In search of some facts about Costa Rica? Then you’ve come to the right place, as we share some awesome Costa Rica facts. Costa Rica is an amazing country with so many interesting things to know.
Read on to learn something new about the Central American country!
Interesting Costa Rica Facts
1. Costa Rica was a Spanish Colony
This is a pretty simple fact about Costa Rica, but it’s also a pretty important one. Christopher Columbus sailed over to what became Costa Rica in 1502. It gained independence in 1821, over 300 years later (but wasn’t fully sovereign until 1838).
2. But it never fought Spain for independence
Nope. Like other Central American states, Costa Rica didn’t actually have to directly fight against Spain to claim independence. Independence of a kind came after the Mexican War of Independence defeated Spain.
3. Costa Rica doesn’t have a military
This is a little known fact about Costa Rica. Following the bloody, 44-day-long Costa Rican Civil War in which 2,000 people died, the country decided to get rid of their army in 1948. Permanently. They do have police and border control, but no actual military. This is quite crazy when you consider that they’re bordered by Panama, Ecuador, and Nicaragua.
4. Costa Rica means “Rich Coast”
When old Chris Columbus first rocked up there, on his last voyage might we add, he told everyone that there was a ton of jewelry and gold draped on the necks and shoulders of the natives. Spanish conquistador Gil Gonzalez de Avila corroborated his stories. Therefore, everyone started calling it La costa rica – “the rich coast.”
5. But Costa Rica actually wasn’t that rich to begin with
There wasn’t a load of silver and gold there, so Spain left it alone (relatively speaking). There also wasn’t a substantial indigenous population to enslave. This meant that the Spanish and European settlers who arrived there didn’t have people to do their dirty work for them, so they had to work for themselves. As a result, Costa Rica has become the idiosyncratic democracy everyone knows and loves today.
6. Most of Costa Rica’s energy comes from renewable sources
Yep, this Central American country is super environmentally friendly. Almost ALL of its energy comes from renewable sources – a massive 98.1% by 2016. They were regarded as the greenest country in the world in 2009, and want to be carbon neutral by 2021. Awesome.
7. Costa Ricans are crazy for coffee
Their prime industry in the 20th century was coffee, and led ultimately to the aptly named “coffee barons” – sort of like oil barons, but with coffee instead. This basically led to the economic growth of the country.
8. Costa Rica is the most politically stable country in the region
It may have had a military dictator in the early 20th century, and it did have a civil war, but since then, Costa Rica has had 16 successive – and peaceful – presidential elections. It’s a stark contrast to many other countries in Central or even Latin America.
9. There’s a lot of seismic activity in Costa Rica
An interesting fact about Costa Rica is that it has got 14 volcanoes, but 6 of them are pretty active. The tallest one is Irazu, at 11,260 feet above sea level; it last erupted in 1994. Where there are active volcanoes, there are earthquakes, and Costa Rica gets a lot of them.
10. Chinese people in the 19th century thought Costa Rica was called Puntarenas
Well, some did. That’s because of a so-called “Chinese colony” that was settled in Puntarenas around 1873. The settlement became more and more well known, and many people just assumed that their neighbors and friends-of-friends were making the move to this awesome place called Puntarenas, not Costa Rica.
11. More of Costa Rica is made up of national parks than any other country
An amazing fact about Costa Rica is that a massive 25% of its entire territory comprises national parks and nature reserves. The average for the developed world is 13%; the world average is only 8%. Costa Rica is definitely up there as one of the best for preserving nature. In Corcovado National Park, there are big cats, monkeys, tapirs, and so much more – and that’s just one park.
12. Costa Rica boasts an almost 0% rate of deforestation
Wow. Now that Costa Rica fact really is amazing. What’s even more incredible about this Costa Rica fact is that the country actually used to have some of the worst rates of deforestation going (1973-’79 was particularly bad). By 2012, it was almost ZERO. Those green credentials, though.
13. Soda doesn’t mean what you think it means in Costa Rica
Most places in the world soda is, well, SODA – a carbonated soft drink. But in Costa Rica, soda is something else entirely. Sodas are small roadside restaurants and mom-and-pop places in towns where you can get good food for reasonable prices. You can fill up on rice, beans, and chicken for as little as $3. See more Costa Rica travel tips here.
