Costa Rica vs. Puerto Vallarta

Deciding between Costa Rica and Puerto Vallarta for your next escape? Dive into this comparison to unlock the secrets of two incredible destinations. From lush landscapes to cultural delights, we’ll guide you through the highlights, making your choice between Costa Rica and Puerto Vallarta a breeze.

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Which is Better? Costa Rica vs. Puerto Vallarta?

If you crave adventure and fun, Costa Rica is a no-brainer. Between the white sand beaches, lush rainforests, cascading waterfalls, and towering volcanoes, it’s a wonderland for active tourists. But if you prefer a lively city where you can participate in cultural activities, then Puerto Vallarta is a good option. It’s also known for its beautiful beaches, so you can still enjoy a day in the sun and surf if that’s more your thing.

But it’s crucial to consider other factors (like cost, food, and accommodation) before you make a final decision. In this article, I’ll compare both of these world-class destinations to help you decide which spot is better for your vacation.

Location and Weather

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Located in Central America, Costa Rica is a diverse country blessed by a year-round tropical climate. Because of the different microclimates, the exact temperature will depend on your location. Places with lower elevation, like the beaches, will be anywhere from the 70s to 90s, while areas near the mountains could be in the 60s or even 50s! 

It does experience a pretty heavy rainy season from May to November. However, the Caribbean coast and the Central Valley receive much more rain than the rest of the country.

But don’t be discouraged if you’re traveling during this time – the landscape is stunning since everything is so lush and green! 

Now, let’s talk more about Puerto Vallarta. This city on the Pacific Coast of Mexico is a popular vacation spot for beachgoers, adventure enthusiasts, and cultural lovers.

Despite being further north than Costa Rica, it still has a tropical climate, with summers clocking in in the mid-80s to the low 90s, while winters hover around the 70s. It has a rainy season from June to October, although showers usually only last a few hours before clearing up to the warm weather.

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Costa Rica has the benefit of having beaches on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. With over 300 beaches lined across the country’s 800-mile coastline, it’s easy to see why Costa Rica is one of the most famous beach destinations in the world.

The rugged and wild Pacific Coast beaches are great for wildlife watching or surfing Manuel Antonio Beach and Tamarindo Beach are two of the most popular options. 

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But if you prefer something more laid-back and tropical, then head to the Caribbean Coast. The beaches around Puerto Viejo (Cocles, Chiquita, and Punta Uva) have that picture-postcard shoreline that attracts beach lovers from around the world. 

There aren’t as many beaches in PV (it’s a single city rather than an entire country). But you still get that dramatic Pacific Coast landscape, especially considering that the shoreline has a stunning backdrop of the Sierra Madre Mountains.

While many tourists and locals enjoy the main city beach in town, Playa Los Muertos, I think the prettier beaches are found in the south. Playa Gemelas and Playa Conchas Chinas are less crowded and ideal for swimming and water sports.

Activities and Attractions

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One of the best parts about going on vacation is being active and participating in fun activities that you can’t do anywhere else. From underwater adventures to cultural endeavors, both Puerto Vallarta and Costa Rica offer unique experiences to make your vacation as memorable as possible. 

For example, some of the most popular things to do in Puerto Vallarta include:

  • Scuba Dive Los Arcos
  • Watch the sunset from the Malecon
  • Hike Up to Mirador de la Cruz
  • Take a walking tour or food tour in Zona Romantico
  • Visit the Church Of Our Lady Of Guadalupe
  • Zipline the Superman – the longest zipline in Mexico!
  • Whale watching from December to March
  • Golfing at the Vista Vallara Golf Club

While there are some great activities in PV, they simply can’t compare to what Costa Rica offers. This country is truly a playground for adventure seekers. Here is just a small taste of what you can do during your trip to Costa Rica:

  • Ziplining through the rainforest of Monteverde
  • Diving the Tortuga Islands shipwrecks
  • ATV-ing around the Arenal Volcano
  • Surfing at Tamarindo Beach
  • Canyoning in La Fortuna
  • Visiting sea turtles at Tortuguero National Park
  • White water rafting down the Pacuare River
  • Exploring the capital city of San Jose

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You won’t have to look hard to find a nice place to stay during your vacation to Costa Rica or Puerto Vallarta. Whether you’re searching for a cozy boutique hotel, a spacious vacation rental, or a luxury resort right on the beach, you’ll find that there are lots of accommodation options to choose from.

