This Central American gem is abounding in rugged terrain and rainforests. It’s the ultimate postcard destination with coastlines bordered by the Caribbean and Pacific oceans on either side. If this beautiful country has piqued your attention, then it’s likely got something to do with its rich biodiversity, volcanoes, or dream-like beaches. Few places on Earth can claim to be such an intense nature hub.
Around a quarter of this country comprises of protected jungle, teeming with fascinating wildlife just waiting to be explored. So whether you fancy yourself a beach bum or prefer to set off on a nature-filled hike, you will have no shortage of adventures in this adventurer’s paradise.
Here are 37 interesting facts about Costa Rica you might not know
37 Interesting Facts About Costa Rica
Table of Contents
- 37 Interesting Facts About Costa Rica
- 1. 25 Percent of Costa Rica’s Land is Dedicated to Conservation
- 2. Costa Rica Has No Standing Army
- 3. Costa Ricans Have One of the Highest Life Expectancies
- 4. Native Costa Ricans Refer to Themselves as Ticos or Ticas
- 5. Most of Their Energy is From Renewable Sources
- 6. They Are Big Coffee-Lovers
- 7. They Have Colorful Currency
- 8. There Are Over 200 Volcanic Formations
- 9. There Are Four UNESCO World Heritage Sites
- 10. Tourism is Their Leading Source of Foreign Exchange
- 11. Costa Rica is Home to More Than 5 Percent of the World’s Biodiversity
- 12. It’s a Butterfly Mecca
- 13. Street Signs Were Not Always Around
- 14. It Has One of the Top Five Blue Zones in the World
- 15. Bahia Ballena Looks Like a Whale’s Tail
- 16. You Are Able to Watch the Sun Rise and Set All in One Day
- 17. Over 50 Different Kinds of Hummingbirds Call This Country Home
- 18. Costa Rica Used to Be a Spanish Colony
- 19. They Did Not Need to Fight for Their Independence
- 20. Costa Rica Means ‘Rich Coast’
- 21. There Wasn’t That Much Gold After All
- 22. They Are One of the Most Politically Stable Countries in the Region
- 23. They Have Basically No Deforestation
- 24. Soda Means Something Very Different in Costa Rica
- 25. Pura Vida is One of the Most Common Phrases in Costa Rica
- 26. Costa Rica Has a Wonderfully Varied Cuisine
- 27. There Are a Large Group of Britons in Costa Rica
- 28. They Have One of the Highest Literacy Rates in Latin America
- 29. They Replaced Their Army With Teachers
- 30. San Jose Has a Japanese Okayama Park
- 31. Costa Rica Has West-Facing Churches
- 32. The Island in Jurassic Park is Said to Be Based on Costa Rica’s Cocos Island
- 33. Costa Rica’s Stone Spheres Are a Famous Attraction
- 34. Costa Rica Has More Than 800 Bird Species
- 35. One of Costa Rica’s National Symbols is the Ox Cart
- 36. They Are a Leading Ecotourism Country
- 37. Costa Rica is the Happiest Place on Earth
- Final Thoughts on Interesting Facts About Costa Rica
Before you set off on your dream Costa Rican vacation, you might want to learn a little more about this special country. Luckily this article will cover anything and everything there is to know about this land of natural beauty. Let’s dive right in and find out the top interesting facts about Costa Rica.
A quarter of this beautiful country’s land is protected, and it’s no surprise that Costa Rica would choose to conserve its biggest assets. The natural beauty of this country attracts tourists and locals from all over. With eight biological parks, twenty national parks, and multiple animal sanctuaries, there are plenty of natural treasures to protect.
In 1948 the country did away with their national army after their civil war victory of that year, making them one of 23 countries worldwide that has no armed forces. However, almost 24 countries worldwide have pledged their military support, should it be needed.
According to the World Bank, the average life expectancy is 80 years old. This is higher than the US which is 79 years old. Between the fertile soils, stress-relieving nature as far as the eye can see, and the readily available native superfoods, it’s no surprise that healthy living comes rather easily here.
This is an affectionate nickname coined by the locals of this friendly country. It originated from a nationwide tendency of ending words with diminutives like ‘tico’ and ‘tica’ (male and female) such as with ‘chiquitico’ meaning very small.
