70 Interesting Facts About Costa Rica

From northwest to southwest, Costa Rica measures only 285 miles (460 km) and at its narrowest, it is only 74 miles (120 km). It is smaller than Lake Michigan.

  • In 1539, officials in Panama used the nameCosta Rica (Rich Coast) for the first time to distinguish the territory between Panama and Nicaragua.
  • On September 8, 1502, Christopher Columbus arrived on the Atlantic Coast of Costa Rica and took refuge just off the coast between tiny Uvita Island and the current port of Limón. He was the first European recorded to have landed at Costa Rica. He named the area Veragua.


Penicillium FungiCosta Ricans claim that Dr. Clodomiro “Clorito” Picado actually discovered the properties of penicillin in 1927

    1. Costa Ricans claim that Dr. Clodomiro “Clorito” Picado discovered the properties of penicillin before Dr. Alexander Fleming, based on a paper Dr. Picado had published in 1927 on how penicillin inhibited the growth of streptococcus in his patients.
    2. Costa Rica has a 96% literacy rate; for rural areas where children can’t make it to school, lessons are taught over a national radio station.
    3. Arenal Volcano, at 5,479 feet (1,670 m), last erupted in 2010. It is the most activevolcano in Costa Rica and one of the most active in the world. In 1968, Arenal erupted and destroyed the town of Tabacón.
    4. Native Costa Ricans call themselves Ticos and Ticas.
    5. While Costa Rica takes up only .03% of the world’s land space, it possesses fully 4% of all known living species of flora and fauna and is one of the top 20 countries with the greatest biodiversity in the world.
    6. In Costa Rica, nearly all Catholic churches face west.
    7. Coffee was introduced to Costa Rica from Jamaica in 1779. Called the grano de oro(grain of gold), coffee was Costa Rica’s foremost export for 150 years until surpassed in 1991 by tourism. More than 247,104 acres (100,000 hectares) of coffee are planted in Costa Rica, which is currently the 13th largest coffee exporter in the world.
    8. In Costa Rica, a soda is a small, informal restaurant that serves chicken, beans, rice, and salad for US$2 or $3 a plate.
    9. Costa Rican women do not take their husbands’ last name when they get married. They keep their maiden name for life and they also add their mother’s maiden name.

Costa Rica FactsCosta Ricans have at least a dozen words for rain, and they call the wet season months the “green season”

    1. Like Eskimos with their 57 words for snow, Costa Ricans have at least a dozen terms for rain—from drizzly pelo de gato (cat hair) to a baldazo oraguacero (downpour) and a temporal (heavy rain falling for several days without letting up during the rainy season). Due to the large amounts of rain, Costa Rica has more rivers and a higher volume of water for a country of its size than any other nation except for New Zealand.l
    2. The most deadly snake in Costa Rica is the ground-dwelling fer-de-lance, a 9.8-foot- (3-m-) long pit viper than accounts for more than 80% of fatal snake bites in Costa Rica.i
    3. Instead of saying “my other half,” Costa Ricans refer to their significant others as their “media naranja,” or “the other half of the orange.”g
    4. In Costa Rica, when a woman has a baby, they say about her, “Ella dio a luz,” meaning literally “She gave light.”f
    5. Costa Rican currency is officially called the colón, but Costa Ricans often use the word harina (flour) to refer to their money as well.g
    6. Catadores, or tasters, who decide which coffees to buy, are as important in Costa Rica as wine tasters are in France. They train for five years to learn exactly how to slurp the coffee off a spoon onto their taste buds, and they taste it cold—a good coffee should taste just as good cold as hot.c
    7. Bri Bri is the one indigenous language still spoken in Costa Rica.h
    8. Costa Rica is the second largest exporter of bananas in the world, after Ecuador.h
    9. According to Costa Rican local legend, the liquid inside the pipa (fresh, green coconut) is pure enough to be used as plasma in an emergency situation.g
    10. In San José, Costa Rica, car owners are now forbidden to drive into the city one day out of the week, which corresponds to the last number on their car’s license plate, in order to cut down on the high levels of pollution.c
    11. In Costa Rica, a discoteca is a nightclub, and a nightclub is actually a strip club.l

