Ticos — The People of Costa Rica
Each year Costa Rica receives many tourists from around the world. They visit the fantastic beaches, spectacular mountains, impressive volcanoes, and fascinating wildlife. However, what tourists probably don’t know about Costa Ricans is who they are and their impact on the world.
Costa Rica has become a true cultural melting pot with European, Afro-Caribbean, and South American influences. With over 4 million inhabitants, the country’s ethnic pool is mainly conformed of 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 and ethnicity but citizenship with various races.
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 beliefs 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 particular emphasis on drawing its attention to education, which is why an impressive 96% of the population is literate. Elementary 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 generous and non-confrontational nature, making them ideal customer service providers, especially in tourism. The country’s overwhelming desire to please always gives visitors a superb impression and ensures they want to return over and over.
Although this tiny country does not have many Olympic medalists or internationally recognized athletes, 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 primarily 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 soccer history. Perhaps most importantly, he was the first Costa Rican. He achieved an outstanding international soccer career and opened doors for a new generation of world-class soccer players (see below). 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 most significant moments in Costa Rican sports 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 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 worldwide. 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 and Keylor Navas. Bryan Ruis is the national team captain, formerly of Alajuela, Twente, and Fulham, and currently at Sporting Clube de Portugal. Keylor Navas has become a goalkeeping superstar and plays for Real Madrid in La Liga, Spain.
Nery Brenes. This sprinter put Costa Rica at the top of the world’s athletics in 2012 when he set a 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 sports 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 to succeed in such a competition. He is expected to bring many more titles home.
From a small country to the world scene: here is a list of the Ticos who have made it. Whether in sports, academia, or arts, they became well-known figures and have reached outside the frontiers of 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 humankind 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 masterpieces. His art pieces were the first Latin American sculptures exhibited in St-Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. He is the first contemporary artist to display his work in the Roman Forum. The international press describes him as the ‘messenger of peace.
Oscar Arias. The two-time president of Costa Rica and iconic character in the country’s leading political party was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987. He is the first Costa Rican to receive such recognition and 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 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, and Mark Ronson and was a backup vocalist for Britney Spears in 2008.
Editus. The strings and contemporary percussion trio were 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, including the United Nations New York headquarters, the l’Olympia stadium in Paris, and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.
Costa Rican women, or “Ticas,” have made their mark in meaningful ways, like fighting to break political schemes, creating artistic masterpieces, and contributing to society’s ethical and social growth. Here is a list of just some of the country’s outstanding women and their areas of influence:
- Cecilia Amighetti Prieto: Artist- Painter
- Leda Astorga Mora: Artist- Sculpture
- Mireya Barboza Mesen: Writer
- Francisca (Pancha) Carrasco Jiménez: 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 Gómez 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 González: Doctor
- Rose Marie Ruiz Bravo: President of the National Council of Rectors
- Faustina Torres Torres: Indigenous women’s rights pioneer
- Glenda Umaña: Journalist
- Bernarda Vásquez Méndez: 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 these women have left on the progress of this country are incredibly admirable. They are examples to us all — women and men alike — to fight to overcome adversity and positively contribute to society.
FAQs of Learning About the Ticos/Ticas of Costa Rica
What is Tico culture?
The Tico culture is very much the laid back, Pura Vida lifestyle, but they have smiles for miles in the country, as the Nicoya Peninsula is one of the Blue Zones of the world, which means Ticos will live longer and are happier. But beyond being "happy," family is an essential part of their culture, along with the traditions of Costa Rica.
Is Tico offensive in Costa Rica?
No, it is not offensive. Ticos are usually called Ticos/Ticas from their own and other Spanish-speaking cultures. Ticos are males, and ticas are females.
What are three cultural traditions in Costa Rica?
Some of the most popular traditions in Costa Rica come from the Catholic religion, including Holy Week and Christmas. Be mindful of those weeks, as restaurants, hotels, and beaches are crowded. Another celebration is celebrating Independence Day in Costa Rica. All of Central America was granted independence from Spain. There are plenty of festivities and parties for Independence Day, Holy Week, Christmas, weddings, and birthdays.
Why do Costa Ricans call themselves Ticos?
Costa Ricans will use diminutives in Spanish. For example, when something is small, they will say "chico" in Spanish, but a Costa Rican would say "chiquitico" or very small. Likewise, a car is a "carro," but a tiny car is a "carrito."
What is the primary culture in Costa Rica?
Costa Rica is noted for its beautiful beaches, stunning scenery, and incredible animals, and it may not be known for its primary culture. You will see many traditions in Costa Rica vs. their culture. One thing we do know is Costa Ricans are proud of their values.