Costa Rica vs Hawaii Vacation: Which to Visit in 2024

Trying to decide between Costa Rica vs Hawaii for vacation? I’ve been to both locations (Costa Rica twice and Hawaii more than six times!), and I know why it’s such a hard decision to choose between the two. Let’s take a deeper look and see which one is right for you!

First, let me state the biggest difference between the two: Costa Rica is in Central America and covers 19,730 mi² while Hawaii is a chain of islands that is part of the United States. Combined, the Hawaiian islands cover 10,931 mi² and are located basically in the middle of nowhere in the Pacific Ocean.

That being said, if you’re traveling from the United States, you’ll need a passport for Costa Rica and will be traveling somewhere with a different currency (colones, though USD is accepted in a lot of touristy areas) and a different language (Spanish).

Costa Rica vs Hawaii: What is each famous for?

Hawaii and Costa Rica have many similarities, including pristine beaches, diverse ecosystems, and an abundance of fun outdoor activities. Costa Rica’s pura vida attitude jives well with Hawaii’s aloha spirit.

Yet, they couldn’t be more different when it comes to language, currency, and local culture. Let’s take a closer look at what each destination is most famous for and what each offers.

What is Costa Rica famous for?

Costa Rica is famous for being one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet. Costa Rica is a hot spot for nature lovers with over 500,000 species of animals and up to 10,000 different plant species located in various places, including its tropical rainforests.

From the white sand beaches of Punta Uva to the hiking trails on the Arenal Volcano, tourists are eager to experience the wonders Costa Rica offers.

Simple local dishes, such as casado, gallo pinto, and sopa negra fuel travelers so they have the energy to participate in Costa Rica’s many outdoor activities.

Pura vida is a common phrase you’ll hear in Costa Rica. Meaning “pure life,” you’ll find this sentiment relayed through the way Costa Ricans live. Locals will greet you with their down-to-earth, laid-back, happy, and optimistic attitude.

And when someone says “pura vida!” to you, you can give them a smile with a “pura vida” in return!

On that note, tourists are generally welcomed with a lot of warmth and hospitality in Costa Rica. Tourism is a major part of the Costa Rican economy and as such, visitors are welcomed. In fact, many locals here speak English, especially in popular tourist destinations.

What is Hawaii famous for?

Hawaii is well-known for its many tropical islands, breathtaking sunsets, and diversity of wildlife.

Popular outdoor activities, such as fishing, hiking, scuba diving, and snorkeling attract visitors from around the world. In fact, Hawaii is a famous honeymoon destination for many newlyweds out there!

Hawaii’s warm sunny weather and pristine beaches make it ideal for outdoor sports. This makes it a great spot to spend a family vacation that’s filled with fun and bonding activities.

Hawaii is also known as a foodie paradise. Freshly caught fish is commonly served up in poke bowls, sushi, and grilled with a side of papaya relish. Gas station spam musubi is a must (no joke, IYKYK). Banana bread, acai bowls, shaved ice, and dole whip satisfy your sweet tooth here.

The local culture and history are also significant, with many visitors eager to attend a luau and learn about the local cultural traditions like hula dancing.

Along those lines, you probably have heard of the Hawaiian word aloha. It means hello or goodbye, and you’ll hear it all the time used as such, but aloha also means love and affection.

As you travel the Hawaiian islands, I hope you’ll discover the deeper meaning of the aloha spirit, which is to love and respect others while living in harmony and peace.

(Ironically, I will point out that generally speaking, Hawaiians don’t take as kindly to tourists as Costa Ricans do. It’s not that Hawaiians don’t like tourists as people, but rather the behaviors that can come with tourism. So be sure to always clean up after yourself and respect the land and people when visiting Hawaii!)

Costa Rica vs Hawaii: Types of Nature

Costa Rica and Hawaii share lush jungles, active volcanoes, and diverse ecosystems. So what makes each destination’s natural habitats unique? Let’s see!

What is nature like in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica has a diverse landscape with plenty of natural flora and fauna.

Active volcanoes, 300+ beaches, rivers, lakes, hot springs, virgin rainforests, and over 800 miles of coastline make Costa Rica a unique traveling experience.

Native species such as spider monkeys, sloths, turtles, and dolphins are popular with visitors. They can sometimes be spotted when hiking through one of the 28 national parks or when visiting a nearby beach. If you can swing it, a visit to a sloth sanctuary will melt your heart!