Speed HumpIn Costa Rica, speed bumps are called son muertos, or dead persons

    1. In Costa Rica, speed bumps are called son muertos, or dead persons.f
    2. The most famous place in Costa Rica for witchcraft is Escazú where, historically, people secretly attempted to continue to practice their religious and magical rituals in mountain caves. Today, Escazú is a rich suburb of the capital San José and looks more like California than Cost Rica; however, brujas (witches) can still be found, offering readings of tarot cards and a whole range of “other services.”l
    3. Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson likely modeled Treasure Island on the Costa Rican island of Isla del Coco. Sir Francis Drake, Captain Edward Davis, William Dampier, and Mary Welch are just some of the famous corsairs who dropped anchor in the calm waters off this island. Allegedly, they left troves of buried loot, although treasure hunters over the centuries have failed to unearth more than a smattering of the purported bounty.f
    4. The annual Carrera de Campo Traviesa Al Cerro Chirripó is a race to the top of Costa Rica’s highest mountain and back. To date, the record time is 3 hours, 15 minutes, and 3 seconds.f
    5. Guaro, moonshine rum made from distilled sugar cane, is Costa Rica’s indigenous spirit. Cacique is the best brand of guaro, and most people mix guaro with Coca-Cola or Sprite.k
    6. American Danny Fowler used the beach town of Pavones, Costa Rica, as his base of operations as he ran drugs from South America to California in the late 1970s and early 80s. He built a saw mill to reward his employees with wood for new homes, had roads built, and built an airstrip. Eventually he was busted by Mexican officials in Baja and sentenced to prison, but he was then extradited to California to serve an even longer sentence in federal prison.k
    7. Orchids, the national flower of Costa Rica, were named by Dioscorides, a Greek physician who, noting the similarity of the tubers of one species he was examining to male genitals, named the species orchis.j
    8. Óscar Arias Sánchez, the president of Costa Rica from 1986–1990 and again from 2006–2010, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his work in trying to end the crisis in Central America.j
    9. The golden toad came to be one of the symbols of Monteverde, Costa Rica, following the toad’s discovery. It has only ever been sighted in the Monteverde rainforest preserve. In 1983, University of Miami researcher Marc Hayes spotted hundreds; none have been seen since.j

Costa Rican HummingbirdCosta Rica possesses 51 of the New World’s 300 hummingbird speciesl

    1. Costa Rica possesses 51 of the New World’s 300 hummingbird species, making it the hummingbird capital of the world.i
    2. Costa Rica’s national symbol is the clay-colored robin known as the yigüirro.e
    3. Costa Rica abolished its armed forces in 1949 and has no standing military; however, the country still maintains a small force to enforce laws and assist with foreign peacekeeping.c
    4. Since 1994, tourism is Costa Rica’s leading industry, and over two million visitors arrive every year.c
    5. Costa Rica’s largest body of freshwater is the manmade Lake Arenal.c
    6. Archaeologists have long wondered at the source of the many pieces of pre-Columbian jade that have been found in Costa Rica, as no jade quarries have ever been found in the country. Guatemala is believed to be the primary source, although some jade may have come from Mexico. One interesting theory holds that some of the jade was brought to Costa Rica by pre-Columbia looters of Mayan burial sites, and this would explain the presence of Mayan hieroglyphs inscribed on the stones.c
    7. In 1546, Luis, the grandson of Christopher Columbus, was named Duke of Veragua. He set out from Spain to claim his legacy with 130 men, but he was attacked by Amerindians, lost most of his men, and retreated back to Europe in failure.c
    8. Costa Ricans tell the story of how they received independence by mail. On October 13, 1821, a courier aboard a mule arrived in the central valley of Costa Rica with the news of independence—nearly a month after colonial officials in Guatemala City had declared independence for Costa Rica from the Spanish Empire.c
    9. Irazú Volcano is Costa Rica’s highest volcano at 11,000 feet (3,800 m). Also known as El Coloso, Irazú broke a 30-year period of silence with a single, noisy eruption on December 8, 1994. The previous eruption, on March 19, 1963, coincided with the arrival of John F. Kennedy in Costa Rica and was even more powerful.c
    10. In Escazú, Costa Rica, an annual oxcart festival, Dia de los Boyeros, is held the second Sunday of March. It attracts around 100 painted antique oxcarts and the great oxen to pull them, plus thousands of visitors.c
    11. A young Alajuela militia drummer boy named Juan Santamaria volunteered to torch Fort Rivas in Nicaragua—he succeeded but was shot dead in the process. His name lives on in Costa Rican folklore as a symbol of national freedom. The country’s main international airport is named after him.c
    12. The working cowboys in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste Province are known as sabanerosor vaccaros.c

