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Costa Rica or Puerto Rico: Which Destination to Choose?

Costa Rica or Puerto Rico - Which Destination to Choose
San Juan in Puerto Rico / Image by Wei Zeng via Unsplash

If you’re planning on a spot of hot weather and glorious sunshine then either Costa Rica or Puerto Rico will fit the bill. But if you’re trying to pick between visiting one over the other, it’s far from an easy choice.

Sitting at opposite ends of the Caribbean Sea, both places are magnets for tourists. The two former Spanish colonies have much in common. With exceptional weather, stunning scenery and beautiful beaches both Costa Rica and Puerto Rico offer plenty to keep you busy. Yet depending on what you prefer to do on holiday, there are a few differences between Costa Rica and Puerto Rico that could tip the balance one way or another.

By comparing both destinations, we’ll help you make a decision on whether Costa Rica or Puerto Rico is right for you. From the weather to the beaches, the nightlife to the surf, here’s everything you need to pick the perfect holiday in either Costa Rica or Puerto Rico.

Costa Rica v Puerto Rico – Comparing the Vibes

Carrillo in Costa Rica
A beach in Carrillo in Costa Rica / Image by Nat Fernández via Unsplash

While there are many similarities between Costa Rica and Puerto Rico, the two are far from identical. While both are heavily influenced by their shared history as Spanish colonies, Costa Rica has been an independent and sovereign nation for nearly 200 years. As an unincorporated territory of the United States, Puerto Rico forms part of the Greater Antilles, a group of Caribbean islands that includes Jamaica, Cuba and the West Indies.

Costa Rica’s capital city, San Jose, is brimming with culture, bars and great food, and is the most visited city in Central America. One of the safest countries in Central America, Costa Rica is so stable that it’s one of the few nations in the world that doesn’t have an army.

Yet Costa Rica is mostly known as a tropical paradise. Thanks to its location between North and South America, its tropical climate and sprawling forests, Costa Rica is home to a staggering range of animals. In fact, over 500,000 species of animals can be found in Costa Rica, which adds up to 5% of all of the species on earth. Today Costa Rica is known as one of the best ecotourism destinations in the world.

With the country facing the Caribbean Sea to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, Costa Rica also has its fair share of sensational beaches. Not to be outdone, Puerto Rico is equally blessed with a bounty of incredible beaches too. Home to a proud and vibrant culture that celebrates its mixed heritage, Puerto Rico typically sees close to four million overseas tourists every year. Many of these come from the United States, as American citizens don’t need a passport to visit Puerto Rico.

With a vast array of natural wonders, historic buildings, and cultural delights, Puerto Rico is also a common stop for many of the cruise ships that sail around the Caribbean. Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, is filled with a vibrant mix of historic architecture, world-class museums, luxury hotels, great shopping and heavenly beaches.

Winner: An even draw

Costa Rica v Puerto Rico – the Best for Weather

Rincon in Puerto Rico
Rincon in Puerto Rico / Image by Harry Gillen via Unsplash

When it comes to weather Costa Rica and Puerto Rico are fairly evenly matched. Both Costa Rica and Puerto Rico have tropical climates, though some parts of Costa Rica have a sub-tropical climate depending on local factors such as altitude. Temperatures in both places are generally hot all year round, though Puerto Rico is the slightly hotter of the two.

In Puerto Rico temperatures typically stay consistent all year round, with average highs ranging from 28 °C in January to 32 °C in August. In Costa Rica there’s a little more of a range of temperatures, though in the hottest areas in the north near the border with Nicaragua the average annual temperature is 27 °C. Average highs for the year are typically between 26-28 °C all year round.

However, both Costa Rica and Puerto Rico have wet and dry seasons, meaning that for several months a year they both endure periods of very heavy rain. Costa Rica’s rainy season is typically from May to December, while in Puerto Rico the rainy season runs from April to November.

Unfortunately both Puerto Rico and Costa Rica’s rainy seasons often culminate with devastating cyclones and hurricanes. Hurricanes are more frequent in Puerto Rico than Costa Rica, which is more badly affected by the Atlantic hurricane season. This season typically runs from June to November and sees storms, cyclones and often hurricanes batter the Caribbean and southern and eastern areas of the United States. Hurricanes tend to hit Puerto Rico once every five years.

Winner: Draw – Puerto Rico may have the hotter temperatures but it also suffers more during hurricane season.

Costa Rica v Puerto Rico – The Best for Beaches

Tamarindo Beach in Costa Rica / Image by Nathan Farrish via Unsplash

Neither destination disappoints when it comes to their beaches. Costa Rica’s two coastlines are packed with phenomenal beaches, making it a perfect destination for those wanting nothing more than to kick back and catch some sun. Often surrounded by wild jungles, Costa Rica’s best beaches are to be found in the north west (facing the Pacific) and the south east (facing the Caribbean) of the country.