For avid birdwatchers, Costa Rica is also a must-visit as it has roughly around 850 species of birds, including six members of the famous toucan.

Also, you can drive around the country pretty easily, though you’ll want to download an app like Waze so that you don’t get lost without cell service. The last time I was in Costa Rica, my friend and I rented a car and drove around the Liberia area as just two young women, and we felt perfectly safe.

And one more thing I’ll note about Costa Rican nature is that you’re bound to be surprised by the diverse terrain here. As we drove from Guanacaste to La Fortuna, there were some bright green and hilly parts that reminded me of Ireland!

What is nature like in Hawaii?

In Hawaii, you will find a diverse ecosystem, with over 25,000 unique species. Spinner dolphins, green sea turtles, humpback whales, and Hawaiian Monk seals live and play near the shores of the Hawaiian islands.

While on land, you can find the mongoose, the nene bird, and the Jackson horned chameleon buried deep in the lush tropical landscape.

Visitors typically want to visit Hawaii’s many world-class beaches, beautiful waterfalls, and active volcanoes.

Nature on each island is a bit different, too. The Big Island, for example, has many volcanic areas where there’s not as much greenery. It’s also the biggest island to drive around (it would take about eight hours to drive around the whole thing).

I’d say the biggest contrast to the Big Island is Kauai. Kauai, dubbed “The Garden Isle,” is home to so much lush greenery. And you could drive from one end of the island to the other in two hours.

That being said, the easiest way to explore the nature of each island is to rent a car. But, of course, if you want to explore the entire state, that requires flying (or boating) from one island to another.

Costa Rica vs Hawaii: Notable Destinations

One of the most important parts of planning a holiday is picking your destination. Both Hawaii and Costa have many spots to choose from!

What are Costa Rica’s most notable destinations?

Due to Costa Rica’s biodiversity, there are many unique destinations to visit. Monteverde Cloud Forest is popular with visitors due to its abundance of hiking trails, its viewpoint of “La Ventana”, the divide between the Pacific and Caribbean continents, and the hanging suspension bridge. Of course, there are many popular beach towns, including Playa Hermosa, Santa Teresa, and Manzanillo. The most common cities to fly into are Liberia and San Jose.

Liberia is a great place to fly to if you’re interested in exploring the famous Arenal Volcano and La Fortuna Waterfall. I also recommend visiting Guanacaste in this part of Costa Rica.

But Costa Rica is such a huge place with so many notable destinations. For a full list, check out this post of the most beautiful places in Costa Rica.

What are Hawaii’s most notable destinations?

Hawaii’s most popular destinations are the islands themselves: Oahu, the Big Island, Maui, Kauai, and to a lesser extent, Molokai, Lanai, and Niihau.

Oahu is the most popularly visited island, as it contains the world-famous Waikiki Beach and is the location of Pearl Harbor. It’s a great place to kick back and relax while also learning about Hawaii’s history. Oahu is a great combination of epic Hawaiian nature and city life.

The Big Island is, as it is named, the biggest of the Hawaiian islands. It’s famously known for its active volcano Kilauea. Visitors can book tours or take self-guided hikes nearby, allowing them to witness the spurting lava flows if the volcano is active. (When we visited, it was not erupting, but there was still a lot to see at Volcanoes National Park!)

But my personal favorites are Maui and Kauai. These islands are perfect for nature lovers who want to appreciate the beauty of the Hawaiian Islands.

To figure out which Hawaiian island is best for you, check out this post!

Costa Rica vs Hawaii: Best Things to Do

We’ve covered geography, nature, and notable destinations. But when it comes down to it, you may want to base your trip decision on what sorts of things you can do on your vacation so you’ll have the best time.

There’s a lot of overlap, but here are some of the best things to do in Costa Rica and Hawaii!

Top Things to Do in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has many fun outdoor activities, such as surfing, snorkeling, fishing, horseback riding, hiking, zip-lining, paragliding, and more. Due to its warm weather and diverse terrain, Costa Rica is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise.

On rainy days visitors can check out the various historical sites and museums, like the Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica, the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, and the gorgeous cathedral of Santuario Nacional Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles.

Golfers will love the golf course at the Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica on the Papagayo Peninsula, it has incredible views! And keep your eyes peeled for monkeys on the course!

Top Things to Do in Hawaii

pu'u o'kila lookout

The most popular things to do in Hawaii are outdoor activities, such as hiking the Kalalau Trail or snorkeling in Hanauma Bay.

