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Costa Rica Vs Mexico Vacation – 11 Comparisons

You’re planning a family vacation. You want somewhere warm and beautiful and you’ve narrowed down between a Costa Rica or Mexico vacation. Which one should you choose?

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We were in this same spot and had to research Costa Rica vs Mexico for families and decide which would be the best choice.

We had been to Mexico a few times already and it never disappointed. But we also wanted to try something new.

We ended up in Costa Rica that summer. So now I’ve put together a guide to compare Mexico vs Costa Rica so you can make the choice that’s best for your next family vacation.

***Please note that when I compare Mexico, I am referring to the most popular area in the Yucatan which is the Riviera Maya. This is comprised of Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and down to Tulum.

Pinnable image for Costa Rica vs Mexico for families with 4 images: close up of plate of food, mayan ruin in Tulum, Jungle with waterfall, aerial view of hotels in cancun

What is Costa Rica like?

First I want to clear up a few common misconceptions.

1- Costa Rica is a jungle. So everywhere you go, including the beach, will be surrounded by jungle.

2- Costa Rica is not an island. It is part of Central America, located on the strip of land between Mexico and South America.

3- Is Costa Rica in Mexico? No. They are two different countries.

Ok, now that you have those basic facts, let’s compare a Costa Rica vs Mexico vacation for families!

A large tree on a beach; a palm tree on a white sand beach with blue skies

The Beaches in Mexico vs Beaches in Costa Rica

Mexico Beaches

Sand

You’ll find white sand beaches along Cancun and Playa del Carmen and down to Tulum. They are gorgeous and welcome turquoise waters at their edge.

And when you get there, you might wonder “why isn’t the sand hot in Cancun?” It’s because the sand is so white that it reflects away the sun rather than absorbing all the heat.

What is the sand in Cancun made of? There are differing answers to this (quartz, defecation of parrot fish, to name a few), but the most reliable answer I found was that it’s made of crushed coral. This also helps keep the sand cool rather than being made of crushed rock.

Seaweed

While the beaches are beautiful, you should know that the summer months bring Sargassum seaweed season to the Riviera Maya. This means that May through October, you’ll have plenty of seaweed in the water and on the beach as it washes ashore.

We stayed in Mexico in July, but at our resort the employees were out constantly (and early) raking up the seaweed from the beach. I was grateful, as it was one the most beautiful, powdery, white sand beaches we had been to.

If you are considering going during seaweed season, check reviews to see if your desired lodging maintains the seaweed well.

Beaches in Costa Rica

Sand

The beaches in Costa Rica are very different from the beaches in Mexico.

First, you won’t find (many) white sand beaches. Playa Conchal is beautiful with whiter sand because it is made of crushed seashells.

But many of the beaches are made from lava and basalt, giving them a darker color sand. These beaches are still beautiful and I found it quite unique to be on such beaches!

(Playa Ocotal was a pretty dark sand while others were a dark tan color).

Seaweed

The Sargassum seaweed does reach Costa Rica as well, but on the eastern side. You won’t see much (or any) seaweed on the more popular Pacific side on the beaches of Guanacaste.

When comparing a Mexico vs Costa Rica vacation, consider how big of a deal the seaweed will be for you and if white sands are calling your name, or something with a natural and jungle-vibe.

Ocean Temperatures in Mexico vs Costa Rica

Mexico

Mexico brings comfortable water temperatures during the summer. At 80 degrees (F) and above, swimming in the waters of the Riviera Maya is wonderful and comfortable.

In other months, the water drops a few degrees. But for tourists coming from colder climates, the water still feels nice.

Costa Rica

The ocean temperatures in Costa Rica are just as nice. In summer months, you can relax or play in waters also above 80 degrees. Cooler months will drop the temperatures into the high 70’s and low 80’s.


Check out itineraries for each place!

The Perfect 4 Days in Cancun for Families

7, 10, or 14 day itineraries in Costa Rica

How to Spend 3 weeks in Costa Rica for the BEST time!


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Are There Nude Beaches in Mexico or Costa Rica?

When deciding between Mexico vs Costa Rica for a family vacation, it’s important to know ahead of time where to avoid taking the kids.

In Mexico (in the Cancun to Tulum area), there may be select resorts that allow topless beaches. But in Cancun as a whole, there are no designated nude beaches.

Note that while there are not any designated beaches, it is tolerated to go nude.

That said, we’ve been quite a few times and haven’t run into this.

