Costa Rica vs. Nicaragua

For years, there has been a “sibling” rivalry between the Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans. Before moving to Central America, I had never been to Nicaragua nor Costa Rica. It was all new to me. After experiencing them both though, I think they’re both great! Of course I’m a bit more partial to Nicaragua as I’ve spent much more time there, but I thought Costa Rica was lovely as well. Ironically, I found more similarities than there were differences between these bordering countries. They’re both beautiful, warm & lusciously tropical Central American countries. There are, however, some striking differences as well. Here I compare and contrast the two wonderful countries to show you the differences and similarities a first timer saw of the two.

Cost of Living

Costa Rica is much more expensive than Nicaragua. I’m talking like way more expensive. The prices for just about everything you see in Costa Rica are the same as you would see in the States. Maybe a bit cheaper than European prices, but not by much. With these prices, however, come many more convenient amenities that foreigners are used to, which is nice for expats. We realized that the cost of living was very high here before we moved because we did a lot of research on it and knew we wouldn’t save that much money by living in Costa Rica compared to California. Nicaragua was much more in our budgeted price range and we’re so happy it was.

American Corporations

The first thing I noticed when we crossed the border into Costa Rica and drove through Liberia was a McDonalds and Burger king on either side of the highway. Did I just travel back into North America? Then, across the street from McDonalds was CitiBank, Jon’s old bank back in the States. This was weird. I suppose those expat cravings would be suppressed for… well, ever. Nicaragua has McDonalds as well, however, only in Managua. The government makes it more secure for American cooperations to do business in Costa Rica and there are many more expats living here who will actually use them. More money = more opportunity and Costa Rica is seen as more of a money making opportunity than Nicaragua at the moment. Personally, this makes me happy. It makes me feel like Nicaragua is still a secret little untouched gem and I hope it stays that way for a very long time.


Ah, the beaches of Costa Rica. They really are one of a kind. The trip to Costa Rica made both of us realize that we need to explore more of the Nicaraguan beaches as we’ve really only been to San Juan del Sur and the surrounding beaches. There are beaches all over Nicaragua, just like there are in Costa Rica. There are coconuts, stray dogs, soft sand, humid air, warm weather, big waves, sting rays, beautiful blue water and lots of wild life on the beaches of both countries. The biggest difference between the Costa Rican beaches and the Nicaraguan is the amount of people on them. Costa Rica 25 years ago was like a piece of untouched treasure to international surfers, so people came from all over the world to surf the perfect untouched waves. 25 years later, those once uncrowded beaches are now covered with people from all over the world to surf or just relax. We sometimes drove for hours to try and find a quiet beach, it wasn’t easy. This gave us motivation to travel along the coast of Nicaragua more so that we can experience all of the untouched beaches the country has to offer before the same thing that happened to Costa Rica happens to Nica.


Costa Rica = LOTS of tourists

Nicaragua = not as many tourists

Infrastructure Development

The infrastructure in Costa Rica is much more developed than in Nicaragua for the most part. In both countries locals still have sheet metal houses with dirt floors (the middle/lower class is similar as the cost of living is much higher in Costa Rica). A funny little thing my dad noticed was that Costa Rican highways have a lot more signage than Nicaragua does. Besides that, the Costa Rican buses are very nice and fancy–everyone has their own individual seats. But I don’t really mind the well used school buses in Nica.


Costa Rica decided a long time ago that a military was unnecessary for a country that had no intention of ever going to war. So, instead, they have a very large police force in very fancy black uniforms all over the place. They make me feel much more secure than the Nicaraguan police do. Unfortunately there is a lot of corruption in the Nicaraguan police force and their intentions are to make money from bad situations more than relieve them. Other than that aspect, however, I don’t feel more safe or secure in one country over the other. I feel just as safe walking around Nicaragua as I do in Costa Rica. We heard that the crime rate in Costa Rica is actually a bit higher than it is in Nicaragua and perhaps that’s because there are more people with more money to steal from. Rich people don’t move to Nicaragua to retire–it’s more of a place for people who want to stretch their dollar to the fullest. In any case, it’s important to travel smart and cautiously no matter where you go.