If you have done any research preparing for your visit to Costa Rica, you have probably noticed by now the beautiful natural landscape unlike any other place, and its extraordinary biodiversity not found in many other places on the planet.  But here are some really fascinating facts that will highlight what a truly singular place Costa Rica is in the world.

  1. Conservation is a national priority

Over a quarter of the land in the country is dedicated to conservation.  Tourists and locals love to enjoy and appreciate Costa Rica’s natural beauty.  And the government is committed to keeping it that way.  Would you believe there are 20 national parks, 8 biological reserves, various animal refuges and protected areas?  All of this commitment to protecting the environment adds up to 26% of the land being protected in one way or another.

 

  1. The Leading Income Earner for the Country is Tourism

The sheer scope of natural beauty, the wide range of diverse landscapes, and the warm welcome make Costa Rica a popular tourist destination.  The range of geography, temperatures, altitudes, activities, and richness of biodiversity here is astounding.  Especially when you consider how small the country actually is compared to their local neighbors.  In fact, in 2015 Costa Rica set a new record welcoming 2.6 million visitors that year.

  1. Costa Rica Features Four World Heritage Sites

World Heritage Sites are designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and are determined for their universal cultural and natural value to the world.  For a site to be selected, they must meet a set of ten criteria.  The fact that Costa Rica has done that not only once, but four times is quite impressive don’t you think?

These include La Amistad National Park which extends along the shared border between Costa Rica and Panama.  One of the primary reasons the Park was chosen is because this land mass acts as a land-bridge where the plants and animals of both North and South America meet.  This contributes to an enormous variety of environmental conditions and spectrum of ecosystems.

Cocos Island National Park is located 550 kilometers west of Costa Rica in the Pacific Ocean.  It was selected because its location is an ideal laboratory for the study of biological development, and provides critical habitats for a wide range of large pelagic species such as sharks, rays, tuna, and dolphin.

 

The Guanacaste Conservation Area contains a wealth of ecosystem and habitat diversity, as well as key habitats for endangered and rare plant and animal species.  These extremes in environmental conditions provide homes for two-thirds of all species found in Costa Rica, all occurring within a relatively compact region.

The Stone Spheres in Sierpe are part of the Pre-columbian Chiefdom Settlements, and can be found in archaeological sites in southern Costa Rica.  These sites are considered stunning and unique examples of the complex social, economic, and political systems present sometime during the period ranging from AD 500-1500.  The most outstanding pieces are the stone spheres distinctive for their perfection, number, size and density, and their placement in the original locations.  The spheres most certainly stand as an exceptional testimony to the artistic traditions and craft capabilities of these Pre-columbian societies.

  1. Costa Rica is 1 of only 23 Countries that Abolished Their Army

Costa Rica dissolved its national army in 1948 after an armed revolution over-threw the existing government.  The victorious leaders formed a new party and created the Constitution in 1949.  But in fact, the army was disbanded as a means to prevent any opposition forces from doing the same thing.  The side-effects were much more than they had imagined.  The budget that previously supported the military was now available and used to enhance the education and medical systems, and their own Costa Rican culture.  And their education system provides a literary rate higher than the U.S., and a medical system that WHO ranks even better than the U.S. 

  1. One of the Highest Life Expectancies in the World

Even though Costa Rica only spends a fraction compared to North America on health care, they enjoy one of the highest life expectancies in the world.  Some of this is due to their economic security and excellent health care.  But the residents on the Nicoya Peninsula have the highest rates in the whole country.   In looking at why that might be, faith and family play a strong role in Nicoyan culture.  As well as their approach to what is called called plan de vida, or “reason to live” where elders maintain a positive outlook and active lifestyle.  One of the unique secrets of the region is the calcium and magnesium rich water which helps to ward off magnesium-rich promotes strong bones.  All that natural beauty and happiness must be good for you!

  1. Over 200 Volcanic Formations in Costa Rica

Which all contribute to the sheer richness of biodiversity, ecosystems, geological formations, and majestic beauty found in Costa Rica.  But it does make for an exciting place when you are positioned right on the infamous Ring of Fire.  Approximately 112 of these volcanoes have shown some degree of activity, while 60 of them are considered dormant.  The top three most exciting ones to visit would be Arenal which is the most active volcano in Central America, Poas is considered the second widest volcanic crater in the world, and Irazu is the tallest volcano found in Costa Rica.

