Costa Rica Pacific vs Caribbean Coast: Which is Best for You?

Costa Rica Pacific Coast vs Caribbean Coast –  which is best? This is one of the most common questions we get for those getting newly acquainted with Costa Rica. And really, the answer depends on you and your preferences.

The truth is that although Costa Rica is roughly the size of West Virginia, it’s ecosystems vary widely. This is arguably one of the great advantages of visiting Costa Rica. Travelers can see such great diversity in a relatively small country – with wildly different experiences available along the same coastline. So – the answer is a bit nuanced depending on your preferences. Let’s compare the two!

For the resort-lover:

The Pacific Coast – specifically Guanacaste. If you are one for large resorts or want to cash in your hotel reward points, Guanacaste is the place to do it. Although truthfully, Costa Rica isn’t known for big brand name resorts. the majority of accommodation options include intimate boutique hotels. If you aren’t willing to budge on your dream of a large Costa Rica resort, however, we recommend considering Guanacaste’s Gold Coast.

For the off-grid adventurer:

Pacific or Caribbean Costa Rica

Gandoca Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge, South Caribbean Coast

Both. From Tortuguero to Puerto Viejo, the entire Caribbean Coast is less-frequented than the Caribbean side. However, there are a few notable destinations for the off-grid eco adventurer, which offer more upscale accommodations than the Caribbean. The Osa Peninsula is the most remote destination and the last remaining untouched tropical rainforest in the country. You’ll find mostly remote ecolodges down there, and you’ll need to fly to reach them. The Costa Ballena on the South Pacific Coast is lush and remains pristine with numerous luxury accommodations. The Nicoya Peninsula is a world-renowned blue zone celebrated for wellness and the long lives of its residents. Laidback beach towns, yoga, surf, and barefoot luxury are quintessential of the Nicoya Peninsula experience. It’s quite an adventure to reach any of these places.

For beaches:

Costa Rica Pacific vs Caribbean Coast - Four Seasons

Beach accessible from The Four Seasons Resort, Papagayo (Northern Pacific)

Again, both. Although, the Pacific Coast has the greatest diversity in beaches. The Northern Coast is the dryest- with beaches backed by dry forest and cacti. As you move south, the beaches get lusher and wilder – with more wildlife. There are so many different beaches to discover in Costa Rica. Check out our top 15 beaches here.

On the Caribbean side, the Southern Caribbean has pristine turquoise Caribbean water with white sand beaches backed by swaying palm trees, rainforest, and wildlife with an Afro-Caribbean culture. Also on the Caribbean side, skip Tortuguero. It is actually recommended you don’t swim on Tortuguero beaches as they’re swampy and home to sharks, caimans, crocodiles, and the like. People go there for the wildlife and the Amazon-like canals.

Rustic or luxury lodging:

One of the biggest differences between the two is lodging. There are limited luxury lodging experiences on the Caribbean side and certainly no large resorts. The Caribbean is rustic, laid-back, an adventure. Some trendy deluxe boutique hotels are available (see one of our favorites – Hotel Aguas Claras – in the above video), but there’s less diversity in accommodation options. On the Pacific side, there are simply more choices. You can certainly find rustic lodging on the Pacific – even luxurious eco-lodges. It really comes down to your preferences.


There are certain experiences that don’t fit neatly into the Pacific/Caribbean category. For instance: volcanoes, cloud forests, the central valley, rural mountains, the buzzing cultural capital, and more. Also, I should note that it’s entirely possible to fit both coasts into one vacation if you aren’t traveling on a time constraint! For many – upon further research – the question transforms from Pacific vs Caribbean to which destinations am I most interested in? This might mean you simply need to do your research or have a quick conversation with a Costa Rica Expert for a personalized recommendation. Most travelers will spend their first vacation somewhere on the Pacific Coast and the interior cloud forest/volcanic regions of Costa Rica. This is where the most popular destinations in Costa Rica lie. It’s most often the return visitors that venture out to the Caribbean side looking for a different experience. The response is multifaceted, but our Experts can quickly give you a first-hand recommendation.

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