134. All About Costa Rica: An Introduction

When I started this blog, I figured there would be a day when we ran out of things to talk about. We are nearing those days! While yes, every once in a while, we have something fun to talk about like cows in our yard or going on an adventure, most of our life here is truly pretty quiet (i.e. boring and not blog-worthy. The entirety of September fit into 2 short blog posts and it looks like October will be the same!) In order to supplement our blogs when we are caught up and out of things to write about, I want to add some general information about Costa Rica and include things that go beyond our experiences, tell you a little bit more about why we chose Costa Rica and what we love about it. Shout-out to my friend Google for much of this information. If any of it is incorrect, blame it, not me!! So if you have ever been curious about Costa Rica in general you may find this blog post very interesting.

  • Costa Rica is an independent country; they have a president and elected government (not to be confused with Puerto Rico which is a US Territory).
  • Costa Rica is not an island as many people believe. It is located in Central America between Nicaragua and Panama. 
  • Costa Rica has 7 Provinces 

We wrote more about all of this in Blog Post #5 "Where Are We and Where Are We Going?" If you want to read that blog click here
  • The land area is about 19,730 square miles, similar in size to the state of West Virginia with about 763 miles of coastline (for my geography challenged friends, MN is approximately 87,000 square miles). 
  • Costa Rica’s population is about 5.2 Million, which is slightly less than the state of MN.
  • Approximately 25% of the land here is protected by National Parks, nature reserves and wildlife refuges, so it can’t be developed.
  • Marino Ballena National Park here in Uvita is over 13,000 acres. Out of all those acres only 272 are on land and the rest are in the ocean. 
  • There are over 30 National Parks, we’ve only been to a handful of them throughout the country on various vacations and haven’t visited any new ones since we’ve lived here. Someday—but right now it’s too tough to get away from work and have someone babysit the pup.

Costa Rica is one of the most (if not THE most) biodiverse places on the planet. When you think about it, the size of the country is less than a fraction of 1% of the total landmass of the Earth, but Costa Rica is home to approximately 5% of the world’s biodiversity. What is Biodiversity? To keep it simple, Biodiversity is all the different kinds of life you'll find in one area—the variety of animals, plants, fungi, and even microorganisms like bacteria that make up our natural world.

There are over 10,000 species of plants and trees. And over 500,000 species of animals!
For example, below are a few of the species counts of some animals that you might be interested in.

  • 4 types of monkeys (Spider Monkey, Howler Monkey, White Faced Capuchin, & Squirrel Monkey)
  • 2 types of sloths (Brown throated three toed sloth and the Hoffmann's two toed sloth)
  • 6 species of big cats (Jaguarundi, Oncilla, Margay, Ocelot, Jaguar, & Puma (aka cougar, mountain lion)
  • 4 types of sea turtles (Leatherback, Green, Olive Ridley and Hawksbill)
  • 1,100 types of fish
  • 900 species of birds, 53 of which are hummingbirds
  • 17 parrot species (including the Scarlet Macaw and the Great Green Macaw)
  • 300,000 insects, 1,500 of which are butterflies
  • 20,000 spiders
  • 474 reptile & amphibian species including:
  • 2 crocodilians (American Crocodile & Caiman)
  • 150 species of frogs, 8 of which are poison dart frogs
  • 137 types of snakes
  • 70 types of lizards 

I know many of you are thinking that with all of those snakes and spiders you would never want to come visit Costa Rica. Don’t let it scare you though! (Trust me, I’m SO afraid of snakes, frogs and lizards, and Ramie is quite afraid of spiders, and we’ve survived just fine!)

Despite all of the scary stuff, there are almost no incidents if you stay smart and stay on the trails in the parks and only go out in the jungle if you are dressed appropriately. I may eventually do a whole blog post about some of the different animals like the monkeys, big cats, and turtles. If I can find enough information, that is!

As far as plants go, if that’s more your thing: 

There are 6 types of forests in Costa Rica, the most common are rain forest, cloud forest, and tropical dry forest. The others are mangroves, lowland rainforests, and riparian forests (which is the forest adjacent to rivers and lakes). Approximately 50% of Costa Rica’s landmass is made up of primary rainforest.

In total there are over 10,000 species of plants & trees

  • 9,000 of them are flowering plants including 1,300 different orchids
  • 900 different ferns
  • 300 types of trees
  • More species of fruits, edible plants and medicinal plants than you could ever imagine! (I couldn’t find a number)

And who doesn't love coffee?!

There are hundreds of coffee plantations here with over 70,000 farmers growing coffee!
Costa Rica is the 13th largest coffee producer in the world with over 1.5 million bags of coffee exported every year. Yes, you can find many coffee plantation tours throughout the country. Here in Uvita we have a very good relationship with Don Emelio who owns a plantation and if you come to visit, they will treat you like family!

There are over 200 volcanoes,

Six of which are still considered active. Poas Volcano in central Costa Rica has the second-largest volcanic crater in the world. The fun part about active volcanoes is that they make hot springs! We visited Arenal volcano on one of our vacations, and yes, we relaxed in the hot springs! If you make a trip to Costa Rica and visit the Arenal area, we made friends with Daniel when we were up there. His family owns several rental houses and he is a fantastic tour guide! We will get you set up with him if you decide to include Arenal as part of your vacation. 