Family-Friendly resorts in Mexico should be a safe bet for keeping the kids’ eyes innocent.

In Costa Rica, there also aren’t any official nude beaches. However, some beaches are better known for tolerating nudity than others.

Most of these places are probably not on your travel radar, except maybe Playa Grande (the one in Guanacaste).

Again, while there is talk of nude beaches, we didn’t encounter any nudity. And we visited a lot of beaches while there.

When comparing a Mexico vs Costa Rica vacation, there really shouldn’t be too many places to worry about nudity, but it’s good to know ahead of time where the unofficial nudist spots are.

Hurricane Seasons in Mexico and Costa Rica

Mexico

Hurricane season in the Yucatan runs from June through November.

The highest occurrence and chance of hurricane weather is September and October as the ocean is the warmest.

That said, only two major hurricanes have come through the Cancun area in a the past couple decades.

It’s still important to plan around, though, as these will be rainier times even if it doesn’t amount to a hurricane. September is Cancun’s rainiest month.

Costa Rica

Like other Caribbean countries, Costa Rica’s hurricane season is from May through November.

However, because Costa Rica is so far south, it is rare that a hurricane makes it down there.

It is good to know that even though you’re unlikely to welcome a hurricane, these are Costa Rica’s rainiest months. It’s very likely it will rain everyday.

We visited Costa Rica in June/July and it rained every single day.

Was it fun?

Yes! It mainly rained in the late afternoon and evenings, so we were able to pack a lot in during the mornings and early afternoon when the sun was shining.

Going during rainy season is a great time to visit Costa Rica because everything is so green and lush. The waterfalls are full and the crowds are smaller since you are traveling off-season.

a monkey holding a baby monkey in a tree; a volcano with the top in the clouds

Nature in a Costa Rica vs Mexico Vacation for Families

If nature is your priority when choosing between Costa Rica or Mexico, Costa Rica definitely offers more. Here’s a quick breakdown:

Mexico

Mexico has the previously-mentioned beautiful beaches.

You’ll also get jungle experiences all along the Riviera Maya. There are so many great activities and excursions for families in the Riviera Maya.

When it comes to nature, you can walk through jungles and see monkeys, deer, plenty of iguanas, and more.

Mexico (near Cancun) has jungles, snorkeling, cenotes, and caves that are impressive to walk through.

Some resorts even have a jungle feel, with the opportunity to see some wildlife right outside.

Costa Rica

Nature is the name of the game when you go to Costa Rica. As Costa Rica is much less developed than Mexico, anywhere you go will land you in the jungle.

In the US, some areas you drive around have “deer crossing” road signs.

Costa Rica is filled with “monkey crossing” signs.

Pretty much everywhere we stayed in Costa Rica included a walk or drive through the jungle to get to where we were going.

If you are looking for a more remote, natural experience, Costa Rica wins big time here.

Costa Rica has jungles, caves, snorkeling, volcanoes, water safaris, so many animals that you’ll encounter everywhere, hot springs galore, and more.

You can be part of a town, but still feel completely in nature.

Our favorite part: A waterfall was never very far away!

aerial photo of the Cancun Hotel Zone; two girls holding hands walking down a street in Costa Rica

Accommodations in Costa Rica vs Mexico

Mexico

Mexico has some really cool accommodations and more choices when it comes to variety.

Need something budget-friendly? There are so many options.

Need luxury? Again, so many options.

Most of the touristy accommodations are right on the beach, giving you quick and easy access to the fun.

If you are looking for relaxation and something that can entertain the kids all day long without having to go anywhere, Mexico is the better choice.

The Riviera Maya is filled with all-inclusive accommodations. That means you’re getting somewhere to sleep, eat, play, and (for many resorts) a kids club. And it’s all included!

When it comes to EASY and entertaining, Mexico has myriad accommodations to fit your family’s needs.

We’ve found a budget-friendly family all-inclusive that had a great beach. We’ve also stayed at an apartment-style all-inclusive that had the most beautiful sand and great food.

Another all-inclusive we’ve stayed at had awesome snorkeling right off the (gorgeous) beach.

There really are SO many options of places to stay in the Riviera Maya.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica has less of a touristy-hotel zone feel than Mexico.

While there are all-inclusive resorts on the Guanacaste coast, we didn’t stay in any of them.

Costa Rica is full of so many adventures that we really didn’t hang out at our lodgings very much, so we didn’t feel the need for an all-inclusive.

