During my year-long trip through South and Central America, I travelled to several countries. While some countries captured my heart, others didn’t quite live up to the hype.
I spent seven weeks in Colombia and almost a month in Costa Rica. As I hopped around and listened to stories, one country stood out more to me—Colombia.
So, I made a list to explain why I think Colombia is a great choice. If you’re not sure where to go, Colombia might surprise you! This captivating country has so much to offer and deserves a closer look!
Keep reading if this is something that interests you.
For me, Costa Rica didn’t live up to the hype
Over the years, Costa Rica grew in popularity and, nowadays is one of the top travel destinations in Central America.
Everybody I know wanted to or has already been to Costa Rica.
Furthermore, everyone I met suggested I go to Costa Rica during my 1y of travelling in Latin America. So, I listened to the advice and went.
While I cannot say bad things about Costa Rica, in fact, I wrote quite a few good things about the country as a result of my trip there. I must say that Colombia proved to be much better than Costa Rica, at least for me.
And here is why:
These are the 8 reasons why I think you should choose Colombia for your next trip instead of Costa Rica:
Colombia is far more affordable than Costa Rica
Most long-term travellers include Latin America in their itinerary because it is affordable. Yet, a few Latin American countries can be expensive (to the point where prices are not far from European prices). Costa Rica is one of those countries. I was surprised to discover how expensive Costa Rica can be for foreigners. In 2023, some meal prices were similar to German prices.
Costa Rica was the first country I travelled to during my gap year in Latin America, and after almost 1 month in the country, I got scared that I might run out of money sooner than planned if all my next destinations were as expensive as Costa Rica.
When I arrived in Colombia, I was shocked again. This time, by how affordable this country (still) is. If I were to compare, I would say Colombia can be even 50% less expensive than Costa Rica. That’s a huge advantage for travellers as they can travel for longer and spend less.
To put things into perspective, in 3,5 weeks in Costa Rica, I spent 1,075£. In 7 weeks in Colombia, I only spent 1,181£.
When it comes down to affordability, Colombia is by far more affordable than Costa Rica.
Massive Tourism pushed the prices up in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is so expensive because of massive tourism. Unfortunately, tourists pushed the prices up. To take advantage of the situation, Costa Rican hostel owners and tour agencies calculate everything in US dollars, which pushes the prices higher.
On the other hand, Colombia is still relatively new to international tourism. I was talking to tour guides, and they told me that it’s only been a few years since people started considering Colombia as their travel destination.
Therefore, Colombia is still way more affordable than Costa Rica, although cities, where large communities of travellers/digital nomads are based (e.g. Medellin), are already becoming more expensive.
The Colombian Peso is weaker than the Costa Rican Colon
Another reason why Colombia is more affordable than Costa Rica is the advantageous currency exchange (especially for Europeans, the UK etc.).
The Colombian Peso is weaker than the Costa Rican colon, making it cheaper for Europeans, Brits, North Americans, and Australians to travel to Colombia.
In my case, for every £1, I got 5,000 Colombian Pesos, but only 663 Costa Rican Colones. So, my money stretched further in Colombia.
Because the Colombian Peso is weaker than the Costa Rican Colon, I ended up spending less money in Colombia than I spent in Costa Rica.
Also, the Colombian Peso is weaker even when compared to the Costa Rican Colon. So even a Costa Rican travelling to Colombia would find Colombia more affordable than his country.
At the time of writing this blog post, 1 Costa Rican Colon buys 7 Colombian Pesos.
In conclusion, Colombia is more affordable than Costa Rica, making it an excellent destination for budget travellers who still want to get a taste of Latin America but don’t have a large budget available to spend.
Colombia’s natural beauty competes with Costa Rica’s
Costa Rica built its reputation of being one of the most nature-friendly countries out there. The entire tourism strategy in Costa Rica is built around its local fauna and flora. While this is great and something I appreciated in Costa Rica, Colombia can compete with Costa Rica when it comes to natural beauty.
Colombia’s natural landscape is surprisingly diverse. From stunning beaches, breathtaking natural parks, amazing valleys, and gorgeous waterfalls to authentic fauna and even amazing deserts, this country has it all.
Let’s find out which are the most beautiful natural beauties in Colombia.
The Caribbean Colombian Coast & Tayrona National Park
Cartagena and Santa Marta are the most popular coastal cities where you can enjoy the best beaches in the country. Santa Marta is also known for being close to one of the most beautiful natural parks, Tayrona National Park.
Tayrona Natural Park is an area of outstanding beauty, famous for its pristine beaches, but also for its gorgeous hiking paths.
If you want to know more about the Colombian coast, in particular about Cartagena and Santa Marta, as well as what other activities are available in the region, I wrote a blog post about these two cities:
The Valley of Cocora & Salento
The Valley of Cocora is another natural wonder Colombia is lucky to have. The valley is a unique place in Colombia renowned for its stunning beauty. The region is known for its coffee farms since most of the Colombian coffee is produced in this part of the country.
