Costa Rica Facts



Modified: 13 May 2022

Costa Rica might not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking of vacation, but it certainly rises up the ranks on other things. Did you know that you can find the happiest people on Earth in this country? Learn why and more Costa Rica facts that would make you want to add this place in your where-to-go list.

  1. The name Costa Rica translates to ‘rich coast.’
  2. Costa Rica is a country located in Central America.
  3. Costa Rica’s capital city is San José.
  4. The official Costa Rica language is Spanish.
  5. As of December 2019, Costa Rica has a population of 5,069,193.
  1. Costa Rica has the oldest and most steady democracy in its region.
  2. Costa Rican population consists of 94% mestizo or European and 1% indigenous natives.
  3. The national symbol of Costa Rica is the yigüirro, a clay-colored robin.
  4. Costa Rican currency is called ‘colón’ which the locals refer to us ‘harina’ or flour.
  5. The only remaining indigenous language spoken in the country is the ‘bri bri.’
  6. Due to its location near the equator, Costa Rica sun sets and rises at the same time each day of the year.
  7. More than 25% of Costa Rican land is dedicated to national parks and sanctuaries.
  8. The country is governed by a President alongside 2 Vice Presidents.
  9. Presidential elections occur every 4 years in Costa Rica, just like in the United States.
  10. Costa Rica was the first country to ban recreational hunting in 2012.
  1. As strange as it may be, one Costa Rica fact is that all Catholic churches in the country face west.
  2.  Costa Rica ranks second to Ecuador as the 2nd largest banana exporter.
  3. A strip club in Costa Rica is called ‘nightclub’ while a conventional nightclub is called ‘Discoteca.’
  4. Locals call speed bumps ‘son Muertos’ which means dead persons.
  5. The largest freshwater body in Costa Rica is a manmade wonder named Lake Arenal.
Table of Contents

Tourism is the leading business in Costa Rica.

More than 2 million visitors tour the country annually.

Costa Rica holds the record for the happiest country on Earth.

The Happy Planet Index gave the country a 64.0 score based on their 3 criteria: experienced well-being, life expectancy, and Ecological Footprint. These standards aim to define the overall level of happiness in 151 countries all over the world. In other words, the Costa Ricans are considered as most of the happiest inhabitants of the Earth.

The national flower of Costa Rica is orchids.

costa rica orchids, costa rica facts
Image by Manuel de la Fuente from Pixabay

A Greek physician named Dioscorides coined the term ‘orchis’ for the flower species. He noticed that the tubers of a specific species that he was studying are somehow similar to male genitalia.

The national tree of Costa Rica is the Guanacaste or the ‘Enterolobium cyclocarpum.’

With its wide coverage, the tree is a public source of shade in the country’s geography filled with savannahs and hot plains. Locals also call it the ‘elephant-ear tree’ due to the peculiar shape of its huge seedpods. In the country itself, a province was named after the national tree.

The national musical instrument of Costa Rica is the marimba.

man playing marimba in costa rica, costa rica facts
Image by Cristina Valencia on Wikimedia

Early versions of the instrument were created using ‘calabaza’ or squash gourds. Hollowed out, the elongated pieces would then be set inside a wooden frame with a top lining of the wooden-keys panel. It represents an octave. While the marimba originated from Africa, it also played roles in the musical background of Guatemala and the Mexican Chiapas region. 

Costa Rica ranks 13th among the world’s largest coffee exporters.

Jamaica was the one who introduced coffee to the country in 1779. The local term for coffee is ‘grano de oro,’ and over 247,000 acres of coffee plantation thrive in the country. It kept Costa Rica booming for 150 years, but then the tourism industry beat it in 1991.

Costa Rica is home to the world’s first-ever coffee plantation that is carbon-neutral.

costa rica coffee, costa rica facts
Image by moritz320 from Pixabay

Sitting in Los Santos in Southern Costa Rica, the Coopedata Coffee Cooperative maintains soil rich in minerals under the ideal climate that makes their coffee globally award-winning. It started in 2011 in Santa Maria de Dota.

The literacy rate in Costa Rica is 96%.

As it is still a developing country, its schools are still out of reach for children from rural areas. Still, a national radio station works to teach the lessons over broadcast.

Costa Rica has the highest average wage in Central America.

On average, the rate is around $2 per hour or $16 per day.

The Costa Rican version of a convenience store is a ‘pulperia.’

People could buy essential items and food here such as milk, eggs, bread, and canned goods. As these stores bring the ‘convenience’ to the small towns, pulperia prices often charge 10-20% convenience fees.

