Often called “the happiest place on Earth” Costa Rica is a paradise for peace and biodiversity and a green beacon for environmental stewardship. This is, in part, why the people use the term Pura Vida, or pure life, to describe this sensational setting.
Costa Rica is a country of many accolades. But Costa Rica’s history and culture extend far beyond the reach of international recognition. The small, Central American nation is home to incredible biodiversity and rich cultures, a passion for freedom, and a history of democracy, equality, and education for all.
Costa Rican culture is a vibrant blend of indigenous heritage and Spanish colonial influence, with a dash of Jamaican, Chinese, and other immigrant cultures lending character and customs. The result is a nation of laid-back, friendly, and happy people. The official language is Spanish, but where large portions of the populations speak English, Bribri, creole Maketelyu, and Mandarin Chinese as their first languages.
Costa Rica is also a nation proud to be without an army (Costa Ricans disbanded their armed forces in 1949). The country enjoys a long history of public services, including education and healthcare, available to all.
Facts About Costa Rica
Simple statistics cannot do justice to Costa Rica’s friendly people, stunning terrain, rich lands, and long history. But the facts do paint a colorful picture of this Central American nation, where democracy has prevailed for more than 60 years, Catholicism is the state religion, the government is stable, and the environment is paramount.
Costa Rica is around the same size as Lake Michigan, and slightly smaller than West Virginia.
- The U.S. is roughly 181 times larger than Costa Rica.
- Costa Rica has more than 800 miles of coastline.
- The highest mountain in Costa Rica, Cerro Chirripo, stands at 3,810 meters above sea level.
- Although not all of them are active, Costa Rica has around 200 volcanoes.
- Costa Rica is home to approximately 5 percent of the world’s biodiversity, but only occupies around 0.3 percent of the planet’s surface.
- Poas Volcano in central Costa Rica has the second-largest volcanic crater in the world.
- Noted explorer Christopher Columbus first visited what is now Costa Rica in 1502.
- Spanish colonists first established a permanent presence in Costa Rica in 1563.
- After a short-lived civil war, Costa Rica’s constitution was passed in 1949.
- Costa Rica hasn’t had a national army since 1948.
- Costa Rica has one of the oldest democracies in Latin America, having avoided many of the political problems in the region in the 1970s and 1980s.
- Costa Rica has a population of just over 5 million people—a little more than half the population of New York City.
- Religion plays an important role in Costa Rica’s culture, with approximately 76 percent of Costa Ricans identifying as Catholic.
- Less than 1 percent of Costa Rica’s population is of indigenous ancestry, and around 94 percent of Costa Ricans are of European heritage.
- Spanish is the most commonly spoken language in Costa Rica. However, immigration (both recent and early 20th century) has meant that English is spoken natively by many people on both coasts, particularly on the Caribbean side.
- Costa Rica has a literacy rate of 97.8 percent, one of the highest in the world.
- Famous Costa Ricans include a Nobel Peace Prize winner (Oscar Arias), an astronaut (Franklin Chang), and one of the best goalies in the world (Keylor Navas of Real Madrid).
Flora and Fauna
- There are more than 34,000 species of insects in Costa Rica, as well as more than 20,000 species of spider.
- Costa Rica is home to more than ten percent of all the species of butterfly in the world.
- Costa Rica has around 615 species of animals per 10,000 square miles. By comparison, the U.S. has 104.