Costa Rica Vs Puerto Rico: Which Is A Better Vacation Destination?

If you’re curious about Costa Rica vs Puerto Rico as vacation destinations and which to visit, this is the post for you! As a travel blogger, I’ve gotten to visit Costa Rica and Puerto Rico and I love them both! Also, no one has paid me to write this post, so I’m giving you my unbiased opinion after my visits to each place. That said, they both definitely have different pros and cons for travelers depending on what sort of adventuring you’re looking for in these Spanish-speaking countries. Let’s dive in.

Costa Rica vs Puerto Rico: Are they the same?

Costa Rica and Puerto Rico are NOT the same! As you can see in the map above, they are two totally separate entities about 1290 miles apart. Puerto Rico is an island in the Caribbean and Costa Rica is not an island but a country in Central America bordered by both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean.

Furthermore, Puerto Rico is a US territory meaning those born there are US citizens and can travel freely to the United States and other US territories without a passport. Likewise, US citizens from the mainland can travel to Puerto Rico without a passport. On the other hand, Costa Rica is a country entirely independent of the United States, and those visiting it need a passport.

Costa Rica Vs Puerto Rico: Cost to Visit

Costa Rica

(Although technically an active volcano, Arenal, the volcano shown in this photo and one of Costa Rica’s natural wonders, is currently in a passive phase.)

If you are planning to head to Costa Rica for a vacation, the easiest and cheapest way to get there is to leave from an East Coast airport. For a ballpark estimate of other travel-related costs, check out Budget Your Trip’s aggregated cost data from real travelers in the widget below:

Costa Rica Travel Costs

Also, when I was in Costa Rica, I had a rental car and I definitely recommend it! I loved having it to get around the island. However, if you are planning on staying in one location, using a taxi or rideshare app is fine! Uber is available in Costa Rica’s major cities, and driving felt relatively safe. Plus, they drive on the right-hand side of the road just like in America if that’s your country of origin!

Puerto Rico

As a territory of the United States, flights to Puerto Rico from the US are often cheaper than to Costa Rica. Sometimes, you can get flight tickets to San Juan that are half the price of flights to San Jose. As with Costa Rica, it’s cheaper to leave from an East Coast airport as return flight prices are between 100-300 USD. You can compare the aggregated cost data from Budget Your Trip in the widget below:

Puerto Rico Travel Costs

As you can tell when comparing the Budget Your Trip data, Puerto Rico tends to be more expensive than Costa Rica.

And again, if you are planning on staying in one place, then a car is not needed. But if you want to explore more of the island and discover more of this its hidden gems, then I recommend getting a rental car. That’s what we did when we visited. And since it’s an American territory, the car rental process was pretty much the exact same as it is anywhere else in the United States.

Natural Beauty in Costa Rica and in Puerto Rico

Costa Rica

Papagayo Peninsula in Costa Rica

The most prominent things about Costa Rica’s natural beauty are its rainforests and prominent focus on eco-tourism. Its natural features make it one of the most biodiverse countries in the world.

Whether you want to explore the Costa Rican jungle in a group or with a private guide, you aren’t short on choices when it comes to wandering through the vast landscape that features exotic plants and beautiful animals.

Not only is the rainforest worth your attention, but you will also be amazed by the beautiful surf towns and beaches that stretch along the Pacific Coast.

The fact that Costa Rica borders both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean is one of the most prominent differences between Costa Rica and Puerto Rico.

You can spend your days laying on the white sand and swimming through the beautifully clear turquoise water at one of the many beaches you’ll find on the island.

In short, there are plenty of beach activities to enjoy in Costa Rica. Also, if you’re interested in volcanoes, Costa Rica currently has five active volcanoes while Puerto Rico has none.

Puerto Rico

Much like Costa Rica, Puerto Rico is also home to marvelous landscapes and natural beauty. There is something for everyone to enjoy in Puerto Rico, from caves to beaches and the dense rainforest. And both Costa Rico and Puerto Rico feature unique wildlife like monkeys.

Puerto Rico is also home to the only tropical rainforest in the United States: El Yunque rainforest! Here, you’ll find trails that take you through the lush rainforest leading you to breathtaking mountain views and waterfalls.

