Central America is a stunningly beautiful part of the world filled with lush tropical towns and white sandy beaches. People flock from all over the world to travel to these countries. For more travel tips, check out how to avoid the 7 deadly sins of travel and the 18 things you should do before traveling internationally.
There are so many great options, it can be difficult to decide where to go. Today we’re going to break down the differences between visiting Belize and Costa Rica. We did hours of research before deciding which country to visit so you don’t have to!
Belize has a subtropical climate. Most tourists will want to visit during the dry season to avoid rain.
- Dry season – “winter” in Belize, this includes November-May. November to January temperatures
aregenerally cooler with lots of sunshine, although it can get windy. February-May arehotter with almost no clouds, making it the best time to visit.
- Rainy season– June to October. The sunny days can be peppered with rain showers that are usually no more than 2 hours long, with the exception of tropical storms. It’s less popular and therefore cheaper to visit during rainy season.
Costa Rica is close to the equator, nestled between two oceans – this means it can be hard to predict the weather. Rain is very common in Limon and San Jose, check out this chart to see more. They also have dry and rainy seasons.
- Dry season – December to April, there isn’t much rain throughout the country.
- Rainy/green season– May to November. Rain showers are common but typically short-lived. The day may start off perfectly sunny and end up with thunderstorms or heavy rain in the evening.
Winner: Belize, because they have less rainy months throughout the year.
Variety of Activities
Belize seems to have much better beaches and water activities like snorkeling, scuba diving, and paddleboarding. You can also explore some of their more tropical areas but they aren’t nearly as lush as Costa Rica.
It’s worth noting that the Belize Barrier Reef is the second-best in the world (after Australia) so scuba diving and snorkeling are hugely popular. Also check out the Blue Hole for great fish-spotting!
While there are plenty of beaches, there isn’t a lot of sand in Costa Rica that you can actually lay on. This and the tall seagrass under the water makes going to the beach less than ideal. If you’re interested in tropical animals like toucans and exploring jungles, Costa Rica is a great option!
Winner: Costa Rica for animal lovers, Belize for beach bums
This one is really up to what you want to do more. If you want to spelunk around the jungle and see amazing waterfalls, Costa Rica is for you. If you’re more of a beach bum who wants to see some amazing fish, go to Belize. Both countries have Mayan ruins, so you can get your daily dose of historic places at either.
Costa Rica = more jungles and tropical animals
Belize = more sealife and swimmable beaches
We found that costs are pretty similar when comparing Belize to Costa Rica, largely depending on where you’re staying. Expect to pay about $7-$15 per person per meal in both locations. Note that both also have expensive gas and car rentals.
Currency: The Belize dollar is a fixed price and is always 2 Belize dollars to 1 American dollar (USD)
Average 1-bedroom Air B&B: We found a ton of these in Caye Caulker and San Ignacio for $30-$50 a night. These are small but nice private rooms or entire guesthouses for rent. Closer to $70 a night will get you a shared pool or a treehouse-style rental.
Currency: The Costa Rica Colón. Currently $1 USD (American dollar) = 600
Average 1-bedroom Air B&B: We checked in San Jose, near the Arenal Volcano and airport. These seem to be around $80 a night for a nice place without a private pool, around $100 with one.
Car rental and gas prices were very comparable, but we found hotels much cheaper in Belize.
Ease of Access
Most tourists will fly into Belize City. Booking a flight to Belize from America may be a bit of struggle. United, Delta, Southwest, and Avianca seem to be the biggest airlines flying there. If you can get to Houston, Texas there seem to be a ton of flights from there. You may end up with a flight with a terribly long layover, or one with multiple stops. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of flights to Belize, so the flight times are less than desirable.
You can also get to Belize by boat, generally leaving from Mexico.
Most tourists can find easy flights from America to San Jose, Costa Rica. There were plenty of these available when I searched from Los Angeles, California and they all had reasonable flight times. I had no problem finding nonstop trips since there were so many flights to Costa Rica.
Winner: Costa Rica
Costa Rica seems to be much easier to get to! Belize has less flights so can be more difficult but it can be done.
Renting a 4×4 vehicle seems to be key to traveling around Belize! Renting a car is easy but not cheap! Gas is also not cheap, something to keep in mind when planning your trip. Highways in Belize are two-lane roads with not a lot of lighting or street markings. Some of the more rural areas also feature a ton of potholes, so be cautious.