14. People from Costa Rica aren’t called Costa Ricans
Well, you can definitely call them Costa Ricans, but it’s not the local way of doing things. Costa Ricans are actually known as “Ticos.” They call themselves that, and other Latin Amerian countries call ‘em that too. Why? They add “tico” to the ends of words for no apparent reason.
15. And they’re pretty happy
In fact, in 2017 National Geographic Magazine voted Costa Rica as the world’s happiest country. “Costa Ricans enjoy the pleasure of living daily life to the fullest in a place that mitigates stress and maximizes joy.” We want in on that!
16. One of the most common phrases in Costa Rica is pura vida
It literally means “pure life,” but it sounds less like a Japanese energy drink when you hear it in context. “How are you?” – “Pura vida, man!” It’s like saying, all good, but with connotations of “life is good, how can it not be?”
17. Costa Rican cuisine is super varied
From traditional Spanish gastronomy and African influences to Mesoamerican flavors and traditions, even Chinese – each ethnic group that calls Costa Rica home has contributed greatly to how the country tastes today. And it tastes good.
18. Britons are the second-largest group of Europeans in Costa Rica
You’d think it might be Italians, or maybe Germans, but as of 2012, there were around 5,200 Britons (people of British origin) living in Costa Rica. That’s quite a few. That’s because in the late 19th century, Britain – who were all over the Caribbean at the time – were the first to notice the coffee plantations of the country. The natural thought was, of course, “I want a slice of that.”
19. Costa Rica has one of the highest rates of literacy in Latin America
This country really believes that education is the key – and they aren’t wrong. Education is free, and basic education is mandatory. You have to learn to read and write here, which is why they end up with a 97% rate of literacy.
20. When the army was abolished, they replaced it with an army of teachers
Each solider has a wage, each officer, piece of equipment, and mechanical component of the army came with its price. In 1948, when Costa Rica decided to do away with its military, it used the money it saved on education. Hence the high levels of literacy, we imagine.
21. Costa Rica is in a Blue Zone
Nope, this doesn’t mean there’s a lot of sea (although there is). It actually means that Costa Rica is one of several countries in the world where people live till over 100. So this Central American nation is up there with Okinawa in Japan, Sardinia in Italy, and Ikaria in Greece.
22. Churches in Costa Rica face west
A pretty strange fact about Costa Rica is that the churches face west. That’s not the case for every single church. The jury’s out on exactly why the churches face that way, but the general consensus seems to be that the congregation inside the church can pray towards Jerusalem, in the east.
23. Costa Rica has some seriously cool money
We challenge you to find cooler banknotes than Costa Rican ones. Let’s run through ‘em, shall we? On the 5 mil colones, there’s a capuchin monkey and a crab chilling in mangroves with bananas. On the 10 mil note, there’s a sloth hanging out in a jungle, complete with flowers. On the 50, which is purple, there’s a beautiful blue morpho butterfly, a palm tree, and some mushrooms. The money reflects the biodiversity of the country.
24. There’s a cool beach shaped like a whale’s tail in Costa Rica
It’s actually called Bahia Ballena. Funnily enough, it’s a prime whale-watching spot. Like a lot of natural places in the country, it’s protected – as the Marino Ballena National Park.
25. You can watch a Caribbean sunrise and a Pacific sunset on the same day
Thanks to Costa Rica amazingly boasting a coastline in the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, it gets the best of both worlds. But better than just that fact about Costa Rica is that, because of its size, you can easily see a sunrise on one side, and a sunset on the other side, all in the same day!
26. The island in Jurassic Park (may be) based on Cocos Island in Costa Rica
Some say it’s the inspiration for Treasure Island; others say that it might have influenced Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe. But no. Many people claim that it is the one and the same Isla Nubar from Michael Crichton’s novel Jurassic Park. Cocos Island is pretty protected, so who knows what’s going on there.
27. Costa Rica is famous for stone spheres
They’re super cool, we’re just going to say that now. They’re about 2,000 years old; they’re stones that have been sculpted (presumably) into virtually perfect spheres. They range from four inches to eight feet in diameter. No one knows what they’re for, but they’re found near gravesites and are arranged in lines and curves.