But before you book your hotel, you’ll first need to decide where to base yourself for your trip. 

If you’re planning a trip to Puerto Vallarta, then here are a few areas to consider:

  • Romantic Zone: Centrally located next to the city center and Los Muertos Beach, the Romantic Zone is a charming but incredibly lively neighborhood of PV. There’s a good mix of boutique hotels and vacation rentals with a wide array of restaurants, bars, and shops within walking distance.
  • Hotel Zone: This stretch of sandy coastline stretches along the main part of the city center and is packed with beachfront resorts. 
  • Marina Vallarta: If you’re looking for an upscale hotel or all-inclusive resort, you’ll likely find what you’re looking for in Marina Vallarta. This is also a good area to stay if you like to golf, as there are several clubs nearby.
  • Nuevo Vallarta: Nuevo Vallarta is to the north of the airport and is home to some of the best resorts in PV. Despite being further away from town, it’s still close to many beautiful beaches and world-class golf courses.

Now, let’s go over some popular areas to stay in Costa Rica. 

  • Guanacaste Province: This region along the Pacific side is a good all-around choice for your vacation. Base yourself in Papagayo, El Coco, Flamingo, Conchal, or Tamarindo and stay in a luxury beachfront resort, an eco-friendly hotel, or an affordable hostel.
  • La Fortuna: Centered around the mighty Arenal Volcano, La Fortuna is a good place for hiking, waterfall chasing, and outdoor activities. There are a of couple high-end hotels here, but far more eco-lodges, hostels, and budget-friendly hotels.
  • Puerto Viejo: As the most popular town on the Caribbean side, Puerto Viejo is known for its beautiful beaches and laid-back Afro-Caribbean influence. Accommodation here is a mix of surf hostels, lodges, and family-run hotels.

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The food in Mexico and Costa Rica may share many of the same ingredients, but the dishes are incredibly diverse and different in many ways. 

Puerto Vallarta is a culinary city – not just for Mexican food but also for international cuisines of all kinds. You’ll find some of the best food served at street food stalls, which is also a great way to introduce yourself to the local delicacies of the Yucatan. 

In addition to the classic Mexican dishes like tacos and enchiladas, I recommend that you also try Pescado Zarandeado (grilled fish), Birria (stewed meat), and Ceviche while you’re here.

Costa Rican cuisine may not be as well known, but I assure you that it will undoubtedly become one of your new favorites. Regional specialties include Chifrijo (fried pork with beans), Rondón (seafood and coconut stew), and Picadillos (vegetable hash).

And if you can’t choose just one, then order the “Casado“. This is a combination plate that includes a mix of rice, beans, meat, and whatever tasty sides the restaurant decides to serve (think plantains, fried eggs, salad, and mixed vegetables).

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If a fun nightlife scene is important to you, then you can’t go wrong with either place. Both Costa Rica and Puerto Vallarta are great for dancing, drinking, and partying. 

In Costa Rica, the capital city of San Jose is the best choice for nightclubs and upscale bars. Many of the resort towns along the coast are geared towards beach bars, open-air clubs, or intimate lounges. And if you’re into reggae music, then Puerto Viejo is an excellent choice, as the Afro-Caribbean-inspired town is chock full of them.

Puerto Vallarta’s bustling nightlife scene is also centered near the city center and Romantic Zone. However, there are many beachfront bars, live music venues, and cocktail bars along the Malecon (which is personally one of my favorite areas of the city). 

For an upscale experience, head to the Marina Vallarta. Here, you’ll find trendy bars and flashy nightclubs catering to a more sophisticated and wealthier crowd.

Travel Costs

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Another big factor that can impact where you choose to go is cost.

On average, Costa Rica is considered to be the more expensive destination. Accommodation and excursions cost considerably more than they do in Puerto Vallarta.

