When you think about a tropical getaway, images of sandy beaches, palm trees, and coconuts probably come to mind.
Both Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic are islands in the Caribbean with beautiful landscapes, rich culture, and fantastic opportunities to kick up your heels and relax.
On the surface, there isn’t much difference between these two destinations, but once you dig a little deeper there are definitely some pros and cons depending on your travel style.
To help you decide which would be the best fit for your next vacation, we have put together this guide on Costa Rica vs Dominican Republic.
Let’s get started!
A true nature lover’s paradise, Costa Rica is best for adventurous travelers.
You have mountains, rainforests and beaches to explore – even an active volcano for extra spice.
Families too would have a blast exploring the different terrains and trying new activities.
When the outdoors gets too much, retreat to the capital for some food-based comfort.
The Dominican Republic has carved itself a niche of beaches, high-end resorts, and golf courses.
You can let go of the busy life and lie on sand all day, or work on that swinging arm. Couples can spend quality time together without worrying about date night costs.
This slower, ‘take it as it comes’ approach to life also lends itself to historical sightseeing, as Santo Domingo’s stunning buildings take you back into the past.
Costa Rica has moved up two positions on the 2020 Global Peace Index to rank 32 out of 163.
It’s the most peaceful country within the Caribbean and Central America.
Petty theft is the biggest threat a regular tourist would face, so secure your belongings with you at all times.
Rest assured additional security resources are provided in tourist-heavy areas since tourism plays a huge role in the country’s development.
You’re unlikely to experience more violent crimes.
Recent years have seen a rise in reported violent crimes, including muggings at gunpoint.
The local government and experienced travelers have debunked this as exaggerated news – the Dominican Republic is generally safe to travel.
Special police divisions patrol tourist areas frequently, and all-inclusive resorts often have strong security features and front gate staff.
Your biggest concern would be petty theft and pickpockets.
For those who live outside resort areas, avoid going out at night and stay away from sketchy areas.
Certain towns like Sosua near Cabarete are considerably more risky for those traveling alone or even as a couple.
Weather may also be a concern during hurricane season. Stay alert if you’re on the coast and follow weather warnings.
Costa Rica is safer compared to the Dominican Republic, although both face petty crimes.
Still, exercise your common sense! Travel in groups if possible, especially in the early morning or late night.
Don’t get drunk solo, and pay attention to your surroundings on public transport.
Averaging 77-82⁰F (25-28⁰C) between Mid-December and April, Costa Rica’s dry season entices outdoor dwellers.
But the best time to visit Costa Rica is actually early May, as you can avoid unwanted crowds and hurricanes.
May to November sees torrential rain, driving away tourists and bringing a cold front.
What you really want to pay attention to, however, is Costa Rica’s microclimates.
Highlands, which covet interior rainforests, average 55⁰F / 13⁰C; lowlands along the coast average 79⁰F / 26⁰C.
If you’re planning to hop around, pack accordingly!
Similar to Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic thrives under a tropical climate.
Everyone flocks to this Caribbean destination from December through April, exchanging dreary winters for sunshine and lack of rain.
To reap comfortable weather and lowered prices, visit after this tourist-crazy season in the months of April and May.
While warmer than Costa Rica around the coastal areas, the Dominican Republic faces the Atlantic’s rough hurricanes.
Avoid June and November if you want to be outdoors without all the rainfall.
When it comes to the beautiful, sometimes wild, beaches of Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, you really can’t go wrong with either destination.
Costa Rica beaches live the Caribbean stereotype of golden sands and light, crystal waters.
Northwest of the island and along the southern Caribbean region are some of Costa Rica’s most beautiful beaches: Playa Tortuguero, Playa Punta Uva and Playa Negra. Likewise, the Manuel Antonio National Park protects stunning swathes of sand.
While the rural and scattered nature of these beaches will have you swinging wildly across the map, it lends to perfect kayaking and surfing set-ups.
The calmer Caribbean waters also ensure safe swimming conditions for families with young kids.
On the flip side, the not-so-lounge-able northern Caribbean coast spoils nature photographers with thousands of nesting sea turtles.
For relaxing and unwinding, the Dominican Republic has Costa Rica beat.
Luxury resorts along the tourist-studded coast deliver top-tier pool and beach access.
Punta Cana is a grand example – imagine 30-miles of curated Caribbean beach chock full of beach bars and clubs.
Atlantic exposure means rough waves so pay attention to water conditions.
Reserve a spot at private Playa Minitas for shallower bays perfect for family fun; the hidden gem of Playa Rincon is accessed by boat only.
If you like some chaos with your beach time, Playa Dorada is a famous beach edged with resorts for convenient equipment rental.
