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Costa Rica Culture

Costa Rica translates into "Rich Coast".

From the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean coast to the Sabanero (cowboy) culture in Guanacaste, Costa Rican culture is full of a unique blend of smaller cultures that together make up an interesting mix.

History of Settlement

Costa Rica boasts a varied history.

Before discovery by European (Columbus -1502) nations, the north of the country was the southernmost point of Maya influence and the central and southern portions of the country had indigenous Chibcha influences. However, the indigenous people have not had very much influence on modern Costa Rican culture.  Most of the Indians died from disease and mistreatment by the Spaniards.

When the Spanish conquistadores arrived in the 16th century, most of the settlements and cities were established in the southern-central part of the country that were less densely populated than the north, and where the European descendants became predominant.

The northern plains (Guatuso) and the southern mountains (Talamanca) were relatively untouched during colonial times and the largest remaining indigenous populations are still located in those areas.

Meanwhile, the Atlantic coast was populated with African workers during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Most afro Costa Ricans, however, derive from nineteenth-century Jamaican workers, brought in to work on the construction of railroads between the urban populations of the Central Plateau and the port of Limon on the Caribbean coast. Italian and Chinese immigrants also arrived at this time to work on railroad construction.

Historically, Costa Rica has been relatively impoverished in the area of native arts and crafts. The country had no unique cultural legacy Social tensions (often catalysts to artistic expression) were lacking in Costa Rica.

Pura Vida

Pura Vida (the pure life) is the national motto. Nothing is more descriptive of the culture of Costa Rica than this motto.  It captures the feeling of the country's inhabitants - living in peace in a calm, uncluttered manner, appreciating a life surrounded by nature and family and friends.

The People

Costa Ricans often refer to themselves as tico (masculine) or tica (feminine). Some youth use mae a contraction of "maje" (mae means "guy/dude") to refer to each other, although this might be perceived as slightly insulting to those of an older generation; maje was a synonym for "tonto" (stupid, moronic).


Though the music of Costa Rica has achieved little international renown, There is an indigenous calypso scene, distinctly differnet from the more widely-known calypso music of Trinidad.  Dance-oriented genres like soca, salsa, merengue, cumbia and Tex-Mex have an appeal among the somewhat older audience.


Costa Rican cuisine does not have distinct or original styles to call its own. It is a combination of Spanish, Mexican, American, Caribbean and Southern American influences. This style of cuisine is shared by most of Central America, although local variations have appeared in each of the country.

The closest thing to a national dish is Gallo Pinto ("spotted rooster", although the name has no relation to the ingredients). It is mainly a combination of black beans and white rice (usually from the day before), and it is spiced with cilantro, onions, garlic, salt and a local condiment called Salsa Lizano. It is typically eaten at breakfast with eggs, meat, and/or natilla (sour cream). Fried plantains and either corn tortillas or bread, are also common.


Catholicism is recognized as the official religion in Costa Rica (Spanish influence) and even though many Costa Ricans claim they are Catholic, devotion varies among the population.

There are several religious festivals in the country but the most important is the tradition known as La Romería on August 2nd in the city of Cartago where people gathered from all over the country walk from their home to a cathedral dedicated to the Virgin .

When they arrive, they visit a dark colored stone image of the Virgin Mary that appeared in the 16th Century to an Indian native on a hill located in Cartago, the same place where the Cathedral was built.

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