Costa Rica vs Belize – Where to go in Central America?

Costa Rica vs Belize? Which Central American country should you visit next…? They are internationally known as excellent vacation destinations, but which fits you better? Here, we will explore everything about them and determine if you should travel to Belize or Costa Rica.

Both countries offer a wide range of activities for travelers, but they are mostly famous for their beaches, warm water, tropical forests, and national parks. We will compare them in terms of the following:

  • Natural beauty;
  • Destinations, activities, and landmarks;
  • Beaches;
  • Culture and heritage;
  • Resorts;
  • Eco-friendliness;
  • Shopping;
  • Nightlife;
  • Food scene;
  • Travel infrastructure and development;
  • Travel safety;
  • Costs;
  • Tourists;

Do You want to learn more about Costa Rica and Belize? Have a look at the following:

Costa Rica vs Belize
Punta de Vista Manzanillo in Costa Rica.

Belize vs. Costa Rica – travel edition

People and Language

The first thing we need to mention, and one of the main differences between Costa Rica and Belize, is the official language. In Costa Rica, the official language is Spanish, while in Belize is English.

So, if you are only comfortable speaking English, you will be better off in Belize. However, we must mention that many people in Costa Rica know basic English, and you probably won’t have many problems. Plus, many people in Belize speak excellent Spanish as Spanish-speaking countries surround the country.

Another thing to remember is that Costa Rican (or the Ticos) are incredibly lovely people. They are relaxed, try to help the tourists, and are very easy to interact with. In Belize, it’s not as great. There are some very nice people, but it depends on our luck.

hot springs in La Fortuna Costa Rica Costa Rica vs Belize - Where to go in Central America?
Hot springs in La Fortuna Costa Rica

Natural Beauty of Costa Rica vs Belize

Both countries are notorious for their natural beauty, making this a very difficult call. You should be pleased with both countries, and it really depends on what you are looking for because each country has unique features and landscapes that make it special.

Belize is a tiny country with several natural settings, including coral reefs, mangroves, and rainforests. The highlight is clearly the UNESCO heritage site Belize Barrier Reef with an extensive coral reef system. But you can also find wildlife sanctuaries and the Maya mountains.

Costa Rica is larger and consequently has a more extensive range of ecosystems and landscapes. They include amazing cloud forests, high mountains, volcanos, beaches, rainforests, and many, many National Parks and Reserves.

Ultimately, we believe Costa Rica has a wider range of natural landscapes and beauty. It is a larger country (though still relatively small), and most is protected.

Belize vs. Costa Rica
Trail in Cahuita National park, Costa Rica

Belize or Costa Rica – Destinations, activities, and landmarks

Both countries have many tourist attractions, with numerous things to do and see. However, we need to explain that, despite similarities, they are pretty different and oriented to distinct kinds of tourists.

Costa Rica is most notorious for its national parks, nature hikes, animal sighting, and other outdoor activities. There are very few really interesting man-made tourist attractions. In Costa Rica, the most prominent attractions are the Manuel Antonio, the Monteverde Cloud forests, Arenal Volcano, and the whole Cahuita area.

In Belize, you can expect to find a tourism industry more oriented to resorts, parties, nightlife, and barrier reef activities. For this reason, most travelers end up going to San Pedro or Caye Caulker. However, there are also jungle tours, wildlife, and Mayan ruins in the interior of Belize, particularly close to San Ignacio.

Despite being very small, Belize is truly amazing. You can:

  • Dive and snorkel in Coral Reefs
  • Explore unique caves, like the ATM Caves.
  • Go to ancient Mayan Ruins like Caracol and Xunantunich
  • Fly and deep-sea fishing
  • Go to the great blue hole
  • Do Jungle treks
Belize or Costa Rica - Destinations, activities, and landmarks
Diving in Belize Coral Reef

Some of the most popular activities in Costa Rica include:

  • Surfing on the Pacific Coast
  • Animal watching in the National parks
  • zip-lining through the canopy;
  • White-water rafting
  • Bird watching
  • hiking in the rainforest
  • Explore the cloud forests
  • Enjoy the many secluded beaches
Natural Beauty of Costa Rica vs Belize
Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica

We will tie them here as Costa Rica and Belize offer a wide range of outdoor activities, but the experiences are different. If you want o further explore what each country has to offer, we suggest:

Belize or Costa Rica – Who has the best beaches?