If you’re more into laying under the sun than trekking through the forest, you’ll be happy to know that Puerto Rico has plenty of places to do that. No matter where you go on the island, you have access to stunning stretches of white sand and dazzling turquoise water.


Costa Rica

A stunning view of Arenal volcano from my stay at Hotel Arenal Kioro Suites and Spa

One of the main things Costa Rica is known for is its accommodations. You will find eco-lodges, sustainable rainforest cabins, beach bungalows, and all sorts of all-inclusive resorts throughout the country.

You can also find luxury stays- including one of my favorite Four Seasons resorts! The Four Seasons Papagayo Peninsula is beyond gorgeous.

Las Catalinas is a charming car-free beach town that has gorgeous hotels like the Santarena Hotel. We loved the view from the rooftop pool!

And if you’re going to the La Fortuna area, don’t miss the many hot spring resorts there. Most hotels in the area have hot springs on property. We stayed at Arenal Kioro Suites & Spa, but the most famous is Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort.

Puerto Rico

A gorgeous ocean-side view from my stay at the Condado Vanderbilt in Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico has it all in terms of lodging- regardless of your preferences. It has everything from small-budget hotels located in a nature reserve to vacation rentals on the beach and all-inclusive luxury resorts with exceptional service. The hotels in San Juan and along the east coast are the most popular for tourists, while oftentimes locals frequent the hotels along the south and west coasts.

If you’re looking for luxury and are staying in the most popular city for tourists, Condado, you’ll love the Condado Vanderbilt hotel. (I recommended it to my sister and she stayed there and loved it, too!).

Those staying directly in Old San Juan will find the charming and historic Hotel El Convento a dream.

Activities/Popular Attractions in Costa Rica and Puerto Rico

Costa Rica

Costa Rica has plenty to offer in terms of activities.

You can hike through rainforests, swim under waterfalls, snorkel in the ocean, relax on the beach, surf, and so much more!

Located in the heart of Central America, Costa Rica has plenty of coastlines on the Pacific coast and on the Caribbean Sea, making it a country with over 600 beaches!

On the Caribbean side, you will find a wide variety of marine ecosystems found off the coast of the white and black sand beaches. This side of the country is centered around nature and the ocean, with activities ranging from surfing, diving, swimming, and hiking along the coast!

The Pacific side is home to major tourism centers and beaches that are favorites among surfers.

Although there are many activities to do down by the beach and ocean, the fun begins deep in the rainforest. Here, you can go mountain biking, ride ATVs, go horseback riding, and even zipline through the rainforest canopy!

In general, I’d say that Costa Rica has more rugged, less developed land than Puerto Rico. As a result, Costa Rica may have the opportunity for more unique adventures. On the other hand, Puerto Rico is a bit more developed (like the US) with more beach amenities like showers and toilets.

Costa Rica is such a huge country to explore that it’s difficult to list its most popular attractions! Instead, I’ll share some favorites as a starting point for you:

  • Tortuguero National Park
  • Monteverde Cloud Forest
  • La Fortuna waterfall
  • Rio Celeste waterfall
  • Tabacon hot springs
  • Arenal Volcano
  • Sloth sanctuary
  • The walkable beach town of Las Catalinas
  • Beaches of Guanacaste

Puerto Rico

Exploring Old San Juan

When it comes to activities in Puerto Rico, you’ve got plenty of options! There is so much to do on this island paradise, such as kayaking through the bioluminescent bays, exploring Old San Juan, rum tasting, or even hiking through the tropical rainforest to see magnificent waterfalls!

No matter what time of year you visit Puerto Rico, the beaches are always ready and waiting. Whether you visit a beach in the east or the west, each of them is a bit different and offers something unique. From picturesque ocean views to sailing adventures and even scuba diving, there are plenty of activities!

Not only is the island home to beautiful beaches and the stunning tropical rainforest, but it’s also full of hidden gems, which makes renting a car that much more fun- all you have to do is go exploring!

I’ve written a post on the best things to do in Puerto Rico for a detailed look at this island.

But as a snapshot, here are some of the top attractions:

  • Old San Juan
  • Castillo San Felipe del Morro (aka El Morro)
  • El Yunque National Forest
  • Vieques (an island you can take a ferry or flight to)
  • 3 bioluminescent bays
  • Fajardo
  • Las Salinas in Cabo Rojo (salt flats)
  • Condado
  • La Ruta del Lechon (Pork Highway)

Costa Rica and Puerto Rico Weather

Costa Rica

I visited Costa Rica in December and the weather was amazing!

