Wondering what life in Costa Rica is all about? Here are some insights on the population's lifestyle.
“Pura Vida” is an expression that best describes Costa Rica worldwide. Indeed, the country has a reputation of being open and easy-going going toward expatriates. This fact is described by the number of foreigners, especially US nationals, who have settled there over the years. So if you also wish to relocate there, it is best to be aware of the country's features and its inhabitants' lifestyles so that you can try to find your landmarks more easily.
Located in Central America, Costa Rica stretches over 51,022 km². It is close to Nicaragua and Panama. Mountains, some of which are of volcanic origin, often experience sporadic eruptions. Thus, the country is divided into two zones: the Pacific and the Atlantic regions. Note that Costa Rica often experiences earthquakes as well.
San Jose, Costa Rica's capital city, is located on the central plateau called the Meseta, in the Central Valley. The latter is five times larger than the Plateau and includes three other cities in addition to San Jose.
Temperatures vary with altitude, with an average of 30°C in the lowlands against 18°C in the mountains. The Atlantic region receives trade winds and heavy rainfall knows all year round. On the other hand, the Pacific region has fertile alluvial and volcanic soils, as well as two seasons: a wet season and a dry one.
Costa Rica also hosts many rivers, but only a few of them are navigable. On the Pacific side of the country, you will find the ports of Puntarenas, Quepos and Golfito. Two modern ports, Caldera and Punta Morales, were built near Puntarenas in the 1980s. However, in the Atlantic region, the port of Limón is not protected against tropical storms. Moin, which is found in the North of Limón, is known for its facilities to accommodate tankers and containers.
Finally, a quarter of the country's territory, consisting of tropical forests, tropical dry forests and savannas, was left in the wild. On its own, Costa Rica gathers 4-7% of the global biodiversity mass.
According to the World Bank's figures, 97% of the population was literate in 2011. Moreover, Costa Rica has made significant progress in improving its inhabitants' standard of living. In fact, locals enjoy free health care services, basic education and social services. The free market policy has forced reduction of expenditure. However, health and education indicators remain impressive.
Spanish is Costa Rica's official language, but the Costa Rican accent is quite particular. On the Atlantic Coast, most inhabitants, who are descendants of Caribbean immigrants, speak English. In general, most Costa Ricans speak English so as to remain competitive on the labor market.
Costa Rica's national flag has the same colors as the French flag, but with horizontal stripes that are arranged in a different order. Moreover, the coat of arms of the country is found on the left of the center. The country achieved its independence from Spain in the 19th century. Subsequently, the country decided not to bring an army, a result of the civil war in 1948, so as to make it a peaceful nation.
The Costa Rican society is proud of being different from the rest of Central America. In fact, they are highly above other countries in terms of education and health care, as well as a world-class ecological landscape and a real democracy thanks to its political stability. However, Costa Rica is far from being unaffected by the neighboring countries' social, economic and environmental issues.
Good to know:
95% of Costa Ricans consider themselves “white”. Indeed, this concept plays an important role in terms of national identity. The indigenous population which survived the conquest, being restrained, was quickly absorbed by the Hispanic community. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Africans, Indians and people of mixed ancestry got married to poor “Spanish women” by using the “laundering” technique so as to ensure their children's social rise. In the nineteenth century, European and US expatriates landed up “whitening” the population, especially the elite group.
Most cities have their own central place, a Catholic church, government buildings, a bandstand and benches, etc. Rural villages, for their part, have grassy squares. Costa Rica does not hold a particular architecture, except for the Neoclassical National Theater which is found in San Jose. Few colonial buildings have survived the decades and many contemporary buildings may be considered “kitsch”. Moreover, many cities suffer from air, water and noise pollution.
Costa Ricans generally consume corn, rice and beans, along with eggs, cheese, meat, chicken, chayote and salad. Coffee, sweetened fruit drinks and sodas are very popular, but alcohol consumption is also very high.
Women are still responsible for the preparation of meals, looking after the children and doing household chores. Indeed, men rely on their mothers and wives, or hire helpers. The middle and upper classes hire maids for household chores and nannies for child care. Agricultural works are performed by men and adolescent boys. Women, for their part, harvest coffee, cotton and vegetables.
The average marriage age for Costa Ricans is 21 years for women and 24 for men. Moreover, older family members and other relatives do not hesitate to move closer to each other.
Infants are dressed warmly because air is considered harmful. The girls have their ears pierced shortly after birth. Almost half of the mothers do not breastfeed.
Parents treat their children leniently till they are four or five years old, so that they become more coherent and disciplined.
A quarter of the population (old enough to go to university) are enrolled in the higher education system. Four fifths are enrolled in four public universities while the rest can afford to attend private schools.
Costa Ricans are cultured and polite people. Children, parents and friends of the same age are often addressed formally in the second person. Men usually greet each other with a handshake, while women greet men and women they are close with a kiss.
The Catholic heritage has left its footprints on the language and culture of every day. Thus, “Cristiano” is a synonym for “human being”. Even non-practicing Costa Ricans do not hesitate to wear religious lockets or have a holy image in their car or at home. Costa Ricans primarily demonstrate their Catholic faith during baptisms, weddings and funerals.
Although Catholicism is the official religion and a compulsory subject in schools, other “supernatural” beliefs also exist in the country. These combine spirits and spells in which even the most educated people believe. Finally, the rise of evangelical Protestantism has touched a tenth of the population.
On the 2nd of August, that is the day before the celebration of Our Lady of the Angels, pilgrims cross the country to the Basilica of Cartago. Seizing this opportunity, churches celebrate this national event locally.
There are also regular secular celebrations, particularly during the election period, football championships, etc. Festivities are marked by flagged car caravans, honking loudly.