The Dominican Republic wins this round, only because the beaches are extremely accessible.
You walk out of your hotel and there it is: fun in the sun.
They may overlap in terms of all-inclusive accommodation and Caribbean coasts, but Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic are worlds apart when battling over adventurous excursions.
Costa Rica is an adventure park blown up in size. Portal to biological gardens, parks, dense rainforests, volcanoes, the beaches… you’re overrun with thrilling and adventurous activities.
Apart from the expected kayaking and surfing along the coastline, you’ll likely explore the Monteverde Cloud forests, Arenal Volcano and the entire Cahuita area.
Adventure parks like Selvatura feature thrilling zipline courses and jungle-crossing suspension bridges.
For even stronger Indiana Jones vibes, try aerial trams or caving.
Hiking is another popular activity, satisfying your need to be outdoors without adrenaline kicks.
Definitely keep an eye out for wildlife along the way!
Alternative excursions veer towards coffee tours and city walks. While Costa Rica’s charms are focused on nature, there’s a fairly good arts scene in the city of San Jose.
It’s worth visiting for a day or two to get a feel of local living – and indulge in its food scene.
In comparison to Costa Rica’s inland exploration, the Dominican Republic’s main attractions lie in the water.
Miles of white beach call for sun lounging and swimming; the more active set out for deep-sea fishing, diving, and canoeing.
All sorts of baths are scattered across the land too: mud, saltwater, freshwater, even waterfalls like El Limon.
That’s not to say that the Dominican Republic doesn’t have its share of inland adventures.
While there’s less variety compared to Costa Rica, the interior rainforests of the Dominican Republic feature great hiking trails.
Challenge your limits by hiking the Caribbean’s tallest mountain, Pico Duarte. Natural reserves such as Lake Enriquillo are also great for explorers.
Another huge draw is its historical attractions; mostly Spanish landmarks and historical buildings in the capital city of Santo Domingo.
Sign up for a tour around the Zona Colonial district and snap shots of these beautiful structures!
The grand collection covets houses, palaces, defensive walls and churches.
Let’s not forget the golf courses either. With 26 golf courses, the Dominican Republic is a rising star!
From Teeth of the Dog Golf Course on the coast to the fancy Santo Domingo Country Club, you’ve got your choices cut out for you.
Variety is a huge factor to consider, with Costa Rica taking the lead. The sheer scope of aquatic and inland activities allows everyone to pursue their interests.
That being said; if your main intention is to relax and unwind, the Dominican Republic may be better for you.
Costa Rica thrives on nocturnal adventures too! Romantic dinners go without saying, but the Caribbean’s love of life and laughter also threads through pubs and wild beach parties.
San Jose, the crowning jewel of Costa Rican nightlife, houses the best discotheques and thumping nightclubs.
Club Vertigo is one example, backed by hip hop, techno and house music. Elsewhere, live music ranging from salsa to rock n’ roll is pumped through Jazz Café.
In the mood for laidback pubs? The coastal town of Jaco is another popular destination for nightlife in Costa Rica.
Weekends are the busiest nights, with plenty of discounts for women during special holidays and events.
Dress code is mostly casual but fancier places reinforce proper glow-ups, so please take note.
One night out in the Dominican Republic and you’d have made a dozen new friends.
Socializing is an essential part of the Dominican Republic’s nightlife culture, whether that’s over drinks or shouting to be heard on the dance floor.
Latin beats possess your body so you bachata and merengue your way through the crowds.
Sosua, Punta Cana and Santo Domingo turn into dance central from sunset to 6AM, colorful cocktails blurring the hours.
From clubbing inside a cave to sophisticated entertainment at Ojos Bar and Disco, or Kviar Disco – forget sleeping.
For those who want to be out but have no confidence on the dance floor, consider a bar crawl on the beaches.
Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic both appeal with a lively party scene, featuring a range of clubs and bars at most touristy areas.
You can also opt out of the wild parties and sit back with a beer in hand.
Local ingredients, chocolate and coffee dominate the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica dining scenes.
Both are not traditional foodie destinations, although the latter is certainly bringing their A-game to the table.
Carb heavy and featuring many fried dishes, Costa Rica’s food scene had been influenced by Mexican and U.S. cuisines.
Leaning into heavily flavored foods, the seemingly plain national dish of gallo pinto (rice and beans) actually jolts your taste buds awake.
Likewise, their casado, stews and soups are savory eats that contrast nicely with their fresh fruits.
San Jose is the flaming hob, churning out an up-and-coming food scene in the Barrio Amon and Barrio Escalante neighborhoods.