‘Soda’ has a whole different meaning when you are in Costa Rica.

A soda for them is a small, ordinary restaurant wherein they serve traditional local dishes. Some of the commonly served food is the ‘Casado,’ comprised of beans, salad, rice and meat, and the ‘Gallo Pinto.’ For $3-$4 per plate, locals and tourists alike delight in these dining places.

Costa Rica has a smaller area as that of Lake Michigan.

From the northwest straight down to the southwest, it only covers 285 miles or 460 km while it covers a width of 74 miles or 120 km.

Costa Rica ranks among the top 20 countries in the world with the greatest biodiversity.

costa rica biodiversity, costa rica facts
Image by sportu9 from Pixabay

Despite holding only up to 0.03% of the whole land space of the Earth, this country shelter’s 4% of all the known existing species of flora and fauna.

Costa Rica only lands 2nd to New Zealand in terms of the numbers of water bodies within its territory.

Thanks to the heavy amounts of rain that fall upon the happy country, more rivers with added higher water volumes flow abundantly.

Costa Rica is also home to 200 volcanic formations.

All of the volcanoes are more than 65 million years old. Most of them could be found either in the northern region or the central highlands.

Only around 100 have shown any signs of volcanic activity.

A mere five classify as active volcanoes. Also, there are approximately 60 dormant ones that could still be active in the future despite non-activity at present.

The most active volcano in Costa Rica is the Arenal Volcano.

arenal volcano in costa rica, costa rica facts
Image by Frank Ravizza from Pixabay

Not only in the country, but it also counts as one of the most active volcanoes in the whole world. The Arenal Volcano erupted in 1968 wherein it also brought destruction to the town of Tabacón. Its latest recorded eruption was in 2010.

The highest volcano in Costa Rica is the Irazú Volcano.

It stands 11,000 feet tall, equivalent to 3,800 miles. Nicknamed El Coloso, Irazú was silent for 30 years until it erupted with a loud noise on December 8, 1994. Before that, it erupted on March 19, 1963, just in time for John F Kennedy’s arrival in the country, making it even more compelling.

The world’s second widest volcano crater can also be found in Costa Rica.

The Poás Volcano is located in the National Park at Alajuela. Its crater is more than one mile in width and 1050 feet in depth. At the bottom of the crater, you would find two small lakes filled with natural rainwater.

A gold nugget found in the Costa Rica Corcovado National Park wrecked havoc among the farmers in the area.

Upon discovering a nugget weighing 25 pounds or 11 kilos in the 1980s, farmers instantly transformed into prospectors. Not only did they invade the area, but they also damaged more than a thousand acres of the parkland. Government officials were compelled to close the park in attempts to get rid of the prospectors.

The most remote island in Costa Rica and the largest isolated island in the world is the Isla del Coco.

island, costa rica facts
Image by Kristendawn from Pixabay

With a perimeter of 8 miles by 3 miles, it lies southwest of mainland Costa Rica and is around 360 miles or 600 kilometers into the Pacific Ocean. Isla del Coco appears as the setting in the intro of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park.

Costa Rica does not use names for its streets.

The business and residences in the country identified their location in association with landmarks instead. However, the influx of tourists compelled a few cities to use signs to provide easier traveling and access around the city starting in 2012.

Costa Rica is home to 4 UNESCO World Heritage sites.

These are known as the Area de Conservacion Guanacaste, Cocos Island National Park, La Amistad National Park, and the Precolumbian Chiefdom Settlements.

Costa Rica transitions with 12 different climate zones.

Variations include hot, cold, humid and frosty. Still, anytime is considered as the best time to visit the happy country and should only depend on how you prefer spending your holiday.

Old toilet pipes still operate almost everywhere in Costa Rica.

While some are only 2 inches wide, others still work with septic tanks. It is also the reason behind the cr notes that you might find asking you to throw your tissues in the bin rather than in the toilet.

Locks in Costa Rican hotel rooms require a different turn from what you might be used to.

Locals tend to stick to a certain door lock orientation for when the door would need a different orientation. Then, they would be able to easily flip it to reversely lock and unlock.

Costa Rica has another small yet unofficial country named Airrecú.

It was formed in 1995 but was never acknowledged by the Costa Rican government and the UN. Nonetheless, it has a population of around 5,000, its own flag, national anthem, and even soldiers.

The history of Costa Rica dates back to 13,000-17,000 years ago.

It began when tribes moved from North America down to the south in the last Ice Age.

The oldest evidence of human life in Central America was found in Costa Rica.

