Costa Rica spans some 200 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea, and the numerous differing landscapes and microclimates that can be traversed in a single day make Costa Rica a unique and desirable destination. This means that any traveler can choose between sun drenched beaches, adventure, nature and culture options whilst the local population is known for a sense of genuine hospitality.
In terms of visitor numbers, it is the top tourism destination in Central America with visitors being driven to its eco friendly approach combined with stunning landscapes adorned with Mountains, valleys, volcanoes, beaches, lakes, caves, forests, national parks, mineral springs, thermal waters, exotic flora and fauna. The National System of Conservation and Wildlife areas and National Parks means that 26% of the country is protected and preserved land.
Additionally, sustainable tourism is at the forefront of the countries tourism development and, something which has positioned Costa Rica as one of the top eco-destinations in the world. Through careful stewardship and indoctrinated practices where economic growth has not meant sacrifice or any lack of respect for the environment, it’s culture or it’s people the country has remained at the forefront of sustainable tourism. In 1997, The Costa Rican Tourism Board -ICT implemented a programme for the Certification for Sustainable Tourism –a standard recognized by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), as a pioneer program that has transformed and solidified the relationship between tourism and the environment. Each day, more accommodation companies, tour operators, car rentals, and theme parks, continue to show their commitment to sustainable management, through specific activities such as the improvement of waste management and protecting the environment, while respecting local culture, and contributing to the communities to which they belong.
History & Culture
Archaeological evidence indicates that indigenous groups related to Colombian, Nicaraguan and Panamanian indigenous populations settled here more than 10,000 years ago. They cultivated corn in the arid lowland areas and valleys and propagated cacao (chocolate), pejibaye (a palm fruit) and most likely many other edible forest crops as well as hunting wildlife for survival. An extensive trade network with indigenous groups outside the region is believed to have existed using dugout canoes along the pacific coast and ‘by foot’ into the interior. Individual indigenous communities belonged to chiefdoms that extended over large areas and lasted until after the arrival of the Spanish. Today, the indigenous populations number near 50,000 inhabitants, belonging to eight ethnic groups and account for almost 1% of the total Costa Rican population – June 2013 estimates: 4,652,458 citizens.
Lacking rich reserves of gold and large indigenous urban centers that could be readily exploited, Costa Rica generally failed to attract armies of conquistadors. The Spanish who settled here lived on small farms or in simple rural communities and were practically isolated from the rest of the world. This changed in the 19th century when affluent Europeans developed a taste for coffee. It was soon discovered that Costa Rica’s mountain climate and rich soils of volcanic origin were ideal for growing high-quality coffee.
By the 1830’s coffee brought international trade and later prosperity to the nation. In the late 1800’s a railway was built to replace coffee transport by slow-moving ox carts. Lacking enough residents for a sufficient workforce, Chinese, Jamaicans of African descent, and Italians were hired to build the railways, many who later settled in the country. In the early 20th century, coffee-growing attracted German, French and other Europeans who came to establish their own coffee plantations. Finally, North Americans have settled in Costa Rica in more recent years attracted by its warm climate, lower cost of living for retirees, diverse businesses or its biological wealth, among other reasons.
In general, Costa Ricans or “Ticos” as they are known, are outgoing, have a ready sense of humor, are predominantly Catholic, independent, and friendly but also reserved as their lives are largely centered around their extended families-and local soccer matches!
Throughout the year Costa Ricans have many traditional activities and celebrations. Some of the activities include small country fairs with colorful ox-cart processions, horse parades, bull fights (it is illegal to kill bulls in Costa Rica; the bulls are ridden and chased by participants at the event), food sales, rides for small children, traditional “Giants” accompanied by a noisy cimarrona band, soccer matches and children’s games.
On August 1st every year, hundreds of thousands of Costa Ricans make an annual pilgrimage to the large Basilica in the eastern city of Cartago as an act of faith. On September 14th, the eve of Independence Day, young children walk with their parents at dusk (6 PM) carrying faroles, or paper lanterns lit with flashlight light bulbs or candles. This is followed the next day with parades of school children carrying flags, banners and marching bands.
At special events, one might hear a group of musicians playing a marimba in the background, or at an important party hosts might hire a mariachi band, complete with fancy uniforms and oversized Mexican sombreros! In recent years, high school graduation parties or girl´s 15th birthday parties are celebrated with a vivacious group of samba musicians. In October, in a nod to the community´s strong African roots, the eastern seaport city of Limon has a Carnival celebration that lasts several days. In December, the dark nights are illuminated with colorful strings of street lights and chinamos,(temporary stalls) that sell tinsel, lights, decorations, and ornaments for the Christmas holiday. At the stroke of midnight, the New Year is celebrated with parties and lots of fireworks!
Costa Rica is a nation of peaceful politics: the army was abolished in 1949 in an effort to better finance causes such as health care, education and later, conservation of natural resources. Every four years national elections are held for the president, two vice presidents and members of congress. There are several parties that present candidates however the majority of votes usually are cast for the two most popular parties.
The Costa Rican diet revolves around a base of rice and beans, fresh fruits and vegetables, and protein sources of beef, chicken, fish and pork. A very popular breakfast dish is called “Gallo Pinto”, and is a mixture of rice and beans usually spiced with salt, garlic, peppers, onions and cilantro. On the east coast, this very popular dish is flavored with coconut milk. This is a reflection of the cooking preferences of its inhabitants of Jamaican heritage and the regional abundance of coconuts. Visitors should make a point of trying the various tropical fruits available in Costa Rica. Near the source, and of different varieties, these fruits are generally vastly superior to most tropical fruits found in northern supermarkets. (Tropical fruits shipped north are picked green and may spend two weeks or more in transit). Costa Rica produces mangoes, papayas, passion fruit, small flavorful datil bananas, tangy soursop, and very sweet pineapples, among others.
Beginning in the late 1980’s, as more and more people discovered Costa Rica’s incredible natural beauty a vast network of services grew in response. Now, a more mature tourism industry offers international visitors a variety of accommodations from simple home stays in the rural countryside, to luxury 5 star hotels of renowned international chains.
Transportation can be in the form of a simple ox-cart (at the sites of certain attractions and over short distances!) to modern, comfortable luxurious air-conditioned buses. Activities include nature hikes, aerial tramways, canopy tours, saltwater sport fishing, bird watching, horseback riding, rafting, kayaking, swimming, surfing, mountain biking, snorkeling, scuba-diving, nature photography, or simply sunbathing on a warm sun-drenched beach. And the list goes on... Costa Rica has a lot to offer!