24 Things Costa Rica is Known and Famous For

What is Costa Rica known for?

The happiest country on earth, Costa Rica is known for exotic wildlife, adventure sports, and tropical cloud forests. Almost a third of Costa Rica is a protected national park and the country has a fantastic reputation for green energy. 

The Costa Ricans have a standard of living that cannot be bought; it has been hard-won through their dedication to nature and the land they live in.

Here are just 24 things Costa Rica is known for:

1. Sloths

sloths
Costa Rica is known for its adorable sloths.

One of nature’s most amusing animals, Costa Rica is known for its sloth population. Costa Rica has two species, the two-toed sloth, and the brown-throated sloth, and both are equally adorable.

These slow-moving tree-dwellers are quite possibly some of the strangest animals around. Like the trees they dwell in, their fur has its own eco-system, known for housing numerous species of moss and fungi. Camouflage for the sloths and a home for the moss. Bonus!

If you want to see sloths yourself, try visiting the Sloth Centre in Cahuita, a sanctuary for injured sloths. Alternatively, you can find sloths in abundance in any of Costa Rica’s national parks. Corcovado and Manual Antonio are particularly good –and run special sloth-walks to help you spot them in the canopies.

2. La Fortuna Waterfall

la fortuna waterfall
Swim in a waterfall to cool down.

If you have ever wanted to swim in a waterfall in a rainforest, Costa Rica is the place for you.

You can find any number of beautiful eden-like places nestled in the national parks in Costa Rica. There are many little waterfalls to be found flowing into turquoise pools full of exotic fish. One of the best and most visited, however, is the spectacular La Fortuna Waterfall in Arenal National Park. A steep walk through a jungle full of toucans and monkeys leads to the bottom of the 200-foot high waterfall. A perfect place to cool off in the heat of the day.

3. The Happiest Country on Earth

pura vida
Pura Vida, or Pure Life is the Costa Rican motto.

The people of Costa Rica (or Ticos and Ticas as they call themselves) are the happiest in the world. The country has consistently been ranked as the most cheerful multiple years running in a number of different polls.

If you visit Costa Rica, it’s not hard to see why. The Costa Rican Motto is “Pura Vida” – pure life, or simple life – and the pace of things here is slower than in most countries.

In addition to the chilled out atmosphere, Costa Ricans also live close to nature. Even city dwellers are never far from thick jungle and white sand beaches. Costa Rica spends an unusually large chunk of its budget on popular things, such as healthcare, education, and the environment.

To top it all off Costa Ricans have the longest life expectancy in Latin America. Pura Vida!

4. Guaro

beach bar
Many cocktails in Costa Rica use Guaro as a base.

The national liquor of Costa Rica, Guaro (or Cacique), was illegal for many years and was typically brewed in people’s sheds from sugar cane. An excellent rum substitute, there is nothing quite like sipping on a guaro cocktail in a tin shack on a tropical beach.

Costa Rica has a variety of popular guaro based drinks, but the most famous is the Chili Guaro shot. Made with tomato juice, lime, and some form of hot sauce. It is similar to a bloody mary in miniature form. Usually made with Tobasco, the brave sometimes use something hotter to prove their metal.

5. Arenal and Poás Volcanoes

volcano
A view of Arenal volcano

Costa Rica sits on a narrow corridor where the Pacific and Caribbean plates meet. There are five active and 200 inactive volcanos in a long chain down the spine of the country.

Although sometimes temperamental, the volcanoes in Costa Rica are popular tourist attractions, especially the Volcano Arenal. Arenal is a live volcano, but it is surrounded by a ring of extinct ones as well. The Cerro Chato, a popular hiking trail at Arenal, leads up the side of an extinct volcano to stunning vistas over the rainforest. Sweaty exhausted hikers are rewarded for their efforts with an enormous turquoise lake to swim in, in a volcano crater.

Alternatively, just outside San Jose, Poás Volcano in the central valley is very popular. Poás is one of the largest active volcanos in the world. Climbing to the top will give you a stunning view of its smoking crater and sulfuric lake. Just make sure there isn’t a warning out before you go!

