Costa Rica vs Colombia Travel: How to Make the Best Choice

If you are trying to decide between a trip to Costa Rica vs Colombia, you’ve come to the right place.  We’ve been to both countries and had an incredible time at each.  Your final decision will come down to what is most important to you in terms of activities and cost.

The bottom line: Colombia is cheaper, has better hiking, better food, and more unique cultural experiences.  Costa Rica is more expensive, but it has unique attractions like waterfalls, ziplines, and cloud forests, as well as more accessible beaches.  

Keep reading to learn all the differences between these two countries.  We’ll cover travel expenses, popular activities, and health and safety in each country.  So, let’s dive in!

Colombia vs Costa Rica: Quick Facts

Costa RicaColombia
LocationCentral America, with Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the southThe northern part of South America, with Panama to the north, Venezuela to the east, and Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil to the south. 
Population5.18 million51.87 million
Square Miles19,710 sq mi440,800 sq mi
Capital CitySan JoseBogota

Costa Rica vs Colombia: Cost of Visiting

In general, Colombia has a lower cost of living than Costa Rica and is the better option for budget-conscious travelers.

Costa Rica vs Colombia US Dollar Exchange Rate

The local currency in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colón.  As for the exchange rate, one US dollar equals around 509.37 Costa rican colones.  In Colombia, the exchange rate is 3,775 Colombian Pesos per dollar. 

Costa RicaColombia
Exchange Rate$1=509.37 Colones$1=3,775 Colombian Pesos

Cost of Hotels, Food, and Transportation

Here’s a summary of the Global Economy price index for hotels, food, and transportation between Costa Rica, Colombia, and the United States.  Values have been rounded to the nearest whole number.  

Costa RicaColombiaUnited States
Hotels9161127
Food12989110
Transportation9276110
Higher index number=higher prices

As you can see, Colombia is cheaper than Costa Rica, especially in regard to hotel costs, while Costa Rica actually has a higher price index than the United States for food. 

basket of fruit next to guanabana
We loved shopping around the inexpensive food markets in Colombia

Weather in Colombia vs Costa Rica

Both Costa Rica and Colombia have a tropical climate with distinct rainy and dry seasons.  

Colombia has two dry seasons: one from December through March and another from June through August. In Costa Rica, the dry season runs from December through April. For both countries, the dry season is considered the best time to visit, as you’ll have the best odds of dry weather. 

Both countries have distinct rainy seasons. Costa Rica’s rainy season is from mid-May through November, while Colombia has two small rainy seasons, one from April to May and another from October to November. 

Both countries have fairly consistent temperatures throughout the year, but these temperatures can vary depending on what city you are in.  For both countries, average temperatures on the coast tend to be between the upper 70s and the low 90s, while inland temperatures tend to be lower.

Because of its high altitude, Bogota has much cooler temperatures than much of Colombia, hanging out between the mid-40s and mid-60s.    

dirt trail winding through green mountains
The temperatures on our Lost City trek (near the coast in Colombia) were in the upper 80s during the day.
ColombiaCosta Rica
Dry SeasonDecember-March, June-August.December-April
Rainy SeasonApril-May October-November. mid-May-November
Average coastal temps75-89 F80-90 F
Average inland temps44-66 F65-80 F

Things to Do in Costa Rica vs Colombia

Both Colombia and Costa Rica have incredible activities.  Whether you’re an outdoor adventurer or love museums, you’ll be able to find great stuff in both places.

Both places have unique museums to explore, incredible full-day tours, and ways to immerse yourself in nature.

Here’s the bottom line: 

If you want to do incredible multi-day trekking, have unique cultural experiences, or walk through beautiful/colorful towns, choose Colombia.

If you want easy access to beautiful beaches, lots of animal sightings, and the chance to see volcanos or hanging bridges, choose Costa Rica.

sun shining over a village of thatch houses
Colombia is best for hiking, food, and cultural experiences
two tourists in front of Arenal Volcano.  When deciding between Costa Rica vs Colombia travel, you'll want to decide what activities are most important to you.
Costa Rica is best for volcanoes, hanging bridges, and beaches

Most Iconic Outdoor Activities in Costa Rica

Some of the best outdoor activities in the country of Costa Rica include ziplining over the Monteverde cloud forests, walking along the base of the Arenal volcano, and snorkeling at El Cano Island near Corcovado National Park. 

Arenal Volcano National Park

If you want the chance to see the iconic dome-shaped Arenal Volcano, choose Costa Rica.  We spent a lot of time hiking through the jungle trails around the base of the volcano during our three days in La Fortuna, and we loved getting to walk on the old lava flows.  La Fortuna is also a hub for incredible hot springs. 

