Costa Rica vs. Hawaii: Which Tropical Destination to Choose for Vacation

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Costa Rica and Hawaii have a lot in common — from stunning beaches and tropical rainforests to adventure activities and warm weather. However, both Costa Rica and Hawaii have plenty of unique qualities too, which is why it’s helpful to explore the similarities and differences between these two destinations before planning a vacation to one over the other.

Though we would choose Costa Rica over the Hawaiian Islands for a family vacation, couple’s trip, or solo getaway any day — only you can decide which of these popular tourist destinations is best for you. Read through our comparison of Costa Rica vs. Hawaii below to help decide!


Geography & Culture in Costa Rica vs. Hawaii


The Hawaiian Islands are a series of islands in the Pacific Ocean that are part of the United States. The most popular islands in Hawaii include the Big Island, Maui, Oahu, and Kauai, and each island offers different landscapes and attractions. However, the challenge most visitors face is which Hawaiian Island to visit. Unlike Costa Rica, which is entirely drivable with a rental car, exploring more than one island requires at least one plane ride between islands.

A view of the lush greenery on the Hawaiian Islands
When you vacation to Hawaii, you’ll have to choose which of the islands to visit.

Hawaii is a part of the United States, making this destination easily accessible for American tourists, but it is an expensive vacation destination. Travelers with a passport will get more “bang for their buck” on a trip to Costa Rica since accommodations, food, and activities are generally less expensive.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is located in Central America, and since it’s not an island, it’s possible to explore all the different attractions this country offers in one jam-packed vacation. Popular destinations in Costa Rica include Arenal Volcano National Park, Manuel Antonio National Park, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, and the beaches along the Pacific Coast in Guanacaste.

Straw huts on a white-sand beach and palm trees swaying in the wind in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica is filled with tons of diverse landscapes, from lush jungles to white-sand beaches!

Costa Ricans are generally more accepting of tourists than Hawaiians and embrace the “pura vida” lifestyle. You’ll also be able to experience a completely new culture when traveling to Costa Rica — new music, food, and customs await in our down-to-earth, laid-back communities.


Wildlife & Nature in Hawaii vs. Costa Rica


Hawaii is filled with tons of natural beauty, including pristine beaches and lush greenery. In fact, some of the most popular beaches in the world, like Waikiki Beach, are found in Hawaii. However, when it comes to national parks and wildlife — there is a huge difference between Hawaii and Costa Rica.

Several boats and people playing in the turquoise waters at Waikiki Beach on Oahu.
Waikiki Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Hawaii, located on the island of Oahu.

Though Hawaii offers tons of marine life, including tropical fish, sea turtles, and dolphins, there is little wildlife on the islands (well, aside from lots of chickens!). Additionally, Hawaii is only home to two national parks — Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Haleakalā National Park — and while both of these remote areas are undoubtedly impressive to visit, the limited number and diversity of the national parks in Hawaii pale in comparison to Costa Rica.

A grey and white goose standing on a rock near greenery by the ocean.
While there is less wildlife in Hawaii than Costa Rica, you’ll still be able to see some birds and other animals on the islands.

Costa Rica

Few countries are as biodiverse as Costa Rica, making this beautiful destination a nature lovers’ paradise. Nearly 30% of Costa Rica’s land is protected in national parks, and each park offers a diverse landscape to explore — from cloud forests and white-sand beaches to tropical rainforests and limestone caverns. Costa Rica also has a Pacific side and a Caribbean side, so you’ll be able to experience different types of beautiful beaches in different regions of the country, as opposed to all tropical beaches, like in Hawaii.

A gorgeous view of a tropical rainforest at sunset.
Over 30% of Costa Rica’s land is protected in national parks, meaning you’ll be able to see a diverse array of natural scenery in this country!

Costa Rica is also home to tons of exotic wildlife — on the land, in the sea, and in the sky. Some of the most notable animals in Costa Rica include monkeys, sloths, jaguars, toucans, hummingbirds, parrots, sea turtles, humpback whales, and hammerhead sharks — just to name a few!


Attractions & Activities in Costa Rica vs. Hawaii

Costa Rica

Costa Rica offers the same outdoor activities you’ll find in Hawaii — but way more of them!

A woman and a man riding on surfboards in the ocean in Hawaii.
Surfing is one of the best activities to enjoy in Costa Rica and Hawaii!

Like Hawaii, Costa Rica has fabulous hiking trails, snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities, bubbling active volcanoes, stunning waterfalls, fantastic whale-watching tours, and exceptional surfing. However, there are lots of activities and attractions you can only experience in Costa Rica, like the natural hot springs near Arenal Volcano, horseback riding on Playa Hermosa, white-water rafting on the Pacure River in Puerto Viejo, and more. Costa Rica wins when it comes to adventure travel — there are tons of thrilling activities to try in Costa Rica


As we mentioned, Hawaii offers plenty of natural attractions and family-friendly activities, like snorkeling in Hanauma Bay, surfing on the North Shore, and hiking the world-famous Kalalau Trail.

Though it’s true Hawaii offers fewer adventurous activities than Costa Rica, it is an excellent destination for history lovers. On Oahu, visitors can pay a visit to Pearl Harbor National Memorial — a memorial commemorating the attack on this naval base in December 1941 during World War II. Visitors will also love attending a luau while they’re on the islands for a taste of the Polynesian culture present on Hawaii and other islands in the Pacific Ocean.

The USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
Visiting the USS Arizona Memorial is one of the best things for history buffs to do in Hawaii.

Plan Your Next Holiday to Costa Rica with Special Places of Costa Rica

Both Hawaii and Costa Rica are tropical destinations with a lot to offer, including panoramic views, beautiful beaches, and a commitment to sustainable tourism. However, if debating between either Costa Rica or Hawaii for a vacation — we think Costa Rica is the way to go. You’ll find more wildlife, national parks, and adventurous activities in this beautiful destination — and you’ll pay less to get here too!

A woman standing and overlooking Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica is the ideal vacation destination for wildlife, national parks, and adventures!

If you’re ready to plan a trip to Costa Rica, we hope you’ll plan your vacation with Special Places of Costa Rica. We offer hundreds of beachfront homes, luxury mansions, and beautiful villas in Costa Rica that will ensure a memorable stay in our gorgeous country. Browse our available rentals, and if you have any questions, please reach out to our friendly team.

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