Located between Nicaragua and Panama in Central America, Costa Rica (meaning “Rich Coast”) is a country with a population of just over 4 million. Costa Rica is the country in Central America that is most frequented by international tourists because of its breathtaking beauty, friendly citizens, and reputation as a safe and family-friendly destination. Costa Rica is also very well known as a nation at the forefront of environmental protection and sustainable policies, and its unforgettable natural beauty as a result. The west side of Costa Rica borders the Pacific Ocean, and the east borders the Caribbean Sea. While Spanish is the official language, many Costa Ricans also speak English, therefore it is generally easy for North Americans to get around. The official currency is the Costa Rican Colón (CRC).
Interesting Facts About Costa Rica
- Country ranks #1 in the Happy Planet Index reflecting reflects a high life expectancy, high levels of experienced well-being, and a moderate ecological footprint
- The country also has a staggering 23% of its territory under some form of protection: this includes 32 national parks, 8 biological reserves, 13 forest reserves, and 51 wildlife refuges
- Greatest species density in the world: expect to see incredible diversity in the country’s flora and fauna
- Tourism is one of Costa Rica’s main sources of revenue
- Costa Rica’s rainy season, also known as “winter”, spans from May to November; the summer is from December to April
- Nearly half of Costa Rica’s population (4.7 million) lives in the capital, San Jose
- Costa Rica has 800 miles of gorgeous coastline touching both the Caribbean sea and Pacific ocean
- Many Costa Ricans (or “Ticos”, as they call themselves) are fluent in two or more languages
- There are 7 active volcanoes in Costa Rica
- One can participate in many activities in Costa Rica, including hiking, biking, and zip-lining, surfing, snorkeling/scuba diving, sailing, and taking boat tours
Costa Rican History
Prior to the the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1502, the country that is now known as Costa Rica was inhabited with different indigenous groups, though there is debate about the population number as few survived contact with European settlers. For the next 300 years, Spain would administer the region as part of the Captaincy General of Guatemala, under a military government. The Spanish optimistically called the country “Rich Coast.” Finding little gold or other valuable minerals in Costa Rica; however, they turned to agriculture. Many factors, including Costa Rica’s isolation from the Spanish colonial centers in Mexico and the Andes, contributed to the development of a relatively autonomous, individualistic, and egalitarian agrarian society.
Costa Rica joined other Central American provinces in 1821 in a joint declaration of independence from Spain. In 1838, long after the Central American Federation ceased to function, Costa Rica formally withdrew and proclaimed itself a sovereign nation. An era of peaceful democracy in Costa Rica began in 1899, and continues today with only two lapses: 1917-1919, when Federico Tinoco ruled as a dictator; and 1948, when Jose Figueres led an armed uprising in the wake of a disputed presidential election. The victorious junta from this 44-day civil war drafted a constitution guaranteeing free elections with universal suffrage and the abolition of the military. The absence of a military continues to be a source of great national pride, and Costa Rica is presently conducting an international public relations campaign to encourage other nations to follow suit, for the purpose of global peace.
The Costa Rican government has been very involved in managing the economy since the 1948 revolution. The government operates many state monopolies, including banking, insurance, and telecommunications; controls the prices of a number of goods and services; and maintains protectionist trade laws. Government policy in the 1960s and 1970s focused on making Costa Rica more self-sufficient, and the nation has enjoyed a gradual upward economic trend. However, with the increase in oil prices in the 1970s and the sharp decreases in international coffee, banana, and sugar prices, Costa Rica’s economy collapsed in 1980. Warfare in neighboring countries in the 1980s also affected the Costa Rican economy and society, shattering regional trade and bringing a large number of refugees and illegal aliens, particularly from Nicaragua, to the country. To quell the regional violence, President Oscar Arias Sánchez (1986-1990) promoted a successful regional peace plan that resulted in his being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987. Since 1948, Costa Rica has held 12 successive democratic presidential elections, more than any other Latin American country, and is known as the region’s most stable nation-state.