Monteverde Cloud Forest and Hanging Bridges

The Monteverde and Santa Elena cloud forests are among Costa Rica’s most unique attractions. Our Monteverde ziplining experience was awesome, and you won’t find exactly the same experience in Colombia.

cable car against a backdrop of the Monteverde Cloud Forest
cable car and zipline tour at the Monteverde Cloud Forest
a hanging bridge in Costa Rica
One of the hanging bridges at Mistico Park near La Fortuna

Snorkeling at el Cano Island

Costa Rica is better than Colombia for snorkeling opportunities. During our 3-day Drake Bay stay, we snorkeled at Cano Island and saw sea turtles, colorful fish, and even a shark.  

Manuel Antonio National Park

While monkeys can be found in Costa Rica and Colombia, Costa Rica is the best place for animal sightings in general. Manuel Antonio National Park, in particular, is a hot spot for seeing white-faced monkeys, howler monkeys, and squirrel monkeys.

Esther and I were blown away by how much wildlife we saw during our stay in Manuel Antonio.  We saw monkeys, iguanas, birds, and even sloths. 

a white-faced monkey looking upwards
Manuel Antonio National Park is full of white-faced monkeys
a tourist standing next to a white-faced monkey

Most Iconic Outdoor Activities in Colombia

The most iconic things to do in Colombia include completing the multi-day trek to the Lost City in Tayrona National Park, climbing the steps of La Piedra del Peñol (Guatape Rock) near Medellín, and visiting the Tatacoa Desert. 

Trekking to the Lost City

If you’re a hiking enthusiast Colombia is the better place to visit.  In particular, the 4-day hike to the Lost City near Santa Marta is a must-do.  This 29-mile trek will take you through the Colombian jungle, and you’ll have incredible views of the Sierra Nevada mountains the entire way.  

a dirt bridge surrounded by greenery
One of the bridges on our Lost City trek
the Lost City archeological site in Colombia
The Lost City archeological site

Piedra del Peñol and Guatape town

Just two hours outside of Medellin, you can climb the switchback steps up to the top of the Piedra del Peñol and have incredible views over the man-made Guatape Lagoon.  From there, it’s just a short distance to the colorful town of Guatape, where you can explore the endless shops and cafes.  

Getting to Guatape from Medellin is easy. Plenty of tour companies offer day trips, or you can take public transportation and do it yourself. 

View of Guatape reservoir from the top of La Piedra del Peñol (Guatape Rock)
Our view of Guatape Reservoir from the top of La Piedra del Peñol (Guatape Rock)

Museums and Cultural Experiences in Costa Rica vs Colombia

Both countries have plenty of museums and cultural experiences, especially in the bigger cities.  However, because Colombia is a larger country and has big cities like Bogotá and Medellín, you’ll have more museum options.

Best Museums and Cultural Experiences in Colombia

Monserrate is a church sanctuary that sits on a hill overlooking Bogota.  You can take a cable car or opt to walk the steep two-mile path up to the top.

At the top, you can take a tour of the Basilica Sanctuary of Monserrate and have an incredible bird’ s-eye view of Bogota. 

Gold Museum

The Gold Museum, located in central Bogota, has a huge collection of pre-Hispanic gold and other metalwork. We could have spent hours exploring the exhibits.

The Gold Museum in Bogota, Colombia
The Gold Museum in Bogota, Colombia

Botero Museum

Another Bogota favorite and this one is completely free.  You’ll be able to walk the galleries of fatter-than-real-life portraits by the famous artist Fernando Botero. 

Best Museums and Cultural Experiences in Costa Rica

Although Costa Rica is a much smaller country, it still has its fair share of museums and other cultural experiences to explore. 

Museo Nacional de Costa Rica

This museum is in San José, Costa Rica’s capital and largest city, in what used to be a military barracks.  It’s got pre-Columbian artifacts and a butterfly garden with over 25 species of butterflies.

Museo de Arte Costarricense (Costa Rican Art Museum)

This art museum, also in the city of San Jose, has paintings, sculptures, and prints alongside rotating expositions.

Coffee/Chocolate Tour

You’ll be able to find this in Colombia as well (Colombian coffee is considered some of the best in the world), but we felt that Northfields Coffee in Costa Rica did an awesome job.

We sampled different coffees, teas, and chocolates and learned about the process of making each. 

cocoa bean pods
We got to taste the sweet covering around the cocoa pods
a small planter box with cocoa plants
The first steps of the plant-growing process

Food in Costa Rica vs Colombia

If you’re a foodie, choose Colombia.  We thought that Colombia had more unique dishes to try and had incredible cuisine in general.  The food in Costa Rica is also good; we just weren’t as blown away. 

