Costa Rica is a small country in Central America bordering both the Pacific and the Caribbean. Costa Rica has a population of roughly 4 million people, of which nearly 1/4 live in San Jose, the capital. It is one of the most stable and progressive countries in Latin America, and is one of few nations that have completely abolished their army. The New Economics Foundation has also ranked Costa Rica as the "greenest" country in the world!
Because Costa Rica is located near the equator, it has a tropical climate that has little temperature variation (between 60-80 degrees). It has two season: the rainy season (May-November) and the dry season (December-April). However, there are many microclimates due to the wide variance in elevation, rainfall, and topography.
Although Costa Rica is only .1% of the world's landmass, it contains over 5% of the entire world's biodiversity. The video above only showed the bare minimum of all the wonderful flora and fauna located here. As mentioned above, Costa Rica is the "greenest" country in the world and has over 25% of its land area as protected national parks and reserves, allowing it to retain this amazing biodiversity. Most encouraging has been their efforts to stop deforestation - reducing it from the worst rates in the world to almost zero by 2005.
Costa Rica is famous for its coffee, which used to be collected in carts like the one above. Its other main sources of income are bananas and pineapples, which are exported around the world. Due to its high rate of education, many investors are flocking to Costa Rica and taking advantage of the tax exemptions for businesses that help the country grow.
Costa Rican culture is a mixture of indigenous culture and that of Spain. The majority religion is Roman Catholic, and, of course, the language spoken here is Spanish. The food is normally very simple, with an average meal consisting of gallo pinto (rice and beans) plus fresh fruit and eggs.
Here are some cultural do's and don'ts while you're in Costa Rica.
Do: Dress more conservatively than you would here. It is not acceptable to wear shorts above the knee if you're not at the beach.
Do: Greet people politely with a "Buenos" when you meet them. Costa Ricans are very friendly and will be offended if you don't greet them.
Do: Be patient! Costa Ricans tend to be in less of a hurry than Americans or Europeans. They take a more relaxed approach to life. (Note: this doesn't apply to cars, which are notoriously impatient. Look both ways kids!)
Do: Use your Spanish, even if it isn't perfect!
Don't: Disrespect nature. Costa Ricans are very protective of their wildlife and you will be reprimanded if you touch animals or pick flowers.
Don't: Touch the shower head! Many of them have an electric current running through to heat up the water.
Don't: Flush toilet paper. Their sewage system is old and small. It isn't equipped to handle toilet paper or anything but bodily waste.
Don't: Go anywhere alone. Although Costa Rica is a fairly safe country, there is still crime especially in the capitol city. You will look different from the locals and there is a chance you will be targeted by pickpockets.
The type of Spanish spoken in Costa Rica is great for language learners. Cosa Ricans speak slightly slower than other dialects, and have a fairly neutral accent. However, some differences you might note are the use of usted as the predominant second person pronoun. Many Costa Ricans use usted in the place of the tú form - even to close friends and family!. In fact, the tú form is often not used at all, instead being replaced by the vos tense, something mostly used in Spain. Don't worry though - even if you use tú, you will still be understood!
Costa Ricans are called "Ticos" because they use the diminutive ending -ico (instead of -ito) on the end of words even if that word normally wouldn't require a diminutive. Their colloquial expressions are known as "tiquismos". While I encourage you to learn more about these fun expressions, please be careful as some of them are considered vulgar in other Spanish speaking countries. Of course, the most well known "tiquismo" is Pura Vida which literally means pure life. This phrase can be used in many contexts, such as greetings, expressions of enthusiasm, agreement, etc. In my experience, Pura Vida can be used in almost any positive context.
Como estás? (How are you?) Pura vida! (I’m great/doing well/feeling good!)
Nos vemos en el cine. (I’ll see you at the movies.) Pura vida. (Cool/ok.)
One last common difference: Costa Ricans tend to use regalar instead of dar. Don't be surprised if someone asks you to regalar something.
Volcán Arenal is a national park in the Alajuela region. For most of modern history, this volcano was dormant - until it erupted in 1968. It produced massive explosions, ash, and molten lava almost daily until 2010. Although it has gone dormant again, it is still a striking site, with a huge forest, and a perfect cone shape that towers above the clouds.
The day after we visit Arenal, we will head to a spa at its base. The water in the spa comes from springs heated by the volcano.
Our next stop will be in the Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, located a days travel away next to the ocean. In the morning, we will hike through the forest, viewing monkeys, sloths, birds, and more. Then we will head to the beach and relax in the waves.
We will go white-water rafting down the Sarapiqui river.
Zipline through the rainforest canopy!