You have probably seen the photos of Costa Rica’s gorgeous beaches and lush jungles, but that’s just what makes it to the social media feed. If you’re thinking about a visit to this unique country (especially with kids), it’s worthwhile to go deeper and really explore what Costa Rica is known for.
What Makes Costa Rica Unique
There are plenty of reasons why Costa Rica attracts 1.7 million visitors each year. Ever since the development of eco-tourism in the 1980s – which simultaneously provided labor for a tenth of the national population and also ensured higher conservation mandates for the environment – Costa Rica has had something very special to offer its visitors. Read on to find out what that is! Note: We also have a fun article (17 Costa Rica Facts for Kids) to read with your children while planning your trip!
What is Costa Rica Known For?
These are the top 10 things we think Costa Rica is known for.
These slow-moving prehistoric creatures are ubiquitous in Costa Rican trees – and sometimes crossing the road! Nature guides are great at identifying the most common sloth trees and spotting these solitary creatures taking naps or doing some self-grooming with their long nails. Learn more in our article on Where to See Sloths in Costa Rica.
2. Shade-grown coffee
Costa Rica’s shade-grown coffee farms are some of the most beautiful on earth. And their coffee isn’t bad either! In 2012, Starbucks premiered its most expensive cup of coffee – a roast from Costa Rica’s Tarrazu region. Learn more in our article, 5 Costa Rica Coffee Plantations to Visit.
In 1948, after a small armed conflict, Costa Rican leadership decided to disband its army and invest those funds in education and social security programs for the nation. Ever since the concept of peace has become a fundamental value for Costa Ricans. In fact, “keeping the peace” is such a highly-held value that political scientists have identified a unique type of political discourse that Costa Rican leaders use in order to achieve mutual agreement on an issue.
4. Outdoor activities
Zip-lining. White-water rafting. Surfing. Snorkeling. Canoeing. Rappelling. Cycling. Canopying. Canoeing. Hiking. The list goes on and on! Read more in our articles on outdoor activities:
Costa Rica is among the top 10% of countries for its amount of biodiversity. This can be attributed both to nature and nurture. As a land bridge between South and North America, Costa Rica has benefited from the migration of species between the two continents, but Costa Rica has also been intentional about conserving its lush biodiversity through national and international environmental policies and treaties. Learn more in our article, Costa Rica Wildlife: Refuges/Sanctuaries & Best Places/Times to See the Animals.
6. Two coasts
There aren’t many other countries in the world where you can watch the sunrise over one coast and watch the sunset over another! Learn more in our articles on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast and Pacific Coast.
7. Nobel Peace Prize Winners & Astronauts
Despite its small size (roughly 5 million people), Costa Rica has put some famous people on the map – chief among those are Nobel Peace Prize winner, Oscar Arias, and NASA astronaut, Franklin Chang.
It would be impossible to talk about what Costa Rica is known for without mentioning its 900 miles of beaches! There are beaches for every vacation goal: sunbathing, monkey-watching, kayaking, snorkeling, etc! Learn more in our articles, Costa Rica’s Best Beaches for Families and Breathtaking Beaches in Costa Rica.
9. Pura Vida
“Pura Vida” is an oft-used expression in Costa Rica and it literally translates to “the pure life” or more colloquially, “it’s all good.” Costa Ricans will sometimes use the phrase in lieu of “nice to meet you” or “thanks” or even “don’t worry about it.” It has now come to represent the mindset of a nation that tends to be content, peaceful, and easygoing with one another.
As part of the infamous Ring of Fire, Costa Rica has some renowned volcanoes that dot the country. Though there are considered to be 60+ volcanoes in the country, there are six notable volcanoes, two of which are currently active. The major volcanoes are surrounded by protected national parks and many include nearby hot springs. Learn more in our article, Costa Rica Volcanoes & Mountain Ranges.
5 Lesser-Known Facts about Costa Rica
There are some facts about Costa Rica that may not make the social media feed but are actually very important to how people really live and travel in Costa Rica. Here are a few of those:
Costa Rica ranks 14th in the world (right behind Iceland and above the 65th-placed United States) on the percentage of GDP that it invests in education, demonstrating the priority the nation gives to education. Primary schools tend to be small and available within walking distance for most students. Secondary schools often include International Baccalaureate programs or technical schools. And college, or university, is largely subsidized for higher education degrees. Learn more about the Costa Rica education system.
The good news? Costa Rican roads offer breathtaking scenery and get you to some of the most beautiful places in the world! The bad news? Driving is rough! If a road isn’t winding perilously up a mist-shrouded mountain, it is inevitably full of potholes. Not to mention the traffic in the cities! Learn more in our article, Driving in Costa Rica: Is it Safe?
3. Carbon neutrality
Through its environmental protection policies, agroforestry practices, and production of all five types of renewable energy, Costa Rica is leading the way for other countries (many of them much larger!) to move towards carbon neutrality. Major international organizations and foundations are investing in Costa Rica to help it achieve its goals for carbon neutrality and let it serve as an example for the world of what is possible when a country is intentional about its climate change management.
4. Clean water
Visitors traveling through Central America are often amazed when they arrive in Costa Rica and realize they can drink the tap water… in most places. There are still some areas of Costa Rica where they will recommend that you boil water or bring bottled water, but the country as a whole has built strong infrastructure and policies to ensure that almost every house has access to clean, fresh water.
If you haven’t realized in the previous 14 facts of what Costa Rica is known for, Costa Rica is a pretty special place. This is because the people who live in Costa Rica are special – something you’ll realize right away when you visit. By and large, Costa Ricans are focused on the Pura Vida – the “it’s all good” life – and that means: getting together with family and friends, going for bike rides, taking a coffee break at work, having a family picnic by the river, sitting on the front porch, listening to the elders in the local park, standing under the sun to support national holiday parades, and just generally enjoying the beautiful country that they call home.
You have to see it to believe it!
Plan a Trip to Costa Rica!
John Rabenau has been working in the eco-tourism & adventure travel industry in Costa Rica since 2002. He has worked in a variety of capacities from Outdoor Educator & Principle Guide to Itinerary Design Manager & Business Owner for numerous organizations. He has grown Costa Rica Escapes into one of the most reputable Costa Rica travel agencies since its creation in 2006, hosting more than 5,000 people with custom vacation itineraries.