6. Green Energy

dam green energy
Giant turbines power Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is a pioneer of green energy. Known for generating over 99% of its electricity from renewable sources, Costa Rica is the world leader in green technology.

Because Costa Rica is a tropical country, it gets an extreme amount of rainfall, with torrential downpours almost every day. This mass of water is turned into power with huge turbines at several important (and massive) hydroelectric dams. These produce as much as 80% of Costa Rica’s electrical output. Costa Rica is famous for breaking the world record for using only green energy for 299 consecutive days. They also now generate enough to sell energy to their neighbors!

7. The Bribri people

traditional house
Many of the Bribri still live according to traditional customs.

Costa Rica is home to many indigenous groups, and the Bribri people make up the voting majority in the Talamanca region. Many of the Bribri have maintained their heritage and culture. They are known for being a matrilineal society, and women are the only ones permitted to brew Cacao. Cacao (sacred chocolate) is central to their religion. Bribri shamans have an in-depth knowledge of herbal medicine from the rainforest which has been passed down for generations. Previously marginalized, local traditions and ideas are once again being embraced.

If you would like to learn about local customs, you can canoe downriver to the Bribri Yorkin reservation. Spend a day learning how to brew cacao, shoot bows and arrows and digest some of the myths and legends native to Costa Rica.

8. The Pre-Columbian Gold Museum

gold museum
Animal totems abound in the national museum.

Not many people spend time in the city when they visit Costa Rica (understandably so), but if you do, you must visit the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum in San Jose. The museum gives visitors a better understanding of life before the Spanish invaded. It houses some truly beautiful objects including a vast collection of indigenous artworks made from pure gold.

The peoples of Pre-Columbian Costa Rica used Cacao beans rather than gold as a currency, and so were generous when using gold to create a variety of decorative and ceremonial objects. They learned fine metalworking techniques never developed in the West, including the ability to create paper-thin strands of gold and turn them into any number of delicate animal totems. The museum features, lizards, spiders, snakes, and jaguars, so intricate and finely wrought as to be truly breath-taking.

9. Ayahuasca

fractals

The controversial shamanic medicine from the Amazon jungle is legal in Costa Rica. The world’s most powerful psychedelic is known for giving very intense trips that can last for hours and is primarily used for spiritual healing. Regulated in a way it is not in other places, people come to Costa Rica to experience this ancient form of indigenous medicine.

As Ayahuasca has become fashionable among new-age seekers and Silicon Valley body hackers, spiritual tourism in Costa Rica has boomed. There are now a number of resorts where you can drink the shamanic brew in style, surrounded by luxury comforts and an on-staff medical team.

10. The Shipwrecks of Tortuga Island

la tortuga
Tortuga Island is famous for shipwrecks.

Costa Rica has an abundance of beaches and wildlife, so picking between places to visit can be difficult. The Isla Tortuga however, ranks with the best. These uninhabited islands have been largely untouched and left to grow wild, and make an excellent stop-off point to immerse yourself in nature. Take a day-trip from the mainland to snorkel or play volleyball on the white sand beaches of a true desert island.

A natural habitat for nesting sea turtles, visitors here can grab a boat ride from the hip bohemian beach town of Montezuma. Many people choose to take glass-bottom craft out to see the fish and manta rays that lurk beneath the azure waves. If you are a keen scuba diver, there are three prominent shipwrecks on the seabed around the island. For those who prefer dry land, the thick untouched jungle features several rugged hiking trails.

11. Hummingbirds

hummingbird

Hummingbirds are the world’s smallest bird with the world’s fastest wing-beat. These unusual and brightly colored animals are usually hard to spot outside of the tropics. Costa Rica is one of the best places in the world to see them. There are 54 species of Hummingbird native to their shores. These pretty, colorful little birds are fantastic pollinators and are attracted to Costa Rica’s abundance of flora.

One of the best spots to see them is the La Paz waterfall. Home to 26 species, visitors can feed them here by hand, a truly magical experience.

12. Surfing

surfboard surfer
Costa Rica is one of the surf capitals of the world.

Costa Rica is an international hotspot for surfing and its national team has won the world championships multiple times over.

