23 Surprising Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Costa Rica

Costa Rica, literally meaning, Rich Coast, is one of the most culturally appealing countries I have ever had the pleasure of visiting, and after living there for more than two years, I proudly call this place my second home. During my time in Costa Rica, I was constantly learning new and interesting facts about this little country and their wonderful way of life. Here are 23 fun things you probably didn’t know about Costa Rica until now…


1. Costa Rica is smaller than Lake Michigan. 

I always knew Costa Rica was small, but one day I was looking up the stats and was astounded to find out that Costa Rica measures in at only 51,100 square kilometers, whereas Lake Michigan measures in at 57,800 square kilometers. Despite the fact that this whole little country can fit inside the the Great Lake which boarders my home-state of Michigan, it is packed with amazing things to do and beautiful places to see.

2. Costa Rica has 5% of the world’s biodiversity and around 20% of the land is protected in the form of National Parks or Nature Reserves.

Come to Costa Rica and there is no question you will see more exotic and colorful plants and animals than you have ever seen in your entire life.


3. Costa Ricans are called Ticos and Ticas.

Following the masculine and feminine endings, a male is a Tico and a female is a Tica.


4. Pura Vida is a popular saying, as well as a way of life.

How are you doing? Pura vida. Thank you! Pura vida. I’ve been waiting for hours…Pura vida. When you come to Costa Rica, you will quickly learn that “pura vida”,  which literally translates to “pure life”,  is basically a way of living happily and brushing away your worries.

5. Costa Rica is rated as one of the happiest places in the world.

Perhaps due to the laid back pura vida lifestyle, Costa Rica has been rated as one of the happiest places to live for several consecutive years. The fact that it is nearly always sunny and 80 degrees doesn’t hurt either…


6. The Ticos are some of the friendliest and most helpful people you will ever meet.

However, sometimes in their willingness to help, Ticos might not tell you that they don’t really know the answer, and this can end up leading you in circles…Especially with directions!

7. There are 7 provinces which make up the country.

These provinces are as follows: San Jose (where the capital is), Cartago (where the capital used to be), Alajuela (hot and in the center), Heredia (beautiful and mountainous), Guanacaste (where you will find the best beaches on the Pacific), Limon (often recognized as the most unsafe area but home to beautiful Caribbean beaches) and Puntarenas (where you will find more beautiful Pacific beaches).

8. Addresses as we know them in the United States do not exist. You must use a point of reference, sometimes referring to a place that hasn’t existed for the last 10 years. 

“100 meters south of the old Suzuki dealership” or “300 meters north of the Red Cross” or “50 meters west of the big Roble tree”… When I first set off to travel Costa Rica, I expected to plug an address in to my GPS and go, however I quickly learned that I needed to use the province, then a “point of reference”, and then hope for the best. Also, there are many duplicate cities in Costa Rica (example: there are four “Playa Hermosa” beaches…) so it is important to know which province you are looking for, and then work from there.

9. “Mae” is the Ticos way of saying “Dude”

Open your ears and you will hear this being said in nearly every sentence.

10. The national dish is the Casado and consists of a piece of protein, a salad, rice, beans, and a fried sweet plantain. 

The word “casado” actually means to be married, and this is how the term came to be used for food, because once a man was “casado” he would have food for life.


11. When women get married, they do not take the last name of their husband. 

Everyone typically has two last names- the first last name is from their father, and the second last name is from their mother.

12. Couples refer to their partners as their “media naranja” or the other half of their orange. 

The first time I heard someone use this term, I was beyond confused…

13. Dogs roam about freely. 

Sometimes they have owners, other times they are community pets. They are almost always friendly, and will often adopt you for a walk along the beach.


14. You can’t flush toilet paper. 

They say it’s because their pipes are old and small and clog easily…I didn’t want to test it, so I followed suit and threw the TP in the trashcan like the locals.

15. Many celebrations include mascaras. 

Mascaras are traditional paper mache headdresses, and people put them on and dance around during various celebrations like birthday parties and city anniversaries.


16. There are unlimited parties during a Presidential Election, and the winner must win by at least 40%.

While I was living there in 2014, there were at least 13 people competing in the Presidential Election, and when the top two candidates nearly tied, they had to go into “overtime” and have another election day between the top two candidates in order to determine an official winner. Also, it is fairly easy to have the opportunity to meet the President. Here I am with Luis Guillermo Solis, winner of the 2014 Presidential elections.


17. The police (“policia”) drive around with their lights on all the time, just to show their presence, however they cannot pull you over for traffic violations.

However, the Transito (dark blue vehicles with yellow writing), typically sit along the side of the road, and can wave you over with only their hand, then write you a ticket.

18. They money is called Colones and the colorful bills come in the form of 1000’s.

You can look like a millionaire, but really only have a few hundred dollars to your name.


19. Costa Rica can have snow.

This was shocking to me, but it is true. Near Chirripo, the tallest mountain in Costa Rica, there are times where there is ice and even snow.

20. It is pitch black by 6 pm, year round. 

Costa Rica is close to the equator, giving the country a solid 12 hours of daylight year round. The upside to this, is that the sun always rises by 5:45am, but the downside is that the sun sets by 6pm, year round. Side note: Costa Rica has the most breathtaking sunsets ever.


21. Milk and eggs are sold unrefrigerated, and people wash their eggs before using them. 

Funny story about washing the eggs… The word for eggs is “huevos”. People also refer to men’s testicles as “huevos”. When one of my friends was learning Spanish, she innocently started a conversation with her co-worker about how she was shocked to find out that Ticos washed their “huevos”.  The poor man sputtered in surprise at the statement until he finally understood that she was referring to eggs, and not testicles… Needless to say, my friend was beyond mortified, and this deterred her from practicing Spanish for quite some time.

22. A “Soda” is  small restaurant where you can buy typical food.

They often look like a hole in the wall, but don’t let the appearance fool you- the food is always delicious.


23. People brush their teeth after nearly every meal

Even in the corporate world, after breakfast, lunch, or the afternoon snack, all of my co-workers would flock to the bathrooms with their toothpaste, toothbrush, and sometimes even mouthwash or dental floss and clean their mouths before they would even consider attending a meeting. This was a custom I appreciated and embraced, and I now go everywhere with a toothbrush.

Now it’s your turn…Have you ever visited Costa Rica? What were some surprising things you learned during your visit?


3 thoughts on “23 Surprising Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Costa Rica”

  1. “And the winner must win by at least 40%” is misleading. A candidate can win by one vote as long as at least 40% of the ballots were cast in her/his name.

    Also borders, not boarders.

    I always hate to be that guy but today it was my turn.

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