30+ Fascinating Facts About Costa Rica

Discover 30+ fun facts about Costa Rica!

Costa Rica, officially the Republic of Costa Rica, is a small nation that occupies a central spot in the thin Central American isthmus that joins the large continents of North and South America. A land of dense jungles, fertile valleys, active volcanoes, and pristine beaches, Costa Rica is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places on earth. Here are some interesting facts about Costa Rica. 

Facts about Costa Rica

1. Costa Rica is the fifth-largest country in Central America. 

Costa Rica has a total area of 51,100 km² (19,700 sq mi), which makes it almost double the size of the US state of Massachusetts. 

2. Costa Rica has a coastline on the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.  

Costa Rica is bordered by the Pacific Ocean on the southwest and the Caribbean Sea, which is part of the Atlantic Ocean, on the northeast. Costa Rica’s coastline extends for 1,290 km (802 mi). 

Costa Rica’s coastline is lined with a wide array of colorful beaches, from white sand beaches to black volcanic sand beaches and pebble beaches to brown or gray gritty sand beaches. On the serrated Pacific coast, the beaches are separated by rocky headlands while the ones on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast stretch uninterrupted for miles.

3. Costa Rica shares a land border with two countries.  

Costa Rica is bordered by Panama (348 km/216 mi) to the southeast and Nicaragua (313 km/194 mi) to the north.

4. The highest point in Costa Rica is Mount Chirripó.  

Located in Chirripó National Park in central Costa Rica, Mount Chirripó rises to an elevation of 3,819 m (12,530 ft), making it the tallest mountain in Costa Rica. Mount Chirripó is also the tallest point in Central America outside of Guatemala. It’s been reported that on clear days it is possible to see both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea from Mount Chirripó.

5. Before colonization, several indigenous groups occupied Costa Rica.

Several Amerindian groups such as the Boruca, Bribri, Guaymí, Huetar, Cabécar, Térraba, and Chorotegas called Costa Rica home before colonization. By the time colonization began, the first inhabitants were living in small, scattered communities, subsisting on agriculture or trade.

Within the first century after colonization, nearly 95 percent of all the indigenous people in Costa Rica had died. Many were killed during armed conflicts with European settlers, but the majority of deaths were caused by diseases such as smallpox and measles.

6. Costa Rica was colonized by Spain.

In 1502, on his fourth and last voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus anchored just offshore from present-day Limón. He spent 17 days in the land he called Veragua (mildew), and his descriptions of the gold worn by the chiefs lured Spanish conquistadors to Costa Rica.

Whether Columbus actually gave the country its name—“the rich coast”—is open to debate, but the Spanish conquistadors never did find much gold or minerals to exploit here. It took over 60 years from the time of Columbus’s arrival at Limón until the first European settlement in Costa Rica was actually established. Impassable terrain, huge mountains, raging rivers, swamps, extreme weather, and a belligerent local population all played a large part in the delay.

For the next two and a half centuries, Costa Rica became a backwater and was a neglected penurious outpost of the Spanish Empire, virtually forgotten by the governors of New Spain, based in Mexico.

7. Costa Rica got news of its independence nearly a month after it actually gained independence.

This is one of the most fascinating facts about Costa Rica. On 15 September 1821, after the final Spanish defeat in the Mexican War of Independence (1810–21), the Guatemalan authorities declared the independence of all of Central America.

Since Costa Rica never fought for independence from Spain, no one rushed to tell the Costa Ricans they had attained independence. In fact, the news did not reach Costa Rica until 13 October 1821 when a courier aboard a mule from Nicaragua delivered the astonished Costa Ricans with the good news. 

This was nearly a month after colonial officials in Guatemala City had declared independence for Costa Rica from the Spanish Empire. Nevertheless, Costa Rica still celebrates its independence day on 15 September.

8. The national hero of Costa Rica is Juan Santamaria.

Costa Rica’s national hero is Juan Santamaría, officially recognized for his role in preserving Costa Rica’s independence in what was one of the most bizarre incidents in the turbulent history of Central America. In 1856, Costa Rica was invaded by a soldier of fortune from Tennessee named William Walker. 

One of Walker’s goals was to institutionalize slavery in Costa Rica and in neighboring countries so that he could sell slaves to the United States. With the backing of American President James Buchanan, he had a grandiose dream of presiding over a slave state in Central America (before his invasion of Costa Rica, he had invaded Nicaragua and Baja, California).

