The Two Faces of Costa Rica

by | Feb 4, 2024 | Uncategorized

Which side is “better” in Costa Rica?

I really love Costa Rica. I recently visited the Caribbean side for the first time. Over nine incredible days, I was captivated by the country’s breathtaking landscapes, adventurous spirit, warm-hearted locals, sophisticated and fun hotels, and exquisite beaches. A common question is “which side should I visit?” This particular adventure allowed me to immerse myself in the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, having experienced the Pacific on prior visits, and I’m here to shed some light on this debate.

Pacific vs. Caribbean: Which to Choose?

Deciding between Costa Rica’s coasts is challenging, as both offer distinct and remarkable experiences. This time, my explorations took me to the Caribbean Coast, particularly the Southern area, which is ideal for sun enthusiasts and those looking to veer off the traditional tourist path. The Northern stretch remains relatively untouched, offering limited accommodations (my stay in Tortuguero National Park will be detailed further in an upcoming post). Thus, the choice between coasts depends on several factors, including budget, climate preferences, travel timing, and personal interests.

Local insights and feedback from tour guides who’ve migrated to the eastern side of Costa Rica suggest a preference for the Caribbean coast. This region, especially south of Limon, boasting prominent beach towns like Cahuita, Puerto Viejo, and Manzanillo, is favored for its lesser crowds, affordability, and vibrant food scene, offering a relaxed, surfer-town ambiance.

Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica

On the other hand, the Pacific side, encompassing areas like Guanacaste, Puntarenas, and the Central Pacific, features a broader selection of boutique hotels, eateries, and national parks, showcasing a more developed tourism infrastructure. Yet, the Southern Caribbean coast is celebrated for its unique charm, untouched by restaurant chains or all-inclusive resorts.

Wildlife Encounters: Pacific vs. Caribbean

For wildlife enthusiasts, the Osa Peninsula on the southwest coast is unparalleled. However, the Caribbean Coast is a close contender, where sightings of sloths, the elusive green macaw, monkeys, and sea turtles are common, especially towards Tortuguero. Moreover, Cahuita National Park offers some of the country’s finest snorkeling opportunities.

Culinary Delights of Costa Rica

The Caribbean Coast delights with its fresh, local, and flavorful cuisine. Fruits and vegetables are abundant, and enjoying coconut water directly from the shell is a simple pleasure. The region’s seafood, steak, and chicken are delectable, with many satisfying plant-based dishes. Local cuisine frequently incorporates coconut, ginger, curry, allspice, cinnamon, and chili peppers.

Understanding Costa Rica’s Weather

The climate in Costa Rica is complex, with each coast experiencing its own rainy season. When the Pacific side sees its heaviest rainfall from late August to early November, the Caribbean side enjoys its driest “summer” months. Conversely, January is one of the Caribbean’s wettest months, coinciding with the dry season on the Pacific side.

Given today’s climate unpredictability, expect a mix of sunshine and rain daily on both coasts. Fortunately, it’s always pleasantly warm, and rain showers tend to be short-lived, rarely lasting all day.

Despite encountering rain occasionally, it only disrupted one activity (canyoning in the rainforest); otherwise, we embraced the showers or sought refuge with a refreshing beer.

Costa Rica is largely unaffected by hurricanes, and its beaches experience less sargassum than other Caribbean regions.

Choosing Your Preferred Coast

My advice? Experience both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts on your next Costa Rican adventure. Imagine watching the sunrise on the Caribbean side, followed by a quick flight to enjoy sunset cocktails by the Pacific. While planning such a trip can be complex, I’m here to assist in crafting an unforgettable beach vacation in Costa Rica or beyond. Contact me today to start planning your adventure.