Located in Central America, nestled between Nicaragua and Panama, Costa Rica is a land of stunning natural beauty and rich cultural heritage. Known for its biodiversity, tropical climates, and welcoming people, the country is a jewel in the heart of the Americas.
Uniquely, Costa Rica holds the distinction of being one of the few nations without a military, having abolished it in 1949, in favor of peace and political stability. In this article, we explore the many facets that make Costa Rica famous, from its breathtaking natural wonders to its robust coffee culture and beyond.
1. Arenal Volcano
Dominating the skyline of the Arenal Volcano National Park, the Arenal Volcano is an awe-inspiring sight. Despite being in a resting phase since 2010, it remains one of Costa Rica’s most popular tourist attractions. Visitors can hike around the volcano’s base, relax in the natural hot springs, or enjoy the spectacular views from nearby observation points.
2. Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
A paradise for nature lovers, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is home to thousands of species of plants, birds, and animals. Its high altitude and humid conditions create an ethereal cloud forest ecosystem that offers a unique experience to its visitors. Here, you can walk along hanging bridges, go zip-lining, or simply immerse yourself in the lush biodiversity.
3. Manuel Antonio National Park
Despite being one of the smallest national parks in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio is packed with biodiversity. The park features stunning beaches, tropical forests, and abundant wildlife, including capuchin monkeys, three-toed sloths, and hundreds of bird species. The combination of forest trekking and beach relaxation opportunities makes this park an irresistible destination.
4. Corcovado National Park
Regarded as one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, Corcovado National Park is a must-visit for any wildlife enthusiast. In this remote park on the Osa Peninsula, visitors may spot jaguars, scarlet macaws, tapirs, and many other species amid the primary rainforest.
5. Tortuguero National Park
Renowned for its annual sea turtle nesting events, Tortuguero National Park is a vital conservation site. Every year, thousands of sea turtles, including endangered species like leatherback and green turtles, return to these beaches to lay their eggs. The park’s network of lagoons and navigable canals also offers excellent opportunities to spot crocodiles, manatees, and diverse birdlife.
Historic and Touristic Landmarks
6. The National Theatre of Costa Rica
Located in the capital city, San José, the National Theatre is a symbol of Costa Rica’s cultural sophistication. Built in 1897, the theatre showcases stunning neoclassical architecture, decorated interiors, and hosts a variety of performances, from plays and concerts to ballets.
7. Guayabo National Monument
Costa Rica’s most significant archaeological site, Guayabo National Monument, provides insight into the pre-Columbian period. It features ancient structures, including dwellings, tombs, petroglyphs, and an intricate system of stone streets and aqueducts.
8. Pre-Columbian Gold Museum
Situated beneath the Plaza de la Cultura in San José, the museum exhibits an extensive collection of gold artifacts from pre-Columbian times. The gold pieces, including animal figurines and amulets, offer a glimpse into the beliefs and skills of the indigenous people.
9. The Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels
This basilica in Cartago is a religious and architectural landmark. It’s home to the statue of La Negrita, Costa Rica’s patron saint. Every year on August 2nd, thousands of pilgrims travel to the Basilica to pay their respects.
10. San Jose’s Central Market
A vibrant maze of stalls and shops, San José’s Central Market is a feast for the senses. From local produce and traditional foods to artisan crafts and medicinal herbs, the market provides a taste of authentic Costa Rican culture and lifestyle.
11. The Stone Spheres of the Diquís
These pre-Columbian stone spheres, scattered across southern Costa Rica, remain a mystery. Their size, precision, and purpose intrigue archaeologists and visitors alike. Recognized by UNESCO, they are an important cultural treasure.
12. Ox Cart Traditions
Once a symbol of rural labor, ox carts are now a celebrated part of Costa Rica’s cultural heritage. Brightly painted and intricately carved, they represent the country’s artistic traditions and agricultural history.
13. Costa Rican Music: Marimba and Calypso
Music plays a crucial role in Costa Rican culture, with Marimba and Calypso being the primary genres. Marimba, with its enchanting melodies, is the country’s national instrument, while Calypso reflects the Afro-Caribbean influence on the country’s Atlantic coast.