28. There are over 800 bird species in Costa Rica
Well, it’s actually more like 850. That accounts for around 10% of all bird species on Earth. Naturally, you’re going to find some super rare birds here, like rainbow-colored hummingbirds and all sorts of other craziness. The national bird of Costa Rica, however, is the very modest, clay-colored thrush. Go figure.
29. There’s an Okayama Park in San Jose
It’s a pretty, Japanese style park complete with a torii gate like right out of a Shinto shrine. That’s because San Jose and the city of Okayama, Japan, are sister cities. The garden was opened in 2002 to commemorate 30 years of sister city-hood.
30. San Jose only started putting in street signs in 2012
This is an amazing fact about Costa Rica: its capital never had street signs. Addresses?! Who needs addresses when you can simply give directions based on local landmarks? The postal service, apparently.
The country was losing an estimated $270 million, and it was all down to lost or returned mail. San Jose Mayor Johnny Araya at the time was happy: he used to live at “200 meters north of the Pizza Hut then 400 meters west,” but was looking forward to a number and street name.
31. Tourism is super important to Costa Rica
Once the country relied on its coffee, bananas, and to a lesser extent, its pineapples. It still does, but today, tourism has outstripped the riches earned from agri-business and put Costa Rica on the map. In fact, it’s the most visited country in Central America.
32. Costa Rica is a pioneer of ecotourism
With all those protected areas (a quarter of the country, don’t forget), it’s no doubt that Costa Rica has a lot to show the world when it comes to nature. The Ethical Traveler group voted it one of their top 10 countries in 2017 for ecotourism, for example.
33. Ox carts are a national symbol of Costa Rica
Ox carts may seem like a weird one, but stay with us. They were brought over by colonizers, were originally pulled by people, not oxen, and were instrumental in delivering that all-important cash crop to market – coffee. In the 20th century, people stopped using them so much and began painting them crazy colors. They became more of a symbol of social status. Today, the humble ox cart is a national icon. UNESCO even deemed it worthy of going on their intangible cultural property list.
What to Pack for Costa Rica
Travel Water Bottle
Plastic pollution is a problem in Costa Rica so it’s best not to contribute to the problem buying plastic water bottles everywhere – plus the water from the taps here is perfectly safe to drink. We’ve shifted to using an insulated aluminum water bottle as it handles the hot sun well.
However, we also love filtered water bottles in areas we’re uncertain of the water supply. Read more about favorite water bottle for travel in our post.
A cover-up is one of those beach vacation clothes you should always travel within your luggage. When packing for a day at the beach, make sure you don’t forget one. Not only do they look cute, but they will also protect you from the suns harsh rays.
Many establishments don’t allow beachgoers to wear just a swimsuit, so this is where the cover-up is essential. Most of my cover-ups come from Pitusa.
In case you didn’t know, Costa Rica has something called the rainforest. It’s a safe bet that you’ll be caught in one of the countries many thunderstorms. If you are traveling Costa Rica in the wet season (May-December), a rain jacket is essential, but I would bring one any time of year just to be safe. The rain is typically short-lived, but you won’t want to get soaked during that time.
We both have rain jackets made by Arc’teryx. They are lightweight, durable, packable, waterproof, and windproof. Any rain jacket will do, but the top dollar ones will hold up and really help in inclement weather. If you’re looking for a more affordable jacket we’re big fans of Columbia’s outdoor wear for a good value.
If you’re wondering what travel necessities to bring to Costa Rica then good walking shoes should be your top concern.
No matter what you will need a beach bag when heading to the beach. This is to throw in anything like towels, a book, a speaker, sunglasses, snacks, and sunscreen. As full-time travelers, we often use our daypacks for trips to the beach since a tote is unnecessary.
However, a classic tote that everyone has in their closet is a great option for those on short trips or live close to the beach. They also travel well as they can fold flat and lie in your luggage. For family beach goers I recommend a large yet durable beach tote like this one.
Skin cancer is for real! Don’t forget your SPF when traveling around Costa Rica. We recommend ordering some online before leaving the house as you will need it underneath the sun in the summer.
We highly recommend getting an eco friendly sun cream that does not contain harmful chemicals.
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses, but they do make a huge difference from the crappy $10 ones.
Most hotels will provide you with a towel, but they often aren’t suitable or allowed on the beaches. I like to travel with a microfiber towel because they are light and fold up small, and they also don’t cling on to sand our dirt. Here are a few of our favorite travel towels.
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