What’s distinctive about the Cocora Valley are the insanely tall palm trees. They are so famous they’ve even inspired Disney and got featured in the Encanto Movie.
The region is mostly famous for hiking activities, but also horseriding activities, biking and coffee farm tours.
Salento is the heart of the region. Salento is this typical, colourful Colombian village where you can base yourself if you plan to explore the Valley of Cocora. It’s super animated day and night and can come across as quite touristy, but it is very pretty and should be missed if you are around.
The Tatacoa Desert
Another natural beauty is the Tatacoa desert. The desert is quite peculiar as it is called a desert, but in fact, it is a dry, tropical forest.
The most stunning area is the red desert due to its colour and rock formations. I wrote a full blog post about my experience hiking the Tatacoa Desert. If you want to learn more, I invite you to have a look at this blog post.
These are just a handful of natural beauties Colombia hosts. There are many more natural beauties people can choose to explore when they visit Colombia.
As you can see, Costa Rica’s lush green rainforest has some serious competition because Colombia is as beautiful (or even more).
Ticos are fun to be around, but Colombians have music in their blood
Tico(for male)/Tica(for female) is what Costa Ricans like to call themselves.
I was told Costa Ricans were nicknamed tico/tica by a Mexican. The nickname became so famous that everyone adopted it, and nowadays Costa Ricans go by the name of Ticos.
Ticos are fun to be around. They are welcoming and ready to help you. At least, this was my experience as a solo female traveller in Costa Rica. I can sum up my time in Costa Rica as pura vida-a famous say Costa Ricans use to greet you among other things.
Yet, upon arriving in Colombia I came across something I did not notice that much in Costa Rica, and that was people’s love for music.
Everyone sings in Colombia. As someone who grew up in Europe, arriving at the hotel reception and witnessing the receptionist signing during their working hours was both mind-blowing and entertaining. But it is not only the receptionist who sings. Everyone else does it. Whether is the cashier, the Uber driver or the street vendor, the Colombians’ love for music is contagious.
Below is a video with fun moments I captured in Colombia when people were either listening to music or dancing & singing.
View this post on Instagram
It was such a cool vibe to go around the city and see everyone mumbling their favourite song. It is one of my fondest memories of Colombia. And one of the reasons why I believe this country is such a great place to discover.
So, if you have a thing for music, especially Colombian rhythms like salsa, and el ballenato, you should consider Colombia. I’m sure you will find it as entertaining as I did.
Colombia is a safe travel destination for solo female travellers
Despite its reputation, Colombia is safe. OK, robberies can still happen, but assaults are rare. Most of the bad things can usually happen at parties where yes, you can be given drugs and Colombians can try to steal from you. During my time in Colombia, I met 2 Europeans who were robbed at parties.
But, at the same time, I also met people who also went out in Colombia and their experiences were problem-free. I am not saying you should not go out in Colombia. Just be careful what type of parties you go to. If you ask me, I believe you need to go with what your gut tells you. There will always be signs to tell you it’s time to leave.
During the daytime, Colombia is pretty safe.
Again, one must take care of their belongings. Colombians have a saying “no dar papaya” which translates to not putting yourself in danger.
If you keep showing off your phone, or other valuable items, chances are you will attract the bad type of attention, and someone can try to steal it.
At night, things do change. Some places are safer than others. In big cities, you can have neighbourhoods that are safe at night while some are not.
For example, Salento was perfectly safe to be out at night. Big cities like Medellin or Cali are not that safe at night (at least some areas are not). I wrote a more in-depth blog post about the 2 cities, including which areas I found to be the safest and the least safe ones.
Catcalling in Colombia
Catcalling is not a thing in Colombia. I must say that I have experienced more catcalling in Costa Rica and Panama than in Colombia.
As a solo female traveller, I felt relieved to not have to deal with catcalling anymore. If you ask me, I think catcalling is more common in Central America than it is in South America because since arriving in Colombia, I have not experienced catcalling anymore.
In conclusion, Colombia is a safe country for solo female travellers as long as you use your common sense and do not expose yourself too much by going to dodgy parties or showing off your valuable items.
Colombian cities are much more worth visiting than Costa Rican cities
There is no doubt that Colombia has better cities than Costa Rica. It is understandable since Colombia is bigger than Costa Rica.
The cities in Colombia are more interesting to visit and offer more entertainment options for tourists. The cities in Costa Rica feel more like small towns. The most interesting ones are, in my opinion, the coastal cities. The in-land cities in Costa Rica don’t offer too much to do.
Which capital city is better?
If I compare Bogota with San Jose, the Colombian capital is definitely a winner over its smaller rival. There is so much more to do in Bogota than you can do in San Jose. While you won’t need more than 2 days in San Jose because it is small, Bogota could easily take a week, just to do the bare minimum.
