As some of you may already know, Max grew up in Costa Rica. His family moved here when he was 2.5 years old and they lived here full time until he was 11. Over the years, they lived in a few different spots and visited many parts of Costa Rica before it became the tourist destination that it is today.
Today Costa Rica is a very different place than it was back in the 80’s and 90’s. It is safer, easier to get around, it has better communication (cell phones and internet), and an electrical grid that reaches almost everyone.
But it’s nice to see that despite the development across the country and the influx of tourists from all over the world, Costa Rica has managed to maintain its diverse flora and fauna, and rich culture.
To give you a little taste of the country we have come to know and love, we wanted to share some interesting Costa Rica facts that you may or may not know, about its biodiversity, customs, and traditions. You won’t find a lot of this stuff in the guidebooks!
Basic Facts About Costa Rica
If you are planning to visit Costa Rica for the first time, then here are a few of the basic but interesting facts about Costa Rica you should know before you arrive:
Costa Ricans refer to themselves as “Ticos” (males) and “Ticas” (females). This derives from the habit of adding –tico to a word to imply something is small like they do in many other Spanish-speaking countries. Now, that’s not to say Costa Rican people are small, but it’s an affable term that’s pretty much become official language at this point. The national soccer team is even referred to as the “Ticos”!
This is the term used throughout most of Latin America for Americans and more recently in reference to any white tourist (Yes, even us Canadians, eh).
Costa Rica has twelve climate zones varying from hot and humid to cold and frosty. The best time to go to Costa Rica is anytime, it just depends on what you want to do on your holiday!
But if you are looking for some of those summer vibes on your visit to Costa Rica, make sure you visit the Guanacaste region. The yearly average here is 26-27°C (80 °F). Or, check out the Caribbean Coast which has a different rainy season then the pacific coast.
READ MORE: Best Time To Visit Costa Rica
Costa Rica is home to some 894 different species of birds, 52 of which are hummingbirds. So don’t be surprised if you see a few right outside your room during your stay. Especially the clay-coloured thrush, or yigüirro, which is the national bird of Costa Rica.
The Osa Peninsula in the South of Costa Rica is known as one of the best spots in the country for bird watching. If you really want to see the unique birds of Costa Rica, head to Corcovado National Park!
The national flower of Costa Rica is the guaria morada, or an orchid. Over 1400 different types of orchids call Costa Rica home, many of which are so tiny they are tough to see with a naked eye. If you want to learn more, check out the Orchid Garden, in Santa Elena, Monteverde. The staff there is super knowledgeable, and even though we are not botanists, we really enjoyed our tour of the garden.
Being situated in the middle of North and South America, Costa Rica is incredibly diverse in its plant and animal life. The forests are filled with mammals and reptiles while the sea is bursting with marine life.
In fact, even being such a small country, Costa Rica makes up 5% of the world’s biodiversity. National Parks like Corcovado and Manuel Antonio National Park are great places to see wildlife in their natural habitats. Beloved animals like sloths have grown to become national symbols of Costa Rica. It won’t be long before you realize why Costa Rica translates to “rich coast.”
Costa Rica is home to nearly 30 national parks with three designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. They are spread across the country, from the active volcanoes of Arenal Volcano to the sea turtles of Tortuguero National Park. Visiting the country’s parks is a must for amazing landscapes, diverse wildlife, and rich flora.
Fun Facts About Costa Rican Culture
Costa Rica has a rich, vibrant culture that blends its indigenous origins and Spanish colonialism, with a dash of Afro-Caribbean thrown in for good measure. The culture can differ depending on the area you’re visiting, but no matter where you visit in Costa Rica, you’ll find warm people with a love for life.
This is one of our favourite facts about Costa Rica. Pura Vida is a term used regularly by locals, and now more frequently by travelers hoping to fit in. It translates to “pure life” and is a way of life for all Costa Ricans. When someone asks you how you are, it is not uncommon to simply reply “Pura Vida” to say everything is good.
Costa Rican women don’t take their husband’s last name as is customary in Western culture. The children of the couple take both the fathers and mothers surname in that order.
Throughout the year, many Costa Rican towns play hosts to local fiestas. These events feature carnival games, local food stalls, dodgy rides, horse parades, and of course, bull riding competitions. Bulls are not harmed during these events, and the highlights of the competitions are often the locals who jump into the ring and tease the bulls to show off their skills for the
Every town, no matter how big or small, has its own soccer field and a school. Soccer is a way of life in Costa Rica, so if you are looking for a way to interact with locals, don’t be shy to join in during friendly weekly Sunday mejengas (slang for pickup game).
