Lucas T. Jahn
111 Interesting Facts About Costa Rica
Updated: Oct 4, 2022
Costa Rica is a popular tourist destination in Central America. From lush forests to beautiful beaches and high mountains, the country offers everything a traveler may seek.
1. Costa Rica was first settled 9000-12000 years ago by nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes arriving from the north. Several archeological remains have been dated back to this period.
2. Costa Rica was ‚discovered‘ by Christoph Columbus on his fourth journey in 1502.
3. In 1563, Cartago became the first permanent Spanish settlement in Costa Rica.
4. Despite its name, translating to ‚rich coast‘, Costa Rica lacked many of the natural resources treasured by the Spanish and was long regarded as a poor and backward colony.
5. Costa Rica gained its initial independence from Spain as a result of the fall of the Spanish Empire, brought upon by Napoleon‘s re-ordering of Europe. Together with other Central American colonies, Costa Rica declared independence in 1821.
6. After their independence from Spain, several former colonies including Cost Rica formed the United Provinces of Central America, which lasted for almost two decades.
7. Costa Rica gained full independence in 1838.
8. The country‘s main airport is named after Costa Rica‘s national hero, Juan Santamaria, a young militia drummer boy who died while performing a heroic deed, torching the enemy's fort, during the Filibuster War in 1856.
9. Unlike most other Central American countries, Costa Rica has avoided large-scale violent bloodshed after its independence. The Costa Rican Civil War of 1948, which lasted 44 days and cost 2000 lives, has been the most violent outburst to this day.
10. A direct result of the civil war was the abolition of Costa Rica‘s military by President José Figueres Ferrer on December 1, 1948. To this day, Costa Rica is one of the few countries without a standing army.
11. Democracy is a success in Costa Rica. From 1953 to 2018, 18 elections were held which all resulted in a peaceful transfer of power.
12. Costa Rica lies in Central America. It borders Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south.
13. With a size of 51,100 km², Costa Rica equals the US states of Louisiana and Alabama and the European country of Bosnia and Herzegovina in size.
14. The country has 1290 km of coastline with about 4/5 of this on the Pacific Coast.
15. The 30.000 km Pan-American Highway, which starts in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and ends in Ushuaia, Argentina, reaches its highest point at 3491 m at Cerro de la Muerte in Costa Rica.
16. Costa Rica is generally a tropical country with pleasant temperatures year-round. However, depending on the elevation and the surrounding mountain ranges, Costa Rica has a variety of microclimates, also including sub-zero temperature zones.
17. Costa Rica has two seasons. The dry season lasts from December through March or April. The rainy season - also called the green season - lasts from May to early December. Locally, it can rain any time of the year though.
18. Costa Rica is home to no less than four major mountain ranges. All of them are of volcanic origin and responsible for the creation of many different microclimates. In the south, the Cordillera de Talamanca is Costa Rica’s oldest and highest range. The Cordillera Central or Central Volcanic Range is well-known for its volcanoes including Irazú and Poás. The Cordillera de Tilarán in the northwest is mostly known for the Monteverde Cloud Forest, while the Cordillera de Guanacaste near the Nicaraguan border is popular for tourist attractions such as Rincón de la Vieja.
19. The country‘s highest mountain is Cerro Chirripó which reaches the impressive size of 3820 m. Due to it‘s proximity to the equator, the temperatures are fairly mild at the top, only falling as low as -5° Celsius. An overnight hiking trail leads to the summit.
20. Costa Rica is part of the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, one of the most volcanically active regions on earth.
21. Costa Rica counts at least 60 volcanoes and 121 volcanic formations. 6 of them - Poás, Irazú, Arenal, Rincón de la Vieja, Tenorio, and Turrialba - are still active today.
22. Spontaneous volcanic eruptions can occur anytime, as proven by Volcano Arenal which was dormant for 400 years until it erupted without warning in 1968. Lava flowed down the mountain creating a large lava field that can be visited today. The volcano was visibly active until 2010 with smoke and lava emerging from its cone, but has calmed down since then.
