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Costa Rica vs Nicaragua: A must-read comparison for travelers

Feb 3, 2020 | Costa Rica vs Nicaragua, Ecotourism, Nicaragua

Costa Rica vs Nicaragua: A must-read comparison for travelers

Feb 3, 2020 | Costa Rica vs Nicaragua, Ecotourism, Nicaragua

Are you dreaming about the pristine beauty of Central America, with its lush jungles, magnificent volcanoes, marvelous beach scenes and diverse wildlife? You might be thinking about Costa Rica when envisioning your dream destination, but have you ever considered its neighbor Nicaragua for your next unforgettable travel experience?

Sloth mom and baby in a natural park in the south of Nicaragua

Discover our top five main reasons why Nicaragua is your travel dream coming true


1. Costa Rica vs Nicaragua: The beaches, waves & biodiversity

All beaches are not created equal. But Costa Rica and Nicaragua share both a Pacific and Atlantic coastline and so in this case beaches are created equal. Whereas the Gulf of Fonseca creates a stark break in the coast between Nicaragua and El Salvador, and Costa Rica’s southern border with Panama doesn’t share the coastal qualities that tourists flock to in the central and northern regions, much of Nicaragua’s south-Pacific coast is a carbon copy of Costa Rica’s busiest tourism beaches – minus the excess of people.

Costa Rica is well known as an ecotourism destination to find quiet beaches and lush jungles, while it is actually Nicaragua that has the largest rainforest of Central America (home to 7 % of the worlds biodiversity!). Costa Rica and Nicaragua are two beautiful places with jaw-dropping beaches and friendly locals. But if you’re looking to enjoy the marvelous sunsets, immersed in nature, while surfing uncrowded breaks, you’ll have a much easier time finding that in Nicaragua.

Natural Immersion into the untouched jungle of Nicaragua

2. Costa Rica vs Nicaragua: Safety First

Both Nicaragua and Costa Rica are quite safe destinations, especially when one uses some travel sense. The violent crime rates in both nations are less than many North American states and cities. And they are even significantly lower in Nicaragua than in Costa Rica (According to Wikipedia, Nicaragua actually has the lowest violent crime rate in all Central America). The tension between this safe reality on the ground and the misperception of danger online makes Nicaragua a hidden gem – a Costa Rica as experienced by its early discoverers – ready to be found by those willing to stretch beyond the powerful confines of group thought. A bit of history helps uncover some of the layers.

Nicaragua has had a troubled history with the United States government ever since the U.S.-appointed dictator who ruled Nicaragua for 40 years was overthrown in 1979. Media and public perceptions thus sensationalize any danger or unrest in the country. Although the political tensions subsided in 1989, it took 15 years for the first tourists to begin visiting. More recently, social unrest in areas far removed from the country’s prime Pacific tourism beaches led to a media frenzy in North America. This led to fewer tourists, creating an even better situation for travelers seeking pristine beaches and authentic natural and cultural vacations: fewer travelers, better value and local hosts as grateful as ever to show off their peaceful and beautiful land and culture.


Nicaragua has the lowest homicide rate in Central America .

Source:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_intentional_homicide_rate

3. Costa Rica vs Nicaragua: Local connections and culture

Many people see their vacation simply as an escape from a busy North American urban life. Most of us need a time out at some point. We want a beach, sun, margaritas, good food, a cozy bed and not much else. The standard tourism cycle reflects the power of this need. Early in the cycle, a place is discovered by adventurers for its natural, social and cultural purity. In the middle of the cycle, word of this grows and more people visit because of these purities. Eventually, people visit not because of the purities but because a place is popular.

Feel the amazing vibe of locals and tourists sharing the world’s best sunsets


Nicaragua has very few fast food chains, but instead a lot of healthy and fresh, vegan/vegetarian options. Another of the benefits of Nicaragua’s slower tourism curve is that the tremendous hospitality experiences are delivered in a distinctly Nicaraguan way. Connections are genuinely made with tourists not because they are tourists but because they are human and because the people genuinely want to share and connect with other cultures and people.


4. Costa Rica vs Nicaragua: Value for money

Nicaragua and Costa Rica share much more than a border that spans from coast to coast. The wildlife, ocean activities, and available eco-wellness experiences are similar among the two countries. Plopped at random in either country, one might have a hard time identifying which country they are in. There is a cleare difference though and that is price: Costa Rica is about twice as expensive as Nicaragua.

Like Costa Rica, Nicaragua has a range of tourism infrastructure, from budget hostel to 5-star resorts. Expenses for a backpacker’s vacation at a busy beach-town in Costa Rica will likely end up costing a similar amount than an all-inclusive eco-retreat experience at a private, pristine beach in Nicaragua. Matched for value a Nicaragua experience will exceed your price – value expectations and will be considerably more affordable. This allows many travelers who choose Nicaragua to stay longer and experience more of what they’re looking for in a Central American vacation.

Foto of Escameca beach in Nicaragua, with Costa Rica in the background.

5. Costa Rica vs Nicaragua: Getting to the best parts of the country by airfare

Liberia’s International Airport is Central America’s busiest airport for beach seekers. It’s only 75 kilometers from the border with Nicaragua. Since many of Nicaragua’s best beaches are in the south of the country, close to that border, by looking at possible destinations there a traveler opens up to nearly double the potential beaches within the Liberia airport catchment area. And, since most beach travelers who de-board at Liberia head to a select few beaches in Costa Rica, those who expand their horizon ever so slightly have access to some of the most pristine and tranquil beach experiences that are difficult to find on the Costa Rican side. Many resorts in Nicaragua arrange a transfer directly from the airport in Liberia to their front door, which takes only an hour more than a trip to one of the nearest by Costa Rican beaches.

So when thinking about your next retreat experience, don’t book the Central America retreat that pictures sell you on. Book the one your mind envisions.

Read more reviews and experiences of your fellow travelers here!

Inquire now to book your dream Central American surf and yoga retreat, watching whales during meditation and listening to nothing but the precious sounds of nature.


UPDATE: Traveling to Costa Rica vs Nicaragua during COVID 19


All COVID restrictions, in both Nicaragua and Costa Rica, were lifted last year. You no longer need to worry about PCR tests or proof of vaccination.


Costa Rica is open to everyone from everywhere and does not require a negative Covid-19 test. You do need a specific health insurance though which you can buy per day. The official insurance by Sagicor costs a little over $10 per day which quickly adds up if you want to stay for more than a few days.

You also need a filled out health pass (this one here https://salud.go.cr ) and proof of onwards travel, for example your outward flight or a bus ticket. Equipped like that you are free to enter Costa Rica.

Everyone who enters Nicaragua, no matter if through an airport or over a land border, needs a negative Covid-19 test not older than 72 hours. That measure greatly reduces the risk of tourists spreading the coronavirus. You don’t need anything else – no insurance, no onward travel, no health pass.

Looking at the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths, Nicaragua is doing much better than Costa Rica, which might be due to Nicaraguan people living in quite spread out villages with only little close contact inbetween communities. That makes it easier to single out affected communities without having a countrywide spread.

If you decide to travel to Costa Rica, we can only recommend one thing: Take a bus or a taxi, head to Peñas Blancas and come on over to Nicaragua. 🙂





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