Beaches, green jungles, bananas, toucans… This is exactly how I imagined Costa Rica, a relatively wealthy, safe and perhaps not the most exotic country in Latin America. I’ve never been so wrong in my life! Costa Rica turned out to be much more diverse, colorful and interesting beyond the wildest expectations! Here are just a few facts that might make you want to go there too.
1. More than a quarter of the country territory consists of national parks and reserves
Tiny Costa Rica is home to 5% of all species of birds, plants and animals on the planet. 1,400 species of orchids, 50 species of hummingbirds, 1,500 species of butterflies, anteaters, sloths, whales, snakes, turtles – you name it! And all this splendor is protected by the state and volunteers. More than a quarter of the country territory consists of national parks and nature reserves. Four of them are protected by UNESCO.
Six types of forests grow in 12 climatic zones in Costa Rica. Don’t miss the cloud forest of Monteverde.
2. Costa Ricans have another name
In Latin America and at home, Costa Ricans are called ticos (men) and ticas (women). Most Spanish-speaking countries add “ito” to the end of the word to indicate they are talking about something small, while Costa Ricans add tico. I think it’s logical and clear: “the ones that are ticking”
3. Costa Ricans are the happiest people in the world
Pura vida – is Costa Rica’s national slogan. Loosely translated, it means “pure life”. It is used as a greeting, a farewell, an expression of approval and agreement. If you ask a Costa Rican to describe their life and the world around them in just one phrase, he will most likely answer: “Pura Vida”. This means the ability to appreciate what you have, accept simple things and avoid negative thoughts.
Experts consider the Pura Vida mentality to be one of the reasons Costa Ricans feel happy. Year after year, the country ranks first in the International Happiness Index (of more than 150 participants).
4. Costa Rica runs on green energy
About 98% of Costa Rica’s electricity comes from renewable sources (for the 7th year in a row!). The main part comes from hydroelectric power plants (>70%), geothermal sources, windmills and solar panels.
Download Itinerary: Costa Rica 8 Days Road Trip
Maps, prices, restaurants, activities, time for each location and other helpful travel tips
5. Costa Rica has the same daylight hours all year round
due to Costa Rica’s proximity to the equator. The sun rises and sets at almost the same time all year round – 5:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. I advise to plan all activities in the early morning when the weather is usually better. At 6 p.m. it’s so dark you can’t see a thing.
Also in Costa Rica, you can see sunrise on the Caribbean coast and sunset on the Pacific coast on the same day.
READ MORE: Car Rental in Costa Rica
6. In Costa Rica only Arabica coffee is allowed to be grown
In the world market, the country competes for quality, not quantity. All the best grains are exported (very little is left for tours and duty free). That’s why the price of a cup of cappuccino or flat white is off the charts in a few coffee shops. The locals drink the coffee that didn’t make it to the foreign rosteries.
Chorreador is the most popular way to make coffee in Costa Rica. Coffee is poured into a special bag (bolsita), poured over with water, and waited for the aromatic beverage to flow into the kettle. I can’t say the taste is any different from other coffee makers, but the process is interesting!
Tours to coffee plantations is one of the main attractions in Costa Rica. I recommend a visit to Starbucks Farm and NorthField in Arenal.
7. Sloths in Costa Rica do not hang from every tree
Sad but true! Even if they were, it would be almost impossible to notice them without a guide and a powerful telescope. Prepare yourself for indistinct lumps of fur among the tree crowns, which you will have to photograph through a powerful magnifying glass. You can get a closer look at the animals only in special shelters. We were lucky enough to meet the beauties in the video below on the Sloth Territory tour.
8. You don’t need cash in Costa Rica
Credit cards are widely accepted in Costa Rica. Even in the sodas (cafes for locals). We were asked to pay cash only once, at the Tamarindo Café. Coins are mostly used for private parking lots and toll roads. Beautiful brightly colored paper Costa Rican colóns are perfect to take them home as souvenirs.
If you need local bills, feel free to go to an ATM. ATM machines (“cajero” in Spanish) offer the best exchange rate.
9. Costa Rica is the land of volcanoes
Costa Rica is part of the Volcanic Arc of Central America, a 1,500-kilometer area with the highest density of volcanoes on Earth. Costa Rica has six active volcanoes (Arenal, Póas, Rincón de la Vieja, Irazú, Tenorio, Turrialba) and at least 61 dormant or extinct ones. Arenal, the most active among them, erupted every few years until 2010.
The most visited volcano is Póas, buy your ticket online in advance.
10. There are no addresses in Costa Rica
The country does not really have the building numbers we are accustomed to, and in some regions there are no street names. To give you the directions, people refer to landmarks: “50 meters to the right of the tree, opposite the church, fifth from the left.” Hotel addresses are marked with a reference to a store, a bank, or some other kind of landmark. One street block equals about 100 meters.
As the population in San Jose (the capital) grew about 40 years ago, the need for street names arose. They even put up some signs! But the locals are still mostly guided by stores, gas stations, and sleeping dogs.
On Google maps and maps.me all the main places are marked and the hotels send detailed instructions and landmarks on Whatsapp.
11. The local cafes are called “SODA”
The food in Costa Rica is simple and delicious. Ticos eat gallo pinto (rice with beans and egg) for breakfast, casado (rice with meat/fish, fried bananas and salad) or Olla de Carne (meat goulash) for lunch, and basically much the same for dinner. Choose the meals what the local cooks are good at and don’t hesitate to stop by SODA – inexpensive, tasty local cafes. A great dinner there costs $5 to $6 USD. Usually they add tax (13%) and tips (10%) to the price. You have to ask the waiter for the bill, they don’t bring it to you themselves.
12. People live longer in Costa Rica!
The Costa Rican village of Nicoya is part of one of the five blue zones of the planet, where the average life expectancy is much higher than in the rest of the world. According to researchers, most residents here live to be at least 90 years old.
A few secrets of local longevity:
- The water in Nicoja contains a high concentration of calcium, which reduces the risks of heart disease and bones fragility.
- Long livers usually live with their families, where children and grandchildren support and entertain them.
- A light snack instead of dinner. Pumpkin, corn, and beans are the main foods that long-livers eat most of their lives.
- Every Nicoyan has a life plan and a job, and they feel needed and valued.
- Long livers get regular sunlight and vitamin D (about 15 minutes a day)
13. Costa Rica has no army
In the ’50s, the government decided that Costa Rica doesn’t really need an army. Freed up money went to hospitals and schools. Today the country has free education, medicine and the highest percentage of literacy among Latin American countries.
What interesting fact about Costa Rica struck you the most? Feel free to share in the comments section!
Have amazing adventures!