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 laid-back, friendly, and happy people. A nation whose official language is Spanish, but where large portions of the populations speak English, Bribri, creole Mekatelyu, 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 of great importance.
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 one of the oldest democracies in Latin America, having avoided many of the political problems in the region in the 1970s and 1980s.
- Costa Rica has a population of just under 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. In fact, Catholicism is the official religion and impacts laws including the prohibition on both abortion and the death penalty, as well as the requirement that students take religion classes.
- Less than 1 percent of Costa Rica’s population is of indigenous ancestry, and around 94 percent of Costa Ricans have some of primarily European heritage.
- Spanish is the official language of Costa Rica. However, immigration (both recent and early 20th century) has meant that English is spoken natively by many people on both coasts, particularly on the Caribbean side.
- Costa Rica has a literacy rate of 97.8 percent, one of the highest in the world.
- Famous Costa Ricans include a Nobel Peace Prize winner (Oscar Arias), an astronaut (Franklin Chang), and one of the best goalies in the world (Keylor Navas of Real Madrid).
Flora and Fauna
- There are more than 34,000 species of insects in Costa Rica, as well as more than 20,000 species of spider.
- Costa Rica is home to more than ten 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
- The nickname for Costa Ricans is “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 coffee (café) will be known as a cafecito (little coffee), and so on. This little language quirk 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 are not regularly used in Costa Rica. In general, addresses are given in terms of distance from a local landmark. For example, the Costa Rican Vacations office has the following address: 100 meters west and 50 meters north of the main entrance to the National Stadium. it definitely is complicated for visitors, but Ticos themselves get around just fine!
- Every town, no matter how small, has a church, a soccer field, and a pulpería (corner 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 “María.” “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 one of the highest literacy rates in Latin America.
- The local liquor in Costa Rica is called “guaro” and is made from sugar cane. It is best enjoyed with slices of mandarin limes, a local citrus with a truly unique flavor.
There is plenty more to learn about Costa Rica—all it takes is a visit to find out!
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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.
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