Introduction to Costa Rica

Did you know that Costa Rica has seven of 121 active volcanic formations? That's why the Arenal Volcano, which provides incredible shows of spewing lava, is the main attraction of Costa Rica. You might also be interested in the fact that National Parks, wildlife refuges and reserves cover more than 25% of Costa Rica.

Find out more information about Costa Rica below!

Country local name: Republic of Costa Rica
Government type: democratic republic
Capital: San Jose
Time difference: UTC-6 (1 hour behind Washington, DC, during Standard Time)
Independence: 15th September 1821 (from Spain)
National holiday: Independence Day, 15th September (1821)
Population: 4,755,234 (July 2014 est.)
Ethnic group: white or mestizo 83.6%, mulato 6.7%, indigenous 2.4%, black of African descent 1.1%, other 1.1%, none 2.9%, unspecified 2.2% (2011 est.)
Languages: Spanish (official), English
Religions: Roman Catholic 76.3%, Evangelical 13.7%, Jehovah's Witnesses 1.3%, other Protestant 0.7%, other 4.8%, none 3.2%
Terrain: coastal plains separated by rugged mountains including over 100 volcanic cones, of which several are major volcanoe
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m
highest point: Cerro Chirripo 3,810 m
Natural resources: hydropower
Agriculture – products: bananas, pineapples, coffee, melons, ornamental plants, sugar, corn, rice, beans, potatoes; beef, poultry, dairy; timber
Industries: microprocessors, food processing, medical equipment, textiles and clothing, construction materials, fertilizer, plastic products
Exports: bananas, pineapples, coffee, melons, ornamental plants, sugar; beef; seafood; electronic components, medical equipment
Shopping hours:  Shops are open Monday – Saturday from 9am to 7pm
Major infectious diseases: degree of risk: intermediate
food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea
vectorborne diseases: dengue fever (2013)
Climate: tropical and subtropical; dry season (December to April); rainy season (May to November); cooler in highlands
Natural hazards: occasional earthquakes, hurricanes along Atlantic coast; frequent flooding of lowlands at onset of rainy season and landslides; active volcanoes


Costa Rica is a tropical country. The difference in temperature between winter and summer is very small. The average temperature is 22°C (72°F). It is much hotter and humid by the coast.


The best time to visit Costa Rica is in the dry season (summer), which is between mid-December and May. It does not rain anywhere in Costa Rica during this period, although there are occasional blustery northern winds in January or February.

The wet season (green season, winter) is between May and November although there are regional variations in the weather. Rain is possible in the afternoon and evening. The wettest months are June and July, particularly on the Caribbean side.


The peak time for visiting is in March, because the weather is mostly sunny and humidity is lower than at other times. December and January are also good times to visit because vegetation is still green from the rains.

One of Costa Rica’s key attractions is Volcano Arenal, which is most visible during April and May.

Costa Rican food has more choice than sophistication. Rice and beans are the basic staples and are included in almost every meal. Alongside, you will be served different types of vegetables and meat, such as pork, beef, chicken or fish. It is not only a healthy diet, it is really cheap and tasty, too.


In bigger cities you can find every kind of international food, from Chinese, French, Mexican, Italian to North American cuisine.


Gallo Pinto ( “spotted rooster”) is the national dish of Costa Rica and is usually served for breakfast. It consists of rice mixed with black beans, served with scrambled or fried eggs and natilla (sour cream).

Casado (also called Comida Tipica, which means “married man”) is the most popular of Costa Rica’s lunch dishes. It consists of rice and beans together with some sort of meat (beef, pork chop, chicken) or fish, fried plantains, a slice of white cheese, Corn tortillas on the side and a salad and cabbage round off the dish.

Ceviche consists of raw fish and seafood soaked in lemon juice , which is then seasoned with garlic, onion or coriander.

Olla de Carne (“pot of beef”) is a typical and popular soup in Costa Rica. It is made with beef, plantains, yucca, potatoes, corn, chayote and other vegetables.

Other specialities include: Bocas, a small, savoury snack served at a main meal; Empanadas, a small snack filled with ground meat, cheese and beans; Sopa negra, made from black beans and boiled eggs; Arroz con Mariscos, rice mixed with vegetables and seafood; Tamales, cornmeal with rice, beans, vegetables and meat wrapped in plantains leaves; and Arroz con leche, a rice pudding made with milk and cinnamon.


Traditional drinks:

Coffee is the main point after every meal. Costa Rica is known for its high-quality coffee, which is one of its biggest exports.

Refrescos are popular fruit drinks made with water (con aqua) or milk (con leche). You can buy them at most restaurants and stores.

Horchata  is a cold cornmeal drink with a delicious flavor and aroma of cinnamon.

Pipa fría is fresh coconut water. It has a lot of vitamins and  is considered to be an aphrodisiac. It is served with a straw.

Pinolillo is made with milk, corn and cocoa.

Guaro is a clear liquor made from sugar cane.

Beer is a common drink. The most popular are Imperial and Pilsen.

Wine is more popular in top-range restaurants and is expensive. 

