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Costa Rica- the land of pura vida and gallo pinto, is home to an incredible amount of biodiversity, laid-back people and some of the best food in the world. In this post, I’ll share with you some of my favorite interesting facts about Costa Rica.
Table of contents
#1 – Costa Rica is divided into seven provinces: Heredia, Cartago, Guanacaste, Puntarenas, and Limon.
#2 – San José is the largest city in Costa Rica, as well as the capital. It is home to 339,980 residents. The metro area is home to almost half the population, about 2 million.
Related post: The Best Day Trips From San Jose Costa Rica
#3 The population of Costa Rica is about 5 million.
#4 The national currency of Costa Rica is the “colon.” The exchange rate in 2022 is about 600 to $1. If you have more than one colon, they are referred to as colones. United States dollars are often accepted in-country as well.
Related post: Costa Rica Currency
#5 The Costa Rican government is a democratic republic ruled by a president that is elected every four years. 2022 is an election year. All residents go to their local polling place (usually in their hometown) and vote in person for the presidential elections. There is no mail-in voting in Costa Rica. It is very difficult for expatriates to vote in Costa Rica.
Related post: 10 Fascinating Costa Rica Flag Facts
#6 Elected in 2018, Epsy Campbell was the first female Afro-descendent vice president in Costa Rican history and was widely favored by Costa Ricans during her 4 years in office.
#7 The first female president, Laura Chinchilla Miranda, was elected to office in May 2010.
#8 Costa Rica carries a lot of national debt. It was the first country in the world to default on its loans- in 1981.
#9 The Costa Rican armed forces were abolished in 1949 after a bloody 44-day civil war. The military budget was used to create an “army of teachers.” There is currently no standing army in Costa Rica.
#10 Costa Rica has universal public education and the literacy rate is 97%- the highest in Central America and one of the highest in South America.
#11 Costa Rica gained independence from Spain in 1821- the same year as the rest of Central America. Its Independence Day is September 15.
#12 Street signs in Costa Rica are very rarely used, even though street names do exist. Most residents use landmarks to describe how to arrive at a destination. For example, they may say the restaurant is 100 meters after the large ceiba tree instead of giving a physical address. For a fun podcast (in Spanish) about this tradition listen to Perdido en San Jose from NPR.
#13- Costa Rica’s name translates to “Rich Coast,” given by the Spaniards because of the gorgeous coastline.
Costa Rica Geography
#14 Costa Rica is about the size of the state of West Virginia in the United States, or just slightly smaller than Lake Michigan.
#15 Costa Rica hosts more than 5% of the world’s biodiversity even though its landmass only takes up .03% of the planet’s surface.
#16 Over 25% of Costa Rica is protected by its 27 national parks. These include Coco Island (Isla del Coco), which is home to some of the best diving in the world. It is also where Jurassic Park was filmed.
#17 There are more than 121 volcanic formations in Costa Rica. It is home to seven active volcanoes. the Poas Volcano has the second widest crater in the world and a gorgeous blue lagoon at its center. The Arenal Volcano is one of the ten most active volcanoes in the world.
Visiting a volcano? Check our top 7 picks for best volcanoes to visit in Costa Rica.
#18 The country’s youngest volcano is the Arenal Volcano, which erupted in 1968. That eruption destroyed the town of La Fortuna, killing thousands of Costa Ricans.
#19 The highest mountain in Costa Rica is Chirripo. The elevation is 3,820 m (12,533 feet). It is located near the small town of San Gerardo de Rivas. The national park spans three provinces: Limon, San Jose, and Heredia.
Related post: San Gerardo de Rivas Traveler’s Guide
#20 Costa Rica has a total of 1,228 kilometers of coastline. 1,016 kilometers are on the Pacific Coast. 212 kilometers are on the Caribbean Coast.
Related post: 20+ Best Pacific Beaches in Costa Rica
#21 Costa Rica is bordered by Nicaragua in the north and Panama to the south. It is the third smallest country in Central America.
#22 Costa Rica has more ocean than land- ten times more in fact. There are 625,000 square kilometers of ocean with only 52,000 kilometers of landmass.
#23 Costa Rica has the second-highest number of rivers and water bodies in the world when you compare it to its relative size. The number of rivers can be attributed to the massive rains that happen during the rainy season.
#24 There are over 300 beaches in Costa Rica- more lining the Pacific Ocean than the Caribbean Sea.
#25 The sun rises and sets at almost the same time each day due to the close proximity of the country to the equator.
#26 Costa Rica is the most visited country in Central America, and one of the most visited in the world.
#27 There are only two seasons in Costa Rica- the rainy season and the dry season. The dry season lasts from December to May. The rainy season lasts from June to November.