Yet, there are still plenty of non-athletic activities to enjoy such as cocktail cruises, whale watching, and the Kuhio Beach Hula Show. Hawaiian nightlife is also nothing to sneeze at, and Oahu has the most number of nightclubs and bars in all of Hawaii!

Visitors can also take the opportunity to visit many historical parks, including the Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park and Kalaupapa National Historical Park.

Golfers will love the Ritz Carlton Maui for its stunning golf course!

Here are some helpful articles for the best things to do in Maui, Oahu, the Big Island, and Kauai.

Costa Rica vs Hawaii: What does it cost to visit?

Price is a huge factor when planning a holiday, and neither Costa Rica nor Hawaii has the reputation of being a cheap getaway. Yet, you may be surprised to learn that one is far cheaper than the other.

How much does it cost to visit Costa Rica?

Costa Rica is pricier for a Central American country, with a seven-day vacation averaging between $800 to $2000 USD.

In tourist towns, you will notice a steep increase in price, with Monteverde and Santa Teresa costing more on average to visit than San Jose or Jaco Beach.

A typical meal will average about $10 USD, with inexpensive meals available for as low as $3 USD.

Though tap water is considered safe to drink, you may want to purchase your water, which can cost $3 to $7 per week.

If budget is no issue and you’re looking for a luxury stay, I highly recommend the Four Seasons Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo (I’m in their hot tub pictured above).

How much does it cost to visit Hawaii?

You may have heard that a Hawaiian vacation is expensive, and you are not wrong. The average seven-day Hawaiian vacation ranges between $2000 to $4000 USD.

As Hawaii is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii must import most of its products resulting in higher prices.

A typical meal can range between $15 to $45 USD, with locally caught seafood being a more affordable option for those on a budget.

To get around, visitors can save money by purchasing a 4-day plus transit pass for only $35 USD or simply paying the per-trip rate of $2.50 USD (adult).

Hotel, hostel, and resort prices vary wildly, as comfort, location, and amenities will affect the cost. The average hotel cost can range from $150 to $400 USD.

If budget isn’t an issue, there are so many epic luxury resorts like the Andaz Maui, Ritz Carlton Maui, and the Four Seasons Hualalai on the Big Island.

It’s also the perfect place for a babymoon… better get that long flight in before you start traveling with kids! Learn what to do on your Hawaiian babymoon here!

Costa Rica vs Hawaii: What is the weather like each season?

Don’t want to plan your holiday only to get rained out? We got you! Weather is extremely important, as it can mean the difference between a sunny paradise and a drizzly holiday. With Hawaii and Costa Rica located in different regions, it is important to have an idea of the weather for when you plan to visit.

What is Costa Rica’s weather like in each season?

Costa Rica has two seasons, dry and wet.

December to April is the dry season, where you will experience sunny skies, hotter temperatures, and dusty roads. May to November is the wet season, with the wettest months being September and October, though there’s a brief pause of rainshowers usually during June and July. Average rainfall during the wet season hovers around 100 inches, making roads muddy and landslides more common.

The average yearly temperature hovers around 80 to 90 F dipping 5 to 10 degrees lower in the mountains and countryside.

What is Hawaii’s weather like in each season?

Hawaii also has two main seasons, wet and dry.

Wet seasons occur from November to March, with temperatures hovering between 65 F to 85 F. The dry season occurs from April to October and has an average temperature of 70F to 80F.

Overall Hawaiian temperatures are moderate throughout the year, with the hottest month being August and the coolest month being January. 

Costa Rica vs Hawaii: Is there any time of year you shouldn’t visit?

Knowing when to visit a destination can be as important as knowing when not to go. Costa Rica and Hawaii are no exceptions.

Is there any time of year you shouldn’t visit Costa Rica?

Yes, try to avoid visiting Costa Rica in September and October. Due to the wet weather, some stores, restaurants, and resorts close for annual repairs. This may put a damper on your travel plans.

Is there any time of year you shouldn’t visit Hawaii?

No, Hawaii is a great destination to visit all year. With similar temperatures year-round and moderate rainfall in the rainy season, Hawaii is the perfect vacation getaway regardless of the season.

Should I visit Costa Rica or Hawaii?

So, now that we’ve covered these aspects of these tropical destinations, which should you visit? If you haven’t decided yet, here’s a summary of what each place is best for!

Costa Rica is best for:

Those looking for a shorter travel time if you’re coming from the States and less of a time change.