Costa Rican Sea TurtleDuring the arribada, as many as 100,000 Olive Ridley turtles come ashore on Costa Rica’s Ostional National Wildlife Refuge to lay their eggs

    1. During the arribada, as many as 100,000 Olive Ridley turtles come ashore on the isolated beaches at the Ostional National Wildlife Refuge and leave behind as many as 10 million eggs. Arribadas generally occur at two- to four-week intervals between the third quarter and full moon from April to December, peaking July through September.c
    2. The Monteverde Cloud Forest is the home of the quetzal, the most spectacular and colorful bird in the tropics. Some 40 species of the trogon family to which the quetzal belongs inhabit the tropics worldwide, and 10 of those are found in Costa Rica. As witnessed by ancient sculptures and paintings, the quetzal’s long tail coverts were highly prized by the Aztec and Maya nobility. Mayan kings prized the green tail feathers more than gold itself.c
    3. Native to Costa Rica, the basilisk, a small semi-aquatic lizard which rears onto its hind legs and appears to run across the surface of the water when it is alarmed, has been given the nickname “Jesus Christ lizard.”c
    4. Drake Bay in southern Costa Rica is named for Sir Francis Drake, the first English navigator to sail around the world, who landed there in 1579.c
    5. In the 1980s, the discovery of a 25-lb (11-kg) gold nugget created a gold rush and havoc in Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park. Farmers-turned-prospectors invaded the area and destroyed thousands of acres of parkland. Government officials had to close the park for years while they tried to evict the prospectors.c
    6. The Coopedata Santa Maria coffee cooperative was recently heralded as the world’s first carbon-neutral coffee plantation in the world.c
    7. Isla del Coco is the most remote part of Costa Rica, nearly 360 miles (600 km) into the Pacific Ocean, southwest of the mainland. Millions have seen this island on film, in the opening moments of the Steven Spielberg film Jurassic Park. At 8 miles by 3 miles (12 km by 5 km), Isla del Coco is the largest uninhabited island in the world.c
    8. Ollie’s Point in northeastern Costa Rica was named after American Colonel Oliver North, the famous and felonious former lieutenant colonel at the center of the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal. The beaches and ports of northern Guanacaste like Ollie’s Point were a staging ground for supplying the Nicaraguan Contra rebels. Legend has it that during a news broadcast of an interview with North, some surfers noticed a fabulous point break going off in the background. Hence, the discovery and naming of Ollie’s Point.g
    9. Each year, Costa Rica hosts what many consider to be the most grueling and challenging mountain bike race on the planet, La Ruta de los Conquistadores (Route of the Conquerors), which retraces the path of the 16th-century Spanish conquistadors from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea—all in 4 days. The race takes place in November and draws hundreds of competitors from around the world.g

Sunset Costa RicaDue to its close proximity to the equator, the sun rises and sets in Costa Rica every day 365 days a year