Much like any other Caribbean island, Costa Rica has two seasons; wet and dry. The best time to visit Costa Rica is from mid-December to April (the dry season).

The dry season boasts sunny days with little rain, making it the best time to explore the rainforest and spend days lounging on the beach. Yet, the dry season is the most popular and expensive time to visit, so if you want to avoid the crowds, head to Costa Rica at the end of the high season.

While planning your trip to Costa Rica, it’s also important to remember that the weather varies depending on where you go on the island. In the Caribbean Coast and Northern plains’ thick forests, expect to have high humidity and temperatures ranging between the 70s and 80s year-round. Meanwhile, in the North Pacific, you can expect lower humidity levels but temperatures that soar into the high 90s during the dry season.

Puerto Rico

I visited Puerto Rico in January, and, although this was during its busy tourist season, it was a wonderful trip!

Unlike Costa Rica, the best time to visit Puerto Rico is from mid-April to June, after the busy Christmas period and before the rainy season in the summer. During the spring season, temperatures rarely drop below the mid-80s on most days.

Although Puerto Rico sees the best weather during the winter season, which is why it’s the most expensive and popular time to visit, you are better off staying at the end of the high season when the weather is still great, but the prices significantly drop!

I personally don’t recommend visiting Puerto Rico during the fall because even though the prices may be lower, it’s hurricane season (Costa Rica doesn’t have a hurricane season!).

Nightlife in Costa Rica and Puerto Rico

Costa Rica

Full disclosure: I’m not interested in nightlife! After a fun (but long) day of taking photos of the most beautiful places wherever I’m visiting, I’m happy to wind down with the sundown and edit photos from my hotel room. That said, I’ve included some information here for those who are interested.

Because while Costa Rica is known for its natural beauty, it’s also known for its nightlife.

Some popular places for nightlife include Playa Tamarindo, Playa Santa Teresa, and Puerto Viejo. Apart from the beach towns, most of the nightlife remains in San Jose and its surrounding area.

However, if you intend to go out at night in Costa Rica, apparently they use the term, “club” for dancing, and the term “nightclub” for strip clubs.

Puerto Rico

Much like Costa Rica, many people say that Puerto Rico has a great nightlife scene.

No matter where you are on the island, there is always somewhere to go for a drink and dance. If you like dancing in the street, La Placita de Santurce is the place to go.

In Condado, its bars, lounges, and rooftops are open late, which means you can party until all hours of the morning.

However, if you’re more into the chill nightlife vibe, head to the island’s west coast. Rincón is home to some of the best beachfront bars on the island where you can sip cocktails while watching the water lap against the sand.

From rooftop hangouts to beachside bars, you aren’t short on choices for vibrant nightlife in Puerto Rico.

Family Friendliness in Costa Rica and Puerto Rico

Costa Rica

Visiting the breathtaking La Fortuna waterfall.

Although I don’t see any reason why Costa Rica itself wouldn’t be family-friendly, I do think the international logistics of getting your family there from the US make it less family-friendly than Puerto Rico. (Especially when traveling with little children).

However, with a range of land and water activities on offer and many different accommodation types, Costa Rica is definitely a family-friendly vacation destination.

In fact, I have fond memories of doing a boat tour with my dad down the Tortuguero Canal on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast- we held a baby cayman and saw monkeys!

Puerto Rico

Exploring Castillo San Felipe del Morro (aka El Morro).

Puerto Rico is also a fun vacation destination for families. With a range of land and sea activities and some of the best customer service in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico is a family-friendly vacation destination worth traveling to.

I also have memories of visiting Puerto Rico with my family when I was in middle school! On my most recent trip, I had so much deja vu walking through El Morro!

Because it is an American territory, doesn’t require a passport, and is closer to the US than Costa Rica, Puerto Rico is a more family-friendly vacation destination than Costa Rica if you have small children in my opinion.

Puerto Rico Vs Costa Rica: Safety

Costa Rica

Walking the beautiful cobblestone streets of Las Catalinas.