However, Costa Rica is filled with something for every family when it comes to accommodations.

You can find budget-friendly options (even hostels that can sleep a family) or you can find luxury. You can also find really unique places to stay (like Tulemar treehouses in Manuel Antonio).

Most places have less of a industrial, developed feel to them and more of a natural feel that blends into the surrounding jungle.


Check out where we stayed:

Los Lagos in La Fortuna (beautiful resort with hot springs on site!)

Pacifico Condos that fit the whole family in Playas del Coco

Las Espuelas – budget-friendly stopover in Liberia

Our Casita in Samara – adorable, spacious rental in our favorite town

Modern, spacious rental in Bejuco – short walk from the beach in a beautiful community


shoreline of the beach in the evening; downpour of rain looking out toward the ocean

Weather

Mexico

If you visit in the summer, expect Cancun to be hot!

The average high is in the 90’s with lows in the mid 70’s. If you are not in the pool or ocean, you will be feeling the heat quickly.

As mentioned before, the rainiest month in Mexico is September.

In contrast, visiting between December and April brings highs in the 80’s. This is still warm, but much more comfortable. This is the most popular time to visit Cancun.

Costa Rica

Dry season is from December to April, so you’ll get the most time out of each day visiting during this time.

However, it is drier and you’ll miss out on some of the greenery (especially along the coast) and perhaps drier waterfalls (some are even named “seasonal waterfall”).

The temperatures remain somewhat consistent year round with highs in the 80’s on the coasts and highs in the 70’s and 80’s in the country.

One thing to keep in mind is that even though it can get very warm, activities within the jungle provide a lot of shade and relief.

a Mayan Ruin and a picture of a waterfall in the jungle

Activities in Costa Rica vs Mexico for Families

If fun, adventure, and activities when comparing Mexico or Costa Rica for your family vacation, then here is a breakdown of what each place offers.

Mexico

There are so many activities in Mexico. I consider most of them to be “vacation fun” activities. You don’t have to work too hard to enjoy them, and many come at a higher price. Nothing wrong with that. This is vacation after all.

Visit Xcaret, a fun, family-friendly adventure park. Or go to Xel Ha, another fun family eco-park. Both offer lockers, food, and activities you would expect form a adventure center.

Mexico also has plenty of snorkeling (our favorite was at Yal-Ku Lagoon), ziplining, cenotes, caves, dolphin experiences, and ancient ruins. Most of these places are accessed within an hour of wherever you are staying within the Riviera Maya.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica has more rugged experiences.

Hike up a volcano, jump in the river for the hot springs, walk on the hanging bridges among the jungle canopy, ride a horse along the beach, tour a coffee/chocolate plantation, or hike in to a waterfall (or 10!)

These experiences require a little more work, but have big pay off.

When considering Costa Rica vs Mexico for families, think about if your kids are willing to hike a little or get a little dirty.

If so, they are going to love Costa Rica.


Check out some fun Costa Rica Activities that are family-friendly:

Hiking through Arenal National Park with Kids

Mistico Hanging Bridges experience

Llanos de Cortez (an easy-to-get-to waterfall you can't miss!)

little girl eating a quesadilla; a plate of food with rice, beans, chicken, salad

Food in Mexico vs Costa Rica on Vacation

In Mexico, you'll find plenty of restaurants of all varieties.

In Cancun specifically, you'll most likely be able to walk take a taxi to a nearby restaurant in the hotel zone. Everything is so close together that it is easy to find something nearby.

In Playa del Carmen, your resort may not be within the downtown area, so a taxi is the only option (or rather, the best option for families). This goes for Tulum as well.

However, it's highly likely that if you are staying in the Riviera Maya that your hotel is an all-inclusive, which means you don't need to go out for meals. You can eat right at your resort!

The food at all-inclusives can be hit or miss. We've found the best all-inclusive food we've ever eaten was at a Hyatt Ziva in Puerto Vallarta (though I hear all Zivas have the same great-quality meals. There is a Hyatt Ziva in Cancun as well!)

In Costa Rica, you'll find a variety of restaurants within the tourist areas. Anything from traditional Costa Rican food to Italian food is offered. Many of the restaurants are family-friendly with kid's menus.

If you really want to eat like a local, eat at a local Soda. These offer great food, big portions, and affordable prices.

Safety in Mexico vs Costa Rica

Safety is always an issue on the forefront of my mind when booking a family vacation. When it comes to Costa Rica vs Mexico for families in terms of safety, both are relatively safe.