This is different from what other Spanish-speaking countries would say – ‘chiquitito’. So while referring to people in Costa Rica as Costa Ricans isn’t wrong per se, you will likely just be in the minority.
This planet-friendly country produces most of its electricity (about 99%) from renewable sources. The five sources they use are wind, biomass, hydropower, geothermal energy, and solar energy. In fact, in 2009 already, they were regarded as the greenest country in the world.
The economic growth of this country sprung largely from its history of coffee production in the 20th century. It’s no surprise that this picturesque country is one of the leading producers and exporters of coffee beans in the world.
There are around one and a half million bags of coffee grown and exported around the globe each year. It’s safe to say you will have no problem finding a good cup of coffee in Costa Rica.
Almost as colorful as its terrain, every denomination of this country’s currency boasts a different animal or landscape, native to the country. For example, there’s a sloth in a jungle, surrounded by flowers, on the 10 million Colones note. And on the 5 million banknotes, you’ll see a crab and a Capuchin monkey hanging out with some bananas in the mangroves.
Whether it’s the Blue Morpho butterfly, Capuchin monkey, White-Tailed deer, or the sloth, you can spot them all in the vast biodiversity of the country or on the vibrantly-colored banknotes.
Of these 200-plus volcanic formations, around 100 of them have shown some activity. There are also 5 active volcanoes: the Irazú, Arenal, the Poás, the Turrialba, and the Rincón de la Vieja.
Irazú is the tallest of these, standing at about 11,260 feet above sea level. A volcano must have erupted in the last 10,000 years in order for it to be considered active.
Costa Rica boasts not one, but four United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) locations. These include the Precolumbian Chiefdom Settlements with Stone Spheres of the Dequis, Cocos Island National Park, La Amistad National Park, and Area de Conservacion Guanacaste.
Each of these special and cherished locations features climate zones that are unique, as well as fauna and flora that are considered natural treasures to Costa Rica.
With natural beauty as far as the eye can see and breathtaking beaches, it’s no surprise that this is a popular tourist destination. Travelers come for vacation and adventure in this slice of paradise. But in addition to this, Costa Rica is also an all-year-round and long-term-stay destination.
Tourism was one of the fastest-growing economic sectors in the country. Before 1995, bananas were the country’s leading foreign exchange source but tourism has since outranked them at an exponential rate.
This is a crazy reality but thanks to its wealth of ecosystems, this country is teeming with so much nature and wildlife that it is home to over 500,000 different species. Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park is also said to be the most biologically-rich location on the whole planet.
This is why it is said to be one of the top 20 countries in the world when it comes to having the highest biodiversity.
This beautiful country is home to a huge population of butterflies. In fact, of Central America’s butterfly species, about 90 percent call Costa Rica home. This creates an absolutely enchanting atmosphere, unique to this little corner of the world.
If you’re hoping to spot some beautiful butterflies, the best time to get lucky with sightings is in the rainy season between June and November. Costa Rica’s most famous butterfly is the Blue Morpho which boasts iridescent neon blue wings and a wingspan that can reach an impressive 6 inches (15cm).
Until 2012, Costa Rica did not have any street signs. This didn’t seem to matter as locals made use of landmarks and popular reference points to get around or provide directions.
There was an estimated $270 million being lost to returned or lost mail. However, in 2012 the capital of San Jose underwent a $1 million project which led to the introduction of street signs.
Nicoya, on the West Coast of Costa Rica, is one of the top five blue zones in the world. The other four are Loma Linda, Sardinia, Okinawa, and Icaria. Blue Zones are where an unusual amount of that population lives longer than the average person. To be exact, it’s where people live over the age of 100 years old.
Whale Bay or Bahía Ballena, on the Southern Pacific coast in the south of Puntarenas, is a popular beach. And what’s more, when seen from above, it’s actually shaped like a whale’s tail.
Not to mention, this actually happens to also be a really excellent spot for whale-watching. This area is of course protected, like most of Costa Rica, and is known as the Marino Ballena National Park.
It’s no secret by now that Costa Rica boasts some world-famous beaches, for many reasons. One of these is that you are able to watch the sunrise from the Caribbean coast’s horizon, and on the same day, marvel at its setting on the Pacific coast side of the country.
