Comedian Sara Pascoe recently confessed, on the British panel show Would I Lie To You?, that she’d once booked a trip to Costa Rica ‘by accident’, thinking it was in Spain, like other ‘Costa’s such as Costa Brava and Costa del Sol. She was sitting on the plane before she realized she was actually on her way to Central America.
You’re probably not as ill-informed about Costa Rica as Sara Pascoe, but I bet there’s still a few things you didn’t know. If you’re considering taking your next vacation there, here are a few Costa Rica facts – some that might be useful for your trip and some that will just furnish you with background knowledge about this beautiful part of the world. Read on and learn!
#1 Tourism is important to the local economy – even more so than bananas
Costa Rica from all over the world hosts travelers from all over the world – more than two million people a year, all excited to explore this beautiful country’s huge beaches, lush rainforests and precious conservation areas. As a result, tourism plays a huge part in the economy of Costa Rica: in the 1990s, tourism overtook bananas as the country’s biggest ‘foreign exchange earner’. Every cent you spend buying food, paying for adventure activities or hiring rental homes in Costa Rica helps to keep this amazing country thriving.
#2 It’s one of the most biodiverse places on the planet
For a fairly tiny country – occupying less than 20,000 square miles, Costa Rica is a little smaller than Lake Michigan – Costa Rica is home to an outstanding amount of wildlife: and is internationally recognised for its efforts to protect and promote the growth in its natural resources. More than half a million species live within this small nation’s borders, including about 50 different species of hummingbird and about 18% of all the butterfly species in the world. Nearly 3% of the world’s biodiversity can be found in Corcovado National Park alone, and that’s just one of the country’s 20 national parks! It’s no wonder that between the national parks, biological reserves, animal refuges and four UNESCO World Heritage Sites, more than a quarter of all the land in Costa Rica is protected.
#3 Costa Ricans are famous for living long and happy lives
Costa Rican men and women – or ticos and ticas, as they refer to themselves – have a life expectancy of around 80 years at birth. That’s one of the highest life expectancies in the world – higher than the United States at 79. It’s partly for this reason that Costa Rica is at the top of the Happy Planet Index – an independent measure of which nation’s people have the longest, happiest and most sustainable lives. But Costa Rica’s happiness isn’t just about longevity: it’s a state of mind. The standard greeting and farewell in Costa Rica is “pura vida” – “pure life”. It’s a philosophy that is obviously serving them well. Pura vida, ticos!
#4 It’s a peacefully patriotic nation
Costa Rica famously disbanded their army in 1948, making them one of the 23 countries around the world without a standing army – the abolition of the military is actually written into the country’s constitution. Costa Rica is proud of this peaceful heritage: it’s been home to the United Nations University for Peace since 1980. 21 other countries around the world have signed a pledge that they will provide military assistance to Costa Rica if it is ever needed. However, don’t make the mistake of thinking this indicates a lack of national pride: the national anthem, ‘Noble patria, tu hermosa bandera’ (‘Noble homeland, your beautiful flag’) is played at 7am every day on most of Costa Rica’s radio stations.
#5 Asking for directions can be tricky
Costa Rica only reintroduced street signs in 2012, having largely stopped using them in the mid-20th century following a surge in population growth. So although your GPS may navigate by street addresses, local people prefer to use landmarks – even landmarks that may not be there any more. What’s more, even if you can get your head around this method of getting about, be aware that it may take a while to find someone who actually knows where you’re trying to get to. It’s part of Costa Rican culture to be super-helpful, so if you stop someone to ask for directions they may try to help you even if they don’t know the answer!
#6 Gorgeous sunsets you could set your watch by
Costa Rica has some of the most breathtakingly beautiful sunsets you will ever see – and they happen at almost exactly 6pm every evening, with the sunrise at almost exactly 5.45am. This is because Costa Rica is so near the equator that the days are almost exactly twelve hours long. You’ll be able to catch a glimpse of this stunning natural spectacle wherever you are, but some especially great spots to enjoy it are the beaches of Dominical or Tamarindo, or the hillside town of Manuel Antonio. Instagram heaven!
#7 Don’t get freaked out if you see someone carrying a machete
Seriously – the sight of a tico casually ambling down the street with a huge knife slung over his shoulder might be alarming, but remember: this is a peaceful country! You’re more likely to see this in the countryside, but it’s not unheard of anywhere in Costa Rica: a machete here is thought of as a generally useful tool, maybe like we’d think of a pocket knife, and some people (mostly men) carry them around much of the time.
Costa Rica is a stunning country of happy people who have deliberately set out to promote peace, to protect their own natural habitat and the creatures they share it with, and to welcome visitors, wherever they’re from. It’s no surprise that Costa Rica is recognized around the globe as one of the world’s best places to live as well as one of the most rewarding places to visit. Book your trip today for a lifetime’s worth of memories.