When we’re traveling with kids, we need to think about a lot of things. If you’re trying to decide between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, read on because we’ve been on both in 2017 and I’m gonna help you decide!
What to Consider
There are many little differences between the 2 countries that need to be considered but first and foremost, what do you want from your trip? Do you want the beach, the animals, the forests, the architecture, food, zip lining, sports?
How much can you spend there? How do you travel – luxury, budget, mid-range?
Do you need the comforts of the city or are you happy being in midst of nature?
If you can answer those questions, most of your work is done and your destination is decided.
The biggest difference is the price. Costa Rica is very expensive, almost everything was over what we paid in Canada’s summer. Every meal we had cost over US$ 100 and all the activities cost a lot. Rental homes are also very expensive, and we decided on staying in small hotels/hostels because they ended up being cheaper.
Nicaragua, on the other hand, was the cheapest place we’ve been. It is way simpler and more rustic than Costa Rica, but it’s a lot cheaper. Around 1/3 of the price. There weren’t many rental home options, and we suffered a bit without air conditioning in the hostel in León, but it was alright.
The flights to Nicaragua are more expensive, though, and almost always aren’t direct.
It’s hot and humid in both places. We didn’t see much difference. San Jose (Costa Rica) and Managua (Nicaragua) had a nicer temperature than the other places, but overall, it’s basically the same thing. A bit stupid to put it here because there is no difference, haha.
There are great beaches in both countries. Punta Uva (Costa Rica) has just the best beach ever and Nicaragua has the Corn Islands – which we didn’t visit, but we hear it’s amazing. The Pacific beaches aren’t cold, and they are also nice, though the sand is a bit dark and the waters aren’t that turquoise blue we love.
We didn’t visit the Corn Islands because it’d be very expensive or be a very long car trip but if you can fly (it costs around US$ 200 per person), I’d totally do it.
We saw A LOT more animals in Costa Rica, but it’s probably because we spent our days in the forests. Nicaragua also has a great biodiversity, and all you have to do is choose where you’re staying according to your expectations.
They are too close to each other to be too different, really. We didn’t see any signs of sloths in Nicaragua, but there are monkeys and all the sea life.
Both have huge ants that bite – and it hurts a lot for days. Avoid them at all costs.
You can find volcanos, beaches, kayak, SUP, surf, everything in both countries. The biggest difference we found is that in Costa Rica we never even had to look for anything – it was all there, wherever we went. In Nicaragua, we had to do a bit of research when we wanted to do something and actually look for it.
In both places, they have a big problem with e-mails, so there are not many companies that actually answer your e-mail queries. Call or ask through Facebook, it’s faster. If you can’t speak Spanish, people from the hotel/hostel can always lend a hand.
In Nicaragua, you have the option of volcano boarding – sliding down an active volcano (Cerro Negro) on a wooden board – and lava watching.
The adventure activities (zip lining, kayaking, and so on) had very similar prices in both places, though, so you may need to consider if you really want to do something like that.
We had bad experiences with the car rental in both countries, but we managed to rent a car so we didn’t use public transport. It’s very easy to get from one place to the other with taxis, buses, or transfers too, you just really need to ask for one. People in both places are very nice and helpful!
Driving is also very similar in both countries, though we found that Nicaraguans are a tiny bit nicer when driving than the Costa Ricans. The roads were better in Costa Rica, though.
To help out how to decide between Costa Rica and Nicaragua straight and forward
If you want more comfort, chose Costa Rica. It’s more expensive, but it’s got everything to make your stay comfortable.
If you want simple, budget, less touristy, and small, go for Nicaragua.
Forests are forests, but we didn’t visit any in Nicaragua. The closest we got was at the National Park in Masaya, and we did see so many iguanas there, it was super fun. In Costa Rica, we saw Manuel Antonio and Punta Uva.
And the beaches are very alike, Caribbean beaches are dreamy and Pacific Coast beaches are warm and full of waves.
In the end…
If you have the time and can pay for both, it’s easily done. A flight between Costa Rica and Nicaragua is cheap (around US$ 60 in 2017) and it’s less than an hour. There are bus and van transfer options between them and also Panama, which is cheaper but just take a while longer. Both countries are worth visiting.
If you have to choose, use the guide above to decide which would be better for your family.
The kids LOVED Costa Rica because we went zip lining and saw sloths and monkeys and raccoons, and in San Jose, we had a hot shower (only place…), BUT the prices were highly prohibitive. If we could choose now, we’d return to Nicaragua because it was beautiful, very affordable, the food was delicious, and there’s a lot we didn’t manage to do due to the pinkeye outbreak (that got us).