Related post: Costa Rica Weather
Nature in Costa Rica
#28 Sloths are beloved the world round, and the sloth recently became a national symbol of Costa Rica. The other national symbols are the flag, the coat of arms, the national anthem, the national flower, the national tree, the national bird, the Costa Rican painted ox cart, the white-tailed deer, the marimba, the torch of independence, and the crests of Chirripo national park.
#29 The national tree is the Guanacaste tree, (enterolobium cyclocarpum). The tree has a broad leafy top shielding farm and livestock alike from the pounding sun of the dry season.
#30 Monkeys are one of the most common mammals in Costa Rica. The four common species are the Howler, Spider, White-Faced and Squirrel.
#31 There are 52 species of hummingbird in Costa Rica. There are 300 species of humming birds in the world.
#32 More than 10% of the world’s butterflies live in Costa Rica. The Blue Morpho is an unofficial symbol of Costa Rica.
#33 There are about 750,000 species of insects that live in Costa Rica. This includes 20,000 different types of spiders.
#34 Turtles are abundant in Costa Rica. On the Pacific coast, over 100,000 Olive Ridley turtles can arrive in a single day.
Related post: Popular Costa Rica Animal Sightings
Related post: Guide To Costa Rican Fruit
#37 The casado, which means “married” is the official lunch of Costa Rica. It combines rice and beans with a vegetable hash, protein (red meat, chicken or fish) and fried plantains. Vegan? Don’t worry, there are tons of vegan options in the Costa Rican diet.
Related post: Costa Rican Casado – Everything you need to know.
#38 The national dish is called “spotted rooster, or gallo pinto. It consists of rice and beans cooked together, mixed with Salsa Lizano. Legend has it the name came from a farmer who invited friends over to eat chicken (rooster.) When too many people arrived, he served them rice mixed with beans- but the name “spotted rooster” stuck.
#39 Salsa Lizano is the official sauce in Costa Rica. Invented in 1920, it is used in many recipes and put on top of food such as tamales. t’s not spicy, it is often compared to Worcestershire sauce.
Related post: What Is Salsa Lizano From Costa Rica
#40 The Nicoya peninsula is home to some of the longest-living people in the world. The highest number of centenarians in the world are in Nicoya. This is attributed to their extremely healthy diet. This caused them to be designated as an official Blue Zones area (1 of 5 in the world.)
#41 Residents of Blue Zones consistently love to be over 100 years old, and their diets consist of whole foods such as corn, rice, beans, and an abundance of fruits and vegetables.
#42 The only type of coffee grown in Costa Rica is Arabica. The majority of the coffee is grown at altitude in the Central Valley. 90% of the coffee grown in Costa Rica is exported.
Related post: Hacienda Alsacia Starbucks Costa Rica
#43 Almost 7% of the world’s bananas are grown in Costa Rica.
#44 The Caribbean coast is home to its own flavors, and there is even a version of gallo pinto referred to as “rice and beans.” There is a large Jamaican influence on the cuisine due to the migration of Jamaicans to help build the nation’s railroad in the late 1800s.
Related post: 30+ Foods To Try In Costa Rica
Costa Rican People
#45 Costa Rican refer to themselves as ticos (men) and ticas (women). this is because when speaking, many people will add the suffix “-ico” to their words to mean small. For example, they will say “chiquitito” instead of “chiquito.”
Related post: The Complete Guide To Costa Rican Slang
#46 Ticos are some of the happiest people in the world- they constantly top the World Happiness Report.
#47 Costa Ricans value the environment. The country is working towards becoming one of the few carbon natural countries with zero net emissions by the year 2050.
#48 Costa Rican traditional ox-cart painting is a UNESCO World Heritage Site patrimony. The art combines Spanish baroque shapes combined with bright Caribbean countries. You can find artisans painting in this style in Sarchi.
#49 Costa Ricans are educated! In 1869, Costa Rica made education both free and mandatory for all its citizens. Today there are more than four thousand schools in Costa Rica. Over the last three decades the country has invested nearly 30% of its national budget in primary and secondary education.
#50 Costa Ricans are generally buried on the same day that they pass away. If this is not the case, it is the next day. Since 52% of the country is Catholic, many observe the 9 days of prayer after death.
#51 Naming conventions in Costa Rica are interesting. When a child is born, they take their father’s last name and their mother’s last name. With the addition of a middle name, most people have four names. Women generally do not take their husband’s last name in Costa Rica, keeping their same name for their entire life. This is a common practice in the rest of Latin America as well.
#52 Costa Ricans love soccer, and it’s the most popular sport in Costa Rica.
Welcome! I’m Christa, a former high school teacher married to a handsome Costa Rican and mother of two bilingual daughters. I love all things Spanish and bi-cultural, (especially travel and food!) and you’ll find my observations on life here. Thanks for stopping by