Human settlement in the country showed pieces of evidence that could be traced back to 10,000 BC. While the period turned out to be earlier than initially thought, finding 12,000-year-old fossils surfaced by the Reventazon River in 2016.

Christopher Columbus was the first known European to set foot in Costa Rica.

The Italian explorer retreated off-coast along the Uvita Island and the Limón port back on the 8th of September 1502.

Luis, Columbus’ grandson was acclaimed Duke of Veragua in 1546.

However, his claim to legacy accompanied by 130 men from Spain failed. The Amerindians attack them, killing most of his men and driving them back to Europe.

The name ‘Costa Rica’ was first used in 1539.

costa rica map, costa rica facts
Image by Koen One Stop Map from Pixabay

Panama officials adopted the rich coast term to mark the territory lying between them and Nicaragua.

The independence of Costa Rica was only delivered to the country by mail.

Flashback to October 13, 1821, a mule carrying a courtier reached the central valley of Costa Rica bore the news of Costa Rica’s newfound independence. It was almost a month following the declaration from Guatemalan officials stating that Costa Rica is free of the Spanish Empire.

At least 25 indigenous groups used to dwell in Costa Rica.

It was before the Europeans arrived in the 15th century, and each group had distinct cultures and traditions.

Costa Rica has no standing military body.

After abolishing their armed forces in 1949, the country only maintained a small unit in charge of law enforcement and assistance to peacekeeping for foreigners.

Costa Rica maintains one of the highest life expectancies in the world at 77 years old.

woman, costa rica facts
Image by prohispano on Pixabay

Covering one of the world’s 5 Blue Zones, Costa Rica is home to people who live lives with significantly longer years. You may find Costa Rica’s Blue Zone just south of the Northern Pacific Coast, a place called the Nicoya Peninsula.

Penicillin was, apparently, discovered by a Costa Rican.

A 1927 research from Dr. Clodomiro “Clorito” Picado, a Costa Rican scientist, demonstrates the hindrance of penicillin in streptococcus growth among patients. This discovery counters the popular belief that Dr. Alexander Fleming, a Scottish physician, was the one who discovered the attributes of the antibiotics.

Costa Rica once served as the operation base for a notorious drug cartel back in the 1970s-1980s.

American Danny Fowlie ran drug operations from South America to California using the Pavones beach town as his headquarters. He rewarded his employees by building homes with sawmill and woods, roads, and even adding an airstrip. Eventually, he got busted by Mexican officials and was sentenced to prison with an additional penalty from the California federal prison.

Costa Rican President Óscar Arias Sánchez won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987.

He was president from 1986-1990 and a second time in 2006-2010. The award he received recognized his attempts in trying to abolish the Central America crisis.

Costa Rica’s main international airport was named after an Alajuela militia from the Second Battle of Rivas.

juan santamaria international airport in costa rica
Image by Mariordo (Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz) on Wikimedia

Juan Santamaria, a young drummer boy for the impromptu army, volunteered to torch the  El Mesón de Guerra in Nicaragua. He might have sent the dwelling filibusters running from inside, but he ended up being shot by a sniper. In the end, his name remained as a national freedom figure in local folklore.

The most famous Costa Rican in the world is Paolo Wanchope.

He became the biggest sports star in the country after scoring both goals in their 4-2 Olympic loss to Germany in 2006. The event also made him the first-ever Costa Rican to score 2 goals in a World Cup competition.

Paolo Wanchope was forced to retire after a knee injury in 2007.

Before and during his prime, the football superstar played for both local clubs and international clubs like that of Japan, England, and Spain. Still, after his retirement, Wanchope stayed in the industry as a coach until he became interim head coach of the national team of Costa Rica.

The first female president of Costa Rica is Laura Chinchilla.

Taking office in 2010, she also ranked as the 8th women president in all of Latin America. Her career started in a non-government consultant position, followed by service as a Vice-Minister, then Minister of the Public Security. Chinchilla served in the position both in the administration of José María Figueres and of both Vice Presidents in the administration of Óscar Arias.

The first female lawyer in Costa Rica was Ángela Acuña.

Aside from her pioneer record, she also established the Feminist League in 1923 and initiated the Costa Rican women’s suffrage after the long fight. Moreover, Acuña also ranked as the first woman to a delegated ambassador to the Organization of American States.

The highest peak of Costa Rica is the Cerro Chirripó.

A German priest named Augustín Blessing (née Presinger) became the first one to conquer it in 1904. He was serving as a missionary in the Limón area by that time.

The first Latin-American sent by NASA to space was from Costa Rica.