A view of Arenal from Daniel's Airbnb we stayed at on vacation
Arenal once again.. This was such an amazing place to visit

The highest mountain in Costa Rica is Cerro Chirripo which stands 3,810 meters (12,800 feet) above sea level. This mountain is located about 40 miles North East of San Isidro where we do our shopping, but remember, 40 miles doesn’t sound far, but when you’re driving in the mountains here in Costa Rica 5 miles can take 45 minutes! 

There is seismic activity every day somewhere in the country but the majority of the quakes are so small you rarely feel them. On average I would have to guess around 5-10 earthquakes each day. Below is a screenshot of the past 15 days of all the earthquakes and their epicenter location as of 10/15/23. 

As I mentioned before, there are over 30 national parks here in Costa Rica. They are in all sorts of climates and areas, but depending on where you are, some have tons of hiking in the rainforest, Marino Ballena has snorkeling and whale watching trips, some of them are the volcanoes that you can climb, and I believe all of them have guides that you can hire who will help you see the wildlife and best sights that each of them have to offer.

If History is more your thing:

  • There were never any dinosaurs in Costa Rica because, during the time of the dinosaurs, the land that is now Costa Rica was still under the ocean. There were, however, giant sloths back in pre-historic times after Costa Rica came above sea level.

pic courtesy of https://slothconservation.org

  • There are hundreds of stone spheres found throughout the country that date back 2000 years. No one knows for sure what they were for, what they symbolize, or who made them, but they seem to be found near grave sites. 

Pic courtesy of https://ticotimes.net

  • Christopher Columbus first visited what is now Costa Rica in 1502.
  • Costa Rica was a Spanish colony but they never had to fight Spain for their independence. Costa Rica, along with the rest of Central America, was granted their independence from Spain in 1821 after the Mexican War. Costa Rica’s Independence day is celebrated on September 15.
  • Costa Rica has not had a Military since 1948.

And some other random facts that we have learned along the way:

  • The national anthem is played on the radio every morning.
  • Costa Rica has 14 national holidays.
  • Costa Rica has a literacy rate of 97.8 percent, one of the highest in the world (the US is about 79%).
  • Costa Rica is considered to be one of the happiest countries in the world. They have a “Blue Zone”, which is one of five places in the world that has the longest life expectancy with many people in the area living to be over 100! 

pic courtesy ofhttps://ikigai-accessories.com/blue-zones-in-the-world/

  • Less than 1 percent of Costa Rica’s population is of indigenous ancestry, and around 94 percent of Costa Rican's have some primarily European heritage.
  • Costa Rica is primarily Christian and predominantly Catholic. The majority of churches in Costa Rica face West (so if you are in a town and don’t know which direction you’re facing, look for the church, although we have found some churches that don't face west so we are not sure how valid this actually is.)

Street names are not regularly used in Costa Rica and you rarely find street name signs even if the roads are named. In general, addresses are given in terms of distance from a local landmark. In Uvita there are 2 banks that are often used as the landmarks and the instructions will be something like “300 meters South and 200 meters West of the National Bank in Uvita de Osa province of Puntarenas, Costa Rica Puntarenas, Province of Puntarenas, Costa Rica”.

The mail system is nothing like you’d recognize in the US. There are post offices and some people or businesses have PO Boxes if they are sending and receiving a lot. Couriers are used more often here. Good luck receiving anything from outside of Costa Rica if you aren’t using a special importing/shipping company.

The typical food in Costa Rica is called Gallo Pinto, which is flavored rice and beans. 

pic courtesy of https://stripedspatula.com/gallo-pinto/

You’ll often find this on the breakfast menu in restaurants. The typical lunch item will often be Casado, which is meat with a side of rice, beans (separately this time, not together like breakfast), salad and fried plantains. Rice and beans are a very large part of the Costa Rican diet all 3 meals of the day.  

The local liquor in Costa Rica is called “guaro” and is made from sugar cane. It’s mostly flavorless and can be compared to vodka, not rum like you’d think!

In Costa Rica you’ll hear the expression “pura vida” a lot. And I mean a LOT! Pura vida is used for everything, from hello and goodbye, showing feelings ranging from appreciation to irritation to just going with the flow. It's a very universal word (and you’ll see that we end our blog posts with it because it truly means whatever you want it to mean depending on the context!)

Doesn’t this country sound amazing!? Yes, I admit, some of what I’ve said in this blog post sounds like I am advertising for a Costa Rican travel agency.  Part of that might be self-serving because we would LOVE to have people come visit us here. Truly, though, we love Costa Rica and would love for you to get to experience it here as well. People who have been here and seen it for themselves quickly understand why we decided to move here. There will be another blog post someday when we are short on things to write about that explains how we fell in love with Costa Rica, why we ended up here and some of the things we have come to love the most, but for now we will leave you with this general information to think about on your own. If you’re interested, when you’re ready, reach out to us. And if you have any follow up questions, we’d love to hear them- I am, after all, looking for more things to write future blogs about!!

Pura Vida!