Culture in Costa Rica
Allison Moore

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Costa Rica, meaning rich coast, borders Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south. Costa Rica covers 19,700 square miles of land. Costa Rica is divided into seven provinces, San José, Alajuela, Cartago, Heredia, Guanacaste, Puntarenas and Limón. It is also divided into four geographical regions, the central highlands, the Caribbean coast, the Pacific coast, and the tropical forest. Costa Rica has one of the most diverse and rich flora and fauna in Central America. Around 27% of Costa Rica’s land is national parks and protected land.


Before the time of colonization, Costa Rica was inhibited by two main indigenous cultures, the Nahua and the Muisca. Although these groups and others existed, overall, the indigenous people of Costa Rica ultimately had little influence on the culture because most people died from diseases and mistreatment brought by the Spaniards. Costa Rica was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1502. Costa Rica remained uncolonized until 1563 because of an array of different factors. In 1838 Costa Rica declared its independence and sovereignty. A Costa Rican civil war took place in 1948, which lasted for a little over a month. It was a result of the presidential election, where Rafael Angel Calderon refused to give up power.
José Figueres Ferrer led in the over throw of Calderon. Ferrer became head leader and founder of the Junta government, which reformed policies and civil rights. Costa Rica abolished its army in 1949. The current president of Costa Rica is Óscar Arias.


Costa Ricans are commonly referred to as “Ticos” or “Ticas”. Costa Rica is a rich and varied ethnic country. The majority of the population has descended from Spanish immigrants, while others are descendents from other European countries, Asia, Africa, and other Central America countries. The central highlands hold the majority of the fair-skinned population, in the lowlands there is a higher mestizo population, the Caribbean coast is, for the majority, people of African descent, and in the Talamanca Mountain Range inhabits are full blood indigenous from different tribes.
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Family is important in Costa Rican culture. The majority of people in Costa Rica practice Catholicism. In Latin American countries, each country recognizes their own “Patrona”, which represents a version of the Virgin Mary. The “Patrona” of Costa Rica is known as “Virgen de los Angeles”, also referred to as “La Negrita”, meaning “Little Black One”.
La Romería is the most important religious celebration in Costa Rica. It is where the people walk from their homes to the cathedral, dedicated to the Virgin, in Cartago on August second.

Education is held at a high standard in Costa Rican culture. As a result of 6% of the countries resources being held for education, 96% of the population is literate. First through 12th grade is mandatory and public schools are free. There are also four major public universities located in Costa Rica.

The arts have had a strong influence on Costa Rican culture as well. Costa Rica is famous for its painting on ox carts. A few of Costa Rica’s influential painters were
Ezequiel Jimenez, Wenceslao de la Guardia, and Enrique Echandi.
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The influence on music reins mainly from the North and the Atlantic Coast. Tambito, a rhythm, and a distinctive music genre called “punto” produce the music known to Costa Rica. Other music influential to Costa Rica is what is referred to as funk music, introduced in the 80’s, but still popular among young people.

"Tambito Josefino" David Coto, COSTA RICA


Costa Rican cuisine focuses on using more mild blends of seasonings and spices rather than using spicy chili peppers and powders. Costa Rica is known for its famous dish of rice and black beans seasoned with onions, cilantro, sweet peppers, and Lizano sauce, known as “gallo pinto”. Gallo pinto is most commonly served at breakfast with eggs, tortillas, and “natilla”, which is a Costa Rican sour cream. Lunch and dinner usually consist of the similar foods; white rice, black beans, a type of meat and fried plantains. Other common dishes are tamales, empanadas, gallos, and arreglados. Although these dishes are common throughout Costa Rica, the east coast, occupied by Jamaicans and other Caribbean immigrants, provides a different flair on the traditional Costa Rican food. The use of coconut milk is common in foods. The traditional “gallo pinto”, on the east coast, is made up of white rice, red beans, and coconut milk.
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Street food venders are a common tradition in Costa Rica. Street venders not only serve traditional Costa Rican food, but also a variety of other cuisines as well. One may see “pupusas”, meat or cheese stuffed flatbreads from El Salvador, empanadas from Argentina, which are meat filled corn fritters, Chinese stir fries, and jerk chicken on a stick from Jamaica. In addition, these venders may also offer a dessert referred to as “copo”, which consists of shaved ice, flavored syrup, and or both powdered milk and condensed milk.

Two main holidays celebrated by Costa Ricans are Christmas and Easter. Two main dishes accompany these holidays, “miel de chiverre” and “tamales”. Both meals require early preparation of the dishes. Miel de chiverre is made from a Central American squash called chiverre. The squash is cut and quartered and dried for weeks before Easter. After the drying process, the squash is then cooked in butter and sugar until it becomes a sweet paste. The paste is then used consumed by spreading on bread, rolling it into dessert empanadas, or just simply eating it on its own. The tamales referred to here, are unlike the traditional Mexican tamales. These tamales are made from a filling of a mixture of pork, vegetables, and other “secret ingredients”; the filling is then put into a cornmeal patty, and then wrapped in a banana leaf to be steamed. For the making of the tamales, families gather together for a two day cooking process. These tamales are one of Costa Rica’s main traditional dishes.
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Food isn’t the only traditions in cuisine that Costa Ricans carry out; they are also known for a few of their beverages as well. “Jugos naturales” are a mixture of local fresh fruit, sugar, and water or milk. Common fruits used are passion fruit or “maracuya”, mango, papaya, blackberry or “mora”, starfruit or “carambola”, strawberry or “fresa”, and watermelon or “sandia”. Coffee, Costa Rica’s major export, is another traditional drink. Coffee is served in the traditional ways, as black, with milk, or with milk and sugar. Coffee can also be served with a different added flare called “guaro”, which is a tequila type liquor. Another common drink found is one of a natural sort. “Pipas” or young coconuts have their tops removed, and a straw punched through the flesh into the coconut milk.
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Spanish is the official language of Costa Rica. Costa Rican Spanish utilizes the use of “usted” when addressing one another. Costa Rican's do not use the same Castilian Spanish spoken in Spain, instead they use of “vos” instead of “tu” to address someone impersonally. Costa Rican Spanish is full of “Tiquismos” or unique sayings. An example of a common Tiquismos in Costa Rica is the use of the diminutive; for example “ticos” or “ticas” is used to refer to a Costa Rican. They add this word to create a suffix in order to create a diminutive.

Costa Rican Sayings:

Costa Rican Spanish:
English Translation:
Costa Rican Man/Woman
Hello. What’s new?
Pura Vida
Pure Life
Blonde North American or European
Buena Nota
Cool or all right