About Costa Rica
The happiest country in the world; a paradise for peace and biodiversity; a green beacon for environmental stewardship—Costa Rica is a country of many accolades. But Costa Rica’s history and culture extend far beyond the reach of international recognition. The small, Central American nation is home to incredible biodiversity and rich cultures, a passion for freedom, and a history of democracy, equality and education for all.
Costa Rican culture is a vibrant blend of indigenous heritage and Spanish colonial influence, with a dash of Jamaican, Chinese and other immigrant cultures lending character and customs. The result is a nation of faithful, friendly and happy people. A nation whose official language is Spanish, but where large portions of the populations speak English, Bribri, creole Maketelyu and Mandarin Chinese as their first languages. A nation proud to be without an army (Costa Ricans disbanded their armed forces in 1949). A nation with a long history of public services, including education and healthcare, available to all. A nation proud to share its cultural riches.
Facts About Costa Rica
Simple statistics cannot do justice to Costa Rica’s friendly people, stunning terrain, rich lands and long history. But the facts do paint a colorful picture of this Central American nation, where democracy has prevailed for more than 60 years, Catholicism is the state religion, the government is stable, and the environment is paramount.
Before you book your Costa Rica vacation, why not brush up on this handy list of facts?
- Costa Rica is around the same size as Lake Michigan, and slightly smaller than West Virginia.
- The U.S. is roughly 181 times larger than Costa Rica.
- Costa Rica has more than 800 miles of coastline.
- The highest mountain in Costa Rica, Cerro Chirripo, stands at 3,810 meters above sea level.
- Although not all of them are active, Costa Rica has around 200 volcanoes.
- Costa Rica is home to approximately 5 percent of the world’s biodiversity, but only occupies around 0.3 percent of the planet’s surface.
- Poas Volcano in central Costa Rica has the second-largest volcanic crater in the world.
- Noted explorer Christopher Columbus first visited what is now Costa Rica in 1502.
- Spanish colonists first established a permanent presence in Costa Rica in 1563.
- After a short-lived civil war, Costa Rica’s constitution was passed in 1949.
- Costa Rica hasn’t had a national army since 1948.
- Costa Rica has a population of just over 5 million people—a little more than half the population of New York City.
- Religion plays an important role in Costa Rica’s culture, with approximately 76 percent of Costa Ricans identifying as Catholic.
- Less than 1 percent of Costa Rica’s population is of indigenous ancestry, and around 94 percent of Costa Ricans are of European heritage.
- Spanish and English are the two most commonly spoken languages in Costa Rica.
- Costa Rica has a literacy rate of 97.8 percent, one of the highest in the world.
Flora and Fauna
- There are more than 34,000 species of insect in Costa Rica, and more than 20,000 species of spider.
- Costa Rica is home to more than 10 percent of all the species of butterfly in the world.
- Costa Rica has around 615 species of animal per 10,000 square miles. By comparison, the U.S. has 104.
- Certain species of crocodile, many of which can be found in Costa Rica’s rivers, can measure up to 16 feet in length.
Costa Rica Trivia
- Costa Ricans refer to themselves as “Ticos”. This is because of the habit in Spanish of using the diminutive, and that at a much higher rate than most other Spanish speaking countries. For example, “perro” (dog) will be known as “perrito” (little dog), no matter how big it is! A banana (banano) will be known as a bananito (little banana), and so on. This little language quirk sounds delightful and gives the Ticos their nickname!
- Costa Rica has over 25% of its land area protected as either a national park or wildlife reserve. This is the largest percentage of territory protected out of any other country in the world.
- Street names do not exist in Costa Rica. Everything is counted in distance from a local landmark. For example, the Costa Rican Vacations office is addressed like this: 100 meters west and 50 meters north of the main entrance to the National Stadium. Go figure!
- Every town, no matter how small, has a church, a soccer pitch and a pulperia (small store). All churches face west in Costa Rica, which is extremely helpful when finding your way around due to the lack of street names!
- In Costa Rican taxis, the meter is called the “Maria”. This is a reference to the honesty of the Virgin Mary and also the taxi driver. “Toca la Maria, por favor!”
- McDonald’s are found in Costa Rica. No big deal, you say? Here they actually deliver to your home!!
- In Costa Rica you’ll hear the expression “pura vida” a lot. And I mean a LOT! Pura vida is used for everything, from hello to goodbye to just showing appreciation. Pura vida is Costa Rica in a nutshell!
- The staple diet in Costa Rica is rice and beans. These two basics combine to create probably the greatest breakfast in the world, “gallo pinto”. Gallo pinto is a source of national pride in both Costa Rica and neighboring Nicaragua, with both countries claiming the dish as their own.
- In the spirit of “pura vida”, Costa Rica abolished its army in 1949, saying that they would create “an army of teachers” instead. Decades later, Costa Rica has a literacy rate of 96%, one of the highest in Latin America.
- The local firewater in Costa Rica is called “guaro” and is made from sugar cane. Very inexpensive and coming in plastic bottles, it’s best avoided if you don’t like crushing hangovers!
There is plenty more to learn about Costa Rica—all it takes is a visit to find out!
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Costa Rica isn’t particularly renowned for its art and has throughout history remained a viewer more than a creator. However as appreciators of the arts, Costa Rican government organizations usually put great care into the...
Roman Catholicism is the official, traditional, and dominant religion in Costa Rica. How did it take hold here and are there other religions practiced in the country? Find out.
Semana Santa, or Easter Holy Week, is a major Catholic holiday celebrated the world over. Costa Rica is no exception. Traditions run deep during this special week for Ticos (Costa Ricans), and everyone enjoys their much anticipated...
Costa Rica has been home to several indigenous tribes for thousands of years, but the arrival of the Spanish and the country's subsequent colonization were among the most defining events in the nation's history.