Costa Rica has a huge variety of Hummingbird species. They are so diverse that the smallest weighs around two grams, while some of the larger Hummingbird species weigh around eleven grams. What’s special about the Hummingbirds in Costa Rica, is that they live here all year round.
If you’re hoping to spot one of these cuties, then your best bet is around Costa Rica’s cloud forests such as La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Monteverde, and Bajos del Toro.
In 1502 Christopher Columbus sailed over to what is known as Costa Rica today. The country was a Spanish colony thereafter, for over 300 years after which they gained independence, in 1821.
As a result of this colonization, a great deal of Costa Rica’s culture has been influenced by Spanish culture.
Unlike other Central American states, Costa Rica did not need to fight a war to gain its independence from Spain. This freedom just came naturally after the Spanish were defeated in the Mexican War of Independence.
In 1821 when Mexico declared its independence from Spain, other Central American countries, including Costa Rica, joined the Mexican Empire, however short-lived. Costa Rica became fully independent soon after.
This name dates back to when Christopher Columbus arrived on the coast of this country and reported that he had seen loads of jewels, and the natives with gold draped around their necks. After that everyone started referring to it as La Costa Rica – “the rich coast.”
21. There Wasn’t That Much Gold After All
There wasn’t actually as much silver or gold in the area as the Spanish initially assumed, which meant that these European and Spanish settlers lost interest rather quickly. As a result, the country was largely left to develop on its own.
According to the colonizers, there was also not a substantial enough indigenous population to enslave and since they were unwilling to do the work themselves, they paid little attention to this country. As a result of their lack of interest in what Costa Rica had to offer them, the country was able to become the unique and distinct democratic land they are today.
Compared to other countries in Central and Latin America, Costa Rica takes the cake when it comes to political stability.
In the early 20th century, they had a military dictator and a short civil war, but since then there have been no major waves. In fact, they have had 16 successive presidential elections, all of which were peaceful.
If you’re looking for a country with some leading ‘Go Green’ credentials then Costa Rica is the one. With an almost 0% deforestation rate, they are an impressive nation and certainly one to strive after.
This wasn’t always the case though. Between 1973 and 1979, they actually had some of the worst deforestation rates. But by 2012 they had cleaned up their act so dramatically that there was just about zero deforestation happening. And since then they have remained leading models in the area.
Most people, when they think of ‘soda’, a carbonated soft drink comes to mind, right? Well, be prepared for a surprise in Costa Rica. Here, Sodas are little roadside restaurants or mom-and-pop places where you can get tasty food at very affordable prices.
For as little as $3 you can fill up on chicken, rice, and beans. Costa Rica also does really delicious vegetarian and vegan dishes so everyone should be well-catered for and happily fed throughout their holiday.
Essentially Pura Vida is like saying “I’m all good thanks, but how can I not be when life is so good”. Literally translated, Pura Vida means ‘pure life’.
Before embarking on a vacation to a country with an unfamiliar language to you, it’s always handy to have a few basic greetings and phrases in your back pocket. Not only does it create a good rapport with locals but it’s quite an accomplished feeling to get by in another language. So if you want to add a phrase to your repertoire, then Pura Vida is a great place to start.
This country is filled with taste sensations, there’s no doubt about that. Food-lovers will be in their element here. With everything from traditional Spanish delicacies and African gastronomy, to Mesoamerican influences, it is nothing short of a foodie’s paradise.
There are even Chinese flavors to note. This is because every ethnic group that has called this country home, has greatly influenced the flavor explosion that Costa Rica is today.
British people are the second largest European group in Costa Rica. You might have thought it would be Germans or Italians. But there were recorded to be about 5,200 British people living in 2012.
This dates back to the 19th century when there were a significant number of Britons all over the Caribbean. Their motivation was to get in on the coffee plantations that Costa Rica was so widely known for.
Costa Rica is a country that has always placed a very strong emphasis on education. What’s even more fascinating is that since 1969, education in Costa Rica has not only been mandatory, but public education is completely free.