14. Abolition of the Military
On October 11, 1949, Costa Rica made the historic decision to abolish its military, a testament to its commitment to peace and political stability. The country’s budget previously allocated for defense now goes to education, healthcare, and environmental conservation, significantly shaping its socio-political landscape.
Popular Food and Drink
15. Gallo Pinto
Gallo Pinto is a staple of Costa Rican cuisine, often served as a hearty breakfast. It’s a flavorful mix of rice and black beans, typically accompanied by eggs, plantains, and natilla (sour cream). This dish reflects Costa Rica’s agricultural heritage and is a wonderful start to the day for both locals and tourists alike.
Another traditional dish, Casado, is a wholesome meal usually consisting of rice, beans, salad, a choice of meat (beef, chicken, fish, or pork), and fried plantains. The name ‘Casado’, which translates to ‘married’ in English, signifies the perfect union of the different elements on the plate.
17. Costa Rican Coffee
Known worldwide for its high-quality coffee, Costa Rica’s volcanic soil and tropical climate create ideal conditions for growing Arabica coffee beans. The country’s coffee culture is deeply woven into its history and economy, and a cup of locally brewed coffee is a must-try experience for any visitor.
18. Óscar Arias Sánchez
A two-term President and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Óscar Arias played a key role in ending the Central American crisis during the 1980s. His work in promoting democracy and peace throughout Latin America left a significant impact on the region’s political landscape.
19. Christiana Figueres
As a renowned diplomat and former Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Figueres was instrumental in orchestrating the 2015 Paris Agreement. Her efforts have positioned Costa Rica as a global leader in the fight against climate change.
20. Franklin Chang Díaz
A mechanical engineer, physicist, and former NASA astronaut, Chang Díaz is one of the few Latin Americans to travel to space. After participating in seven Space Shuttle missions, he has continued to contribute to space exploration technology, inspiring a generation of scientists in Costa Rica and beyond.
21. Biodiversity Research
Costa Rica, covering just 0.03% of the planet’s surface, hosts nearly 5% of its biodiversity. This has led to numerous discoveries in the fields of ecology and biology, particularly in rainforest ecosystems and sustainable farming techniques, making it a hub for biological research.
Costa Rica’s commitment to environmental preservation has positioned it as a leading destination for eco-tourism. The country’s extensive national parks, biodiversity, and conservation initiatives attract visitors globally, contributing significantly to its economy.
23. Pineapple Production
Costa Rica is the world’s leading exporter of pineapples, contributing over 50% of global pineapple supply. The cultivation of this tropical fruit plays a crucial role in the country’s agricultural sector and its economic performance.
Sports and Recreation
Soccer is more than just a sport in Costa Rica; it’s part of the national culture. The national team, known as “Los Ticos,” has achieved success on the international stage, including multiple World Cup appearances. Local matches also draw passionate crowds, reflecting the sport’s deep roots in the country.
Education and Innovation
25. Literacy and Education
Costa Rica boasts one of the highest literacy rates in Latin America, a testament to its robust education system. The government’s decision to prioritize education funding has contributed to its socioeconomic development and sets an example for other nations.
26. Independence Day (El Día de Independencia)
Celebrated annually on September 15, this national holiday commemorates Costa Rica’s independence from Spain in 1821. The festivities, featuring parades, traditional music and dance, and the iconic lantern parade by children, reflect the country’s rich culture and patriotic spirit.
From its lush rainforests and stunning biodiversity to its vibrant culture and peaceful societal ethos, Costa Rica is truly unique. Whether it’s the flavors of traditional dishes, the thrill of a football match, or the peacefulness of its natural landscapes, the country has something for everyone.
Known as the “Switzerland of Central America,” Costa Rica proudly demonstrates how a country can thrive economically while prioritizing environmental sustainability and social welfare. Through this list, we have explored some of the aspects that make Costa Rica famous, offering a glimpse into this captivating and diverse nation.