There are around 100,000 indigenous people in Costa Rica today, or around 2% percent of the total population. Even prior to the arrival of the Spanish in the early 1500s, the indigenous population in Costa Rica was small, and they lived in separate rather than larger groups. Like in the rest of the Americas, population decreased significantly after the arrival of Europeans due to contact with new germs. In 1977, the Indigenous Law was established in Costa Rica to try to stop the indigenous peoples’ loss of land, and ensure their survival and wellbeing.
Compared to other Latin American countries such as Guatemala, Panama, or Peru, Costa Rica is not particularly known for its indigenous population — probably due to the fact that they are a smaller group and are therefore less visible. There are 22 reserves located in Costa Rica, and they are divided into 8 ethnic groups:
There aren’t too many artifacts that remain from the pre-Hispanic era in Costa Rica, some pottery and simple ornaments are what have endured. However, in the South Pacific zone of the country (specifically in Bahia Ballena, Isla del Caño, and the Palmar region), there exist a number of rounded and smooth stone spheres ranging in size from from a few centimeters in diameter to over two meters. They are made from gabbro, limestone, and sandstone. There are many myths and theories as to how and why these spheres were made, how they were transported, and why. These spheres have fascinated locals, visitors, and researchers alike for years.
Protected Areas In Costa Rica
In the early 1970s, faced with a decline in natural resources and the shrinking of the natural habitat, Costa Rica began making systematic changes to protect what was left and rebuild what had already been lost. The result of these continued efforts is that Costa Rica has a number of protected areas: over 20% of the country’s territory falls under government protection, be it a National Park, a Protected Area, a Refuge, Monument, or Reserve; 2 of its parks have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. In fact, Costa Rica has a larger proportion of protected areas than any other country in the world, and this is one of the major reasons that it is such a popular tourism destination.
Most of these protected areas are easily accessed by the public, a major draw for tourism both on a national and international level. Bodhi Surf is privileged to be located near several of these areas of conservation:
- Marino Ballena National Park
- Corcovado National Park
- Isla del Caño Biologic Reserve
- Terraba Sierpe Mangroves Wetlands Refuge
Bodhi Surf School operates within the Marino Ballena National Park, a marine park — meaning that the main area of protection is actually within the ocean itself, making it very unique. It has around 110 land hectares out of 5,410 total hectares, so less than 1% of the park’s territory is on land. The main reason that this park was created was to protect the environment of the whales from both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres that come to the warm waters of this area to give birth.
Costa Rica is a popular tourist destination not only because of its stunning beauty, but because it is easily accessible and very safe for travelers. Costa Ricans are of the warmest and most welcoming around; they will go out of their way to make you at home in their country. Costa Rica’s weather makes it a prime tourist destination, especially for those coming from cooler climates. Being so close to the equator, their seasons are a bit different from those in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Keep in mind, Costa Rica is a tropical country so neither their rainy or dry season would be considered “winter” by the standards of most Canadians, Americans, or Europeans.
Popular Activities in Costa Rica
Year after year, Costa Rica is a top destination for vacationers of all types who are looking for a beautiful, accessible, clean, and safe country to visit. These characteristics make Costa Rica an easy choice for families, honeymooners, student groups, and many other types of traveler. For whatever your proclivity, Costa Rica has an activity for you.
Costa Rica is one of the top destinations in the world for people who love the great outdoors and want to spend their time doing activities that allow them to get up close and personal with Mother Nature in all her glory. That might mean hiking through the luscious jungle, hurtling down a river rapids with just a raft keeping you afloat, zipping over a viridescent canopy, or just lazing on a palm lined beach. Here are some ideas for activities, sorted by ideal age of participants:
Families With Young Children (Ages 0-7)
- Beach Days
- Spending Time At Wildlife Parks, Zoos, Butterfly Gardens
- Visiting National Parks
- Swimming In Natural Pools
- Walking Tours (Coffee Tours, Botanical Gardens)