To show you what I mean, here is a comparison of what you can expect to pay in Puerto Vallarta and Costa Rica.

Puerto Vallarta:

  • Mid-range hotel: $50 – $100 a night
  • Luxury hotel or all-inclusive: $200 – $400 a night
  • Meal at local restaurant: $5 – $10
  • High-end meal: $30 – $50
  • Cocktail: $5 – $10
  • Local beer: $2 – $4
  • Snorkeling Trip: $40 – $60
  • Zip Line Tour: $35 – $50
  • Food Tour: $40 – $60

Costa Rica:

  • Mid-range hotel: $100 – $150 a night
  • Luxury hotel or all-inclusive: $300 – $400 a night
  • Meal at local restaurant: $5 – $10
  • High-end meal: $30 – $50
  • Cocktail: $5 – $10
  • Local beer: $2 – $4
  • Snorkeling Trip: $60 – $80
  • Zip Line Tour: $70 – $90
  • ATV Tour: $90 – $110

Although Costa Rica is more expensive, the country is large, and there are plenty of ways to save money if budget is a concern. By staying in a hostel, eating at local restaurants, and doing free activities, you can easily travel around Costa Rica on a more affordable budget. 

Choosing between Costa Rica and Puerto Vallarta is a hard decision, as both places are worthy of a visit at least once in your lifetime. The decision ultimately comes down to what you want to do or see. But whichever place you choose, whether its the vibrant coastal city of Puerto Vallarta or the lush landscapes of Costa Rica,I know that you’ll have an unforgettable journey! 

FAQs: Choosing Between Costa Rica and Puerto Vallarta for Your Next Vacation

What makes Costa Rica and Puerto Vallarta popular tourist destinations, especially during the dry season?

Costa Rica’s appeal lies in its “Pura Vida” lifestyle, lush rainforests, and adventure activities, making it a haven for nature lovers and thrill-seekers. Puerto Vallarta shines with its rich culture, gorgeous beaches along the Pacific, and vibrant city life. Both destinations boast beautiful weather during the dry season, offering clear skies and perfect conditions for exploring.

How do the beaches in Costa Rica compare to those in Puerto Vallarta?

Costa Rica offers stunning beaches on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, known for their biodiversity, including places like Manuel Antonio National Park. Puerto Vallarta, while having fewer beaches, presents dramatic Pacific coastlines backed by the Sierra Madre Mountains, with popular spots like Playa Conchas Chinas.

Can families with kids enjoy activities in Costa Rica and Puerto Vallarta?

Absolutely! Costa Rica’s wildlife, such as monkeys and the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, offer unforgettable experiences for kids. Puerto Vallarta caters to families with cultural tours, beautiful beaches, and activities like zip-lining, ensuring there’s plenty of fun for all ages.

What are some must-try dishes for fans of Costa Rican food and what culinary delights await in Puerto Vallarta?

In Costa Rica, don’t miss the “Gallo Pinto,” a local staple. Puerto Vallarta is a culinary city offering an array of Mexican delicacies, including seafood dishes like “Pescado Zarandeado.” Both destinations provide unique dining experiences reflecting their rich culinary heritage.

How do travel costs compare when planning a trip to Costa Rica vs. Puerto Vallarta?

Generally, Costa Rica can be more expensive, especially for luxury accommodations and tours. Puerto Vallarta offers a wide range of options that can suit tighter budgets, with affordable local meals and accommodations. However, both destinations have peak and off-peak seasons that significantly affect travel costs.

What should travelers know about safety regarding violent crime and drug cartels when visiting these destinations?

While both destinations are considered safe for tourists, it’s important to stay informed about the areas you plan to visit. Costa Rica and Puerto Vallarta are far removed from the issues related to drug cartels seen in other parts of Latin America. Always practice common safety measures, like avoiding unlit areas at night and keeping valuables secure.

Are there international airports nearby, making travel to Costa Rica and Puerto Vallarta convenient?

Yes, both destinations are served by international airports. Costa Rica has two main airports: Juan Santamaría International Airport in San Jose and Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport in Liberia, Guanacaste. Puerto Vallarta is accessible via the Licenciado Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport, connecting travelers to North America and beyond.