Fun Facts About Costa Rican Food
The cuisine in Costa Rica is certainly something to write home about! It is packed full of flavour, hearty, spicy, savoury and oh so satisfying!
Costa Rica’s national dish, Gallo Pinto, is a mixture of beans and rice leftover from the night before, mixed with some peppers, onions, cilantro, Lizano sauce, and other spices. It’s one of the few traditional Costa Rican foods that you must try here as it’s a big part of the Costa Rican diet. In Spanish, the literal translation for Gallo Pinto is “coloured rooster”.
A soda is a small, informal restaurant that serves traditional Costa Rican dishes like a “Casado” (meat, rice, beans, and salad) and Gallo Pinto for as little as $3-$4 a plate. This is where the locals eat!
A pulperia is a neighborhood convenience store that sells essential supplies, food items like canned goods, eggs, milk, bread, and some produce. Almost every small town has a pulperia, but the prices at these shops are often marked up 10-20% for the convenience.
Extra Interesting Facts About Costa Rica
Here are some additional facts about Costa Rica that you don’t normally find in the travel guides. The country is so much more than a travel destination, it is also a pretty awesome place to live!
Isla Del Coco
Isla del Coco is the most remote part of Costa Rica, nearly 360 miles (600 km) into the Pacific Ocean, southwest of the mainland. It is well known for some of the best diving in Costa Rica and for pristine wildlife (think the Galapagos of Central America).
When this small Central American country hit the big screen, millions saw this island on film in the opening moments of the Steven Spielberg film, Jurassic Park. At 8 miles by 3 miles (12 km by 5 km), Isla del Coco is the largest uninhabited island in the world. (We can’t wait to experience it one day!)
The average wage for general labour in Costa Rica is about $2/hour or $16/day, the highest in all of Central America.
A little-known health fact about Costa Rica’s population is that the life expectancy here is almost 77 years, one of the highest in the world. Costa Rica is also home to one of the 5 Blue Zones in the world. Blue Zones are known as areas of the world where people live measurably longer lives. If you want to experience the Blue Zone for yourself, head to the Nicoya Peninsula on the Northern Pacific Coast of Costa Rica to see how the Costa Rican people live.
In most parts of Costa Rica toilet pipes are old and only 2” wide and majority still use septic tanks. This means that unless you are using a toilet in a 5-star establishment, it is likely that you will find a note on the wall asking you to put toilet paper in the bin instead of the toilet itself.
Some of our favourite Costa Rica facts are about how environmentally aware this Central American nation is. Thanks to its incredible biodiversity, it’s become a hub for eco-tourism. Even with being the most visited country in Central America, it still prioritizes conservation wherever possible.
Costa Rica generates over 99% of its electric power through renewable energy and aims to achieve zero net emissions by 2050. There’s a nationwide charging grid for electric cars and a slough of eco-lodges perfect for a responsible holiday.
READ NEXT: 10 Best Eco Lodges In Costa Rica
Weird Facts About Costa Rica
It’s true that Costa Rica is a unique country. Here are some weird and wonderful facts about Costa Rica that just add to its charm!
Costa Rica is one of the few countries in the world that has no standing army. The Costa Rican government abolished the army in 1948 after the civil war ended. You’ll still see the Costa Rican flag proudly hung high as the national anthem chimes, but there is far less nationalism here than other places.
Unlike the Western world, Costa Rica does not use street names and does not have a postal code system. Before Google maps, navigation was challenging and landmarks were used as waypoints.
There is some signage in the capital city of San Jose but in many parts of the country, navigating is still tricky. So don’t be surprised when your hotel address sounds something like this: “200m South of the tree that was hit by lightning last year, then 50m East. It’s the house in front of the house with the red gate.”
Don’t be surprised if the lock on your hotel room has to be turned the opposite way from what you are used to. This is often because locals only use one orientation of locks on doors, so it the door needs a different orientation of the lock, they simply flip it causing it to lock and unlock in reverse.
Discoteca Vs Nightclub
In Costa Rica, a discoteca is a nightclub, and a nightclub is actually a strip club. So make sure you ask for the right thing on your nights out!
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