Dr. Franklin R. Chang-Diaz also remained to be the sole Costa Rican astronaut up to date. Among over 3,000 he was among the 19 chosen ones. Dr. Chang-Diaz retired in 2005 after accomplishing seven successful space shuttle missions and 25 years with the organization.

Currently, he is working on the design of a rocket engine with plasma as the base. With this project, Dr. Chang-Diaz aims to reform space travel and eventually pave the way for more people to be able to explore the entire solar system.

A saxophonist from Costa Rica broke the world record of holding a single note by a saxophone.

saxophone record in costa rica
Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Kenny G initially set the record in 1997, but only until Costa Rica-represent Geovanny Escalante of the Marfil band broke it in 1998. His record almost doubled Kenny G’s time as he held the note up to 90 minutes and 45 seconds.

Numerous films featured Giannina Facio, a notable Costa Rican actress, and producer.

Most of them are films by his spouse, Ridley Scott. The couple worked together in the movies American Gangster, Body of Lies, The Martian, and Gladiator, wherein Facio played the role of Russel Crowe’s character’s wife.

Current Los Angeles resident Debi Nova is a Costa Rican singer and songwriter.

Born Deborah Nowalski Kader, the singer earned at least six Grammy nominations for her songs such as ‘One Rythm.’ Her tunes are chart-toppers at the Billboard Dance Charts. Some of the popular artists that she collaborated with are the Black Eyed Peas, Franco de Vita, Mark Ronson, Ricky Martin, and Sean Paul.

The infamous golden toad was only ever sighted in Costa Rica.

Found in the Monteverde rainforest preserve to be exact, the toad earned a spot among the symbols that represent Monteverde, Costa Rica. Since a 1983 University of Miami research by Marc Hayes, hundreds of the golden toads were spotted only once, but never again after that.

Costa Rica is home to the most sensational and colorful bird of the tropics.

bird, costa rica facts
Image by Matt MacGillivray in Wikimedia

The quetzal resides in the Monteverde Cloud Forest. It belongs to the trogon family from which among its 40 known species worldwide, 10 could be found within the happiest country.

Ancient paintings and sculptures depict the long tail thickets of the quetzal, an item highly valued by the noblemen of Aztec and Maya. What’s more, is that Mayan kings even appraise the green tail feathers with a higher value than that of gold.

Costa Rica has a reptile called ‘Jesus Christ lizard’.

This basilisk character is a semi-aquatic lizard that is small in size. It earned its nickname from its distinct habit of raising onto its hind legs with which it could run across a water surface in times of alert.

Costa Rica stands as the world’s hummingbird capital.

The New World has 300 recorded species of hummingbirds, and 51 of them take shelter in Costa Rica.

At least 34,000 different insect species could be found in Costa Rica.

In addition to this is around 20,000 variations of spiders.

The unofficial national indigenous spirit of Costa Rica is the Guaro.

This moonshine rum is a product of distilled sugar cone. Most drinkers mix the drink with sodas, while the best brand that makes Guaro is Cacique.

The most common breakfast in Costa Rica is the Gallo pinto.

gallo pinto food in costa rica
Image by Lablascovegmenu in Wikimedia

Aside from being a vital part of the Costa Rican diet, both rice and beans are also present in making this local delicacy.

Gallo pinto has a Spanish translation which means ‘colored rooster.’

The main ingredients for this traditional dish are beans, rice (leftovers for most of the time), Lizano sauce, onions, peppers, and other spices.

Costa Ricans were believed to have a plasma proxy.

Locals claim that the liquid found inside a fresh green coconut is sufficiently pure to substitute plasma in case of an emergency.

The culture of Costa Rica is a hodgepodge from different countries.

Its indigenous origins show signs of influence from Spanish colonies, along with a few immigrant refinements from Jamaica and China.

Costa Rica also boasts of its people’s hospitality.

Aside from achieving the happiest country title for their land, the Costa Ricans also have a reputation for being friendly, welcoming without being any less proud and sophisticated.

Costa Ricans refer to male kins as ‘Ticos’ and female kins as ‘Ticas.’

As basically a wordplay for their Spanish language references, -tico is also used by locals as a suffix to certain words. It might indicate a tiny part of something, but at the same time, it also bears an affectionate meaning to the word.

Costa Rica culture involves a lot of dancing.

dancing in costa rica
Image by MJPRDP on Wikimedia Commons

Whether it is a huge club in the city or a small dance hall in the country, Ticos would gladly dance their hearts out. Young people prefer outdoor dancing with American and British rock while indoor dancing is more of a Latin beat vibe.

Three main religious events occur in Costa Rica.