Most Popular Costa Rican Dishes

  • Gallo pinto (Rice and Beans): A version of rice and beans, usually seasoned with bell pepper, cilantro, and onion.
  • Casado: Traditional Plate with Rice, Beans, Vegetables, and Meat.
  • Ceviche: Marinated Raw Fish (you’ll also find this in Colombia).
  • Olla de carne: a traditional Costa Rican beef and vegetable soup.
  • Sopa Negra: a black bean soup served with sliced hard-boiled eggs and white rice.
  • Patacones: sliced/mashed fried green plantains with salt that are often served with other toppings (like guacamole or shredded meat). 
Costa Rican Casado
Costa Rican Casado
Rice and Beans
Rice and Beans

Most Popular Colombian Dishes

  • Ajiaco: a chicken and potato soup with chunks of corn on the cob.
  • Bandeja Paisa: a Colombian classic that’s a huge platter with chorizo, chicharrón (crispy pork belly), rice, red beans, plantain, avocado, arepa, and a fried egg.
  • Sancocho: a stew made with meats, starchy vegetables like yuca and plantains, and flavored with cilantro, cumin, and achiote.
  • Arepas: cornmeal patties served as a side dish with meals.  Often filled with meat or cheese.  
  • Whole fried fish: crispy whole fish seasoned with salt and other herbs.
  • Mondongo soup: tripe soup cooked with vegetables, herbs, and spices.
  • Agua panela:  Agua Panela is a sweet drink made from cane sugar.
plate with a whole fried fish and fried plantains
One of our fried fish dishes
mondongo soup
Mondongo soup

Health and Safety Colombia vs Costa Rica

In terms of safety, Costa Rica is generally considered safer than Colombia with lower crime rates.  However, judging whether you should travel to a certain country simply based on international metrics can be a little misguided, because these metrics are a summary of the entire country.  

While there are parts of Colombia that are definitely not safe for tourists (Arauca/Cauca and the Colombia-Venezuela border), there are also lots of tourist-friendly destinations that are safe as long as you follow some safety basics.  

Always use transportation from a reputable taxi company (don’t hail a street taxi), and don’t travel alone at night.  We followed these two simple rules and felt completely safe during both our trips to Colombia and Costa Rica.  All the Costa Ricans and Colombians we interacted with were kind and helpful. 

taxi in bogota
Make sure you use a verified/reputable taxi service

That being said, here are some health and safety metrics for both countries: 

Fragile States Index 

The Fragile States Index looks at the vulnerability and stability of countries based on different factors.  The higher the ranking (the smaller the number), the more unstable a country is considered. 

Costa Ranks lower (more stable) at 150, while Colombia is higher on the list (more instability) at #59. 

Global Peace Index

The Global Peace Index is another yearly assessment that measures the peacefulness of countries based on things like ongoing conflicts, safety in society, and how militarized a country is.

For this metric, lower numbers indicate a country level that’s higher on the peace ranking.  Costa Rica also outperforms Colombia in this metric, ranking at 1.73, while Colombia ranks down at 2.69. 

Health System Rating (Statista)

The health system rating from Statista looks at the health and health systems of different countries in the world.  It evaluates things like health index scores, healthcare systems ranking, and universal health coverage. 

For this metric, just like the Global Peace Index, smaller numbers are considered higher up on the ranking for having good health systems.  Costa Rica only slightly outperforms Colombia (30 vs 36).  

For up-to-date COVID-19 information and COVID-19 deaths, we recommend visiting the World Health Organization’s website. This website is also a great resource for looking at average life expectancy and other metrics (if you’re curious).  

Other Data Resources for Costa Rica and Colombia

Looking to live in Costa Rica or Colombia? Here’s a list of other great resources that list all kinds of data/statistics on everything from the number of homicides to real estate information.  

World Population Review is a great resource for finding the homicide, crime, and crude death rates. This website is also a great resource for digital nomads interested in living abroad, as it includes data on the top tax rate.

The World Bank datasets include things like annual gdp indexes, birth rate and fertility rate, and tax revenue by country.   

Numbeo is another great resource for those looking to live abroad as it has a great quality of life index for various countries.

World Date Info has an index listing the average wage for countries around the world.  

Costa Rica vs Colombia Travel: The Bottom Line

Both of these countries are incredible places to visit. Making your final decision will come down to what you value most on your trip.

  • For hiking, especially multi-day trekking: choose Colombia
  • For waterfalls, volcanoes, or hanging bridges: choose Costa Rica
  • For budget travelers: choose Colombia
  • For a beach vacation: choose Costa Rica
  • For foodies: choose Colombia

And there you have it!  Wherever you decide to travel, we hope it’s a fantastic experience.  We hope to be able to return to both of these countries many times.