Walker and his troops (known as “filibusters”) invaded Costa Rica in March 1856. The makeshift Costa Rican militia marched on Walker’s encampment, headquartered in a hostel in Guanacaste province. On 11 April 1856 Juan Santamaría, a young Costa Rican drummer, torched Walker’s building before dying in a flurry of bullets. With the building in flames, Walker and his men were routed and driven out of Costa Rica. Four years later, Walker met his fate in front of a Honduran firing squad.

The name of Juan Santamaria lives on in Costa Rican folklore as a symbol of national freedom. There are numerous statues around the country in honor of Santamaria that depict him running with a torch. A national holiday in Costa Rica, Juan Santamaría Day, is held annually on 11th April to commemorate his death.

9. Costa Rica is very multiethnic.

One of the remarkable facts about Costa Rica is how ethnically diverse its population is. The Costa Rican population consists of five main groups—mestizos (of mixed indigenous and European descent), native Costa Ricans (indigenous people), Afro-Costa Ricans, mulattoes (of mixed black African and European descent), and people of European descent.

There is such a generalized mixing of races over time that it is difficult to define exact parameters for any individual. It is estimated that whites and mestizos form about 85% of the population, 7% are Mulatto, 2.5% are Amerindian, and 1% are Afro-Costa Rican.

European Costa Ricans are primarily of Spanish descent with significant numbers of Italian, German, English, Dutch, French, Irish, and Portuguese. The vast majority of the Afro-Costa Ricans are descendants of 19th-century black Jamaican immigrant workers.

10. The official language of Costa Rica is Spanish.

Spanish is the official language, but English is also spoken around Limón and among members of the middle class.  

11. There are at least five indigenous languages still spoken in Costa Rica.

The principal indigenous languages spoken in Costa Rica are part of the Chibchan language family and include Bribrí, Maléku, Boruca, Cabécar, and Térraba.

12. Natives of Costa Rica are called “Ticos”.

This is one of the interesting Costa Rica facts. Costa Ricans are usually called “tico” and “tica” (male and female) by themselves as well as by people of other Spanish-speaking countries. This is because Costa Ricans have the proclivity of turning words into diminutives and adding the diminutive “tico” at the end of words. 

13. Costa Rica hosts more than 5% of the world’s biodiversity even though its landmass only takes up 0.03% of the planet’s surface.

Costa Rica’s diversity of climates, terrains, and habitats has fostered an astonishingly rich animal and plant life. More than 10,000 identified species of plants, 880 species of birds, 1,500 species of butterflies, 12,000 species of moths, over 200 species of mammals, and nearly 400 species of amphibians and reptiles are found in the country. No one knows the accurate number of insects found in Costa Rica.

14. Costa Rica has no standing military force.

One of the most intriguing facts about Costa Rica is that the country hasn’t had a standing army since 1948. Costa Rica suffered a Civil War that lasted 44 days from 12 March to 24 April 1948. It was one of the most violent events in the country’s history, claiming an estimated 2,000 lives. 

Following the Costa Rican Civil War, President José Figueres Ferrer abolished the military of Costa Rica on 1 December 1948. Today, this day is known as Día de la Abolición del Ejército (Military abolition day).

Since 1949, the Costa Rican constitution has even explicitly forbidden the nation to have a standing army. Costa Rica has used the savings from defense spending to improve education, health care, and a durable social safety net. It has become a paragon of political stability, economic prosperity, and contentment in the region, earning it the moniker the “Switzerland of Central America”.

15. San Jose is the capital of Costa Rica.

San Jose is nestled in a spectacular setting, ringed by the jagged silhouettes of soaring mountains on all sides. It is also the country’s commercial and cultural hub.

16. Christianity is the major religion in Costa Rica.

Christianity is the predominant religion in Costa Rica with Roman Catholicism being the official state religion. Approximately two-thirds of the population identifies as Catholic while about 15-20% of the population are Evangelical Protestants. The remainder of the Costa Rican population is either irreligious or belongs to other religions.

17. The currency of Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colón (CRC).

The Costa Rican colón (CRC) was adopted as the national currency of Costa Rica in 1896. The currency honors Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, whose name in Spanish is Cristóbal Colón.

18. Costa Rica doesn’t observe daylight saving.

Clocks do not change in Costa Rica and daylight saving hasn’t been observed in the country since 1992.

19. Costa Rica is the only country in the world where it is actually illegal to produce any type of coffee other than 100% Arabica.