Like other Catholics from all over the world, locals also celebrate Semana Santa or Easter Week, August 2, and Christmas Week. Still, the laidback Catholicism in the country holds a more party-like celebration than a religious one.

Upon getting married, Ticas do not take the last name of their husbands.

Instead, their mother’s maiden name alongside theirs stays with them for life. On the other hand, their children must take their father’s last name.

Costa Ricans call rain with at least 12 names.

names for rain in costa rica
Image by Steve Art from Pixabay

Drizzle is a pelo de gato or ‘cat hair,’ a dowpour is baldazo or aguacero, and constant heavy rain for several days is a temporal. Their counterpart in terms of snow is the Eskimos who have 57 words dedicated to snow.

Costa Ricans hold on to their Catholic religion more like a tradition rather than a practice.

Starting from colonial times, Catholicism covers around 70% of the population of the country. However, the Catholic church was not that strict in terms of political or cultural influence.

In Costa Rica, people call their ‘other half’ differently.

They use the term ‘media naranja’ to address their significant others. It translates to ‘the other half of the orange’.

Costa Rica’s coffee industry is so important that they train ‘Catadores’ or tasters.

These tasters are the main decision-makers in coffee purchases. They are somewhat the equivalent of the French wine tasters. For five years, they study the perfect method of slurping the flavor of coffee off a spoon and directly into their taste buds.

They believe that good coffee should taste good whether hot or cold, they do the tasting cold.

San José, Costa Rica exerts efforts in cutting down pollution levels.

Based on the last number on its license plate, cars should not be driven in the city once a week.

Witchcraft is rampant in Escazú, San José, Costa Rica.

withcraft practices in costa rica
Image by Mira Cosic from Pixabay

History claims that people used to sneak into the mountain caves where they could practice their rituals secretly. You could still find the brujas or witches who offer tarot card readings and ‘other services’ within the vibrant suburbs of San José.

The national slogan of Costa Rica is ‘Pura Vida’.

sign, costa rica facts
Image by starfishevents from Pixabay

More than its translation to ‘pure life,’ Pura Vida is a lifestyle for the locals. Researchers also believe that this mentality helped made Costa Rica the home of the happiest people on Earth.

Giving birth in Costa Rica has a whole new meaning.

The locals would not even use that phrase. Instead, they will say ‘Ella dio a luz,’ meaning ‘you gave light.’

What might be considered catcalling or rudeness in other countries was not the case in Costa Rica.

The Costa Rican man’s way of expressing his appreciation for beauty is by staring, complimenting or whistling.

Costa Ricans view soccer as a way of life.

soccer player, costa rica facts
Image by andywitchger in Wikimedia

Regardless of the size, every town in the country has a dedicated space for a school and a soccer field. Tourists could interact with locals by joining the friendly pickup game they do every Sunday which they call the ‘mejengas’.

During your stay, you could hear their national anthem every day.

Some radio stations in the country make it a point to play the hymn every morning at 7:00 am.

The national anthem of Costa Rica was first played in 1852.

Earlier known as the “Noble patria, tu hermosa bandera” meaning “Noble homeland, your beautiful flag,” the song was executed in the welcoming rites for the diplomatic representatives of the U.S. and the U.K.

It combines Manuel Maria Gutierrez’s music and Jose Maria Zeledon’s lyrics from 1903. In 1949, the song earned the official title of Costa Rica’s National Anthem.

Towns in Costa Rica held their own local fiestas throughout the year.

Common features of these events are the carnival games, dodgy rides, horse parades, local food stalls, and the iconic bull riding competitions. It is good to know that no harming of the bulls take place for the sake of the events. Locals tend to show off to the ladies by jumping into the ring and teasing the bulls.

Escazú, Costa Rica holds an ox cart festival every second Sunday of March.

bull, bull riding, costa rica facts
Image by Clarence Alford from Pixabay

The Dia de los Boyeros gathers about 100 painted antique oxcarts which are then pulled by the great oxen alongside thousands of spectators.

Costa Rica is the host of the most challenging mountain bike race in the world.

People know the event as the La Ruta de los Conquistadores or the Route of the Conquerors. Participants would have to retrace the path taken by the Spanish conquistadors from the 16th century.

It spans from the Pacific Ocean up to the Caribbean Sea and wraps up in 4 days. Hundreds of contestants gather from all over the world to compete in the November event.

Costa Rica also hosts a race to the peak of its highest mountain and back.

Held annually, the Carrera de Campo Traviesa Al Cerro Chirripó has the fastest recorded time of 3 hours, 15 minutes, and 3 seconds.