Taxis can be an easy way to get around as well as provide you with a free local tour guide. Unfortunately, they are not properly marked but should display green plates. Ask your hotel for a referral.
Public transport on buses is cheap and readily available but slow. Ferries and water taxis can take you to and from the islands and cayes.
For a full guide on getting around Belize click here.
Similar to Belize, renting your own 4×4 car is the easiest way to get around Costa Rica. CR is actually REALLY BIG and if you’re planning to hop cities, renting a car is your best option. Alternatively, you can arrange city-to-city transfers but it may be more expensive and is a bit harder than having your own vehicle.
Public buses are usually the cheaper option but may take too long.
Before you decide on your transportation, figure out where you’re going first. Check out this guide to choosing transportation here.
Both destinations offer almost the same transportation options – renting a car, taxis, buses, or even small flights.
Staying safe during a vacation is key to an awesome trip! This includes everything from petty theft to violent crime. A good measure of safety is teh US State Department’s ratings for foreign countries.
According to the US State Department, Belize is currently a level 2 threat on a scale of 1-4, 4 being the least safe.
From their website: “Violent crime – such as sexual assault, home invasions, armed robberies, and murder – are common even during daylight hours and in tourist areas. A significant portion of violent crime is gang-related. Due to high crime travelers are advised to exercise caution while traveling to the south side of Belize City. Local police lack the resources and training to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents. Most crimes remain unresolved and unprosecuted.”
While this sounds pretty scary, also consider that the United Kingdom and France are currently a level 2. Our research shows that if you can avoid being out in Belize City at night, you’re probably safe.
Costa Rica is currently rated at a level 1, meaning that it’s one of the safest places you can travel. You can check out the linked page to see which areas to avoid such as Limon.
The US State Department says: Exercise normal precautions in Costa Rica. Some areas have increased risk.
Winner: Costa Rica
Arguably one of the most important things about traveling, let’s examine the difference in food! Both countries have food options from all over the world because of the many immigrants bringing their favorite dishes over.
You’ll be surprised to find tons of Chinese restaurants, look for ones run by the Chon Saan Palace group. Here are some of the most popular local foods in Belize!
- Rice and beans
- Stew chicken
- Ceviche –
mixeddish with fruit and fish, seasoned with cucumber
- Salbutes and Garnaches – appetizers or a snack, Garnaches are little tortillas fried and topped with beans, shredded onion, and cabbage. Salbutes are similar but tend to have a more substantial base.
- Cochinita Pibil – slow-roasted pork wrapped in tortillas
- Fruit cake
- Cashew wines – made from the fermented cashew fruit,
Johnny cakes– AKA journey cakes, these are small baked bread cakes made with coconut milk
- Belizean desserts such as Soursop ice cream, Cassava pudding, and
craboo/nance ice cream
- Belikin Beer – Belize’s only locally-produced beer, you’ll find it everywhere. This may be because imported beer is heavily taxes and brews from neighboring Guatemala and Mexico are prohibited. Belikin is delicious nonetheless!
Known for its use of fresh ingredients, Costa Rica offers mild options made with a tropical twist. Be aware that Costa Ricans LOVE garlic and add it generously to most of their food. Here are some favorite local dishes:
- Gallo Pinto- a breakfast dish made with rice, beans, and some kind of spicy ingredient
- Casado – a dish made of many foods such as rice, beans, salad, tortillas, meat, etc.
- Tamal – these are spicy!
- Arroz con leche (rice with milk)
- Sopa Negra (Black Bean Soup)
- Olla de Carne (beef stew)
- Patacones – DEEP fried delicious fried plantains
- Flan – egg custard dessert
- Chifrijo- chicharrones (fried pork rinds) and frijoles (beans) combined
Winner: Costa Rica. This one is debatable but CR seems to offer more variety and flavor in their food.
How easy is it to communicate with people in these countries? Read on to find out more.
The national language of Belize is English because they were part of the United Kingdom until 1981. This means English speakers will have an easy time communicating in Belize.
Costa Rica’s national language is Spanish but you’ll find that most people speak English in the touristy areas. Expat-heavy regions like the Gold Coast primarily use English. It can be good to learn a few key Spanish phrases just in case, but you’re safe not speaking any Spanish.
Who’s the Winner?
So now that you know more about both countries, who do you think the winner is? We ultimately decided to go to Belize because we are more interested in water activities, but Costa Rica came in a close second!