Yet as breathtaking as Costa Rica’s beaches are, they can’t compete with those in Puerto Rico. The sheer abundance, variety and beauty of the Caribbean beaches in Puerto Rico means that it comes out top in this case. Perhaps being an island gives it an unfair advantage. There is over 270 miles of coastline and close to 300 beaches on Puerto Rico, meaning that you’ll have to go some way to find anywhere with a more beautiful coastline.

Winner: Puerto Rico

Costa Rica v Puerto Rico – the Best for Surfing and Diving

Condado Beach in Puerto Rico / Image by Ethan Jameson via Unsplash

Again there’s not a great deal to separate these two when it comes to activities at sea. Both of these destinations are amongst the best in the world for surfers and for those who like to explore what’s underneath the water.

Costa Rica remains a little under the radar as a surfing spot compared to other parts of the world, even though it enjoys incredible waves all year round. Puerto Rico is also a wonderful surfing destination, albeit a little more well-known thanks to the number of American suffers who come here year on year. Autumn and winter are the best times to surf in Puerto Rico, though the size and force of the waves mean that they’re better suited to at least intermediate level surfers.

Costa Rica and Puerto Rico also offer plenty of options for those who love to get up close to the local marine life. Both destinations have countless diving operators and locations with which to explore the incredible sea life that lives off the shores. Both are also great places to dive for beginners and experienced pros alike, offering the chance to see the incredible exotic fish and sea creatures that lives in beautiful clear waters.

Winner: Draw

Costa Rica v Puerto Rico – the Best for Nightlife

A bar in Old San Juan in Puerto Rico
The nightlife in Old San Juan in Puerto Rico / Image by Luis Santiago via Unsplash

The quality of the nightlife might be a deal breaker for many when trying to decide between Costa Rica or Puerto Rico. The best nightlife in Costa Rica is found in the capital, San Jose, as well as in a number of the coastal towns and resorts that cater for tourists, such as Jaco, and Tamarindo Beach. Here you’ll find plenty of bars, nightclubs and live music venues that will keep you entertained until sunrise.

As a long established party destination in the Caribbean, the nightlife in Puerto Rico however is another level, starting with the capital, San Juan. Whether you head out for drinks in historic Old San Juan, party on Condado Beach, want a night in on the tiles in super-hip Santurce, or a spot of salsa dancing in Río Piedras, San Juan has plenty going on. Puerto Rico’s vibrant nightlife scene is far from limited to the capital. The towns of Mayaguez and Ponce are both perfect for a great night out, as is Rincon on the island’s west coast.

Winner: Puerto Rico

Costa Rica v Puerto Rico – the Best for R&R

A woman relaxing on a beach in Costa Rica
Image by Max via Unsplash

If you’re looking to completely switch off and re-energize then there are great options in either Costa Rica or Puerto Rico. Whilst there’s plenty to keep you busy in the main cities and towns, both places have areas that embrace a less hectic way of life. Puerto Rico’s huge range of breathtaking beaches and the laid-back island vibe make it the ideal place to kick back and relax. Whether you’re travelling as a couple, in a group of friends or with family, there are countless beaches in Puerto Rico that will serve as the perfect backdrop to a relaxing break.

The same is also true of Costa Rica, which has become a destination for R&R retreats. Not only are the country’s two coastlines flanked with heavenly beaches, many areas in Costa Rica, such as Nosara and Tamarindo, are internationally recognized as some of the best yoga destinations in the world. Often set amongst the healing powers of Costa Rica’s rainforests, many yoga retreats offer a huge range of packages and services to get your yin and yang perfectly realigned.

Winner: Costa Rica, but not by much.

Costa Rica v Puerto Rico – the Best for Outdoors, Nature and Wildlife

Image by Zdeněk Macháček via Unsplash

If you’re looking to explore the great outdoors then both Costa Rica and Puerto Rico have something for you. Besides beaches, Puerto Rico is a wonderful place for hiking in the wild or trekking to the top of the island’s many mountain peaks. Home to the only rainforest in the United States, Puerto Rico also features a good selection of wildlife. Take a trip to Cayo Santiago to see the island’s free-roaming monkeys, or head to Mona Island to spot the iguanas.

However, when it comes to nature and exploring the outdoors, few places hold a candle to Costa Rica. One of the most biodiverse nations on the planet, over 25% of Costa Rica is either part of a national park or a protected conservation area. Home to an astonishing and diverse range of animals, there’s an almost endless amount of natural wonders to explore in Costa Rica. From rainforests to cloud forests, volcanoes and mountain ranges, it’ll take you a lifetime to fully discover everything that Costa Rica has to offer.

Winner: Costa Rica

Costa Rica or Puerto Rico – the Verdict

It’s almost impossible to make a definite decision as to which of these two amazing destinations ought to be the winner. Both Costa Rica and Puerto Rico offer incredible natural scenery, stunning beaches, and plenty to keep you entertained.

If you’re looking for a tropical island location with a bit more of a party vibe, then Puerto Rico will be the one for you. If you’d prefer to see a bit more nature and have slightly more predictable weather then Costa Rica is more than likely the one to pick. Either way, wherever you choose you’ll be sure to have an unforgettable holiday.