A small country without a standing military that has made waves internationally for its efforts in conservation, Costa Rica has the ability to surprise just about anyone.
You may not know anything about Costa Rica, or you may think you know more than you do. Here is a list of twenty things that make Costa Rica a truly unique place:
1. Costa Rica hasn’t had a standing army for 66 years
Under the presidency of José Figueres Ferrer Costa Rica became one of only 23 countries that currently have no standing military in 1948 and signed into law in 1949. The country has a large police force, and as of 1947 it signed a pack with United States that offers certain assistance in crisis. Costa Rica, however, is the home of the United Nations University for Peace since 1980 continuing its commitment to peace.
2. More than 25% of Costa Rica is protected as national parks and wildlife refuges
Costa Rica is greener than most countries (literally and figuratively) not only because of its location, but also, in large part, due to its policies regarding conservation. Roughly one quarter of the country is protected land, and there are more than a few endangered species that have the government of Costa Rica to thank for maintaining a thriving habitat.
3. Tourism is not only the most lucrative industry, but it is also informative (for visitors)
The natural beauty and the diverse landscape of Costa Rica with two oceans and access to countless adventure activities are paving the way to riches and the dissemination of knowledge about conservation. Since 1995, tourism became Costa Rica’s leading foreign exchange earner over the banana export industry, and in 2013, 2.4 million visitors chose Costa Rica for their vacation destination. That number increased in terms of visitors in 2014 by about 5.4%, and is expected to go up again in 2015.
4. The home of four UNESCO World Heritage Sites
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has deemed four locations in Costa Rica to be World Heritage Sites because of their cultural and natural significance. These sights include La Amistad National Park, Cocos Island National Park, the Guanacaste Conservation Area, and the Stone Spheres of the Diquís at the Pre-Columbian Chiefdom Settlements on Isla del Caño and the Disquís Delta¬.
5. Costa Rica has hundreds of volcanic formations
Nearly 112 of the over 200 volcanic formations in Costa Rica have shown some type of activity in recent years. 60 are considered dormant, which means they don’t currently show signs of activity, but could possibly become active again. Turrialba is the most active volcano in Costa Rica, while Poás is the second widest volcanic crater in the world, and Irazú is Costa Rica’s tallest volcano.
6. More than 5% of the world’s biodiversity can be found in Costa Rica
Costa Rica only occupies 0.03% of the world’s surface, but it boasts the earth’s highest percentage of biodiversity density of any country. Costa Rica is home to more than 500,000 species of flora and fauna with nearly 5 percent of the world’s biodiversity contained in its borders both land and aquatic. Corcovado National Park, for instance, has been declared “the most biologically intense place on the planet,” by National Geographic, and Manuel Antonio National Park has been called one of the “twelve most beautiful parks,” in the world by Forbes Magazine.
7. Butterflies are everywhere in Costa Rica
Costa Rica contains approximately 90 percent of the butterfly species found in Central America, 66 percent of all neo-tropical butterflies, and about 18 percent of all butterfly species in the world.
8. 800 miles of Coastline
Costa Rica has the Pacific Ocean on its west coast and the Caribbean Sea on its east coast. This makes for plenty of water based activities from sea kayaking to windsurfing and scuba diving to sport fishing.
9. The nickname for Costa Rican Residents is Tica or Tico
Costa Ricans colloquially refer to themselves as Ticos (male) and Ticas (female). This stems from their practice of adding the diminutive suffix “tico” to the end of most words. For example, un poco means “a little” in standard Spanish. The typical diminutive is un poquito (a little bit), but Costa Ricans would instead say un poquitico.
10. No summer or winter in terms like that found farther north or south
The rainy season is more or less from May to November, and the dry season is more or less from December to April. That’s pretty much it. The temp stays between 65° and 80°F (18°-27°C) through-out the year. It gets a bit warmer closer to the beach.
11. Costa Rica has a 96% literacy rate
When the kids in poor and rural parts of the country don’t have a school house, there are government sponsored classes over the radio. “Que chiva, de la verdad!?!?” How cool is that, really!?!?
12. Costa Rica is not on the map so to speak
“It’s down by the old oak tree,” is still a reality in Costa Rica. A GPS will display street names in Costa Rica, yet Ticas still use landmarks to give directions in lieu of street names. San Jose residents readily used street names and numbers through the early 20th century, but the practice fell off when a population boom hit in the 1950s and 60s. Only in 2012 did the capital city of San Jose commence a $1 million project to reintroduce street signs and a more regulated postal system.
13. Pura Vida or “Pure Life,” is a way of being in Costa Rica
It is not just a slogan on a T-shirt. Costa Ricans often make the salutation of “Pura Vida,” upon greeting or departing. The feeling of living a natural existence is inferred and meant.
14. Costa Rica can be counted as one the few places with a high life expectancy
The stress free lifestyle, and the healthy ecosystem help to contribute to a long lifespan in Costa Rica. The average calculated lifespan is around 80 years, and people often surpass that mark.
15. The happiest country in the world according to HPI
The Happy Planet Index calculates the potential for happiness based on life expectancy, experienced well-being, and Ecological Footprint, and has been presented as a possible substitution for GDP by the London Parliament. With Pura Vida as their philosophy, it comes as no surprise that Costa Ricans are considered to be some of the happiest people on Earth. With a score of 64.0, Costa Rica tops this list. (The United States, for comparison, has an HPI of 37.3.)
16. There are a total of 50 national parks in the network of parks in Costa Rica
For a small country, there is so much to see that you couldn’t expect to take it all in even if you had nothing but time and free gas for ten years. The parks range from the enormous International Park of La Amistad to the smaller and somewhat unknown parks such as Peñas Blancas National Park or Diria National Park. The time spent in these biological marvels could be done on zip-line tours hanging from tree-tops, or hiking along a trail where you’re the soul visitor to grace the park aside from the surrounding flora and fauna.
17. Patois and Spanish are spoken in the Caribbean
In the province of Limon, Costa Rica, many of the residents are the descendants of African workers that were brought into the country from Jamaica as contract laborers to work on a railroad which was to extend from the capital of San Jose through the province of Limon. The railroad never reached fruition, but the United Fruit Company and its banana trade became the most lucrative export industry in the country for many years. Thus, the Caribbean coast has a distinct feel and language that is quite different from the rest of the country.
18. A Democratic Nation
Costa Rica is the longest standing democracy in Central America
19. There is no née for married women
Women in Costa Rica do not take their husband’s name, but rather keep their full maiden name along with her mother’s maiden name for life. Children, however, take their father’s name.
20. Costa Rica has more water than land
The marine area of Costa Rica is about 580,000 square kilometers (223,939 square miles). That makes the area of its waters roughly 10 times larger than the area of its land at 52,100 square kilometers (20,116 square miles).