Their education system is also ranked 32nd in the world. That’s a pretty impressive feat. And it’s no wonder they have the highest literacy rate in Latin America. All citizens have to learn to read and write, which is how they achieve a 97% literacy rate across the country.
We know that this fascinating country did away with its army back in 1948. So where did all the money go that was once poured into soldier wages, equipment, and mechanical components? It went straight into the education system. It’s no wonder they have achieved the literacy rates they have.
The Japanese city of Okayama and Costa Rica’s San Jose are sister cities, or neighbors if you will. In the spirit of neighborly love, the garden was opened in 2002 to commemorate this. It’s a super picturesque, Japanese-inspired park complete with a torii gate, in San Jose.
This is one of those unusually fun facts about Costa Rica – their churches generally face west. Yes, this isn’t the case for every one of their churches, but for the most part, it seems to be the general rule of thumb. The reason for this is so that the congregation members can pray towards Jerusalem which is in the east.
Some suspect that Cocos Island was the inspiration for Treasure Island while others reckon it might have influenced the 1719 adventure novel by Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe.
The most popular theory is that many Jurassic Park fans claim that Cocos Island, inspired Jurassic Park’s very own Isla Nubar. Either way, it’s a pretty exciting thought.
These boulder-like stone attractions are around 2,000 years old and were sculpted into virtually perfect spheres. Found on the Diquís Delta and Isla del Caño, this assortment of 300 plus petrospheres are truly a sight to behold.
They have a diameter of about four inches which is very impressive. Scientists believe they were molded with smaller rocks and smoothed down with sand. Their use is unclear but you will usually find them near gravesites, arranged in curves and lines. They are said to be attributed to the, now extinct, Diquís culture.
Fascinatingly, Costa Rica’s 800 plus bird species actually account for about 10% of all bird species on Earth. And of course, if you’re an avian enthusiast, Costa Rica will be a mecca of extravagantly colored Hummingbirds, Toucans, and other unique feathered friends.
What makes Costa Rica’s bird scene so special, is that you don’t have to be an ornithologist (bird expert) to appreciate the diversity and impressive variety of birdlife in this country. Some of the country’s most beautiful bird species can easily be spotted on display in their natural environment.
And it almost doesn’t matter what region of Costa Rica you’re in because there is such a high concentration that you’ll get lucky almost anywhere. It’s also worth knowing that the humbly cream-colored Thrush is Costa Rica’s national bird.
This is definitely one of the more peculiar Costa Rica facts, but it’s true. It dates back to the early settler days when settlers brought over ox carts. They were originally not even pulled by oxen but by people. They played a huge role in carting and delivering coffee – the all-important, money-making beans.
However, around the 20th century, the popularity of ox carts as a mode of transport declined somewhat, and instead, people started painting them all sorts of fun colors. This soon became a social status symbol, to the point where today, the formerly humble ox cart is a national Costa Rican icon. So much so that UNESCO declared it an Intangible World Cultural Heritage.
It’s no secret that Costa Rica has a lot to show the world when it comes to nature and biodiversity protection. In light of this, the Ethical Traveler group voted Costa Rica one of their top 10 countries for eco-tourism.
The biggest reason for Costa Rica’s eco-tourism success is thanks to the private sector’s active involvement, the extraordinary biodiversity of course, and the comprehensive protection schemes in place. Their preservation and conservation of natural resources and land are almost unmatched.
And thanks to this, future generations will have the opportunity and the privilege to experience and learn from the habitats that have been so carefully protected.
This may seem like a reach, but according to the Happy Planet Index, Costa Rica ranks as the happiest place (not Disney World, believe it or not).
This was measured in terms of ecological footprint, life expectancy, and the general population’s experienced well-being. Now, this doesn’t sound like a bad place to spend your next holiday.
Well, there you have it, all the weird and wonderful things about Costa Rica. Whether you’re a foodie looking for a slice of this tasty country, an adventurer seeking their next thrill, or an avid nature lover looking to broaden your knowledge, Costa Rica has it all.
From countless wildlife species and stretches of paradise-like white sandy beaches to delicious coffee and a whale-shaped island – there truly is something for every type of traveler. And after your vacation, be sure to bring home one of Costa Rica’s beautifully unique banknotes as a memoir of your trip to this rich, vibrant corner of the world.