This might be surprising, but Costa Rica wins this topic relatively easily.

Costa Rica has a much larger coast and amazing beaches in the Pacific and the Caribbean. It also has a diverse range of beaches that Belize doesn’t. It has white and black sand beaches. It has surfing beaches and swimming beaches with calm waters. It has popular, developed beaches and secluded beaches. It has some stunning beaches like Cahuita National Park and Manuel Antonio National Park and unique beaches like Punta Uvita’s whale tail beach.

Belize is quite different. The water is legendary, and the proximity to the reefs is amazing for water activities, but the beaches themselves aren’t great… Furthermore, a large part of the coast and even the islands don’t have beaches, or at least don’t have sandy beaches, which is not great. It’s made of mangroves, rocks, or reefs. Many of the few beaches are in resorts with closed or limited access.

So, unless you plan to stay in a resort, you are better off in Costa Rica. And even if it’s a resort you are looking for, ensure the beach is sandy and awesome.

Belize or Costa Rica - Who has the best beaches
Beaches in Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica

Culture and Heritage

Between Belize and Costa Rica, Belize is probably a better choice for people looking for a culture and heritage trip. However, we must mention that destinations like Mexico and Guatemala are much better options in this regard.

Anyhow, Belize has a rich cultural heritage mixing Mayan, European, African, and Creole cultures. It is also the only English-speaking country in the region and the only one that England colonized. Making it unique. You’ll find many Mayan archaeological sites in Belize, including Caracol and the ATM caves, but also a strong Creole culture with music, dance, and cuisine, like a few others.

As mentioned above, Costa Rica is more of a natural beauty and eco-tourism destination. There are few human-made attractions and cultural offerings. Yet, if you visit Costa Rica, you should visit the National Museum of Costa Rica and the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, both in San Jose.

Best country to visit Costa Rica or Belize
Mayan Arquiologic site, Xunantanich in Belize

Costa Rica vs Belize – Resorts

As you would expect in such popular tourist destinations, Belize and Costa Rica have a wide range of vacation options, including many resorts. However, they are somewhat different.

Belize has many luxury resorts on the Cayes, the reef islands in the Belize reef. Particularly in Ambergris Caye, but also some in Caye Caulker and other smaller, sometimes private Cayes.

These resorts usually offer a secluded, intimate experience with private access to the wonderful waters of Belize and the Barrier Reef. Some have nice, private beaches, but again, they may or not have sand. Many of these are all-inclusive resorts, so if you are looking for a relaxed, planned trip, Belize may be a great choice.

Conversely, Costa Rica also has many luxury resorts. In the Guanacaste region, you will find most of the traditional beach resorts, with all-inclusive options and great amenities like spas, golf courses, pools, and restaurants. However, it’s the eco-friendly resorts, yoga retreats, and resorts close to the national parks where you can experience wildlife and nature that Costa Rica is famous for.

Costa Rica vs Belize -Best Resorts
Resort in Caye Caulker, Belize

Eco-friendliness of Costa Rica and Belize

Costa Rica is a world leader in eco-tourism, offering many eco-lodges, eco-resorts, sustainable tourist initiatives, and activities like hiking, birdwatching, and wildlife tours. Visitors to Costa Rica usually want to experience the country’s natural beauty while minimizing their trip’s impact.

The country has an impressive record in environmental protection and even set the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050, implementing policies to promote renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and many protected areas, including 28 national parks and reserves. About 28% of Costa Rica’s land is legally protected.