The Feria Guadalupe farmers’ market offers a bevy of fresh produce and vendors selling hot food; indigenous cuisine must also be tried at restaurant Sikwa.
Alternatively, go straight to the source as thousands of farms have established tourist-friendly restaurants.
The Dominican Republic caters to a large international crowd, proven by how rarely you have to venture out for food.
Most tourists stay at all-inclusive hotels with restaurants at their fingertips, dinging your tongue with international cuisines.
You may also find bakeries and cafes that carry a French or Italian feel.
Luckily, these resorts feature local dishes at least once a week. Sancocho, a meaty stew, is a local invention stuffed with protein.
Mangu, plantain mashed with eggs, is a breakfast regular; traditional lunches serve white rice, stewed beans, braised meat and salad.
While street food here isn’t praised, pick from their great stock of fruits to round off the day.
Costa Rica has a much livelier food scene, especially when you have the freedom to wander and explore.
For the best quality and range of food, shuffle San Jose to the top of your list.
Costa Rica ushers in a new era of sustainable, eco-friendly accommodations.
Numbering in the hundreds, these lodging options cover mountain stays, all-inclusive luxury resorts, cozy cabins, city or beachside hotels.
Best of all? You get unique places to stay, tree houses and tropical igloos among them.
The average budget-style room costs between $35 and $75 per night, with hostels at the lowest rug.
Likewise, hotel prices sit on a large scale. While the year-round average sits at $150 to $250, expensive stays can hit $700.
Accommodation prices in Costa Rica fluctuate a lot over high and low tourist seasons, so book early!
Here are our top picks for Costa Rica:
Dominican Republic accommodations are slightly cheaper than Costa Rica, starting at $23 per night.
At $60, you can get an average-grade hotel room – with amenities included!
Even in larger cities like Santo Domingo, hotels can come at $30 with kitchens included.
Fairly high-class stays go for only $100 to $200 per night.
Those opting for all-inclusive hotels pay an average of $151 per day, although the most extravagant packages may be priced around $500 lower.
To show a clearer picture: a week-long package at fancy Viva Wyndham Dominicus Beach Resort (scuba diving and world-class cuisine included) is less than $1000 per person plus tax.
Costa Rica delivers on style diversity and budget scale, while the Dominican Republic offers consistent service and all-inclusive packages on the cheap.
Before we look into the average 1-week budget for two in Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, note that the cost of living in Costa Rica is generally higher.
Flight tickets are too. If you manage to nab discounted flights, your trip cost would drop drastically.
The average one-week Costa Rica trip budget for two is approximately $4,832. Here’s how it breaks down:
Flights – Depending on your location and the season, flights normally run $500 – $1000 roundtrip.
Liberia Airport is usually more expensive than San Jose International Airport so check the prices for both.
Accommodation – Budget rooms like hostels and guest houses go for $35 per night; basic hotels cost around $75.
Mid-range stays average $90 to $150 while high-end hotels start at $250. The most expensive stays can cost up to $700. You’ll likely spend $3,500 for 7 nights.
Food – Most meals are priced at $8 to $15, meaning an average of $420 for two in a week. Bottled water isn’t exactly cheap either.
Public Transport – City buses are $1 a hop and Uber is reasonably priced.
The lower transportation prices makes up for higher spending because activities and excursions are more spread out.
Activities – National park entrance fees cost $6 – $18, while adventure tours with transportation range between $55 and $180.
Assuming you’re visiting at least one national park and signing up for one tour, expect to spend $212 for two.
The average one-week Dominican Republic trip budget for two is approximately $2860. Here’s how it breaks down:
Flights – Round-trip flights from New York City cost around $350 while the West Coast is a heftier $470.
International flights from the UK may cost anywhere between $600 and $900.
Accommodation – Hostels are priced low, from $23 per night. Nicer hotels run between $60 and $100 per night, while 5-star all-inclusive stays could cost more.
With a $140 average, expect to spend $1960 for a 7-day all-inclusive package.
Food – Food is cheap, unless you’re wining and dining at a classy restaurant.
Daily estimates round up to $20-30 per person depending on how often you eat out.
The average weekly food costs for two amounts to $400, but much less if you’re enjoying an all-inclusive holiday.
Public Transport – Spare $5 for short taxi trips, but you normally stay within one area.
Activities – Entertainment costs are relatively affordable, especially if you don’t require equipment.
Outdoor activities like horseback riding and paragliding may cost $30 – $60; day tours average $70 per person. You’ll likely spend at least $200 for two.
Dominican Republic is definitely the cheaper option! Not only are flight tickets more affordable, but the cost of the all-inclusive resorts make up for the bulk of your expenses – at a reasonable price.