Costa Rica or Panama? Both offer rich wildlife, wildlife, adrenaline-filled enjoyment and stunning beaches along the seemingly endless shores of the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean. And these are perhaps the most expensive countries in Central America, but the infrastructure is at its height.
Similar features of these neighboring pearls gave rise to a good-natured rivalry, from the football field to coffee cups. So, in the spirit of friendly competition, let’s look at how these two countries are developing towards each other.
The best country for beaches
Whether you want to dive rainbow fish, ride waves or just enjoy the soft, fine sand, you will find stunning beaches that stretch along the two coasts in Panama and Costa Rica.
The country has impressive sandy strips, 140 of which have the status of a Blue Flag (an internationally recognized certificate of sustainability).
The ideal beaches of the Nicoya Peninsula include the trendy surfing destination of Santa Teresa, known for its strong beach holidays; Samara, which is popular with locals and visitors of the city for its calm and safe waters; and the well-isolated (and only a short drive from Samara) Playa Barrigona. In Guanacaste, Playa Hermosa, which has been named the world’s first surfing reserve in Central America for its biodiversity and conservation ethics, also offers world-class waves.
Panama has a beach for every taste. To catch the wave, visit the relaxed Santa Catalina on the Pacific coast or visit the volcanic sandy beach Playa Venao on the picturesque Azuero Peninsula. To get a taste of tropical island life, visit the paradisiacal Pearl Islands of the Pacific or Bocas del Toro in the Caribbean to snorkel in the crystal clear waters around Isla Bastimentos before relaxing with a piña Colada or two.
But with a real sense of shipwreck, you can’t beat the San Blas archipelago (the Gouna-Yala mosquito), the homeland of the indigenous Guna, where there is a pocket island lined with palm trees for every day of the year.
Winner: Panama, thanks to its idyllic islands, but those looking for beach holidays will be spoiled for choice in any country.
The best country to observe wildlife
Both countries are rich in endemic species and protected areas, from cloud forests covered with haze to tropical forests and marine parks teeming with fish.
Costa Rica is a wonderland of wilderness with 30 national parks (and that’s not all), not to mention dozens of nature reserves and nature reserves, whose protected areas occupy more than 30% of their land.
The high cloud sanctuaries of Monteverde are a hotbed of biodiversity teeming with birds, amphibians and reptiles, and the “mini-Amazon” of the Tortugero National Park on the Caribbean coast is a protected breeding ground for green turtles. The beautiful and wild Corcovado National Park on the Wasp Peninsula is home to tapirs, scarlet macaws and elusive cougars, and the Golfo Dulce is the perfect place to watch cetacean and dolphins.
Dive on the island of Isla del Coco in the south of the country, near the wasp Peninsula, with shoals of hammerhead sharks and these gentle giants, the whale sharks.
This sparse isthmus connecting Central and South America is a paradise for nature lovers. Between June and December, thousands of Olive Ridley sea turtles lay their eggs on the beaches of the island of Cañas. Between July and October, humpback cetacean visit Chiriki Bay to give birth in the area of the underwater utopia of Koiba Island off the Pacific coast.
On land, bird watchers flock to the cloud forest trails around Boquete to find the elusive, magnificent Quetzal. More than 400 bird species have been sighted along the pipeline route in the Sovereignty National Park in the area of the canal.
And you don’t have to leave Panama City to see sloths and other wild animals along the rainforest trails of the Metropolitano Natural Park.
Winner: Costa Rica is a world leader in the field of nature conservation. Not surprisingly, the motto of Ticos is pura vida (pure life).
The best country for outdoor adventures
Lovers of thrills and outdoor activities will find everything from pleasant adventures to extreme sports in Costa Rica and Panama.
If you like rafting, canyoning, whale shark diving or serious surfing, then Costa Rica is for you.
The country hosts the original tour under a canopy and there are many ziplines that offer a bird’s eye view that will make you accelerate and scream over the forest or around the Arenal volcano. The Pacuare River is located almost 124 km from the capital San Jose and is a popular rafting destination with rapids from Class II to Class V.
Back on land, take a three-day hike to the country’s highest peak, Cerro Chirripo. If you reach the summit before it gets dark, you will have a view of the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean at the same time.
Boquete in the highlands of Chiriki is a center for hiking, rafting, kayaking, rock climbing and rock climbing. You can visit the top of the Bahru volcano to admire the stunning sunrise, or go on an adrenaline-filled tour under a canopy, flying at breakneck speed over the wooded slopes.
Enthusiastic tourists can put on their shoes with jungle treks from coast to coast from Panama Viejo to Portobelo or through the primeval forest of Darien and embark on a journey from coast to coast. Experienced divers can dive into the shark-infested waters in front of the former Isla Koiba correctional facility. Search for curious Capuchin monkeys in the kayak around Gatun Lake or watch the huge ships crossing the Panama Canal.
Winner: Costa Rica for the wide range of outdoor adventures that are offered.
The best country for coffee lovers
Coffee lovers have a lot to celebrate, as both countries produce first-class beans.
Thanks to the variety of microclimates, there are not one, but eight high-mountain regions in Costa Rica, especially in the central valley and Guanacaste, where coffee is grown, each with its own unique taste.
The beans are harvested by hand and it is the only country in the world where it is unlawful to produce anything other than 100% high quality Arabica beans.
To closely observe the process of making coffee from seeds into a cup, visit the charming Finca Rosa Blanca in Barve, a low-carbon organic coffee farm and a boutique hotel filled with works of art. Uninvited guests can take coffee tours twice a day.
Panama’s coffee plantations are located around its three volcanoes, the Baru volcano, El Valle and La Iguada, with soil enriched with volcanic ash and cooled by the breeze blowing from the Caribbean and Pacific coasts.
In the surroundings of Boquete, the best types of coffee are grown, including a geisha, one of the best types of coffee in the world, thanks to its unique taste. In the estates of the Lamastus family, Elyda geisha with the highest rating is grown, which broke the world record for selling the most expensive coffee at public auctions at a price per pound. If you can’t visit the property, try a cup of coffee at Sisu Coffee Studio, a family-run chic industrial café in Panama City.
The winner: Panama won by a slight margin thanks to the legendary geisha.
The best country for culture lovers
Both countries have a rich cultural history, expressed in decorative and applied arts, music and cooking.
Although it is tempting to walk through the urban jungle and go straight to the wild forests of Costa Rica, if you have time in San Jose, spend it exploring some of its magnificent areas.
Enjoy the architectural splendor of the historic Amon district or visit the Escalante district, the gastronomic center of the city with a Saturday morning farmer’s market and an open-air food court made of recycled transport containers. The modern Jade Museum, with its five floors filled with centuries-old jade artifacts and much more, is worth a visit, as is the glittering collection of the pre-Columbian Gold Museum.
Panama City is the most cosmopolitan capital of Central America and there is a lot to do, from the historical biomuseum, which shows the biological diversity of the country, to the compact museum of La Mola, which explores the unique textile art of the indigenous gong peoples.
The technical miracle of the Panama Canal is on the wish list of many visitors, and you can get acquainted with its turbulent history in the interactive visitor center Miraflores. The Panama Canal Museum is located in a preserved colonial house in Casco Viejo. The Afro-West Indian Museum is just a 10-minute drive north and is dedicated to the dozens of West Indian workers who worked on the canal.