Costa Rica is a small country with a big heart. It measures about the same size as Lake Michigan and just slightly smaller than the state of West Virginia. Yet, it boasts more than 800 miles of stunning coastline and approximately five percent of the world’s biodiversity.
First visited by Christopher Columbus in 1502, its culture today represents a vibrant swirl of influences from both indigenous and immigrant cultures who have long called it home. Which immigrant cultures helped shape Costa Rica? Those of Spain, Germany, China, and Jamaica, to name a few.
Ready to learn more about family travel to Costa Rica and its unique culture? Here’s what you need to know before visiting this paradisiacal destination.
Pura Vida: Good Life in Costa Rica
The cultural concept of pura vida is one so prevalent in Costa Rica, that it informs nearly every aspect of daily life, from the language to daily conversations and the way that Costa Ricans perceive the world and their place in it. A Spanish phrase, pura vida (pronounced poo-rah vee-dah), literally translates as the “pure life” or the “simple life.”
While similar phrases exist in other cultures, like the French language’s bien-vivre, nowhere else does this phrase hold as much sway as Costa Rica. For example, locals use the term as a way of greeting each other and saying goodbye. It even represents a response to, “How are you?” In this context, “Pura vida” translates as “Everything’s okay” or “Everything’s great.”
But the implications don’t stop there. Pura vida also impacts day to day life. Locals focus on the simple pleasures and don’t sweat the small stuff. They remain positive and hold steadfast to faith in an optimistic future. The result? Residents consistently express their gratitude about living in this Central American gem. Costa Rica has topped the New Economics Foundation’s “Happy Planet Index” numerous times, a testament to the fulfillment of the pura vida attitude.
Ticos, Ticas, and What They Care About
Costa Ricans often go by the nickname of Tico (masculine) or Tica (feminine). Why? Because they have a linguistic habit of referring affectionately to various people, places, and things in the diminutive. In other words, a favorite coffee drink (café) becomes a cafecito (little coffee). Or, a beloved pet or cute canine (perro) becomes a “perrito.”
This use of “little” has absolutely nothing to do with size. While other Romance language speakers also do this on occasion, including the Spanish and French, no nation uses diminutives nearly as often. As a result, this language quirk is reflected in the name by which Costa Ricans refer to themselves.
What are some things that Ticos and Ticas remain passionate about? First, their dedication to pura vida means they officially abolished their standing army in 1949. Instead, they decided to devote their national resources towards developing an “army of teachers.” And this move has paid off in extraordinary ways. Today, Costa Rica enjoys one of the highest literacy rates in the world. In fact, a whopping 97.8 percent of the population is literate.
Ticos and Ticas also remain deeply invested in conservation. More than 25 percent of the nation’s land is protected as a wildlife reserve or national park. This represents the largest percentage of territory protected by one nation in the entire world. If that’s not impressive enough, then consider this. No other nation in the world is moving towards carbon neutrality faster than Costa Rica.
Gallo Pinto Perfection
Gallo pinto reflects what locals hold most dear. A clean, simple dish of beans and rice, gallo pinto is both nourishing and satisfying. In its purest form, it’s also gluten-free and vegan.
Eaten typically for breakfast, this dish is often served along with Salsa Lizano, scrambled eggs, and fried plantains. Some cooks will also add queso fresco and tortillas to the mix. One thing’s for sure, this hearty breakfast will power you through countless adventures and is seasoned to perfection with a hint of onion, pepper, garlic, and cilantro.
But gallo pinto proves more than one of the best breakfasts in the world. It’s also a point of national pride. Both Costa Rica and Nicaragua claim it as their national dish. Yet, they also acknowledge that the recipe has Afro-Caribbean roots. So, which country has the stronger claim? Most likely, both countries. It is believed that Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans working together on banana plantations along the Caribbean coast in Costa Rica first started devouring the meal together. They later transported the recipe back to their respective homelands.
Costa Rica Culture and Family Travel
When it comes to family travel, few destinations outperform Costa Rica. A land of abundant biodiversity and plenty of adventure, get ready for an adrenaline-packed, family-friendly experience. What’s more, the pura vida way of life has a way of rubbing off on visitors, and there’s no more powerful souvenir than the life lessons encompassed in this harmonious way of living centered around happiness and gratitude.
Interested in learning more about traveling Costa Rica with kids? Or, looking for Costa Rica travel options your whole family can get behind? Check out our Costa Rica Adventure, a culturally rich, kid-friendly way to visit some of the most extraordinary destinations in Central America.
At Our Whole Village, we create tours carefully designed for families who want to create lasting memories while making a difference. We’re here to help you and your family experience the world, its peoples, and cultures. Contact us today to learn more about the unforgettable experiences that we handcraft for families just like yours.