Costa Rica is famed for its flavorful coffee. Coffee was introduced to the country in the late-18th century and for more than a century, beginning in the 1830s, the grano de oro (golden grain) was Costa Rica’s foremost export.

Arabica beans are some of the most difficult to grow, but the result is a richer, full-bodied, and more flavorful premium blend of coffee. Costa Rica is uniquely positioned to produce superior coffee beans due to its high altitudes, fertile volcanic soil, warm temperatures, and steady rainfall. Costa Rica takes coffee-growing very seriously and in 1989, A law was passed prohibiting the planting of low-quality beans, encouraging Costa Rican farmers to pursue true excellence.

20. Approximately 99% of Costa Rica’s electricity comes from renewable sources.

One of the lesser-known facts about Costa is that it produces almost all of its electricity from renewable sources. The majority of this comes from hydropower. The rest is generated through wind power, geothermal sources, biomass, and solar panels 

21. The national animal of Costa Rica is the white-tailed deer.  

The white-tailed deer is the smallest member of the North American deer family member whose name comes from its short white tail. It is tan or brown in the summer and grayish-brown in winter. The white-tailed deer prefers grassland, wetlands, and dry deciduous forest over dense evergreen forests. It is particularly active around dawn and dusk and displays the white underside of its tail when alarmed.

22. The national bird of Costa Rica is the yigüirro (clay-colored thrush).  

The amicable yigüirro gets its onomatopoeic name due to its distinct call. It was declared as the national bird of Costa Rica as a tribute to its powerful and melodious song that heralds the entrance of the rainy season.

23. The national tree of Costa Rica is the Guanacaste.  

Although it has an abundance of other choices, Costa Rica chose Guanacaste as its national tree. The guanacaste is a large tree, growing to 20–30 m (66–98 ft) tall, with a trunk up to 3 m (9.8 ft) in diameter. It is commonly known as the elephant-ear tree, as the species has curled seed pods that resemble ears.

24. The national flower of Costa Rica is the Guaria Morada.  

Costa Rica is renowned throughout the world for its beautiful orchids and the Guaria Morada is no exception. The Guaria Morada is known for its distinctly purple coloration that has an almost diamond-like shine. Much like other orchid species, the Guaria Morada blooms only during a short window of time every year, between January and April.

25. Football is the most popular sport in Costa Rica.  

Football is undoubtedly the most popular sport in Costa Rica and most Ticos are crazy about the sport. The Costa Rican men’s national football team is the most successful national football team in Central America. The team has also qualified for five FIFA World Cups (1990, 2002, 2006, 2014, and 2018) and even reached the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

26. The national flag of Costa Rica is one of only eight national flags whose design incorporates a depiction of the flag itself.  

The flag of Costa Rica consists of five horizontal bands of blue, white, and red with the country’s coat of arms displayed on a white disc on the hoist side of the central red band. The coat of arms features two ships with Costa Rican flags. 

27. All of Costa Rica’s Olympic medals have come courtesy of one family.  

Costa Rica’s first Olympic medal was won at the 1988 Summer Olympics when swimmer Silvia Poll won silver in the women’s 200 m freestyle. Costa Rica’s other three medals at the Olympics came when Poll’s younger sister, Claudia Poll, also a swimmer, won three medals (a gold and two bronzes) at the 1996 and 2000 Summer Olympics.

28. There are four UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Costa Rica.  

The four UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Costa Rica are the Precolumbian Chiefdom Settlements with Stone Spheres of the Diquís; Area de Conservación Guanacaste; Cocos Island National Park; and Talamanca Range-La Amistad Reserves / La Amistad National Park.

29. The national dish of Costa Rica is Gallo Pinto.  

The classic Costa Rican dish of Gallo Pinto consists of rice and black or red beans mixed with seasonings including onion, cilantro (coriander), garlic, and finely chopped bell peppers. Gallo pinto literally translates to “spotted rooster” and represents the speckled appearance the beans give the rice.

30. Costa Rica was the World’s Third nation to abolish the Death Penalty.

An intriguing fact about Costa Rica is that in 1882 it became the third country in the world to abolish capital punishment.

31. Costa Rica is the world’s largest pineapple producer.  

Costa Rican pineapples are known for their high sugar content, consistency, appealing taste, and color.

32. Costa Rica was the first country in Central America to recognize and perform same-sex marriages.  

Same-sex marriage in Costa Rica has been legal since 26 May 2020.

33. Costa Rica has produced one Nobel Prize winner.  

The Costa Rican activist and former President Óscar Arias won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his efforts to end the Central American crisis.