Ticos — The People of Costa Rica
Each year Costa Rica receives a lot of tourists from all around the world. They come to visit the amazing beaches, spectacular mountains, impressive volcanoes and fascinating wildlife. What tourists probably don’t know about Costa Ricans is who they are and their impact on the world.
Who are Ticos?
With European, Afro-Caribbean and South American influences, Costa Rica has become a true cultural melting pot. With over 4 million inhabitants, the country’s ethnic pool is mostly conformed by mestizos, castizos and criollos, as well as expats from all over the world, including the United States, Canada, Europe and South American countries like Colombia and Venezuela. Even if the country’s official language is Spanish, several native languages like Bribrí are spoken by indigenous groups. Modern-day Costa Ricans—or Ticos as they like to refer to themselves—do not consider their nationality an ethnicity, but a citizenship with various ethnicities.
Catholicism is the country’s official religion, although the doctrines of Catholicism are less popular with younger generations. Unlike neighboring countries like Honduras and Guatemala where religious holidays are held in very high esteem, Costa Rica is slightly more liberal. Protestantism and other religions have gained popularity in recent decades and alternative religions and spiritual practices like Scientology and Masonry are more accessible than in other Central American countries.
Since the abolition of its army in 1948, the Costa Rican government has put special emphasis in drawing its attention towards education, which is why an impressive 96% of the population is literate. Elementary school and high school are obligatory for all citizens and the country boasts six public universities ranked among the most prestigious in Latin America.
Ticos are well known for their affable and non-confrontational nature, which makes them ideal providers of customer service, especially in the tourism field. The country’s overwhelming desire to please always gives visitors a superb impression and makes sure they want to return over and over.
Greatest Tico Athletes
Although this tiny country does not have many Olympic medalists or internationally recognized sportsmen, their accomplishments are a point of pride to most Costa Ricans. If you are vacationing in Costa Rica when the national soccer team—‘La Sele’—plays an important match, you will notice people wearing team colors, cheering and honking out on the streets throughout the day as they prepare to watch the game. Here is the list of the most influential Costa Rican athletes:
Luis Gabelo Conejo. Gabelo was the most famous Costa Rican soccer player from the FIFA world cup held in Italy in 1990. This became an epic championship for Costa Rican soccer fans largely due to the performance of Gabelo, the goalkeeper. He led the team to victory over Scotland and Sweden in the group phase helping the team make it to the round of 16 for the first time in history. Gabelo was named the best goalkeeper of the World Cup, and is still ranked as one of the 50 best goalkeepers in the history of soccer. Perhaps most importantly, he was the first Costa Rican who achieved an outstanding international soccer career and has opened-up doors for a new generation of world-class soccer players (see below). In fact, his influence continues to be felt as the goalkeeping coach for the national team and mentor of current superstar Keylor Navas.
Sylvia and Claudia Poll Ahrens. Two of the biggest moments in the Costa Rican sport history were thanks to the performance of the Poll sisters, who earned the first silver and gold medals for Costa Rica in the Olympic Games. Sylvia the older sister, won the silver—Costa Rica’s first ever Olympic medal—at Seoul’s Olympic Games in 1988. Claudia won gold in the 200 meter freestyle swimming event in Atlanta in 1996. The iconic image of Claudia holding a tiny Costa Rican flag with tears in her eyes is a lifetime memory that many Ticos cherish.
The Soccer Stars. The name says it all, after Gabelo Conejo (GK for Cartagines, Albacete), generations of talented soccer players filled the stadiums of some of the best teams around the world. Some of these players include: Paulo César Wanchope, formerly of Malaga and Manchester City; Gilberto ‘Tuma’ Martínez (Sampdoria, Roma, Saprissa); Walter ‘Pate’ Centeno (AEK Athens, Saprissa); Rolando Fonseca (various), and Álvaro Saborío (MLS). Currently the names to know are Bryan Ruiz, the national team captain, formerly of Alajuela, Twente and Fulham, and currently at Sporting Clube de Portugal; and notable Keylor Navas, who has become a goalkeeping superstar, plays in La Liga, Spain for Real Madrid.
Nery Brenes. This sprinter put Costa Rica at the top of the world’s athletics in 2012 when he set new national and championship record at the 2012 IAAF World Indoor Championship in Istanbul. Also known as the king of the Pan-American and Ibero-American Games, he won gold four times in the Central American and Caribbean Games and seven golds in the Central American Games. He is the sprinter who makes Costa Rican hearts skip a beat.
