If you’re trying to decide where to go on your next tropical adventure, Sri Lanka or Costa Rica, then the choice probably isn’t going to be easy. Both countries are blessed with rich biodiversity, on top of beautiful beaches, mountains, rainforests, and great surf. So, which one’s the better?
On one hand, there is picturesque Sri Lanka, with its rich culture and incredible cuisine. On the other, there is Costa Rica, home to some of the most incredible nature and wildlife in the world. It sure is a tough one.
This guide to Sri Lanka or Costa Rica will help you decide which country is better to visit. From the ease of travel to the cost of food to the best beaches and nature, we’ve covered seven key aspects of heading to these two tropical destinations in 2023.
Sri Lanka or Costa Rica: Ease of travel
Located south of India, Sri Lanka is shaped like a teardrop and is much smaller than its northern neighbor. The vast majority of travelers fly into Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo. It is the main international hub for intercontinental flights. From there, many people head straight to the mountains or the beaches in a taxi.
For traveling longer distances in onetime Ceylon, you can opt for trains or buses. For shorter trips, such as the beach town of Mirissa to the surf hub of Weligama, you can easily hail a tuk-tuk or hire a moped. The quality of major roads is good, especially the motorway that runs along the southern coast. Traveling into the central, mountainous parts of the country is a different story. Those journeys may take longer than you’d think from just looking at the map.
When it comes to getting into Costa Rica, most people land in the country’s largest airport, Juan Santamaría International Airport in San Jose. After arriving, travelers don’t tend to hang around the capital for too long and instead head straight to popular destinations such as Jaco or Monteverde. You can also fly into Liberia International Airport, which is only an hour away from the popular beach town of Tamarindo.
There are many ways to travel around Costa Rica, from domestic flights to buses and rental cars. Buses are cheap and reliable, but not always the quickest way to go. If you’re on a tight schedule, flying will save some time. There are cheap, domestic connections from San Jose to many beach towns run by carriers like Sansa and NatureAir.
Sri Lanka or Costa Rica: Beaches
When it comes to Sri Lanka’s coast, there is no shortage of long stretches of golden and white sand backed by lines of palm trees. The warm Indian Ocean’s crashing waves provide reliable but mellow surf conditions for those looking for a bit more than just topping up the tan. It’s not rare that you will spot a turtle while swimming in the crystal-clear waters of south Sri Lanka, too!
Here are some of our top picks when it comes to beaches in Sri Lanka:
- Hiriketiya Bay Beach – This is a true gem of Sri Lanka’s southern coast. Once a little secret, this picturesque bay has gained lots more popularity in recent years thanks to its (as yet) unspoiled sands and turquoise seas.
- Mirissa – It’s easy to see why Mirissa is one of the best beach towns in the country. Pristine sands and a crystal-clear ocean backed by lines of coconut trees and rugged cliffs abound. At night, the beach turns into a party central.
- Tangalle Beach – If you’re looking for long stretches of golden sands that you can have to yourself, you’ll find them in Tangalle. With only a couple of resorts tastefully tucked between the palm trees, you’ll feel like you’re away from it all.
- Arugam Bay – A lovely beach famed for some of the best surf breaks in the country. While the southwest suffers from the monsoon rains, Arugam Bay is at its best.
But you won’t be disappointed with the stunning Costa Rican coast, either. With access to both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, you can explore a range of lovely beaches here, whether it’s surfing or lazing you’re after. And while some of Sri Lanka’s coast suffers from pollution and rubbish problems, you will find that most Costa Rican beaches are in pristine condition.
Here are a few of the best beaches in Costa Rica:
- Playa Conchal – With crushed-shell sands and glinting waters, this is one of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica. Get your goggles ready – it’s a great place for snorkeling.
- Manuel Antonio Beach – A beautiful headland with two beaches on each side, located in the heart of the Manuel Antonio National Park. It’s not unusual to spot monkeys and turtles here while listening to the birds singing.
- Tamarindo Beach – A long stretch of sand on the Pacific side of the country, and a top place for beginner surfers with an easy-going beach break.
Winner: Sri Lanka, but it’s close.
Sri Lanka or Costa Rica: Things to do
You’ve got stacks to do in both these places. Both are great for surfers of all levels. In Sri Lanka, the top spots include Hikkaduwa, Arugam Bay, and Weligama. But those may not rival Costa Rican waves, which are a bit more reliable with the power of the Pacific Ocean behind them. The best spots there are Santa Teresa, Tamarindo, and Nosara.