23. Volcano Poás has the second widest crater of any volcano on earth.
24. The country sits on top of two tectonic plates – the Cocos Plate and the Caribbean Plate, whose movements are regular causes for earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
25. There are 12 hours of daylight each day of the year due to the country‘s close proximity to the equator. The sun rises at 6 am in the morning and sets at 6 pm in the evening.
26. You can enjoy the sunrise and sunset at two different seas in a single day - watching the sunrise in the east over the Caribbean Sea and seeing it set in the west over the Pacific Ocean.
27. Around 5 million people live in Costa Rica. The population density of around 100 per km² is similar to Spain and Malaysia.
28. The majority of Ticos are of Spanish origin. Almost 85% of the population identifies as White Latin American (Castizo) or of mixed origin (Mestizo).
29. African Costa Ricans make up around 1% of the population. Most of them are descendants of former slaves that were forced to work on the Caribbean sugar cane plantations.
30. The Native American population in Costa Rica is very low, counting merely around 100.000 people or around 2% of the population. The eight distinct ethnic groups are the Quitirrisí, Chorotega, Maleku, Bribri, Cabécar, Guaymí, Boruca, and Térraba.
31. The majority of Ticos live in the climatically temperate Central Valley, where temperatures are between 15-30 degrees Celsius year-round.
32. 4 out of 5 Costa Ricans identify as Christian with a majority following the Roman Catholic Church. Around 17% of Ticos are unaffiliated with any religion.
33. The average life expectancy in Costa Rica is 80 years, topping the United States life expectancy of 79 years.
34. Parts of the Nicoya Peninsula are one of only five blue zones globally. Blue zones are characterized by the unusually long and healthy life span of their population. The other four blue zones are Icaria in Greece, Sardinia in Italy, Okinawa in Japan, and Loma Linda in the US.
35. Costa Rica‘s literacy rate is 98%, which is almost on par with most European countries.
36. Costa Rica has a free basic education system.
37. The life motto of Costa Rica is referred to as Pura Vida. This means as much as taking things as they are, not worrying too much and smiling, even in adverse situations.
38. Male Costa Ricans are called Tico and female Costa Ricans are called Tica.
39. Ticas retain their maiden name for life, even after getting married.
40. Costa Rica has topped the Happy Planet Index several times, crowning its people as the happiest on the planet.
41. Costa Rican‘s call their significant others media naranja which literally means 'other half of the orange‘.
42. Costa Rica‘s have at least a dozen terms for rain - from drizzly pelo de gato (cat hair) to a baldazo or aguacero (downpour) and temporal (heavy rain falling for several days).
43. A common phrase after a Tica had a baby is ella dio a luz - literally meaning ‚she gave light‘.
44. The national anthem of Costa Rica is played daily on most radio stations at 7 am.
45. While the primary language in Costa Rica is Spanish, there are also 5 distinct indigenous languages. Additionally, the African Costa Ricans on the Caribbean Coast speak patois, an English-Creole language.
46. There are significant cultural differences between parts of Costa Rica. The northwest is mostly cowboy-country with a strong cattle culture, while the Caribbean is much more relaxed. The Central Valley is fairly westernized, some parts of the Pacific Coast are barely Costa Rican anymore but shaped by American tourists and retirees.
47. The country generates more than 99% of its electricity from sustainable resources, including geothermal, wind, and solar energy.
48. Costa Rica has a very colorful currency, the colón. The notes are yellow, green or red and come adorned with typical wildlife such as a sloth, white-faced capuchin, or a hummingbird.
49. Costa Rica is the second-largest exporter of bananas globally - only Ecuador exports more.
50. In Costa Rica, the premium Arabica coffee beans are almost exclusively grown by small farmers. In the past, there was even a law prohibiting the less sought-after Robusta beans. That way the country ensured the high quality of its coffee.
51. Most coffee is planted by individual farmers on small plantations less than 5 hectares in size. Often these farmers bring their beans to joint processing facilities of farmer collectives, as they do not have the funds or tools to process them on their own.
52. Coffee beans in Costa Rica are handpicked.
53. Before Costa Rica became a major exporter of coffee and bananas, its main cash crop was cocoa. However, a fungus wiped out large parts of the cocoa industry.