Hanna Gabriels Valle. This iron woman managed to win her first welterweight World Championship Title for Costa Rica in boxing, in 2009. Hanna sorted a lot of obstacles to become a champion as she boxed her way into Costa Rican hearts and history. She has made a non-traditional sport one that is now followed by nearly the whole country.
Andrey Amador Bikkazakova. This young professional road bicycle racer became the ultimate Costa Rican sport star after winning the 14th stage of the Italian world famous cycling tour “Il giro d´Italia” in 2012. Amador made history as the first Costa Rican ever winning in such competition. He is expected to bring many more titles home.
Most Famous Ticos
From a small country to the world scene: here is a list with the Ticos who have made it. Whether it’s in sports, academia or arts, they became well-known figures and have reached outside the frontiers for the tiny Costa Rica.
Franklin Chang Díaz. A famous astronaut with seven space excursions—tied for the world’s current record. Since retiring from NASA in 2005 he has worked in plasma rocket propulsion technology and helped develop the VASIMR Rocket that will take human kind to Mars. In addition, Chang is active in environmental protection and raising awareness for climate change and has even worked on the film Odyssey 2050.
Christiana Figueres. This former First Daughter, whose father José Figueres Ferrer was president three times, is a Costa Rican diplomat and international environmental policy expert. Most notably, she was the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change for six years and was widely praised for her leadership of the 2015 Paris Agreement. In 2016, she was the official Costa Rican candidate for the United Nations Secretary General.
Jorge Jiménez Deredia. This world-class sculptor is known for his gigantic master pieces. His art pieces were the first Latin American sculptures to be exhibited in St-Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, and he is the first contemporary artist to display his work in the Roman Forum. He is described by international press as the ‘messenger of peace’.
Oscar Arias. The two-time president of Costa Rica and iconic character in the country’s main political party was awarded the Peace Nobel Prize in 1987. He is the first Costa Rican to receive such recognition, merit due to his work achieving peace in Central America in the late ‘80s.
Debi Nova. A famous singer and songwriter, she was the first Costa Rican ever to reach the Billboard list with the hit ‘One Rhythm’. Born Deborah Nowalski Kader, she has collaborated with the likes of Sean Paul, Sergio Mendez, the Black Eyed Peas, Mark Ronson and was a backup vocalist for Britney Spears in 2008.
Editus. The strings and percussion contemporary trio was awarded three Latin Grammys for their outstanding performance with the Panamanian singer Ruben Blades. They are the first Costa Rican band to perform on stages such as the United Nations New York headquarters, the l’Olympia stadium in Paris, and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.
Women of Costa Rica
Costa Rican women, or “Ticas,” have made their mark in important ways like fighting to break political schemes, creating artistic masterpieces, and contributing to the ethical and social growth of society. Here is a list of just some of the country’s amazing women and their areas of influence:
- Cecilia Amighetti Prieto: Artist- Painter
- Leda Astorga Mora: Artist- Sculpture
- Mireya Barboza Mesen: Writer
- Francisca (Pancha) Carrasco Jimenez: Heroine- defender of Costa Rica’s freedom and sovereignty
- Adelaida Chaverri Polini: Researcher- mountain forest ecosystem
- Maria Eugenia Dengo Obregón: Women’s rights teaching
- Margarita Esquivel Rohrmoser: Neoclassical dance pioneer
- Cora Ferro Calabrese: Founder of Institute of Women’s Studies
- Laura Chinchilla Miranda: First (and only) female President
- Christiana Figueres Olsen: Diplomat
- Victoria Garron Orozco: Poet
- Haydee Gomez Cascante: Nurse
- Maribel Guardia: Actress
- Carmen Lyra: Writer (appears on the 20,000 colones bill)
- Graciela Moreno Ulloa: Costa Rica folk dancer
- Claudia and Sylvia Poll Ahrens: World champion swimmers, Olympic gold medalists, sisters
- Ana Poltronieri Maffio: Actress
- Esther de Mezerville Ossaye: High school teacher; pro women’s rights and gender equity
- Ana Gabriela Ross Gonzalez: Doctor
- Rose Marie Ruiz Bravo: President of the National Council of Rectors
- Faustina Torres Torres: Indigenous women’s rights pioneer
- Glenda Umaña: Journalist
- Bernarda Vasquez Mendez: First woman to use the right to vote
The list of accomplishments goes on and there are too many to note here; however, the marks that these women have left on the progress of this country is incredibly admirable. They are examples to us all — women and men alike — to fight to overcome adversity and contribute to society in a positive way.