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The best way to answer the Costa Rica or Puerto Rico question is to ask yourself what you’re looking for. Yes, there’s some overlap between the two destinations, but if you truly know what you want in your vacation, the answer should be clear. We figure the best way to differentiate between the two and help you choose is to give a quick rundown of what each has to offer.
Costa Rica’s greatest draw is its wealth of rainforest that begs for exploration. If searching for exotic plant and animal life in some of the most biologically diverse terrain in the world sounds like your kind of thing, then Costa Rica is your place. The surf towns and beaches on the Pacific Coast are excellent for those who have a “been there done that” attitude towards the typically calmer beaches of the Caribbean.
Puerto Rico is home to its own impressive selection of natural wonders. From the caves at Rio Camuy to the island beaches of Caja de Muertos and the dense rainforests of El Yunque (check out this El Yunque Off the Beaten Path Hiking Tour), Puerto Rico is no stranger to natural wonders.
Point: It’s a very close call, but Costa Rica is simply too tough to beat.
Culture and Urban Life
Puerto Rico has a fascinatingly rich society where indigenous, Spanish, American, and Latin influences all come together on one island. Touring through old San Juan will have you strolling by age-old statues, European architecture, and Afro-Caribbean cultural centers. When it comes to music, Puerto Rico effectively invented reggaeton and had a massive part in the development and spread of salsa, so the nightlife here is second to none. Puerto Rico’s yearly calendar is teeming with cultural events like street festivals, jazz concerts, and book festivals.
Costa Rica errs more on the side of a friendly, laid-back, peaceful cultural experience. What it loses in sweaty dancehalls and bustling urbanscapes it gains in sustainability, a “pura vida” lifestyle, and piña coladas in hammocks. While San Jose certainly has its merits, most people who visit Costa Rica flock to the beaches and the jungles.
Point: If you’re a culture junkie keen on museums, history, festivals, and more, we’d say the urban life point goes to Puerto Rico.
Let’s be honest, food is one of the most enjoyable parts of traveling the world, and it should absolutely factor into your decision on where to go. Costa Rican cuisine is known for fresh Caribbean ingredients, lots of fruit, and a heavy foundation of Latin American staples like rice, beans, and plantains. Although the food scene in Costa Rica has seen an international overhaul in recent years thanks to the hoards of tourists, it still stays true to its roots. Gallo pinto, tamales, arroz con leche, chifrijo, and casados are all worth diving into.
Gastro-tourism in Puerto Rico is also an adventure for the palate. Hearty portions, lots of seafood, and lots of fried snacks like empanadas, and mofongo — the unofficial king of Puerto Rican cuisine — are all great reasons to love the food in Puerto Rico. And, the 7 Heavenly Puerto Rican Desserts don’t hurt their case either.
Point: Puerto Rico takes the point here because its food, if not better, is at least more authentically Latin. In Costa Rica, you’re ironically more likely to find Americanized restaurants and places that won’t seem too far from home.
Places to Stay
From five star hotels in the country’s beating heart of San Juan to all-inclusive resorts on Isla Verde and Culebra, there are plenty of options for places to stay in Puerto Rico. If you’re looking for European vibes in the town of Mayaguaz, that’s something you won’t typically find in Costa Rica.
That said, Costa Rica is one of the world’s gems in the accommodation department. Throughout the entire country, you’ll find well-curated eco-lodges, sustainable rainforest cabins, beach bungalows, and all kinds of plush resorts. At each of these places (some of the lodges in Monteverde are our favorite), you’ll find options for activities like surfing rentals in Costa Rica, kayaking, zip lines, caving, rock climbing, and more. The Tortuguero turtle night tours is another favorite where you can watch massive silverback turtles nesting at night.
Point: Costa Rica
Although Costa Rica is just the size of West Virginia, it hosts a wide range of ecosystems — and all of them are excellent. Cloud forests, tropical beaches, arid desert zones, and everything in between. Puerto Rico boasts much of the same ecosystemic diversity. In the south, you’ll find hot beaches that can get up to 95 degrees, and up in the highlands, you can find lows as low as 45 degrees. Travelers to Costa Rica usually recommend avoiding the rainy season (between May and November), with Easter time (Holy Week) being a great period during April.
Point: Even though much of the weather depends upon altitude, the point goes to Costa Rica because the heat in Puerto Rico can really sneak up on you.
Puerto Rico is much more efficient. Cheaper flights (flights to San Juan can be half the price of flights to San Jose) and skipping the currency conversion step can save you some headaches. If you’re looking to cut down on costs and you’re traveling from Europe or the United States, Puerto Rico is a clear favorite, even though the entry requirements for Costa Rica are extremely lax. When it comes to service, cell phones in Costa Rica are sometimes have bad signal, whereas Puerto Rico has decent coverage throughout much of the country.
Point: Puerto Rico
Both Puerto Rico and Costa Rica can be as cheap or as expensive as you make them. Both are home to as many resorts as they are to hostels, and to as many expensive multi-course restaurants as street food vendors. However, you may find that your time in Costa Rica costs a prettier penny than your time in Puerto Rico. The country has witnessed a huge wave of tourism for the last few decades, and their prices have adjusted accordingly. Head to Puerto Rico to save a couple of bucks.
Point: Puerto Rico
When we break down the numbers, Costa Rica stands out as having a better track record in terms of safety in a few categories. In 2017, Costa Rica’s homicide rate hovered around 11.8 per 100,000 people, whereas Puerto Rico’s was up at 25.5. Petty crime is also more common to be found in Puerto Rico
Environmental hazards like hurricanes are also more likely to sweep through the Gulf of Mexico, as we saw with Hurricane Maria in 2017. That said, with so many beach activities in Costa Rica, it’s important to heed advice regarding water safety in Costa Rica, and to beware of riptides. Come to think of it, Here’s Why You Should Travel Solo in Costa Rica.
Point: Costa Rica
It looks like we have a dead tie! This is how we think of it: Costa Rica is for the adventurer looking to zip line through a rainforest, while Puerto Rico is for the work-life escapee looking to find a hammock under a palm tree and maybe hit the discoteca later on. Decide what you’re looking for and get booking!