Nicaragua vs. Costa Rica

I wasn't sure this article was on topic but I have had so many people ask me for the comparision--that is, people who are considering a move--that I decided to go for it. This is opinion based on two years in Costa Rica and just a few weeks in Nicaragua. Feel free to point out where I am wacko.

My slant is that I have never been in Managua and try to never be in San Jose. I also don't want to live in a "gringo compound". My interest is in living where the locals live.

First, the similarities. I have found the people to be friendly and helpful in both countries. That is, if you are lost of looking for something they tolerate your poor Spanish and will really go out of their way to help you. Sure, there will always be some jerk somewhere but that seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

Public transport is also very similar. That is, there is an assortment of newer buses, old school buses and such. They are inexpensive to take and seem to go virtually everywhere. The major difference is that in Nicaragua they were smart enough to create bus stops where the bus can get out of the main traffic lane to pick up and let off passengers.

I also see real similarites in housing. There is more brick used in Nicaragua (locally made) whereas cement block is more common in Costa Rica but the homes tend to have small rooms and outdoor space is used for living. The main differnece is that many more rural houses in Costa Rica have cars parked in front than in Costa Rica.


Mild-mannered Ticos turn into lunatics when in a car. They pass on blind curves, have to beat you to the next light, cut in everywhere and try to run over every human being, dog or cat in the street. Sorry to say this but it is absolutely true. IN addition, there are too many cars for the available roads and parking spaces in the cities.

Nicaragua is so different. First, there are just less cars per capita so the car problem is reduced. For example, in Estelí I parked on the street next to a bank (there are three banks on one cornner) in the middle of the afternoon. In Alajuela which has a similar population, you would have trouble weaving past the illegially parked vehicles just to get to a parking lot a few blocks away from the bank.

More important, it seems that pedestrians actually have some rights. Or, at least some respect. I found myself jumping out of the way of an oncoming car in Estelí just to have the car stop and wave we across in front of him. I would use the Seattle vs. Boston comparision for anyone familiar with those two cities.

There are more paved roads in Costa Rica but there are a lot more cars. The result is that the roads are much more crowded and the road surfaces tend to have more potholes that Seattle. Well, actually, it is about the same number as Seattle but in Costa Rica it is not uncommon for a pothole to be from 1 to 5 feet deep.


Ticos (and, more important, Ticas) consider themselves snappy dressers. I see my gardener put on his best shirt and pants, shine his shoes and slick down his hair in order to go into town to pay his water bill. But, in many cases, I find the dress amusing. For example, it seems that wearing a bra two sizes too small is a fashion statement as is wearing a red bra under a blue blouse or a bra with straps under a strapless top. Also, for women, an exposed navel is almost a requirement. This really struck home when I saw an evening gown competition in a beauty pagent and the representative from Costa Rica had an evening gown that exposed her navel.

The only cities in Nicaragua I spent a reasonable amount of time in are Rivas, Matagalpa and Estelí. In all three cities I saw what I would call more normal dress. That is, poor people had clean but worn clothes on and those with more money had nicer clothes. But, they just looked like clothes.


In either country, imported goods are expensive. Ok, let me qualify that. If the product is imported from the U.S. or Europe it will be as expensive as at the source plus shipping and duty. No surprise there. There are, however, importers of goods from China, for example, that have reasonable prices. For example, a compact flouresent light bulb made in China but imported into the U.S. and put in a box that says GE might cost $10 but, in CR or Nicaragua, a similar product imported directly from China might only cost $2.

In either country you can also go into a supermarket and see marked up prices. The real win is if you can buy directly from the producer. Locally grown fruit and vegetables cost close to nothing in either country.

Labor costs are a big difference. I pay my maid 500 colones/hour which is about $1.20. I friend of mine in Nicaragua says that is about what he pays his maid per day. An example I offered on the Nicaragua Living list a while back had to do with someone who wanted a table cloth. Well, what you might be looking for in a plastic package with a label will be expensive if you can find it. However, if you think of a table cloth as a piece of fabric, cut to the size of your table and with the edges hemmed, you can see how adding $1.25 hour in Costa Rica or $1.25/day in Nicaragua to produce that product can make a big difference.