While nowhere is 100% safe, these two countries both are great options.

Mexico

Mexico has made the headlines in recent years for violence. While that is real and does happen in many areas of Mexico, visiting the tourist areas of Mexico is a low risk.

Over 18 million people flew into Mexico in 2022. That's a pretty high number, showing many people feel confident in visiting.

The violence that did occur in Cancun (specific incidences in the headlines) were a result of gang violence and was not directed at tourists.

The top thing tourists need to watch is scams (when out in town shopping), pickpocketing, and drugs. These things mostly occur when walking out and about.

We were offered drugs conspicuously while walking through an outdoor mall area. We simply said "no" and moved on.

Overall, we still felt and feel safe walking around the downtown areas of Cancun and Playa del Carmen. It's fun to go shopping and pick up some local items, or even just browse around.

Just be aware to prevent petty theft.

Costa Rica

We visited a lot of different areas of Costa Rica, and we always felt safe.

While we did go out for dinner at night, we didn't walk around. This was mainly because of visibility. Roads aren't well lit and there aren't usually sidewalks or safe places to walk (depending on the town you are in.)

As far as theft, it could happen in Costa Rica just as it could happen in your home town. Just stay aware.

Costa Rica is susceptible to smash-and-grabs.

However, many places we parked had parking attendants whom you could pay a couple dollars to watch your car. This is a big theft deterrent, and we never had an issue with theft.

As far as other safety indicators, we felt very safe. I would go out in the early morning, walk through town to the beach and head out on a run.

We never feared our kids safety either.

Even still, we always take precautions and keep a close eye on them :)

Cost- Is Mexico Cheaper than Costa Rica?

Overall, I would say that Mexico is cheaper than Costa Rica. Comparing apples-to-apples, the hotels in Mexico come in more affordable, especially considering that most are all-inclusive.

Mexico

Flights

Just to fly there, Mexico always has more affordable airfares. I checked often for a few months as we tried to decide if we should go to Costa Rica or Mexico for family vacation, and Costa Rica airfares were always about twice the price of flying into Cancun (or more, as time went on).

Accommodations

In Mexico, we usually book an average to decent resort for $200-$300 per night. That is lodging for 6 people, plus all meals and activities. That is quite a deal!

Food

If you eat outside of the hotel, then you'll see prices similar to those in the states in many restaurants, as it is a tourist area.

Fine Dining provides places like the familiar Ruth's Chris steakhouse or a local Chianti Italian, which can cost anywhere from $20-$100 per person.

The best moderately priced restaurants like Bacoli Tratoria or Abolengo will cost $10-$30.

Cheaper restaurants like Rooster Mero will cost around $10 for a pizza or sandwich, or Taqueria Coapenitos is a taco joint where it'll cost just a couple dollars.

You'll also get tourist prices for any activities outside of the hotel.

Basically, if you don't want to spend a lot in Mexico, you won't need to if your goal is to relax and be entertained, as this can all happen at your accommodations.

Costa Rica

Compared to Mexico, Costa Rica will cost more. Accommodations with the same ratings will cost the same or slightly more, but they won't come with 3 meals and entertainment.

(There are some all-inclusives in Costa Rica, but not nearly as many, and even those few run a higher price than the all-inclusives in Mexico)

Many people expect Costa Rica to be an affordable place to visit. In general, the cost of eating and sleeping in Costa Rica is similar to eating and sleeping in the USA.

When it comes to playing, I'd say Costa Rica is more expensive than the US. For example, we hike all the time in the US and the trails are usually free or you pay a single entrance fee for the car.

In Costa Rica, it's rare to go anywhere to hike and not have to pay. And what you pay is per-person, including National Parks.

Costa Rica vs Mexico comparison chart with beach watermark in background

Choosing between Costa Rica vs Mexico for Vacation

When trying to decide if Costa vs Mexico for families is better for your next vacation, there are a lot of factors to consider.

In my opinion, Costa Rica is a better place for families who are up for adventure. It is more expensive, but it is a much more laid-back vibe and family-friendly.

Are you wanting to relax? Are you on a budget? Looking for white sands? Then Mexico is the better option.

Hopefully comparing Mexico vs Costa Rica for families has helped narrow down your choice with your priorities in mind.

Did you choose Costa Rica? Check out these 7, 10, and 14 day itineraries!

Heading to Cancun? The Perfect 4 Days in Cancun with Kids!

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