Deciding Where To Travel: Panama, Costa Rica or Belize?

I’ve seen a lot of people ask this question on TripAdvisor and I debated a lot about this too, when I was planning my trips. Belize, Panama and Costa Rica all seem very similar especially due to their proximity to one another.

Now that I’ve been to all 3 countries, I feel more equipped to help people understand the differences and similarities amongst them, in hopes of helping people make the most informed decision.

First, if you can, don’t select amongst these three countries, and just go to all 3! That would be the ideal situation as all 3 countries are unique and brilliant places to visit. But I’m assuming you’re raising this question, because you have to pick one. So for you, below I’ve provided a quick list of common factors that people ask about to help them differentiate amongst these 3 countries, in hopes of helping and decide where to go.

Whether you’re visiting one of these countries for the 1st time, or debating about going back to one vs. exploring a new one – I think this guide will help you!

  • Most similar to one another in terms of the environment, activities, food, language, and culture: Costa Rica and Panama
  • Most touristy: Costa Rica, Belize, and Panama*
  • If I had to choose only 1 feature that makes each country unique: Costa Rica: Corcovado National Park, Panama: The Canal, Belize: ATM Cave
  • Best beaches: Costa Rica and Panama
  • Most beaches: Costa Rica
  • Most expensive: Costa Rica
  • Least expensive: Panama and Belize are pretty similar
  • Could do a day trip to another country: Costa Rica-Panama; Belize-Guatemala
  • Best snorkeling/diving: Belize, Panama, Costa Rica
  • Most vegetarian/vegan-friendly: Costa Rica, Belize, Panama
  • English-speaking: Belize (but in all touristy areas you’ll find English-speakers)
  • Easy to get to: all 3
  • Self drive safe: all 3. Do not drive at night, especially in Costa Rica and Panama.
  • Volcanoes + hot springs: Costa Rica and Panama
  • Wildlife (in the wild vs. a zoo): Costa Rica, Panama, Belize
  • Safe for solo female travelers: all 3
  • Currency is or accepts USD: Belize, Panama
  • Credit card friendly: all 3 (though some places on Caye Caulker, Belize are cash only and some activities incur additional charges if paid by credit card).
  • Best coffee in: Panama, Costa Rica, Belize
  • Best coffee tour in order: Panama, Costa Rica
  • Mayan ruins: Belize
  • 2 weeks in….Costa Rica would feel like you’ve only had a taste test; ….in Belize it might feel (for some) too long, ….in Panama it would feel just right.

*Don’t be deterred by the word touristy. Just because a place is touristy doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go. In fact it’s quite the opposite, otherwise it wouldn’t be touristy! ha!

{If You’re Looking For A Beach Holiday….}

If you envision a holiday where you can lay out on soft sand all day, then don’t go to Belize. The beaches are full of rocks and seaweed and lined with docks meant for people to hang out on the docks or use them as launch pads for ferries and snorkeling trips.

You’re better off in Tamarindo, Uvita or Manuel Antonio in Costa Rica. Or Bocas del Torro in Panama.

{If Your Focus is Snorkeling/Diving}

Go to Belize and stay on Ambergris or Caye Caulker or one of the smaller islands.


{My Costa Rica Itinerary: 12 days}

  • Fly into San Jose International Airport
  • Drive to La Fortuna (Arenal) – 3 nights
  • Drive to Monteverde – 1 night
  • Drive to Uvita – 3 nights
  • Drive to Manuel Antonio – 3 nights
  • Drive back to San Jose Airport to head home

{My Belize Itinerary: 11 days}

  • Fly to Belize City Philip Goldson Airport
  • Drive to San Ignacio – 5 nights
  • Fly to San Pedro, Ambergris Caye
  • Water taxi to Caye Caulker – 4 nights
  • Water taxi back to Belize City

{My Panama Itinerary: 14 days}

  • Fly into Panama City
  • Panama City – 2 nights
  • Boquete – 3 nights
  • Bocas del Torro – 6 nights
  • Panama City – 1 night

{Conclusion}

Costa Rica, Belize, and Panama are all beautiful and fun places to visit. You really can’t go wrong. Deciding where to go really depends on what you’re looking to do and get out of your holiday. Hopefully throughout your travels you’ll be able to visit all 3 countries and in the mean time this guide will help you determine what countries and in what order to visit them.


I hope you found this info helpful! If you end up going, I wish you a BRILLIANT time and fall in love with these 3 countries as much as I did! I really hope this article helps you prepare and get everything you need! Let me know what you thought of it! I love hearing from our readers, as well as your fun, funny, interesting, and helpful stories from your travel experiences! You might like to follow us on Facebook and Instagram too, where we share a lot of different content and images.


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Ship passing through Mira Flores Locks, Panama Canal
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Cafe Ruiz Coffee Plantation Tour, Boquete, Panama
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Zipline Boquete, Panama
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Starfish Beach, Bocas del Torro, Panama
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Arenal Volcano, La Fortuna, Costa Rica
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Up close with a Capuchin Monkey, Costa Rica
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Manuel Antonio Beach, Costa Rica
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La Fortuna Waterfall, Costa Rica
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View of Manuel Antonio
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The rare Howler Monkey, Caño Negro, Costa Rica
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Sea Turtle I spotted snorkeling at Hol Chan, Belize
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San Ignacio town, Belize
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Arrival dock on Caye Caulker, Belize
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Swim up tables at the Lazy Lizard, Caye Caulker, Belize

{About PassportPages}

I created the PassportPages travel blog, to provide nuanced, detailed travel advice, tips, and hacks for traveling all over the world — from a unique and different perspective than the other popular travel blogs. There aren’t as many travel blogs geared towards:

  • nuanced, detailed travel tips and advice
  • vegetarians/vegan travelers
  • ethnic Americans, Canadians, and others
  • petite women

{About Samta}

When I’m not traveling and/or adventuring (and even when I am), I operate my tech startup, ShaadiShop. ShaadiShop is a marketplace for Indian-friendly wedding venues in California.

During undergrad I decided to study abroad which triggered my travel passion. I lived in Adelaide, Australia for a year and after that, for the next 10 years I spent 1-2 months each year, traveling to various destinations around the globe, on my own while I managed my direct marketing company.

I think traveling solo, prepared me to become an entrepreneur – journeying into new experiences, figuring it out as I went, self-reliance, facing your fears head on, trying new things, and so much more!

Then I decided to get a Masters in Business Administration, and I met my husband. Now we travel around the globe together and often. I love backpacks, vegetarian and vegan cooking and of course planning our next trip. I’m also kinda addicted to blueberries. =p

Check in on the blog or better yet follow PassportPages to get travel info from around the world. And definitely post your questions and comments. I love hearing from our readers! Cheers!

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Samta, Founder, PassportPages

Other PassportPages articles you might like:

How to Get to Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker

Everything You Need to Know About the ATM Cave, Cayo District, Belize

Cover image: I chose this toucan image for the cover of this article because toucans are found in all 3 countries even though it’s the national bird of Belize only. And toucans are an icon of this region of the world.

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