Dream of slipping away to tropical bliss, but stuck between two paradises? Due to their similar attractions and stunning landscape, the Costa Rica vs. Belize match is the starting place for many family vacations, honeymoons, solo trips, and general travel plans.
Though the two Central American countries boast sugar-white beaches and ample jungle adventure, there’s enough to differentiate them. If you’re wondering if Belize or Costa Rica makes the better trip, here’s our breakdown of where to go. Find out each country’s best mode of transportation, beach appeal, attractions, activities, and tips on where to stay.
Getting around Costa Rica is a bit more of a challenge than navigating its northern neighbor, Belize. However, the country offers two internal airports, as well as reliable and inexpensive bus services—the recommended form of transportation. Both Belize and Costa Rica experience tropical storms and hurricanes, so stay mindful of hurricane season (May to November) when planning your trip. Overall, Costa Rica’s crime rates are low, and with a standard level of caution, it makes the perfect travel spot for female solo travelers and Costa Rica family vacations.
As a fairly compact country, Belize is easier to get around than Costa Rica. The most recommended forms of transportation include shuttles, taxis, car rentals, and water taxis when hopping island to island. A popular and generally safe choice for tourists is opting for all-inclusive Belize resorts that provide private shuttle services by hotel or tour operators. Belize is smaller and sees fewer tourists than Costa Rica, lending to centralized attractions and uncrowded beaches. During the hurricane and tropical storm seasons (June to late November), the country experiences flooding, but this can be avoided when you plan ahead.
Bookended by the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, Costa Rica is no stranger to a beautiful coastline. While these pristine beaches are beautiful, they aren’t necessarily the main focus of tourist interest. 51% of Costa Rica is thick tropical rainforest, often which rambles right up to the coast. This doesn’t affect the beaches’ lounge-ability, as long as you don’t mind playing mangrove-braving-explorer at times for secret scenic spots.
As far as safe swimming, Costa Rica’s waves are a bit rougher and prone to strong rip currents outside its shallow waters. There are specific family-friendly beaches that make fantastic swimming spots (such as Manuel Antonio National Park and Samara Beach), but on the whole, Costa Rica’s coasts are a better fit for snorkeling tours and surfing.
For travelers who surf or could make do without beach activities, Costa Rica is the better choice.
If you’re after a beach-focused getaway, look no further than Belize. Though Belize has one less coastline than Costa Rica, it makes up for it with gentle, swimmable waves, accessible beaches, and a bright barrier reef that spans the country’s entire length. Additionally, all the beaches are public, so you can wade into warm, Caribbean waters as you please.
Enjoy family beach days at kid-friendly Laughing Bird Caye, which is known for its mild waves and sapphire shallow waters. If you’re looking for some quiet time to read or take in the scenery, Seine Bight is secluded and uncrowded. Ambergris Caye and Turneffe Atoll are the main hubs for snorkeling and scuba diving along the Belize Barrier Reef.
For travelers looking to spend more time at the beach and in the water, Belize is the spot.
There’s a reason Costa Rica is considered adventure’s capital. Between traversing tropical rainforests, hiking dormant volcanoes, and savoring phenomenal mountain views, your vacation will never see a dull moment. Costa Rica boasts plentiful waterfront activities but is more known for its inland attractions.
Drawing around 70,000 visitors a year, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve consists of over 10,500 hectares of cloud forest—one of the rarest and most unique ecosystems. Cahuita National Park, which protects the largest coral reef on the Caribbean coast, is also a must-see, so be sure to bring your snorkel. Hungry for more hiking? Arenal Volcano National Park has excitement and relaxation built in. After you summit the stratovolcano, mosey over to the park’s natural geothermal hot springs for a rejuvenating soak.
For travelers looking for exciting jungle experiences, extensive terrestrial wildlife, and active adventure, Costa Rica is the top choice.
Step into history and bring on the beaches. Belize is home to over 600 Mayan ruins and archeological sites, more than any other country in Central America. Catch a glimpse of a captivating ancient world and sneak in a history lesson on your family vacation.
The country is also almost as famous for its underwater attractions as it is for its hot spots on the shore. Belize Barrier Reef, which stretches 190 miles long, is one of the most popular destinations for snorkelers and divers to view its colorful and finned inhabitants. Here, you’ll find more than 500 species of fish, including grouper, cowfish, yellowtail snapper, frogfish, and sea turtles. For more deep dives, turn your flippers to St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park, a cool turquoise jungle pool that contains two underwater cave systems to explore.
For travelers seeking mysterious ancient ruins, underwater adventure, and colorful marine life, make Belize your go-to.
Leave little concern of running out of things to do in Costa Rica. Wake up and choose your adventure between rainforest, cloud forests, hot springs, and volcanoes. Get a taste for the tropics with white water rafting, snorkeling, cave tubing, or sampling deliciously fresh produce one farmers market at a time. Costa Rica is famous for its eco-tourism and offers a multitude of ways to sightsee, like waterfall hikes, horseback rides, coffee tours, and educational guides.
It wouldn’t be a true Costa Rica family vacation without an exciting canopy tour through the trees. Watch the tree cover come to life by either aerial tram or thrilling zipline and count how many toucans and parrots you can spot with every flash of vibrant feathers. For more wildlife, submerge yourself in nature with a guided tour at the Místico Arenal Hanging Bridges to learn more about Costa Rica’s living jungle and admire monkeys, snakes, frogs, butterflies, and dazzling flora.