There is also no shortage of hiking trails in either country. Sri Lanka is blessed with lush, green mountain peaks and plenty of trails. Climb up Adam’s Peak if you’re after a real adventure or hike the more easy-going trails in Ella. Meanwhile, when visiting the Central American gem, you will come across plenty of trails throughout a number of nature reserves, from the iconic Monteverde cloud forests to challenging volcano treks in Arenal Volcano National Park.
Not feeling such intense activities? You can opt for more relaxing things to do, too. In Sri Lanka, go on a wildlife safari in Yala National Park or laze on the Bentota sands. In Costa Rica, take a relaxing sailing cruise at sunset or pick an eco-resort in the hills to watch the birds while sipping a beer.
Sri Lanka or Costa Rica: Nature
From stunning tropical beaches to high-rising mountain peaks and lush green forests, Sri Lanka is blessed with serious natural beauty. Gurgling waterfalls and rivers surrounded by high-rising mountain tops are what you get if you visit Horton Plains National Park. Or, head to Yala National Park to spot elephants, leopards, and colorful birds.
Although there is no doubt that Sri Lanka is home to some of the world’s most incredible nature, it is Costa Rica that comes on top in this category. While only accounting for merely 0.03% of the world’s surface, it is home to a whopping 6% of the world’s biodiversity. From the incredible cloud forests of Monteverde to the volcanoes and mountain peaks of Arenal, it will take you a lifetime to explore all that Costa Rica has on offer on this front. Highlights for us are the Manuel Antonio beaches, amazing Arenal, and potential sightings of jaguars in Corcovado National Park.
Winner: Costa Rica.
Sri Lanka or Costa Rica: Nightlife
Although Sri Lanka is relatively quiet at night, there are plenty of beach bars spread across the country. That means that even if no places are serving late-night drinks where you are, you are usually only a tuk-tuk away from the nearest get together. It’s not unusual for those places to stay open until early morning, especially around the popular beaches of Mirissa and Unawatuna. In more remote areas of the island – Jaffna, the Central Highlands – you may find that there are no places serving beer past 10 pm.
It’s a relatively similar story in Costa Rica. Some places across the country remain quiet while others have plenty of nightlife, especially on the weekends. The difference, though, is that there are more dedicated traveler party towns here. Chiefs among them are Jaco and Tamarindo, surf centers where you get reggae clubs and sports bars. You will also find a vibrant nightlife scene in the capital, San Jose. There are lots of bars and nightclubs dotted around that city, especially in the student area of San Pedro.
Winner: Costa Rica.
Sri Lanka or Costa Rica: Food
In our opinion, Sri Lanka beats Costa Rica hands down when it comes to food. Thanks to a range of fresh ingredients and flavorsome spices, Sri Lankan curries are hard to beat. Yummy dahl and coconut roti are the most common sides to other Ceylon dishes. It’s actually a veggie-vegan paradise because most foods have a base of fresh coconut rather than dairy products. For those not so fond of plant-based cuisine, Sri Lankan cooking also has plenty of delicious seafood dishes that include tuna, lobster, or prawns off the grill.
Although it may not beat Sri Lankan cooking, Costa Rican cuisine has plenty of delicious treats you must try. Gallo Pinto is a yummy breakfast dish that consists of rice and beans, and Casado is a tasty mixed plate of tortilla, rice, beans, and fried plantain served with different kinds of meat. Finish your dinner with a sweet Arroz con Leche.
Winner: Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka or Costa Rica: Prices
Sri Lanka is one of the cheapest destinations in Asia, which is why it’s incredibly popular with backpackers and budget travelers. Anything from transport and accommodation to food and drinks will cost you less here than it would if you holiday in Costa Rica.
Your average daily budget can be as low as $33 per person. Although the most popular tourist areas, such as Unawatuna, tend to cost a little premium, it’s still cheap when you compare it with much of the rest of the world. You can expect to pay around $2.50-$3 for a large beer, the same for a vegetable curry, and about $15-$20 for budget hotels, but those will vary from destination to destination.
Although Costa Rica isn’t among the most expensive destinations in the world, it can be pricy. In fact, it is the least budget-friendly country in Central America. Your daily budget here will need to be more than double what it is in Sri Lanka, at an average of $75 per person. But, if you plan to stay in luxury yoga retreats or beach-front cabanas, you can expect to spend a lot more than that! The average cost of a meal in Costa Rica starts at around $6, and the amount you should expect to spend on transport is around $16 a day.
Winner: Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka or Costa Rica: The conclusion
Sri Lanka and Costa Rica are two very distant countries that have a lot in common but also a lot of differences. Both countries have outstanding nature and wildlife, whether you look at the coastline or delve inland. They are also both great surfing destinations. Sri Lanka, though, is cheaper and has arguably better food. Costa Rica, on the other hand, has more diverse nature and national parks.