18 interesting facts about Costa Rica

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We share the most interesting facts about Costa Rica collected during our visit to this diverse destination

The tiny republic of Costa Rica is a Central American success story. Democratic, prosperous and stable, the country is an oasis in the midst of an often-turbulent region of the world.

We visited Costa Rica for nine days on our first-ever National Geographic Expedition. Highlights included clambering the slopes of a misty volcanic peak, hiking through a fairytale cloud forest in Santa Elena, searching for sloths in Manuel Antonio National Park and planting trees at the Monteverde Institute.

Our short but jam-packed trip revealed an array of interesting facts about Costa Rica, the best of which we share below.

Interesting facts about Costa Rica

1. Costa Rica represents around 6% of the world’s biodiversity even though it takes up only 0.03% of the planet’s land surface.
(Source: WWF)

interesting facts about costa rica biodiversity frog
Brandon Alms/Shutterstock A colourful tree frog in Costa Rica

2. The name Costa Rica translates as “rich coast” in Spanish, Costa Rica’s only official language.
(Source: Spanish Dict)

3. Christopher Columbus, who in 1502 became the first European to visit the area, named the country.
(Source: BBC)

4. In 2013, scientists estimated that Costa Rica is home to more than 500,000 species. These include more than 300,000 insect species, 1,251 butterflies, 8,000 moths, 175 amphibians (85% of which are frogs), 225 reptiles, 250 mammals and 894 birds.
(Source: Costa Rica Star)

interesting facts about costa rica butterfly
Atlas & Boots Its biodiversity offers myriad interesting facts about Costa Rica

5. Costa Rica has the best record in respecting freedom of expression in Latin America and is ranked eighth globally in the press freedom index.
(Source: Reporters Without Borders)

6. Between 1849-59, Costa Rica led the fight against William Walker, an American imperialist who, with an army of mercenaries, attempted to take control of the region.
(Source: BBC)

7. Costa Rica has not had an army since 1948. The constitution has forbidden a standing military since 1949. Costa Rica is also the headquarters for the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the United Nations’ University for Peace.
(Source: Telegraph)

8. As Costa Rica is located along the narrow Central American isthmus, it is possible to watch the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean (Caribbean Sea) and the sunset over the Pacific Ocean in the same day. At its narrowest, the distance between the Pacific and the Caribbean is only 120km.
(Source: Britannica)

A map of Costa Rica
Cartarium/Shutterstock You can watch the sunrise over the Atlantic and sunset over the Pacific

9. Some of the most interesting facts about Costa Rica stem from its commitment to environmental issues. In 2015, it pledged to become Earth’s first carbon-neutral nation by 2021 (having a net-zero release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere).
(Source: New York Times)

10. Costa Rica currently generates more than 99% of its electricity using only renewable sources. In 2017, it set the world record for the most consecutive days of running electricity on renewable energy: 300 in total.
(Source: Independent)

11. Costa Rica was the first tropical country to stop and reverse deforestation. Over half of its land is now covered by forest compared with just 26% in 1983.
(Source: World Bank)

12. There are 14 known volcanoes in Costa Rica. Six of them have been active in the last 75 years.
(Source: Smithsonian Global Volcanism Program)

Arenal volcano with a small stream of smoke
Nickolay Stanev/Shutterstock Arenal volcano

13. Over 25% of Costa Rica’s total land area is protected by some form of conservation zone, be it national parks, biological reserves, protected zones, forest reserves or wildlife refuges.
(Source: SINAC and Costa Rica National Parks)

14. In Costa Rica, it is common to hear the phrase pura vida (pure life). It can mean many things including hello, goodbye, everything’s cool, same to you, but it never has a negative connotation.
(Source: Lonely Planet)

15. Coffee was introduced to Costa Rica in 1808 from Cuba and fast became its principal crop. Today, Costa Rica is the 15th highest exporter of coffee in the world. For a country of just 4.8 million, it exports a whopping 89,520 metric tons per year and consumes 2.76kg per capita.
(Source: BBC and International Coffee Organization)

Close up of coffee beans
Atlas & Boots Costa Rica is the 15th highest exporter of coffee

16. Costa Rica is also the world’s third-highest exporter of bananas after Ecuador and Belgium.
(Source: WTEx)

17. Costa Rica has been named the happiest country in the world on three occasions by the Happy Planet Index (HPI), an index of human wellbeing and environmental impact.
(Source: Happy Planet Index)

18. Óscar Arias Sánchez, president of Costa Rica from 1986 to 1990 and from 2006 to 2010, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his efforts to end the Central American crisis – a series of civil wars and revolutions which erupted in Central American countries in the 1970s and 80s.
(Source: The Nobel Prize)

Lonely Planet Costa Rica is a comprehensive guide to Costa Rica covering a range of activities and destinations along with many more interesting facts about Costa Rica.

Lead image: Nicholas Courtney/Shutterstock

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