One final note. The biggest difference I see is that Costa Rica has been marketed a lot, Nicaragua has not. Thus, you see ads telling you that you can stay at the Hampton Inn in Costa Rica for only $70/night and that sounds like a real bargain. On the other hand, if you shop locally, you might find a perfectly good room in the same area in Costa Rica for $25 or in Nicaragua for $10.

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Jajajaja "lol" like you say

Dear friends

Of course, in Costa Rica, that people turn crazy in the car. That same happen with me. I am a Tico. Something similar I hear about the people from Seattle (especial people. I really want to visit that place ), by now I found awesome people from other states, mainly Colorado and Florida, each place have beautiful things. I have friends from Nicaragua as well. I do not think that Ticos and Nicas should to said if one country is better or not (that is really fully), the most important is that the persons are different don’t matter where they come from, and all must to be working for our respective countries, nothing else matter. Sometimes I wish kill to many persons from my country mainly when I am driving, jajajaaj. That is true we do not have extra space in the routs, one time I went to Nicaragua I saw and they have less car it is correct. It is really annoy the amount of car in CR, that’s happened by two reasons, I guess, first it is that we got a lot cars from Korea. That was 10 years ago, old cars with more than 20 years, the poor people are available to buy them and then they are going to the stretts and this is helping to turn all be crazy. Second, once the bank were opened, all the private banks from abroad (Canada, US, Nicaragua as well, Europe) offered credits, and right now there are a lot people who are driving cars provided by banks. If CR stole something from Nicaragua, I don’t know and it don’t matter. I not was there to say if is true or not, the history is for people who really study history (which is really cool). The true is the CR holds a better promotion (a stupid culture of buy things) and tourism, and the nicaraguans need to learn a little about us, and do not vote again for people who really want their beautiful country. With the best regards.


I liked your "pedestrians in Seattle or Boston" analogy. On the west coast one pedsstrian can hold up ten autos while he takes his time crossing the street while back East it is acceptable to chase the pedestrians right up onto the sidewalk.

Kids back East grew up that way, they can jaywalk without getting hurt but West Coast kids never learn these tricks they just stick out their arm and then walk. Then their parents wonder why the death rate is higher in the west.

nicaragua vs. costa rica

The real difference would be the people. I have found that the Ticos in Costa Rica are less sincere. Nicas are sincere.Night and day . Our favorite saying here is if you want to have a million dollars in CR take two million with you.After a while you will have a million.Visiting there is fine. Trying to business there is almost certian that you will loose. Opposite in Nicalandia. Costa Rica is high taxes and a socialist state. (I am left of Gorbachev)Nicalandia is opposite.No tax enforcement.Can tell you a lot about that. Although roads are much better than Costa Rica,and improving all the time,there is less infrastructure because of the inability of the government to get respect from the people. No one voluntarially tells them anything.The infrastructure concerning the government ability to know your every detail almost does not exist here.This is a free country still. On the other side of that coin,schools suffer,infrastructure suffers,welfare state from other countries mostly Holland,germany and Japan who have been very generous. Statistics are not to be believed here. No concept or infrastructure to gather accurately.

Costa Rica vs Nicaragua

The 5 years i lived in Costa Rica,i lived them like a tico.I am French-Canadian but i speak totally spanish like the ticos because i went to an public school in Sardinal,Guanacaste,and i personnally think that ticos are more friendly then Nicas.My opinion is based on the fact that i went to Nicaragua severals times and i have a lot of friends from Nicaragua (even our maid was Nicaraguan)They are the sweestest peoples but ticos are more could i say that....they accept you like they family right away.In Playas Del Coco the whole town use to treat me like theirs and they still do even if i left .I got a lot of problems with certains Nicas because not all of them ....!!!but somes stole from us and disrespected us.Never a tico did that to me.....Nicas did .Aint judging im just saying.Plus,when we went to Nicaragua (by that way its beautiful)peoples used to stare at us so bad because they taught we were Ticas and they have beef with them.Anyways I think that ticos are so much friendly and HONEST peoples. that my point


Before I even came up to Nicaragua, the comment that Ticos are friendlier than Nicas was something I was commonly told. After living both places I see it much like saying people in Seattle are friendlier than people in New York or Italians are friendlier than Germans.

For me, it is not friendly/not friendly. It has more to do with efficiency. In Costa Rica I would end up in a (long) bank line where the teller would chat before getting down to business. Here, people just seemed more willing to "get down to business".