Costa Rica is a generally safe place to visit as long as you use common sense. And as I mentioned, I’m not a nightlife gal so I think that removes a lot of the opportunity for unsafe situations. For what it’s worth, I always felt totally safe in Costa Rica, and I was traveling with a girlfriend of mine (not my husband – hubs couldn’t make it that time!).

But if you’re looking for a more data-driven view of how their crime compares, check out the screen grab below from Numbeo.

According to Numbeo, Costa Rica is a bit safer than Puerto Rico. But they are both also fairly similar to the United States according to the crime index. In short, use good judgment and I think you will be fine.

Puerto Rico

According to the screenshot from Numbeo above, Puerto Rico isn’t quite as safe as Costa Rica. But as in Costa Rica, I felt safe in Puerto Rico. That said, we didn’t do any nightlife activities, we used common sense, and we avoided the areas that were allegedly more dangerous. In short, every time I visit, Puerto Rico seems like a safe vacation destination to me!

Comparing and Contrasting Costa Rica vs Puerto Rico

Arenal Kioro Suites & Spa hot springs in Costa Rica.
QualityCosta RicaPuerto Rico
Size19,760 mi²3,515 mi²
PriceLess ExpensiveMore Expensive
Natural BeautyMore rugged, less developed, and has volcanoes. Much bigger than Puerto Rico with varying terrains (parts even look like Ireland!). Known for its hot springs, many waterfalls, and rainforests.It’s smaller which makes it easier to explore the whole thing. You’ll find rainforests, waterfalls, beaches, caves, three bioluminescent bays, and adjacent islands to visit (we recommend Vieques).
LodgingMore eco-friendly options (but luxury options are available too).More luxury hotels, especially in San Juan.
ActivitiesSurfing on the Pacific or in the Caribbean, ziplining, visiting sloth sanctuaries, walking through a cloud forest, and more.Exploring Old San Juan, visiting El Morro Castle, relaxing on the beach, driving around the country. Also great for surfing.
WeatherGenerally great all year round; weather varies based on your location.If possible, try to avoid during hurricane season (June-November)
NightlifeGreat nightlifeGreat nightlife
Family-FriendlinessGreat for families (but for US citizens, there is the additional hassle of visiting another country)Great for families and US citizens don’t need to bring a passport.
SafetyGenerally safe.Generally safe, but slightly more crime.

So which is the winner in this epic showdown? Both Costa Rica and Puerto Rico offer a lot when it comes to activities, weather, and beautiful landscapes. These two countries have many similarities, making it difficult to determine which destination is better for a vacation.

The main differences between the two are price, size, and aspects of their natural beauty. If you’re willing to pay more, head to Puerto Rico, but if you want to save your dollars and still have a fantastic vacation, then Costa Rica is your best choice.

Costa Rica is significantly larger than Puerto Rico and has two main international airports (Liberia and San Jose). Its large size means you won’t be able to explore as much of it in the same amount of time as you could in Puerto Rico.

Additionally, points of interest are pretty spread apart in Costa Rica, while they’re much closer together in Puerto Rico.

For example, if you want to visit the Costa Rican cloud forest, San Jose, Arenal Volcano, and Parque Nacional Tortuguero, that would either mean a LOT of driving or you’ll need to pick and choose which you want to do. However, if you want to visit the Puerto Rican salt flats, explore Old San Juan, and go to El Yunque, you can easily do so during one trip to Puerto Rico.

The last main difference comes in the form of nature. Costa Rica has really cool volcanoes and hot springs (yes, Puerto Rico has hot springs but they’re not as majestic as Costa Rica’s!). But where Costa Rica has volcanoes, Puerto Rico has bioluminescent bays! If that’s on your bucket list, Puerto Rico is where you’ll want to go.

In conclusion…

Costa Rica is perfect for those looking for the “pura vida” lifestyle, an adventure-filled vacation, and eco-friendly stays. Meanwhile, Puerto Rico is great if you’re a US citizen without a passport, want to explore a smaller area, and are looking for luxury stays.

Honestly, you can find incredible things in both locations- and I recommend visiting both in your lifetime!

But I hope this was able to give you an idea of which would be a better fit for your next vacation.

Let me know which you decide to visit!

And here are some more articles you might enjoy:

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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  1. Surfing takes a great deal of patience, it takes a great deal of dedication, and it also takes a great deal of focus. It challenges your core strength and the ability to adjust your body so that you can be sure you are centered to prevent from falling.

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