    1. The sun rises and sets in Costa Rica at the same time every day 365 days a year, due to its close proximity to the equator.a
    2. The Guanacaste (Enterolobium cyclocarpum) is Costa Rica’s national tree. The distinctive tree is known for its broad, full crown, which provides welcome shade on the Guanacaste’s hot plains and savannahs. The tree is also known as the elephant-ear tree because of the distinctive shape of its large seedpods. The province of Guanacaste is named for the tree.g
    3. In the sleepy town of Manzanillo, Costa Rica, there is a thoroughfare called Mista Cracker Jack Street. Other streets are named after old citizens who have passed on, and Manzanillans call their cemetery “the Ole Buryground.”k
    4. In 1995, a small group of Costa Ricans residing in Nicaragua near the Costa Rican border established the short-lived Republic of Airrecú, a name taken from the Maleku Indian word for friendship. They formed as 170-square mile (440-sq km) nation because they believed the area had been mistakenly ceded to Nicaragua. Their president, Augusto Rodríguez, presented documentation on behalf of their claim to the territory to the United Nations in June 1995. Even though Nicaragua has refused to allow the 5,000 residents of Airrecú to secede, the Airrecú movement soldiers, and they have a flag and an anthem.j
    5. The single largest factor affecting Costa Rica’s economy is its national debt. In 1981, the country was the first in the world to default on its loans.b
    6. Paolo Wanchope is Costa Rica’s biggest sports star and arguably the world’s most famous Costa Rican. In 2006, Wanchope scored both goals in Costa Rica’s 4-2 loss in their opening game to Germany, making him the first Costa Rican to ever score two goals in a World Cup match. He has played for Costa Rican clubs as well as international football clubs in England, Spain, and Japan. He retired in 2007 after a knee injury and has since become a coach. He is now the interim head coach of the Costa Rican national team.b
    7. In 1904, Augustín Blessing (née Presinger), a German priest and missionary serving in the Limón area, became the first man to conquer Cerro Chirripó, Costa Rica’s highest peak.b
    8. The Costa Rican National Post Office was built in 1914. Because the postal service does not offer home delivery, Costa Ricans go to a local post office to collect their mail.h
    9. Ángela Acuña, Costa Rica’s first female lawyer, founded the Feminist League in 1923 and spearheaded the long struggle for woman’s suffrage in Costa Rica. In 1949, universal suffrage was granted. Acuña was the first woman on record to be appointed ambassador to the Organization of American States.h
    10. Mecatelio, a fusion of Spanish and standard and Jamaican English, is the language spoken by the descendants of Black Jamaicans who initially arrived in Puerto Limón from Jamaica to build the railroad in the late 19th century.h

Diquís Delta StoneCosta Rica’s Diquis stones are believed to be 2,000 years old and were most likely constructed by the ancestors of the current Boruca, Terraba, and Guaymi tribes

  1. Costa Rica’s Diquís Delta stone spheres are one of Central America’s most intriguing archaeological phenomena. Believed to be around 2,000 years old, thousands of stone spheres, from 4 inches (10 cm) to 8 feet (2.5 m) in diameter, were uncovered in the 1940s. Many of the stones were found placed close to gravesites, aligned in strait and curved lines, triangles, and parallelograms. They were most likely constructed by the ancestors of the current Boruca, Térraba, and Guaymi tribes.b
  2. Joaquín Garcia Monge’s El Moto (1900) is widely considered as the first Costa Rican novel.h
  3. Costa Rica’s Teatro Nacional (National Theater) was built in 1897 after Adelina Patti, a world-renown Spanish opera singer, performed in Central America but did not sing in Costa Rica because there was not a suitable venue for her to perform anywhere in the country at that time.h
  4. Costa Rica’s national musical instrument is the marimba. African in origin, it is also part of the musical history of Chiapas region in Mexico and Guatemala. In Costa Rica, early marimbas were made from a hollowed-out, elongated calabaza (squash) gourds set within a wooden frame whose top was lined with a panel of wooden keys, representing an octave.h
  5. Swede Nils Olof Wessberg was mainly responsible for the creation of the Costa Rican national park system, through his lobbying efforts. Born in Germany in 1919, but raised in Sweden, Wessberg lost his mother to brain cancer in 1947, and he suspected then that there was a link between the environment and cancer. An avowed vegan, he was active in environmental issues for the rest of his life. They left Sweden in 1954, and arrived on a banana boat in Costa Rica, where they immediately fell in love with the rainforests. In 1963, Olof achieved his dream with the opening of Absolute Nature Reserve Cabo Blanco, and the main trail there is still called “Swede’s path.” While lobbying for the creation of Corcovado National Park in 1974, he was murdered and, per his request, left in the forest to become one with nature.i
  6. Dr. Franklin R. Chang-Diaz, Costa Rica’s only astronaut and the first Latin-American to go into space, was one of 19 astronauts chosen from a pool of more than 3,000 applications, and he was the first Latin-American to be chosen by NASA. Born a Costa Rican, he gained dual citizenship as an American in 1977. He tied a record seven space shuttle missions, retiring after a 25-year career with NASA in 2005. He is designing a plasma-based rocket engine that could revolutionize space travel and put our entire solar system at our disposal for exploration.l
  7. Geovanny Escalante, a Costa Rican saxophonist for the band Marfil, broke Kenny G’s world record for holding a single saxophone note in 1998. He held the note for 90 minutes and 45 seconds, nearly doubling Kenny G’s time.l

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