On a personal level, I find people at least in Estelí more willing to chat and with more depth. But, in work situations, they seem to be more efficient/willing to get down to business.

Of course, you lived in the part of Costa Rica that was stolen from Nicaragua. :-)

Costa Rica NEVER stole any

Costa Rica NEVER stole any place from Nicaragua. You should read more and inform yourself better before you make those comments. Its insulting to both Nicaraguans and Costaricans.

An "Exchange" not a theft.

Partido de Nicoya wanted to leave NIC and become CR. It was annexed by CR and became Guanacaste Province. In exchange (and at that time), CR gave up her claims to sovereignty over the San Juan River and the Canal Route.

"Costa Rica NEVER stole any

"Costa Rica NEVER stole any place from Nicaragua. You should read more and inform yourself better before you make those comments. Its insulting to both Nicaraguans and Costaricans."

Costa Rica stole the recipe for gallo pinto and then screwed it up by using those odd-tasting black beans instead of real red beans. Then they dump salsa Lizano all over it which totally ruins what's left of the flavour.

Friendly, but how secure?

Mt girlfriend moved from Nic to CR 6 years ago for what she says is a better life. I live in Florida and am planning to retire early and re-locate. While it's general knowledge that real estate and the overall cost of living is less in Nic than in CR I do have some concerns regarding personal safety. I read an on line diary of a couple who travelled around the world and finished the last leg of thier tour bicycling to Canada from Central America. The stories of being accosted in Nic as well as other countries, notably sothern Mexico were pretty scarey. My other concern is political. If Daniel Ortega forms a new government what should landowners, especially retirees from "capitalist" countries expect. I wouldn't want my property nationalized.

No worries

If you refrain from riding bicycles in rural areas you'll be safer than the couple you read about. I wouldn't do that anywhere in the world.

When Hillary wins the US presidency there will be a strong alliance forged with the Castro, Morales, Chavez and Ortega governments so no worries :-)

Dam John

you ARE a true trouble maker you should bite your lips for that one...

MA is still in the dark ages...

Lyin' Farmer John Wayne


People don't really know the history of Nicoya! Nicaragua is a better country than Costa Rica. Costa Rica Has a big advantage because it's a white country. Nicaragua has culturas and also more history!!! From Ruben Dario to Agusto C. Sandino to the Sandinista!!! We Have so much to tell about Nicaragua History. Yes we are a poor country. Nicaragua is beautiful, But we had a big earth quake that really hurt the city and also the economy. Just think about it, Nicaragua is so much better than costa rica. Viva Nicaragua!!!!!!!!!!!

Nicas #1

Thats very true Nicaragu has so much history and so much culture and bautifull places to visit and bomb ass food but its rich history really makes it better than costa rica we be poor but we still better than Costa Rica

History, culture, my way and your way...wish is better?

Differences are beautiful ... in fact without them there would make sense for the traveler to know new places and cultures because everything would be just the same ... Think that a country is better than another for story is risky, since the impact of that history in the aftermath of the form and context of life of those who inherit it is difficult to estimate, to what parameters, to what events? Why many and many Nicaraguan crossed the border into Costa Rica in search of better economic opportunities and health and never returned to Nicaragua? Why in Nicaragua has not been the political will of their rulers ... (Especially Sandinistas) to create through a joint effort and effective centralized institutions for people's health and economic protection for the poor? Because their politic leaders have promoted, , that many Nicaraguans (in amounts as if they were victims of war) poor people y, hunger and lack of social support programs in economics and health, cross the border into Costa Rica (the Most illegally) desperately looking for are not on their land. The assistance that Costa Rica has had to make a humane manner, taking large numbers of patients in their Social Security and providing jobs for Nicaraguans who settle in our territory, it has become unbalanced very own services to Costa Ricans, but they have been given what they did not found in his country and has always been the history of Nicaragua from Somoza to Ortega. Some nicaraguan media misinform the general public because they serve the Ortega government, but are more than 990,000 Nicaraguans living here with us and will not return to Nicaragua ... why is that?

Costa Rica vs Nicaragua. Really?