The same applies to other bigger Colombian cities like Medellin, where you will need at least a week to get a feel of the city.
You won’t need that much time to visit any Costa Rican city. They are pretty small, and you would only want to spend more time somewhere if you are by the beach. Or you are next to a natural park. For example, you could stay several days in La Fortuna because it is close to a couple of natural wonders like the Arenal Volcano, the hot springs or the Fortuna Waterfall. But the city itself doesn’t have much to offer except for food and souvenir shops.
Colombian cities are much more aesthetically pleasant than Costa Rican cities. I will say it. Colombian cities are much nicer looking than Costa Rican cities. You can visit Cartagena which is such a colourful city, full of colonial architecture and historical sights. Alongside Cartagena, travellers also enjoy Medellin, Bogota, Cali, Santa Marta, Barranquilla and even smaller towns like the very touristy Salento. Costa Rican cities cannot compete against this.
Colombian cities and smaller towns are simply more vibrant, more beautiful and offer more entertainment options for travellers & tourists than Costa Rican cities and towns.
Nothing can beat a Colombian Arepa
It is only in Colombia that you will find the famous snack even Disney mentioned in one of their movies (Encanto). I will be honest, most of the food in Central & and South America seemed pretty similar to me (I’ll have to apologise if I offended anyone with my comment). There are no big differences between Colombian and Costa Rican dishes.
Most of the national dishes in Latin America (including Colombian and Costa Rican ones) consist of some meat (including different types of fish), rice, fresh salad and fried plantain. You do have variations where you might get extra things like yuca, mango salads, red kidney beans, etc. Also, the most common on-the-go food item/snack is the empanada, which is usually filled with meat, veggies, and cheese.
Yet, while empanadas are something you will find in almost every country in this part of the world, arepas are known to be Colombian. And you rarely find it outside the country, unless you find a Colombian restaurant that actually has them on the menu.
I enjoyed areas much more than empanadas, so for me, nothing can beat a Colombian arepa, not even the best Costa Rican empanada. Are you team empanada or arepa? Which one did you like more and why?
Colombia has better flight connections with Europe than Costa Rica
The best way to fly from Europe to Latin America is usually via Spain, and sometimes via Portugal and the UK. For the sake of this example, I will choose Spain since based on my research proved to be the best country in Europe to fly to Latin America. By looking up flights from Spain to Colombia and Costa Rica, I noticed a few things.
When looking up flights (6 months in advance) from Spain to Colombia and Costa Rica, a flight from Spain to Colombia is, on average 80£ cheaper than a flight from Spain to Costa Rica.
You have more direct flights from Spain to Colombia than from Spain to Costa Rica. Direct flights from Spain to Costa Rica (starting at 591£) are more expensive than direct flights from Spain to Colombia (starting at 328£).
Something else that I noticed and also went through myself when I flew to Latin America from Spain is that most one-stop flights from Spain to Costa Rica have their stop in Colombia (Bogota). My flight from Spain had a 7-hour stop in Bogota before flying further to Costa Rica (my final destination).
For the sake of this example, I used Skyscanner and looked up one-way flights. I looked up flights from Europe because this is where I am from. Prices may vary if you are from somewhere else.
In conclusion, not only Colombia is more affordable to fly to from Europe. Colombia also has better and more affordable flight connections with Europe than Costa Rica has.
I found it easier to make friends in Colombia than in Costa Rica
While both countries are popular tourist destinations, Costa Rica seems to be preferred by retired people and families with children, while Colombia seems to attract younger travellers and digital nomads type of people. As I am at that stage in my life, I preferred Colombia because I found more people who were my type here than I found in Costa Rica.
If you are a solo traveller, perhaps you are even a digital nomad roaming the world and want somewhere cool to stay, somewhere you can make new friends, I would recommend Colombia over Costa Rica. The preferred place for digital nomads in Colombia is Medellin. I was surprised to come across so many people staying in the city/interested in staying in Medellin for longer because it seems to offer everything they need.
If you want to know more about Medellin, I wrote a blog post about it. I have a dedicated section where I discuss why this city is the new hotspot for digital nomads.
So, if you are looking for a place where you can make new friends easily and even base yourself for a few months (most passport holders are allowed to stay in the country for up to 90 days visa-free), I would say Colombia is a much better option than Costa Rica.
Final Thoughts on Colombia or Costa Rica: Why Colombia Should Be Your Top Choice!”
After my travelling experience in Colombia and Costa Rica, I feel that Colombia has much more to offer than Costa Rica. The country has overcome a rough past, and perhaps this is what makes Colombia so special.
Nowadays, the country is becoming a hot spot for digital nomads and travellers due to its affordability, friendliness towards foreigners and unspoiled nature.