Costa Ricans refer to themselves as “Ticos” (males) and “ticas” (females).
·    Costa Rica’s official language is Spanish, but most of citizens are bilingual. English is the second language in Costa Rica.
It is normal that streets and addresses are without names.
Costa Rica has a 96% literacy rate.


Que m'iche? (kay mee-chay) – What’s up?
Salado (sahl-ah-doh) – Too bad!
Mucho gusto (moo-choh goo-stoh) – Thank you.
Por dicha (poor dee-chah) – Thank Goodness!
No joda!/no jodás! (no hoe-da/no hoe-das) – Don’t bother me!
Ojo! (oh-hoe) – Watch out!
Soque! (soh-kay) – Hurry up!
Dolor de jupa (dole-or day hoop-ah) – a headache
Que Lechero – be lucky
Que tigra – be lazy
Andar con el moco caído – to be sad or down
Al chile – Really?
Suave – Take it easy!
Comerse la presa – to be in a traffic jam
Catrinearse – to dress up in good clothes
Mae – dude (in conversation between young people)

·    A light kiss on the cheek or an air kiss with a kissing sound is a common greeting among friends and family. It is also used when saying goodbye. Men usually shake hands with each other or give each other a one-armed hug. In more formal situations, a handshake is the typical greeting.
.    Costa Ricans are very polite to each other, confrontations are rare and considered impolite. They are taught to protest peacefully from childhood.
·    Costa Ricans tend to communicate subtly with each other so you often need to read between the lines to work out what they really mean.
·    Costa Rica has a macho culture. Women are expected to look after the household, children and their appearance while men strive to be the breadwinners and appreciate the appearance of women through whistles and verbal compliments. 
·    Punctuality is not important. It is usually acceptable to be late from 15 minutes to an hour or more for appointments or meetings. However, occasionally this will offend someone so it is best to be on time if you can. 
Remember to maintain eye contact when you are talking to someone. Avoiding someone’s eyes is usually considered to be disrespectful. 
·    Costa Rica is a Catholic country and you should know that topics such as pre-marital sex, abortion etc. are best avoided. What else you should avoid? Putting your feet on the furniture and pointing directly at another person.
·    Gifts are a nice gesture. Make sure that a gift is nicely wrapped and avoid lilies, which are associated with funerals.

The Arenal Volcano is the main attraction of Costa Rica. It is one of the world’s most active volcanoes and provides incredible shows of spewing lava. During the day you can admire its near-perfect conical shape and at night the true power of Arenal is visible. Moreover, the surroundings are full of outstanding of nature and exciting activities.

Tabacón Hot Springs are a perfect place to unwind near the base of the Arenal Volcano. Its activity is affiliated with volcanic activity. Therms are luxurious, mineral-rich and guarantee   relaxation.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve has a magnificent and mysterious character. Home to 2500 plants species and more than 3000 species of animals, it is one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions, offering tropical jungle and a suspension bridge over the lush green mountain rainforest.

Manuel Antonio National Park is Costa Rica’s smallest protected green space, but the most visited. It is situated on the mid-Pacific coast near the city of Quepos. You can admire all manner of monkeys, over 100 mammal species and take leisurely hikes along sandy beaches or one of the walking paths to look for crabs, rare birds and other fantastic attractions.

Jacó is a popular town full of shops, restaurants and beachfront hotels. Located in the Pacific Coast province of Puntarenas. It is the perfect place for surfing, sunbathing, outdoor activities and nightlife. Pura Vida Botanical Garden offers a fascinating wildlife world of colorful birds, monkeys and unique nature. Central America’s grandest theater can also be found here.

San José is the capital of Costa Rica. Its position in the center of the country makes it a good base for staying for a few days before visiting other places. It is a vibrant city, but not very impressive due to unremarkable concrete structures, disintegrating infrastructure and outdated buildings. City has a lot of shops, nightlife, accommodations and all of this surrounded by lush green valleys and mountains.

Tortuguero National Park is located in northeastern Costa Rica and is frequented by tourists from all over the world. The name Tortuguero means “turtle place” due to the fact that it is the home to turtles. You can admire a perfect landscape by sailing along rivers and canals in a boat.

Rincon de la Vieja is situated in the North Pacific region of Costa Rica. The main attraction is the National Park, which covers 34800 acres (14084 ha) and is home to a  volcano (6217 ft, 1895 m), that is made up of nine contiguous craters. You can also enjoy refreshing waterfalls and other fantastic wonders of nature.

Montezuma is located at the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, a lazy city where life revolves around a blissful cycle of sea, sand, sea and sleep. Waterfalls are famous here. If you look for an adventure, you’ll be able to find it at the cliffs or try one’s hand at diving, swimming, surfing.

Tamarindo is well-developed tourist town, located on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. It is an ideal place for surfing and fun. There is no shortage of bars, restaurants and hotels. You can be sure of beautiful weather and a laid-back atmosphere throughout the year.

Corcovado National Park is located along Costa Rica’s South Pacific coast. It offers diverse wildlife, chirping birds, trekking around the jungle and excellent opportunities of nature.

Read our stories from our trips to NEPAL and PERU combined with volunteering experience, which we made in 2016 and 2017 >>

Join our next volunteering trip in a group and spend 2 weeks far away! Read more HERE!