Costa Rica seems to have it all figured out. They have declared an innovative ‘peace with nature’ initiative that includes a commitment to sustainable tourism and making Costa Rica carbon neutral by 2023. It is a place for people from all walks of life. whether you are an explorer, nature lover, into extreme sports or just like to relax, Costa Rica has something for you. The country may be small, but it is abundantly expanding with activities, with something new around every corner.
The recorded history of Costa Rica begins around 1500, but human habitation dates back as far as 10,000 years. Little is known of the ancient cultures that inhabited the coastlines. They left very few clues about their semi-nomadic existence in the way of ruins, statues, or monuments, but what they did leave us is a wonderful mystery; perfect granite spheres scattered across the southwest coastline. These mysterious spheres come in all sizes, from a few inches to over 6 feet in diameter and weighing in at over 15 tons. Why they were created, what they were used for, and who carved them is unknown. While there are many theories from a variety of experts, for the rest of us, they are just another aspect of Costa Rica that makes it so enchanting.
Christopher Columbus and the Spanish arrived near what is current- day Puerto Limón on September 18, 1502. Greeted by the local Carib Indians, he named the region Costa Rica, or “Rich Coast,” after observing the abundant gold decorations worn by the locals. While large deposits of gold were never found, and the region stayed largely unsettled by the Spanish for decades, the local tribes eventually suffered from the same dire effects as others in the region in response to the European invasion, and the Indian population dwindled rapidly. Today’s Costa Rican population of around 3.8 million is 90% white, including mestizo, with only 1% of the population of Indian heritage.
With the dream of finding mountains of gold never materializing, Costa Rica was largely forgotten by the Spanish with only a few settlements like Heredia, San José, and Alajuela becoming established. In 1808 however, coffee put Costa Rica back on the map, and frontier entrepreneurs began to develop the country which lead to wealth, class structure, and eventually independence from Spain in 1821.
Over the next 100 years, Costa Rica suffered from a variety of class disputes, political struggles, and finally a short civil war in 1948. By 1949 however, Costa Rica had a new democratic government and progressive new constitution that gave women the right to vote, dismantled the Costa Rican army, banned the communist party, nationalized banks, and established presidential term limits, among other things. Since then Costa Rica has remained one of the few politically and economically stable countries in the region, and has remained so for over half a century.
Costa Ricans refer to themselves as “Ticos,” and their official language is Spanish, with only a few indigenous languages spoken in remote areas of the country. English is spoken in most tourist areas and within most business proceedings, as well as by the local population on the Caribbean coast. Unlike other Latin American countries, Costa Rica is largely middle class and has higher levels of income, education, and lower poverty levels. Costa Rica’s focus on education, healthcare, and the environment has resulted in the economy’s unprecedented steady growth over the past decade, thus permitting the country to focus on international concerns such as leading the world’s efforts in environmental initiatives.
Due to the loss of the indigenous culture, and the rich European, North American and Caribbean influences, Costa Rica does not have a distinct local culture. If you had to give it a label, it would be “Latin Internationalism,” where influences from around the globe are adopted and given a wonderful Latin flair by ‘the friendliest people in the world.’ This cosmopolitan approach to life is best seen in the local cuisine. Never too spicy, and always rich in nutrition and hearty in flavor, the local cuisine is typically centered among beef, chicken, or one of the many assortments of fresh fish and seafood. If there is a national dish, it is Casado, which consists of rice, salad, fried plantains, black beans, and grilled meat or seafood. This dish is so commonplace it can be found throughout the country in every open-air lunch counter, and most recently, it has been featured in finer dining establishments as well, where chefs use their various backgrounds to bring new flavors and techniques to the creation of this popular dish. Similar in popularity to Casado, the popular breakfast dish of Gallo Pinto, a simple take on fried rice and black beans, can also be readily found throughout the country. Typically served with fresh fruit, farm-raised eggs, organic cheeses, and warm tortillas, this satisfying breakfast is not only delicious but also economical to locals and tourists alike. Mirroring the casual and friendly attitude of the country, dining is generally a leisurely experience, with restaurants opening midmorning and closing around midnight. From casual roadside Soda lunch counters to an array of worldly cuisine, you’ll always find something to satisfy your appetite in Costa Rica.