54. The cocoa bean was a highly prized crop among the indigenous Costa Ricans, going as far as being used as a currency.
55. Historically, cocoa was not made into chocolate bars, but more often into a viscous drink to which chili and pepper were added.
56. More than 5% of the country‘s GDP is contributed by tourism, with most visitors arriving from North America and the EU.
57. The capital San José is notorious for its narrow streets and near-permanent traffic jams.
58. Because of the above, it is forbidden to drive your car in San José on the day of the week that corresponds to the last number on your car’s license plate.
59. Due to its four mountain ranges, many roads in Costa Rica are winding and narrow. Aside from the Pan-American Highway, the country is not well-suited for large camper vans or motorhomes.
60. Many smaller backcountry roads in Costa Rica are gravel, and often bumpy. A good 4x4 vehicle is advisable to safely navigate those roads.
61. Beware of deep mud holes that will swallow your car whole. You‘ll never get out alone again.
62. Travelling on the remote Osa Peninsula requires a sturdy 4x4 vehicle as there are many river crossings. If in doubt, watch a local drive through first.
63. The popular tourist destination of Tortuguero can only be reached by boat or airplane. No roads lead to this remote corner of northeast Costa Rica.
64. The locals of Monteverde, which is famous for its cloud forests, have long petitioned to keep the access roads to their settlement in a poor state. This was to discourage too many tourists to take the trip, thus spoiling the wonders of their landscape.
65. Better download a navigation app, because Costa Rican houses rarely have a house number. They are mostly identified by their distance to a landmark.
66. In rural Costa Rica, Ticos love scooters. You will even see them ride at high speeds in whiteout fog on gravel roads without a helmet or lights. Drive carefully!
67. A pulperia is a small general store where you can get basic groceries such as rice, beans, bread, and eggs.
68. A soda is a small eatery serving traditional dishes like Casado.
69. Costa Rica catadores or ‚tasters‘ decide which coffee to buy and are just as important as wine-tasters are in France. It takes them 5 years of training.
70. The national dish of Costa Rica is Gallo Pinto - white rice, black beans, onion, and spices usually with plantains and egg.
71. While Gallo Pinto is most often eaten for breakfast, Casado or ‚married man‘ is a regular choice for lunch and dinner. Similar to Gallo Pinto the dish uses rice, black beans, plantains, salad, a tortilla, and an optional protein source such as chicken, beef, pork, or fish.
72. Costa Rica and Nicaragua compete over the fact of who invented Gallo Pinto. Every few years the countries organize mass cooking events outdoing their competitor and feeding thousands of people in the process.
73. Traditional Costa Rican coffee is brewed with a chorreador, a form of filter resembling a sock. Also called aguas de medias or ‚sock water‘, coffee is highly valued in Costa Rica
74. Costa Rica is home to many delicious fruits, including Maracuya (Passion Fruit), Guanabana, Carambola (Starfruit), Cas, and Guaba. They are often made into yummy frozen drinks called Frescos.
75. Agua dulce is a common Tico drink, made of raw cane sugar which is dissolved in hot water.
76. Costa Rica is home to many palms carrying coconuts. Often you can harvest a fresh coconut directly from the palm tree to sip the fresh coconut juice.
77. Approximately 25% of Costa Rica‘s landmass is protected. More than 100 forest and nature reserves can be explored.
78. As of 2021, Costa Rica has a total of 28 national parks.
79. The Osa Peninsula in southwest Costa Rica has been named „the most biologically intense place on earth” by National Geographic. 2-3% of the local flora and fauna can be found nowhere else on the planet.
80. Costa Rica contains between 4-5% of the world's biodiversity, despite only covering 0.03% of the earth's landmass.
81. The stunning blue color of Rio Celeste is an optical illusion caused by light being reflected off particles in the acidic water in a process called Mie scattering.
82. Costa Rica shelters several kinds of rainforest - tropical rainforest, cloud forest, lowland rainforest, and tropical dry forest.
83. 1400 different kinds of orchids adorn the land of Costa Rica.
