscape of these two countries is really like comparing apples and oranges. In my personal opinion, Costa Rica wins on this front as the natural landscapes and animal diversity are just out of this world.

If you want to go off-the-beaten path and visit some remote destinations, I recommend you visit Costa Rica.

But this is based on personal preference because if you want to enjoy beautiful beaches while still being able to enjoy high quality accommodations and restaurants, head to Mexico.

Two countries that have a plethora of natural beauty and extremely distinctive landscapes are Costa Rica and Mexico.

The breathtaking rainforests, varied fauna, and verdant landscapes of Costa Rica are well-known attractions. The Osa Peninsula, Tortuguero National Park, and Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve are all well-liked vacation spots.

You may go zip lining, whitewater rafting, or hiking to stunning waterfalls if you’re seeking for action.

Mexico, on the other hand, has its spectacular colbonial architecture, colorful culture, and lovely beaches. Cancun, Tulum, and Puerto Vallarta are a few well-liked vacation spots.

Mexico is also home to amazing natural treasures like Las Grutas Tolantongo and the Yucatan Peninsula’s cenotes.

The beaches in Mexico are undoubtedly more developed and provide more luxurious lodging as it has a ton of popular beachside hotels and apartments. In my opinion, the beaches in Costa Rica are more remote and have a more relaxed atmosphere.

I feel like Mexico is a lot more touristy while Costa Rica has a few hidden gems which you can still travel across that feels remote and off-the beaten track.

Costa Rica, in my opinion, is the ideal location if you’re seeking for a spot that combines both adventure and relaxation. Yet Mexico is undoubtedly worth a trip if you want to see a distinctive fusion of culture and environment.

In the end, both of these countries in Central America offer something for everyone so it’s all about personal preference. Both have a warm tropical climate, lush jungles, and beautiful beaches.

Rare frog in Costa Rica
Wildlife in Costa Rica

Comparing the Food of Mexico and Costa Rica

Summary: In my opinion, Mexico wins this round hands down as Mexican food is just absolutely incredible. From the different types of tacos to the variety of local dishes. Costa Rican food on the other hand is rather bland, with most meals  consisting of rice, beans, and some sort of protein. While we enjoyed Costa Rican food when we were there, it just doesn’t hold up against Mexico’s cuisine.

Both the cuisines of Mexico and Costa Rica are brimming with flavor and offer a delectable combination of herbs, spices, and fresh ingredients.

Popular foods like tacos and chilaquiles may be found all over Mexico. Tacos are a traditional street meal in Mexico, and they come in a wide range of tastes and flavors. Taco al pastor is a personal favorite and is a must-try when in Mexico!

Another popular breakfast dish that I often have whenever I am in Mexico is chilaquiles. Chilaquiles are made up of crunchy tortilla chips, salsa, some type of meat, and an egg. It is usually topped with a salsa verde or salsa rojo.

On the other hand, Costa Rican cuisine offers items like arroz with pollo (rice and chicken), ceviche, and gallo pinto.

Traditional morning fare called gallo pinto is made with rice and beans and is typically served with scrambled eggs and sour cream.

tacos al pastor mexico city
Delicious Tacos Al Pastor of Mexico

Who has better food: Mexico or Costa Rica?

Both Mexican and Costa Rican cuisine make use of a wide range of fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs but I do feel like Mexico’s cuisines utilize this more.

Foods in Mexico often contain chiles, cilantro, jalapenos, and a lot of citrus. Costa Rica makes use of a lot of plantains, yucca, and beans.

As mentioned, I much prefer Mexican food as I find it light and refreshing compared to the starchy meals that Costa Rica is known for.

Authentic food in Costa Rica
Typical Costa Rican meal

Comparing the Culture of Mexico vs Costa Rica

Summary: In my opinion, when it comes to history and culture, Mexico wins on this front. If you love history, traveling around Mexico and visiting the various historical and archaeological sites is so special. While you wander around these ancient Mayan ruins, you’re instantly brought back to the birthplace of civilization!

Let’s dig a bit deeper. Mexico and Costa Rica have vibrant, varied cultures that are influenced by their distinct pasts and customs.

There is a fusion of indigenous, Hispanic, and other European elements in Mexico. The nation’s art, music, and architecture all reflect this. For example, when you visit the city of Merida, it is very common for you to find French-colonial architecture.

Mexican culture is renowned for its vivid hues, complex designs, and exuberant festivities. They love throwing fiestas where the locals eat and dance.

A few popular Mexican holidays are Dia de los Muertos and the Day of the Lady of Guadalupe.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Puerto Vallarta

Comparison of Cultural Attractions:

As for cultural attractions, there is no shortage of ancient Mayan ruins in Mexico. From Chichén Itzá, the pyramids of Teotihuacan or the Mesoamerican ruins of ​​El Tajín.

In contrast, the indigenous roots and Spanish colonization have a stronger influence on Costa Rican culture.

Afro-Caribbean rhythms and customs have a significant influence on the music and dancing of the nation.

The national slogan of Costa Rica, “Pura Vida,” captures this pleasant and carefree nature of the people. The idea of living fully and appreciating the little things is conveyed by this expression, which translates to “pure life.”

Everywhere you go in Costa Rica, you will see the words Pura Vida and we absolutely love it. The Costa Ricans embody the Pura Vida lifestyle which makes traveling through the country super fun and relaxed.

Although Costa Rica also has a few historical landmarks like the Ujarras Ruins, there are more historical attractions in Mexico.

However, despite a few cultural distinctions, both Mexico and Costa Rica take great pleasure in their history and customs.

The cultures of both nations are kind and inclusive, and they both value life, family, and community which is very apparent when you travel through the two countries.