Belize is also renowned for some eco-friendly initiatives and tourism but focused on its marine areas. Home to the second-longest barrier reef in the world, Belize has implemented marine protected areas and strict regulations to protect its marine resources, including the 500 species of fish and 100 species of coral.

There are also a few eco-lodges and reserves in the jungles of Belize that promote sustainable tourism practices, but nothing compared to what exists in Costa Rica.

Eco-friendliness of Costa Rica and Belize
Santa Elena Cloud forest Reserve in Costa Rica

Shopping

Neither Belize nor Costa Rica are good destinations for travel shoppers. They don’t have wide varieties or extensive shopping opportunities, particularly international brands.

In both countries, you will find some local handicraft shops, typical fabrics, jewelry, and souvenirs, particularly in local markets and small boutiques. In Belize, they are mostly located in San Pedro and in Costa Rica, in the local markets.

So, this is a tie, but because both are far from ideal shopping destinations.

Nest travel destination Belize or Costa Rica
Farmers market in San Ignacio, Belize

Nightlife

When it comes to nightlife, neither Costa Rica nor Belize are top-tier destinations either, but there are more and better options than shopping.

In Belize, the nightlife is mainly concentrated in San Pedro (Caye Ambergris), where you can find plenty of bars, clubs, and nice restaurants. San Pedro is a relatively large city with options that cater to different tastes. Caye Caulker is a backpacker hub with a relaxed vibe, but it has a few popular bars that become lively during the high season, particularly with such a young crowd on the island.

Costa Rica’s nightlife scene has a nice range of offers, from beach bars and nightclubs in touristy areas to cultural performances, restaurants, and casinos in the big cities. The best places to enjoy Costa Rica’s nightlife are Jaco, Playa Tamarindo, and San Jose.

We will tie this one, but note that if the nightlife is vital for your next vacation, you probably should equate going to other destinations like Thailand or Mexico.

Where to go Belize or Costa Rica
The split in Caye Caulker in Belize

Costa Rica vs Belize – The food scene

To be perfectly honest, we weren’t huge fans of either Costa Rican or Belizean food. They suffer from the same problem – there are too many fried dishes and carbs, particularly if you want to eat on a budget.

On the upside, as you would expect, both countries have delicious fruits and good seafood. They also share similar influences, like Mexican food and Spanish colonial origins. In Belize, we really enjoyed Johnny Cakes for breakfast, while in Costa Rica, our favorite dish (side dish, to be fair) was patacones.

Thus, neither is a foodie’s destination, particularly if we look at the typical foods, not the high-end restaurants and resorts. In those, it’s perfectly normal to find tasty, healthy, and many international and fusion dishes.

We will give a tangential win to Belize because those Johnny cakes at breakfast were delicious! Plus, the fantastic lobster on the beach in Caye Caulker! However, it’s not even comparable to what we ate in Mexico or the delicious Thai food.

Costa Rica vs Belize - The food scene
Eating lobsters by the beach in Caye Caulker in Belize

Belize vs Costa Rica – Safety

We never had any problems in Costa Rica or Belize, and both countries are relatively safe to travel around if you take the usual safety measures, like:

  • Don’t let your things unattended;
  • Always lock your car;
  • Be wary of crowded places, particularly bus stops;
  • Don’t get too drunk to understand possible dangers;
  • Avoid going into sketchy places;
  • Don’t carry/show off large amounts of cash;
  • Obviously, don’t do anything illegal!

However, we need to stress that we felt much more at ease in Costa Rica than in Belize. The general safety of Belize is quite low due to higher risks of mugging, pickpocketing, and even violent crimes. Costa Risca is generally safer, but there are still some risks in the form of pickpockets and petty theft.

Belize has a weird vibe, with much more poverty and some drunk/drugged people on the streets. This was very visible at night. Furthermore, Belize City is considered a particularly dangerous city, which is why most tourists avoid spending much time there, and go directly to Plasencia, the Islands, and San Ignacio, which are safer.