7. Costa Rica is Home to Over 5% of the World’s Biodiversity

Costa Rica may not be a very large country in itself.  In fact, it is actually smaller than Lake Michigan at only 19,730 square miles with 801 miles of that as coastline.  And another fact to consider – Costa Rica only occupies .03% of the planet’s surface.  But in such a compact location, it packs a lot into its borders.  More than 500,000 species can be found in the wide range of diverse habitats and ecosystems.  And the Corcovado National Park located on the Osa Peninsula has been named by National Geographic as one of the top 4 Parks in the world for its richness in biodiversity.

  1. Sheer Abundance of Butterfly Species in Costa Rica

Seriously.  Costa Rica is home to approximately 90% of the butterfly species found in all of Central America.  That is an amazing number of butterflies to see.   And would you believe, over 18% of all butterfly species in the world can be found in Costa Rica?  Some of the world’s smallest species, some of the largest, and some of the most magnificent can all be found here.  And there are a number of butterfly gardens and farms where you can enter enclosed areas and walk among the fluttering beauties.

  1. Over 50 Species of Hummingbirds are Found in Costa Rica

Almost 15% of all hummingbird species can be found in Costa Rica.  From the smallest one weighing in at only 2 grams to the goliath weighing a whopping 11.5 grams.  Many bird-watchers and those who simply love their beauty call them fairy-like, magical dynamos.  And if you ever sat and watched one of these feathered beauties, you can certainly see why.  Fortunately they are easy to spot when you know where to find the feeders or right type of flowering plants they love and need for their daily nourishment.  A hummingbird must take over in 1 ½ to 3 times their body weight just to stay alive as they use up so much energy flitting from flower to flower at that hyper-speed.  The range of habitats make it possible to see anywhere from 15 to 20 species in one day.

  1. Costa Ricas Refer to Themselves as Ticos (male) and Ticas (female)

And this is said with affection rather than any derogatory meaning attached to these colloquiums.  Although Costa Rica does speak Spanish, they have adapted the language to make it their own.  Their practice of adding the suffix “tico” to the end of many words is quite unique and contributed to referring to themselves as Ticos and Ticas.  For example, in standard Spanish, a “poco” means a little.  While for most Spanish speakers a little bit would be “un poquito”, in Costa Rica it is called “un poquitico”.

  1. Costa Rica Only Started Using Street Signs in 2012

Can you only imagine how difficult that must be for taxi drivers, let alone the pizza delivery guy?  If you ask the front desk clerk at your hotel how to get to the National Theater in San Jose, they will give you directions based on local landmarks.  And you had better know how to judge distances by meters, not feet, as Costa Rica uses the metric system.  So getting to the National Theater is a left-hand turn 100 meters south of Banco Popular.  And getting to the train station is a right-hand turn 400 meters south of the Costa Rica Middle School.  The really challenging part is when local residents still give directions based on landmarks that don’t even exist, and some haven’t for decades.  The decision to start addressing the problem was aimed at modernizing the capital city of San Jose, and making it more attractive to tourists who more commonly head straight out to the famous beaches and national parks.

  1. Costa Ricans Embrace the Phrase “Pura Vida”

You might not even be in Costa Rica for one day before you hear locals using the phrase “pura vida” which means ‘pure life’.  But for Costa Ricans, it is much more than a simple translation.  It is a dedicated way of life.  It truly is a state of mind.  It reflects happiness, well-being, conformity, and satisfaction for them.  Even their facial expressions change when they greet and bid farewell to each other.  If you want to experience a peaceful, simple, uncluttered life with a deep appreciation of nature, family, and friends, then be sure to come explore the beauty of Costa Rica.

  1. Costa Rica Consistently Ranks Number 1 on the Happy Planet Index

This appreciation of the Pura Vida life-style might be one of the reasons why they consistently rank in the top five index on the happiest people in the world.  There are three criteria used by the Happy Planet Index to determine the rankings – life expectancy, experienced well-being, and an Ecological Footprint.  The reality is that Costa Ricans have higher well-being than others in more affluent countries, and have a higher life expectancy than residents in the U.S.  Their Ecological Footprint is just one-third the size of the U.S.  Costa Ricans enjoy a culture of forming solid social networks with friends, families, and neighborhoods.  In 2015, the country used their own renewable resources to produce 99% of their electrical needs.

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After learning about these many reasons and interesting facts that make Costa Rica so unique, hopefully you are already planning your trip to come for a visit and experience this diverse and captivating country.