For travelers excited to trek the jungle or take on above-ground activities, Costa Rica has so much to explore.
Beach-baskers, history buffs, and underwater explorers are in for a treat with a trip to Belize. Make a day of your own Indiana Jones adventure exploring Mayan ruins like Caracol and Altun Ha. While you don’t have to tour each of the country’s 600+ historical sites, the option is certainly there. Between history lessons, sightsee the jungle or mountain caves by white water raft or tubing expedition.
Pull on your scuba gear for a world of deep-dive exploring or snorkeling either in close-quarter underground jungle caves or Belize’s sapphire blue Caribbean waters. Ambergris Caye’s eastern shore makes an ideal snorkel and dive spot along Belize’s jam-packed Barrier Reef. If you’re up for an adrenaline rush, find a guide to help you brave Gladden Spit or Shark Ray alley, where you can swim with nurse sharks, hammerhead sharks, and stingrays.
Traveling to Belize with kids? Stop by the Belize Zoo and Educational Center, watch gentle sea cows float along at the Clearwater Aquarium, or let your little ones see things from a new perspective with a zipline through the treetops.
For travelers interested in catching a glimpse of the past, or the active underwater world, turn your sights to Belize.
When it comes to food and lifestyle, Costa Rica’s nightlife is a little more lively than Belize's. Costa Rica’s history is founded in Aztec, Mayan, and Spanish influence, celebrated today in annual festivals, clothes and jewelry, as well as the country’s native Spanish language. Popular dishes here include tamales, casado, and delicious rice and bean fare. You’ll find restaurants, shops, and dancing along San Jose, Jacó, and Tamarindo, a few of the country’s hotspots. Start your morning off with Costa Rica’s coffee, acclaimed to be some of the most flavorful in the world, and be sure to try Agua de Sapo, a local lemonade made with brown sugar and ginger.
Belize blends Afro-Caribbean and Garifuna communities, creating delicious local specialties and a laid-back atmosphere. Today, Belize is the only Central American nation where English is the official language, though you might also hear Creole, Spanish, and Garifuna. Much like Costa Rica, rice, beans, and tropical fruit are staples to the nation’s cuisine. You’ll also find dishes like salbutes, ceviche, and fry jackes. Be sure to try local favorites like cashew wine and Johnny cakes. Belize’s nightlife is a little calmer than Costa Rica’s, though not at all lacking. Head to Belize City and San Pedro when you want a break from outdoor fun.
Getting excited reading all that awaits you in this tropical paradise, but worried about the cost? Costa Rica remains a budget-friendly spot for travelers. With luxury resorts or beachfront stays, the prices will run a little higher, but it costs the average traveler $20-$250 a day for comfortable accommodations and daily activities. Compared to other vacation spots like Hawaii and the Virgin Islands, Costa Rica makes an affordable (and enjoyable) tropical getaway.
For travelers looking to spend a minimum of $200-$250 a day on vacation, Costa Rica is an inexpensive vacation.
Belize and Costa Rica cost relatively the same as far as travel and accommodations, though you can get by a little farther in Belize if you’re working with a smaller budget. A trip to Belize might cost the average traveler around $100-$150 a day for accommodations and daily activities. Take your pick of beachfront Belize resorts if you’re looking for the full luxury experience, or save with vacation rentals just a short distance from the action. Pro tip: for an easy way to save, look to travel during shoulder seasons when prices tend to be lower.
For travelers looking to spend a minimum of $100-$150 a day on vacation, Belize is a great budget-friendly destination.
Most must-see beaches, adventure spots, and cities, including Tamarindo and Jacó lie on the country’s western coast. If you’re looking for an ideal beach retreat, stick to the Guanacaste Province. For a quieter escape with more access to the rainforest, look for a stay in Puntarenas.
With one coastline, it’s easier to split your time between beach days and rainforest expeditions. Live the island dream with a stay in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye and never stray too far from the ocean. For a quieter hiatus and family resorts, lounge out along Placencia Village.
Belize and Costa Rica are both adventurous and scenic destinations, but the better travel spot depends on what experience you’re looking for. If you’re ocean-focused or interested in exploring Mayan ruins, make your vacation plans for Belize. If you’re looking to venture through the rainforest, hike volcanoes, surf legendary waves, and unwind in a hot spring, set your sights on Costa Rica.
Fill your Belize family vacation with fun activities like sightseeing at Mayan ruins, snorkeling the Belize Barrier Reef, or playing on the beach.
Embark on an exciting Costa Rica family vacation and enjoy activities like watching for wildlife on a tour through the rainforest, hiking to waterfall views, or ziplining through the trees.
As a tourist, it’s essential to be cautious in any new environment. No matter where you travel, every country has areas that are at a higher risk of crime. Luckily for travelers, Costa Rica consistently ranks high within the lists of most peaceful and happiest countries on earth, often out-ranking the U.S.
Similar to Costa Rica, Belize has friendly and unfriendly areas, so it’s wise to keep a watchful eye. In recent years, Belize’s crime rate has seen an uptick, though the country is still largely considered safe and family-friendly among Central American travel destinations. While Belize remains a great place for family vacations, tourists are advised to avoid isolated areas, refrain from wearing flashy items, and keep valuables protected.