Shorter travel times and minimal time zone changes can be a game-changer if you’re traveling with kids! That said, Costa Rica has the added hurdle of international travel which is a challenge in itself.

Costa Rica is best for outdoor enthusiasts, relaxed holidays, and nature photography. It’s also a paradise for those looking for eco-friendly and sustainable tourism. (Did you know that some hotels in Costa Rica are rated by “leaves” instead of stars? So a 5-leaf hotel is extra eco-friendly!)

Hawaii is best for:

Hawaii is best for nature and beach lovers, honeymooners, or families with older children who can handle time zone changes better and are up for adventurous outdoor activities.

It’s great if you’re coming from the US and don’t have a passport.

And visiting a Hawaiian island is perfect if you want to thoroughly explore a smaller area and get to know the ins and outs of an island. (It would take weeks or months to explore Costa Rica!)

On that note, if you’re not big on driving, going from destination to destination on a Hawaiian island is typically much shorter than going from destination to destination in Costa Rica. That especially includes the distance from the airport to your lodging… you’re bound to be relatively close to the airport on a Hawaiian island compared to that of Costa Rica.

Costa Rica vs Hawaii Vacation: Conclusion

Whether you choose Costa Rica or Hawaii for your next holiday, I don’t think you will be disappointed!

Both are amazing destinations to visit and have their unique benefits.

Here’s a quick summary of which would *generally* be better in my opinion if you’re visiting from the USA. (Emphasis on my opinion… so don’t come at me! Though you can tell me your opinion in the comments!)

  • Food: Hawaii (if you’re going to Maui, book a reservation at Mama’s Fish House. It’s my favorite restaurant in the whole world!)
  • Road trip: Costa Rica
  • Short driving time: Hawaii
  • Beauty: either (but maybe Hawaii???? Almost impossible to choose!)
  • Flight time: Costa Rica (unless you’re coming from the northwestern USA)
  • Beaches: either
  • Mountains: Hawaii (can’t beat that Jurrasic Park aesthetic IMO)
  • Diverse landscape: Costa Rica
  • Eco-Tourism: Costa Rica
  • Ease of language: Hawaii
  • No passport: Hawaii
  • Animals: Costa Rica
  • Adventure: Costa Rica
  • Waterfalls: Costa Rica (Hawaii has great waterfalls but Costa Rica has more you can swim in!)
  • Luxury: Hawaii
  • Affordability: Costa Rica
  • Safety: either
  • Local attitude towards tourists: Costa Rica
  • Travel with babies: Costa Rica (due to flight time and time zones)

Let me know which you prefer or if you have any further questions in the comments below!

And here are a few more articles you might find helpful:

Safe travels!


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About the author
Picture of Jasmine Alley

Jasmine Alley

I'm a Dallas-based, full-time travel blogger with a serious case of wanderlust! Through my website and Instagram, I hope to help others plan picture-perfect trips to the most beautiful places in the world! When I travel, I like to emphasize nature, hidden gems, and unique places.
Picture of Jasmine Alley

Jasmine Alley

I'm a Dallas-based, full-time travel blogger with a serious case of wanderlust! Through my website and Instagram, I hope to help others plan picture-perfect trips to the most beautiful places in the world! When I travel, I like to emphasize nature, hidden gems, and unique places.
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2 Responses

  1. Thank you for sharing your article comparing Costa Rica and Hawaii. I found it to be an interesting read, and it’s great to see a detailed comparison of these two beautiful destinations.

    You’ve highlighted some key aspects that travelers often consider when choosing between the two, such as beaches, wildlife, adventure activities, and cultural experiences. Your insights on the natural beauty and diverse ecosystems in both Costa Rica and Hawaii were particularly informative.

    As with any destination comparison, personal preferences and priorities play a significant role in making a decision. Some people might be drawn to the lush rainforests and abundant wildlife of Costa Rica, while others may prefer the stunning beaches and volcanic landscapes of Hawaii.

    Ultimately, both destinations have their own unique charm and offer a range of experiences for visitors. Whether it’s exploring the tropical rainforests and zip-lining in Costa Rica or enjoying the breathtaking sunsets and surfing in Hawaii, travelers are sure to have unforgettable experiences in either location.

    Thank you again for sharing your insights. As the owner of I look forward to reading more of your articles in the future.

  2. I’ve been to both, and I found each beautiful in it’s own way. Costa Rica is my choice because it feel more rural and natural. Hawaii has better weather though. Really, you just can’t lose!

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