How do you choose between Costa Rica vs. Puerto Rico when planning a vacation? They both offer natural beauty, tropical beaches, and rainforest adventure.
Much will depend on your interests or preferences. Costa Rica seems the obvious destination for those who prefer nature, with Puerto Rico the place for beaches, colonial-era architecture, and restaurants.
However, each country may surprise you with the many varied attractions on offer. Puerto Rico has plenty of rainforests and birdlife, while Costa Rica has a rich cuisine, with some historic sights.
Whichever you choose, you won’t be disappointed. Ideally, you’ll find time to visit both Costa Rica and Puerto Rico.
Set in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States. Just over 200 miles east of the Dominican Republic, its status as a U.S. territory means there is easy access for any U.S. citizen.
Costa Rica is an independent country in Central America, located south of Nicaragua and north of Panama. Its east coast is on the Caribbean, while Pacific waves wash the shore on the west.
Weather & Best Time to Visit
Puerto Rico enjoys a tropical climate, with warm temperatures year-round. There is a dry season from December through April, with rain showers a feature from May to November.
Hurricane season in Puerto Rico is typically from June to November, although the worst of any bad weather will normally pass by late September. October through April is therefore the best time to visit Puerto Rico.
High season for visitors to Puerto Rico runs from mid-December through mid-April. The shoulder seasons either side of this—particularly October, and November—can also be an excellent time to see the island.
There is more variety in Costa Rica’s climate due to its highland interior and coasts on both the Pacific and Caribbean. The coasts have a warm, tropical climate, while the mountains have more temperate weather.
Like Puerto Rico, however, the wet season in Costa Rica lasts from May through November, and the dry season from December through April. The Pacific side tends to be drier, making it a popular winter sun destination for North Americans.
The best time to visit Costa Rica is the dry season from mid-December through April. The shoulder seasons during November, and from May through June, are also enchanting.
On the Pacific Coast, September, and October are the wettest months. However, on the Caribbean side, this is a dry season and another excellent time to visit.
Puerto Rico’s beach life starts right in its capital San Juan, where Playita del Condado is a few minutes from the old city. This serene urban beach set in a tiny cove is great for swimming and sunbathing.
At Isla Verde Beach, you’ll find the Vivo Beach Club, offering beachfront dining and live music. The palm-backed golden sands and clear waters make it another popular urban beach in Puerto Rico.
With Costa Rica, you have a choice of Pacific and Caribbean beaches. The Pacific side is much more developed and has better surf, but the Caribbean coast is wilder, and arguably even prettier.
Punta Uva is a picturesque beach town on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, well known for its beautiful sands, and clear waters. In the nearby Punta Uva Wildlife Refuge, you can spot wildlife such as howler monkeys and tropical birds.
Comparing Puerto Rico vs. Costa Rica for natural wonders, Costa Rica seems the obvious choice. But the island of Puerto Rico has many delights from lush rainforest to one of the world’s brightest bioluminescent bays.
The only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System, El Yunque is a paradise for nature lovers. You’ll find some of Puerto Rico’s best hikes, waterfalls, and unique flora and fauna.
The bioluminescent Mosquito Bay on Vieques Island is famous for its glowing waters. Surrounded by pristine coral reefs, it’s also a great spot for diving and snorkeling in Puerto Rico.
At Hacienda Campo Rico, you can experience horseback riding, ziplining, ATV tours, or hiking on nature trails in a beautiful country setting. The enthusiasm for the natural world of the guides on this private ranch is infectious.
Dive under the clear, azure waters around Puerto Rico in the Escambrón Marine Park. Its vibrant coral reef and diverse marine life are a magnet for snorkelers and scuba divers.
Costa Rica is a much better known landmark for natural beauty compared to Puerto Rico. Its “Pura Vida” way of life is all about enjoying the simple things, such as good food with family and friends, and being in nature.
Cahuita National Park covers coast and land, with a range of coral reefs and hiking trails to explore. The wonderful biodiversity of the Caribbean coast is on full display here.
Delve deeper into Costa Rica’s nature and take a tram ride through the canopy of the Veragua Rainforest to see even more of the Caribbean lowlands. Hiking trails also let you discover more about conservation efforts, and some fascinating research projects.
Monteverde Cloud Forest is every bit as misty and atmospheric as its name suggests. There’s more: hiking trails, canopy tours, and plenty of exotic bird life, such as the colorful quetzal.
Birds & Wildlife
Speaking of birds, the Scarlet Macaw Sanctuary in Costa Rica’s southern Pacific region is dedicated to these distinctive but endangered birds. Seeing a magnificent parrot in its natural habitat is a real thrill, especially for photographers.
The Costa Rica Sloth Sanctuary lets you see these fascinating, slow-moving animals up close. The center is dedicated to their rescue and rehabilitation.
The Tarcoles River has a large population of crocodiles, which you can observe from a safe distance, lurking in the shallows, often with just their eyes visible.