In Costa Rica, the vibe is much more relaxed, and there’s not so much visible poverty. The metropolitan area of San Jose is the most dangerous zone, but the rest of the country is very safe for tourists. We never felt threatened in any way.

Because the statistics and our experience were better in Costa Rica than in Belize, Costa Rica won this round.

Belize vs Costa Rica - Safety
Playa Galardonada in Costa-Rica

Infrastructure and development

Costa Rica is a wealthier country than Belize and consequently has a much more developed infrastructure. It has better roads (though far from great), better public transportation, and a more developed tourism sector.

We need to mention that Belize is a particularly poor country, and that is visible as there are many homeless people. It has improved and continues to improve its infrastructure, but it still is a bit far from Costa Rica or even Mexico.

Travel to Belize or Costa Rica
Park in San José the capital os Costa Rica

Costa Rica or Belize – Which is more expensive?

Belize and Costa Rica are among the most expensive countries to travel to in Central and Latin America. Much more expensive than in Guatemala, for example. Even as a backpacker, you shouldn’t expect to be able to spend less than 100 USD per day.

This high price comes mostly from tours and activities, which are costly in both countries. For example, going to the ATM caves in Belize will cost about 120 USD per person, while Caracol isn’t much cheaper too. In Costa Rica, most organized tours are also very expensive, but going there independently isn’t much cheaper as all major national parks and reserves have entry fees. Some of them are hefty.

In Belize, the accommodation was expensive, particularly in the Cayes. Even hostels are pricey. In Costa Rica, finding a few less expensive accommodations is still possible.

Regarding food and restaurants, it is possible to save money by eating in street food joints in Belize and sodas in Costa Rica.

In general, it is easier to be frugal in Costa Rica than in Belize, simply because there are more options, and better infrastructure makes traveling easier. Looking at our costs, Costa Rica was 60 USD per person, while Belize was 65 USD. So, while far from inexpensive, Costa Rica is a little cheaper than Belize.

Costa Rica or Belize - Which is more expensive?
Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica

Belize vs Costa Rica – which is less crowded?

Both countries are very touristy and heavily influenced by American tourism, as Americans make up most of the tourists in Costa Rica and Belize. You can see that in the hotels, restaurants, and even the tours.

We believe neither country is too crowded, as they are quite relaxed and calm, despite receiving many tourists. The number of tourists will depend more on the specific time of year and the locations within each destination than if it is Belize or Costa Rica.

That being said, Manuel Antonio National Park tends to be the most crowded place in Costa Rica and can have way too many people for our tastes. In Belize, both San Pedro and Caye Caulker may suffer from the same problem during peak season. Caye Caulker can be particularly problematic as it is pretty small.

For all this, we will give another tie here.

Belize vs Costa Rica - which is less crowded?
Beach in Ambergris-Caye in Belize

Costa Rica vs Belize – What’s the verdict?

Despite being two of the most popular destinations in Central America, Belize and Costa Rica have many differences. Their past, the way they are organized, the culture, what they offer, also the beaches and the main attractions

So, in hindsight, you should go to Costa Rica if:

  • You want to try eco-lodges and eco-tourism;
  • A relaxed and safe vibe;
  • Better beaches;
  • Surfing;
  • National Parks and wildlife are vital for your trip;
  • Don’t mind speaking Spanish;
  • Eco-friendly destination;
  • better infrastructure and development
Which is the best to travel Costa Rica vs Belize
Monteverde cloud forest in Costa Rica

Belize is the best fit for those who:

  • Want more of a luxurious resort destination with easy access to water;
  • Don’t mind the lack of sand on most beaches;
  • Explore the barrier reef;
  • Amazing water for diving and snorkeling;
  • English-speaking locals;
  • Explore Mayan heritage and culture;
  • Don’t care about nightlife and shopping;
  • Stay closer to the US.
Best activities Belize vs Costa Rica
Great Blue Hole in Belize

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