I want to go to Costa Rica and I am considering going to Panama and Nicaragua as well. I wonder though, what will I be able to find in Panama and Nicaragua that I will not be able to find in Costa Rica? It get the impression that the landscape, the wildlife and things to do (surfing, ziplining, snorkling) are all very similar in these countries.

I would really love to see the wildlife as well as surf a little bit. I am not too interested in the culture, it is mostly nature that I am interested in. Wildlife, scubadiving, all these things interest me. Are these things significantly different in all these countries or is it mostly a price difference that occurs?

I find it preferable to have access to wifi, as I am a traveling developer. I don't mind staying in hostels but I prefer not to stay in party hostels. Would love to meet people but I prefer to rest as well.

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    When you say "what will I be able to find" what do you mean specifically? You surely don't want a list of every geographical, infrastructural, political, historical, and cultural difference. Which aspects of the countries do you wish us to contrast for you? Mar 3, 2013 at 0:17
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    Well, Panama has this thing called a canal... No seriously, the Panama Canal is something worth seeing. Mar 3, 2013 at 2:13
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    Personally I found the more interesting things in Panama to be the native Kuna culture, the Casco Viejo and Old Panama areas in the capital, and the food which was very different to all the other Central American countries. The canal was interesting but it's not easy to visit more than the one touristy spot unless you're passing through on a boat. Mar 3, 2013 at 6:26

3 Answers 3


I have been to both Panama and Costa Rica last year, and I enjoyed Panama a lot more - even though I haven't been to the most interesting parts! In general almost everything in Costa Rica is packaged - so if you go to a cloud forest, you have nice trails, prepared for all level hikers (including small children and the elderly). You get the map from the ranger, so there is no way you will get lost. You buy an "experience" from on of the tourist agents and they organize everything for you. If you want to go to a volcano, you can drive to the top and have a short stroll on a paved road the the crater, etc.

Panama feels a lot more authentic. You can actually get dirty or lost in the jungle, you can organize a few day treks, etc. People say that the most interesting places are east of the Panama Canal, but we didn't manage to get there. So even though the natural attractions seem pretty much the same, the feel is very different.

Pretty much everywhere is Panama and Costa Rica you get free wifi in the hotel, there was literally one or two places I have stayed that didn't have internet. I doubt you will get it in Darien though (although I haven't tried).

  • Just my 2¢: Yes, Costa Rica has more tourists than Panama. But it is easy to travel independently and avoid too "packaged" stuff in CR too, if you wish. (Parts of Panama (namely Bocas del Toro) actually felt less "authentic" than most places I visited in Costa Rica.)
    – Jonik
    Mar 5, 2013 at 21:08
  • People do get lost in Panama. While Panama is generally safe, some women hiking alone: on Bastimentos island, or two hiking near Boquete have gone missing, or been found raped and dead. Other hikers have gotten lost and you can wind up quite dead without any foul play. Jul 13, 2019 at 16:56

Since you stated your areas of interest clearly I can tell you what you can find in CR: Isla de Coco is one of the best diving spots in the world (a week "all inclusive" boat ride is $4000-$5000). The caribean side is wonderful for surfing and so are on the pacific, Jaco and the north. More than half the country is reserves so nature is everywhere. People are very hospitable and nice. Zip lines are all over. About Panama I know the archipelag of Bocas Del Toro and I'm going there in 3 weeks time for the second time. Nicaragua? Poor country. All in all CR is the wealthiest in Central America so you can be comfortable, but it has it's price. I live in CR so if you need more info I'll be happy to help.


I've been to Costa Rica and Nicaragua multiple times. I went to Bocas del Toro, Panama once for a few days (flight from Costa Rica) but I don't have as much experience in Panama as Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Nicaragua, like Guanacaste Costa Rica, is relatively dry compared to the wet climate you find in most of Costa Rica. I am not a surfer but I am told that San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua is a 'world class' surfing destination. Both have nice natural attractions such as volcano -- I'd particularly recommend Monteverde and Manual Antonio park in Costa Rica and Mombacho volcano and the isletas of Lake Nicaragua in Nicaragua. Costa Rica has wider biodiversity in a smaller area but you can find great wildlife in all three countries.

Nicaragua has nice towns (Granada and Leon) with old colonial architecture. Neither Costa Rica or Nicaragua's capital are very attractive for visitors. For a modern city, I hear Panama City is nice but I haven't been there personally.

Nicaragua is cheaper and safer than Panama and Costa Rica. While it's a poor country, the crime is reportedly much lower than it's neighbors. Costa Rica is more developed but yet somehow the roads seem to me to be quite a bit better in Nicaragua. The people of both Costa Rica and Nicaragua are very friendly to American and European visitors, although my wife who is Nicaraguan does not feel the Ticos (Costa Ricans) are friendly -- which may be the case in for her as the two countries have not been very close.

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