The Tortuguero Canals are an intricate network of canals, and waterways, explored by boat. You’ll see (and certainly hear) howler monkeys, as well as caimans and many bird species.
Puerto Rico is not as well endowed as Costa Rica with wildlife, but you can still spot plenty of birds. Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge is a coastal area of salt flats and mangroves where nesting species and migratory birds throng.
El Yunque National Forest is home to bird species such as the Puerto Rican parrot. It is also a place to hear and see the coquí frog, a national symbol.
Culture & History
Puerto Rico’s history is strongly influenced by its indigenous Taíno culture, later Spanish colonization, and eventual takeover by the U.S. in 1898. Spain left a marked legacy in many of the island’s buildings, as well as the island’s language and cuisine.
After nearly three centuries under Spanish colonization, Costa Rica gained its independence in 1821. As with Puerto Rico, Spanish influences can be seen in Costa Rica’s language, cuisine, religion, and architecture, as well as its art.
Old San Juan is a historic district where cobblestone streets are lined with colorful Hispanic-era buildings. Many are now home to arts and crafts galleries.
The lungs, if not the heart, of Old San Juan is Paseo de la Princesa. This picturesque promenade has shaded gardens, fountains, and a lively cultural scene filled with art and music.
Another one of the best things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico is to visit the Capitol, El Capitolio, a neoclassical building that’s home to the island’s legislature. It’s an architectural masterpiece and a proud symbol of Puerto Rico’s independence.
San Juan Cathedral—officially the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista—is an ornate architectural gem. One of its many treasures is the tomb of Ponce de León, the Spanish conquistador who led the first Europeans into Florida.
Old San Juan’s city walls are protected by two prominent fortresses, of which Fort San Cristobal is the most imposing. One of the largest built by the Spanish in the Americas, it offers you impressive views of the city and sea from its ramparts.
Castillo San Felipe del Morro also has sweeping ocean views, essential to its defensive function. In both of these strongholds, you can learn more about Puerto Rico’s history during war and peace.
If history is a passion, you’ll also want to visit the smaller Fortín de San Gerónimo. Explore its tunnels to learn more about its role in protecting San Juan.
Costa Rica has a more rural feel than Puerto Rico, as you might expect. However, in the capital, San Jose, and in the ports of Puerto Limón and Puntarenas there are many interesting sights.
Puerto Limón, on the Caribbean coast, is often seen as a mere gateway to the many nearby attractions. However, it’s also a great place to learn more about the country’s Afro-Caribbean history and culture.
Puntarenas on the Pacific Coast is just over an hour from San Jose, and the gateway to sights such as the Tarcoles River. Its cathedral, Catholic church, and central plaza are all interesting sights.
Food & Drink
The cuisines of Costa Rica and Puerto Rico reflect their diverse and different histories. However, there are as many similarities as there are differences.
Both countries rely on rice and beans as staple ingredients, with arroz con frijoles (rice with beans) being a common dish. Their tropical settings mean foods such as fresh fruits, plantains, mangoes, pineapples, and coconuts feature in many dishes.
A typical Costa Rican dish would be casado, a dish of rice, black beans, plantains, and meat such as fish, chicken, or beef. Seafood is as important an ingredient in Costa Rica as it is in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rican cuisine shows its Spanish influences in the use of a sofrito of sautéed onions, garlic, peppers, and herbs. Mofongo, a dish of mashed plantains, and arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas) are typical meals.
While Puerto Rico has an established reputation for its fine dining, Costa Rica is still emerging as a food destination.The capital’s vibrant restaurant scene is now influencing Puerto Limon, formerly best known for its Rastafarian cooking.
You can’t go to Costa Rica without sampling its famous coffee, either. Take a plantation tour to learn about the entire process of making coffee, from bean to cup.
Not to be outdone, Puerto Rico’s coffee production has seen a recent resurgence. Its rich, complex beans, grown on volcanic highland soil, have long had a strong reputation among coffee connoisseurs.
Things To Do
Both Puerto Rico and Costa Rica are packed with things to do. The Caribbean means rum, so any visitor to Puerto Rico will want to visit the Bacardi Distillery. A tour will explain the history of the famous brand, finishing with a cocktail lesson and tasting.
Costa Rica is more about the Great Outdoors. Rancho San Miguel is a family-owned adventure and equestrian center in the Guanacaste region. Take a horseback riding tour through a rock landscape of forests and beaches.
The Corobici River is known for its scenic float trips. Go with the flow between riverbanks where you might spot birds, monkeys, and other wildlife that Costa Rica is known for.
Arenal Volcano is one of Costa Rica’s most photographed sights. Around its near-perfect cone shape, you can enjoy hiking, zip-lining, or just a luxurious soak in a hot spring.
Has this comparison of Costa Rica vs Puerto Rico inspired you to visit either, or both? Then browse our cruises to Puerto Rico and Costa Rica to find the perfect getaway.