Ancient Church in Ujarras Ruins, Costa Rica
The Ancient Church of Ujarras Ruins

Comparison on Safety

Summary: When it comes to safety, Costa Rica wins this round. According to the latest Global Peace Index update, Costa Rica is considered the safest country in Latin America and is considered to have a very low crime rate as well as political stability. Compared to Mexico, which has a lot of problems due to drug cartels, Costa Rica is considered a safer destination.

There are significant distinctions between Mexico and Costa Rica in terms of safety that are important to take into account, especially if you’re a solo-female traveler.

Violent crimes caused by drug cartels has plagued Mexico for a long time, especially in some regions that are close to the American border.

While it is generally safe to travel around Mexico (remember, millions go there every year), it’s crucial to be aware of any potential risks and use caution in areas with higher crime rates. As a rule of thumb, stay away from any drug related activity.

When walking through crowded areas, remember to keep your belongings with you at all times and be careful when going out at night. We lived in Playa del Carmen for a year and not once did I feel unsafe, even when walking around by myself. Yes, there is petty crime but in general, it is okay.

Costa Rica, on the other hand, has a reputation for being a secure and tranquil nation. Costa Rica is so safe that it is one of the few countries in the world who doesn’t have a military presence.

Tom and Anna enjoying their stay in PDC

Which One is Cheaper, Mexico vs Costa Rica?

Summary: Generally speaking, Mexico is a cheaper country to travel to compared to Costa Rica but this naturally depends on your type of travel. If you’re planning on staying in the many glitzy all-inclusive resorts in Mexico, then this obviously adds up. However, generally speaking, the cost of food, transportation, and tours are cheaper in Mexico.

There are significant distinctions between Mexico and Costa Rica in terms of travel expenses that are important to take into account.

Mexico is typically seen as being a cheaper destination than Costa Rica. In Mexico, costs for lodging, dining, and transportation are typically lower, particularly in tourist-less regions. It’s important to remember that costs might vary significantly based on location and season.

Places like Cancun and Tulum are very commercialized so the prices of things there tend to be higher.

In comparison, traveling to Costa Rica can be more expensive, particularly in well-known tourist destinations like Tamarindo or Manuel Antonio.

There are also very few public transportation options in Costa Rica for tourists. Since most places are far apart, renting a car is the preferred method of transportation which is also a big expense.

I recommend checking out Discovery Cars when in Costa Rica to compare car rental prices.

The cost of lodging, dining, and transportation in Costa is usually higher in these places, but if you’re prepared to do some research, you can still discover reasonably priced options.

Ultimately, both countries have a variety of affordable travel choices, including hostels, low-cost hotels, as well as local cuisine and street food- did someone say $1 tacos?

In the end, travel expenses in Mexico and Costa Rica ultimately rely on your travel style and the destinations you choose.

Mexico might be a better option if you’re on a tight budget as it is easy to do cheaply, while Costa Rica might be a better alternative if you’re ready to spend more money for tours and getting around.

Renting a car in Costa Rica
Renting a car in Costa Rica

Conclusion on Mexico vs Costa Rica

In conclusion, both Mexico and Costa Rica have a lot to offer for travelers seeking an unforgettable experience. Each country has its unique culture, food, natural attractions, and travel costs, making it a difficult choice to pick just one.

Mexico is a fantastic destination for those who want to explore rich history and diverse culture, indulge in delicious cuisine, and enjoy affordable travel costs.

The country’s bustling cities, stunning beaches, and traditional festivals attract millions of visitors each year.

However, travelers need to exercise caution in certain areas, as Mexico has struggled with drug cartel violence in recent years.

Costa Rica, on the other hand, is renowned for its lush rainforests, stunning beaches, and peaceful environment. The country’s commitment to conservation and ecotourism makes it a popular destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike.

Costa Rica is also considered one of the safest countries in Latin America which is a huge plus.

Ultimately, the choice between Mexico and Costa Rica will depend on your personal preferences and interests. If you’re looking for a rich history and diverse culture, Mexico may be the better option- that’s if you opt out of staying in an all inclusive hotel and actually travel around the country.

Beautiful beach of Isla Holbox, Mexico
Holbox Mexico

But if you’re seeking natural beauty, adventure, and a diverse wildlife, then Costa Rica may be the perfect choice.

Whatever you choose, both countries offer incredible experiences that are sure to leave a lasting impression. Hopefully this article helped you make a decision on where to go on your next adventure.

Regardless of your choice, you’re bound to have an amazing time as both countries are absolutely incredible.

FAQ on Mexico vs Costa Rica

Is Mexico or Costa Rica cheaper?

Mexico is generally cheaper than Costa Rica in terms of travel costs, accommodation, and food. Although some places in Mexico are getting more expensive (Cancun and Tulum), generally speaking, it is much easier to travel Mexico on a budget.

Is Mexico or Costa Rica safer?

Costa Rica is considered to be safer than Mexico, with lower crime rates and political stability. Mexico, unfortunately, still gets a lot of violence due to drug cartels. However with that being said, it is still a safe place, you just have to be a little bit more cautious.

Is Mexico or Costa Rica better?

The choice between Mexico and Costa Rica depends on personal preferences and interests, as both countries offer unique experiences and attractions. If you want to explore different historical sites while staying in luxurious hotels by the beach, head to Mexico. If you want to explore natural landmarks and wildlife, head to Costa Rica.

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Mexico vs Costa Rica: A Comparison Guide | Trying to decide between Mexico vs Costa Rica for your next trip to Central Latin America? Click here to see our complete guide details. #travelmexico #travelcostarica
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