Anybody that engages in this kind of arguments is a bit of a fool. So I will also play the part too. Not to claim that Nicaragua, since I'm a Nica, is better than Costa Rica. I don't know enough about Costa Rica, it's people, history, culture and the land and cities to say that it's not as good as Nicaragua. On the other hand even with my awareness about everything that could make anybody not like where one comes from, in my case Nicaragua, because of the good things that are there, even in small quantities or just the memories of better days makes Nicaragua the place I am yearning to go back to. Not because is better than ----------- fill in the blank. It is true that there are many Nicas living in Costa Rica and many are not coming back. You ask why is that? One answer will not do. Unfortunately we have gone through a long stretch of one bad situation after another, to put it mildly. In my lifetime, starting at age 10, one earthquake that destroyed the capital, followed by on your face corruption of Somoza and his clan. That brought us the revolution, although necessary , the aftermath was the Contra war, add to the mix more corruption from those in power and the regular natural disaster that are made worse by the negligence of the government to do what's right it's no wonder that many of us are living abroad. That things are better outside of Nicaragua it depends who you ask. Some would say yes, others will say no. Personally, as I said in another post, things could and should be better in Nicaragua. I am at the point where no matter how things are, better or worse, I will be going back to Nicaragua. I wish the same for all the Nicas living in Costa Rica or any other place. There is no place like home. Think about it: Solo hay un lugar que el cerdo quiera mas que el chiquero, su chiquero - there is but one place a pig loves more than a sty, it's own sty. Good for Costa Rica that's been able to sustain a more stable, peaceful and prosperous way of life than it's neighbors. Your history, culture, landscapes and people in my humble opinion are different than mine but just as good as mine. Saludos.

Costa Rica

Some people compare Costa Rica/Nicaragua vis-à-vis USA/Mexico relationship on the immigration issue. Less pushback today than was ten years ago in both countries but both countries have debate of the large and unknown number of immigrants. As a percentage Nicas make up huge slice of Costa Rica with probably 700,000 and probably more at harvest time. There is fear by some in USA will look like Mexico in future, and Costa Rica will look more like Nicaragua.

The main difference I see is the stable capital city San Jose which keeps the country honest to more of a degree than Nicaragua. Much of this has to do with the foreigners who reside in San Jose, now almost 200,000. They have made life better for Costa Ricans and have great influence in the courts and the government.

"providing jobs for Nicaraguans who settle in our territory"

Were they created for them? In a way yes, the Nicas doing the work that the Ticos didn't want to or now realized that they didn't have to, a knock on effect and a moving up for some Ticos as the Nicas came in and took the harder labor jobs and still made 2 or 3 times the going rate in Nicaragua for the same job, and more to the point actually had one.

So nothing was provided in the sense of generosity, it was a good way of actually getting the coffee picked and houses cleaned. Add in the hiring of illegals and not paying health benefits, minimum wage etc (yet the Nica was still doing well) and then add in some occasonal employer abuse that the employee couldn't do much about, and a clearer picture develops of what was 'provided'.

The reason we have this sibling rivalry between two brother CA countries is the 'have and have not culture' a bit like Managua elite versus a lot of the rest of Nicaragua.

It's entrenched now, my brother in law and sister in law are 'Ticos' now after a dozen or so years in CR, they have nothing to come back to. The yearning in the heart is not as strong as Zapoyol. I think because they live close to the same style as we do here but better enough not to miss anything. They have everything that is, was and could be good again about Nicaragua. Until its equal again or better up here, they will stay there.

I'm in too

I agree with you in the long run...but in some part you forgot to leave another blank to fill up..

"That brought us the revolution, although necessary , the aftermath was_________________________________________and then the Contra war, add to the mix more corruption from....."

"To be Fair and balanced ."

PS: please don't attack me for use the right wing evil slogan..

Also, for women

I do miss the bare midriffs worn (almost) everywhere. My dentist had a little trick, before she would inject the anesthetic her assistant standing opposite would jiggle the suction device in the corner of my mouth, I'd glance over to see her bare abdomen at eye level, then up to see this big, warm smile, and the needle would slide in completely unnoticed. "What the hell just happened??"

San Jose is also full of beautiful women, some Ticas, but also women from Columbia, Rubios from Venezuela, and from other countries as well, working in the well-managed sex trade.

Certainly not for everyone, but it probably brings in more Euros and Dollars than all of Nicaragua's tourism combined.

I love the San Jose taxi drivers, the craziest I've ever rode with. Curbs, sidewalks, people, nothing gets in their way.

My problem with CR is: There is no adventure left. It's a developed country. You might as well stay in the US.. Nicaragua is still unexplored.