84. The popular beach of Bahía Ballena resembles a whale‘s tail when viewed from above. The surrounding waters are also great for whale watching.
85. The largest lake in the country, Lake Arenal, is entirely artificial. It is used to generate power with a dam at its northwestern end.
86. The frequent rainfall and mountainous landscape have led to the creation of many impressive waterfalls in Costa Rica. Among these, the Rio Celeste waterfall impresses with its color while Catarata del Toro is especially large and beautiful being framed by lush greenery.
87. There are 52 separate species of the hummingbird to be found in Costa Rica.
88. Every four weeks as many as 100.000 Olive-Ridley Sea Turtles arrive on the beach of Ostional to lay their eggs. These mass egg-laying events are called arribadas.
89. Millions of eggs are laid during such an arribada and latecomers often dig out the eggs of other turtles. Because of that, the citizens of Ostional are allowed to sustainably harvest a limited number of eggs at the beginning of an arribada, supervised by rangers and scientists.
90. Costa Rica’s deadliest snake is the ground-dwelling fer-de-lance, a pit viper that is responsible for more than 80% of the country‘s fatal snake bites.
91. The cry of the howler monkey can travel up to 5 km through the dense rainforest. Thus, the animals communicate with neighboring families. During heavy rains, male howler monkeys often engage in a howling battle with the thunder.
92. The endemic Common Basilisk is also called Jesus Christ Lizard, for it has the ability to run over water.
93. Costa Rica‘s largest predator is the jaguar. The stalk-and-ambush predator mostly hunts deer, tapir, monkeys, and turtles.
94. Next to the jaguar, five other wild cats call Costa Rica home - Puma, Ocelot, Margay, Jaguarundi, and Oncilla.
95. One of the most striking birds of Costa Rica is the Scarlet Macaw. The large parrot is well known for its beautiful red, yellow, and blue plumage.
96. Costa Rican poison dart frogs are mostly poisonous because of their diet, which consists mainly of ants, centipedes, and mites.
97. When going swimming in the sea, wear long-sleeved bath wear or a rash guard. Jellyfish are known to sting swimmers, even close to the shore, leading to rather uncomfortable itchiness.
98. Costa Rican mosquitos are voracious! Wear long-sleeves and bring plenty of insect repellent.
99. The National Bird of Costa Rica is the Clay-coloured Thrush, a very inquisitive bird that will often approach humans.
100. One of the most fascinating insects in Costa Rica are leafcutter ants. Next to humans, leafcutter ants form the most complex animal societies on Earth, sometimes with millions of individuals. The striking insects can often be seen marching in a trail carrying large pieces of cut leaves on their backs. In their underground dwellings, they farm fungi with those leaves as a source of food for their larvae.
Good to Know
101. While most parts of Costa Rica are known for their beautiful nature, Playa del Coco is known as a party destination for young Americans. If you value your privacy and health, stay away.
102. In many places you are asked to not throw toilet paper into the toilet but in a nearby bucket. This is to avoid having it stuck in the narrow drain.
103. Many US Americans move to Costa Rica to retire.
104. Isla del Coco, which is around 600 km from the Costa Rican mainland, was featured in the opening shot of Jurassic Park.
105. Augustín Blessing, a German priest and missionary, is the first known person to have successfully summited Cerro Chirripó in 1904.
106. The Costa Rican postal service does not do home deliveries. Costa Ricans go to a post office to collect their mail.
107. Travelers keen to hike through Corcovado National Park can only visit the park with a guide.
108. All churches in Costa Rica face west.
109. Ticos are positively crazy about football. Their national team has reached the FIFA World Cup several times and even made it to the quarter-finals in 2014. Their most well-known player is goalie Keylor Navas.
110. Costa Rica has a fairly well-funded universal health care system with well-educated doctors. Its healthcare system is both better and more affordable than its counterpart in the United States, which granted, isn‘t hard. In recent years, medical tourism has become a regular source of income for the country.
111. Costa Rica has one of the strictest smoking laws on the planet. Smoking is forbidden virtually everywhere in public, including in parks, university campuses, and stadiums.