Both the Pacific and Caribbean Coast are great for surfing, although the Pacific coast is best for catching waves. Two of the best areas for are Witch’s Rock in Tamarindo and Ollie’s Point in Guanacaste. Both feature prominently in the famous surfing movie Endless Summer II. They are now important places of pilgrimage for serious surfers. On the Caribbean side, Playa Cocles is a popular little surf town. Many beaches along both coasts offer surf lessons for absolute beginners. Even if you don’t like getting wet, watching other people bravely navigate the waves is a fun way to relax on the beachfront.

13. Digital Nomads

motorbike travelers

The amount of people seeking location-independent work has boomed in recent years. Costa Rica has become one of the most popular places for wandering nomads. Digital co-working spaces for foreign workers have sprung up across the country including in popular beach towns such as Tamarindo. A backpackers’ paradise, it is located on the edge of a lush forest, with wide sandy beaches. Once a resort town, it now offers a cooler more bohemian vibe, with vegan cafes and yoga parlors to suit the taste of an influx of newcomers.

Fashionable San Jose is also popular with digital travelers. With an increasingly international base of young people, it is fast becoming a hipper more exciting city.

Also Read: 8 Countries With Digital Nomad Visas 

14. The Daquis Spheres

stone sphere costa rica
Costa Rica is known for its mysterious spheres.

Like the heads of Easter Island and the stones of Stonehenge, Costa Rica’s spheres are one of archaeology’s most baffling mysteries. There are more than 300 of these enormous stone spheres across the country, the largest of which is almost seven-foot across and weighs 15 tonnes. Nobody knows where they came from or what they were for. It is also a mystery as to how they were made with primitive tools, as they appear to have been sculpted with absolute precision.

You can see some of these peculiar spheres in museums across the country and on the picturesque island of Caño. According to local legend, they were once used as cannonballs by the thunder god Tara.

15. Monteverde and Santa Elena Cloud Forest

hike bridge monteverde
Aerial bridges help you walk in the clouds.

Costa Rica is famous for its national parks, but Monteverde and Santa Elena are the most famous of them all because they are such a rare form of rainforest. Cloud forests are unusual because they are persistently covered in low clouds, and require very specific geographical and climatic conditions to exist. The cloud gathers around the tops of the canopy, and you can walk through it on one of many rope bridges. These are set up across the parks so that you can hangout with capuchin monkeys and gaze down at ocelots. The mist and fog add heaps of atmosphere, and it’s hard not to feel like an old-timey explorer while you wander across suspension bridges Indiana Jones style!

16. Butterflies

blue morpho butterfly
Costa Rica is known for the beautiful Blue Morpho

Costa Rica is known for butterflies. There are over a thousand species of butterfly in Costa Rica but perhaps the most stunning and sought after local butterfly is the iridescent Blue Morpho. This butterfly is regarded as a spiritual symbol, and legend has it they grant wishes to those who see them. An abundance of butterflies can be found across all the national parks, especially the Veragua forest, in which at least 11 new species of butterflies have been discovered.

If you’d prefer to walk through clouds of them at your leisure try the Butterfly Conservatory in El Castillo, Arenal, or the many hotels up and down the country which have their own butterfly gardens.

17. No Armed Forces

costa rica flag
The Costa Rican people said no to war in 1948.

Costa Rica was thankfully spared from most of the bloodiest conflicts that dominate Latin American history.

Early settlers were unable to effectively colonize the country due to its thick forest and mountainous terrain. When Costa Rica was slowly settled, it was done mostly by peaceable farmers and ordinary people rather than gold-thirsty conquistadors. No doubt as a result of the wonderful abundance of peace and quiet, Costa Rica continued to push an anti-war neutral stance that has served them so well.

Costa Rica abolished the army in 1948 and avoided much of the tension that plagued the region during the cold war. This has meant more money for the environment, healthcare, and education.

18. Gallo Pinto

gallopinto

Gallo Pinto (literally ‘spotted rooster’ in Spanish), is the traditional breakfast of Costa Rica, and it is both surprisingly healthy and extremely delicious. Made from rice and beans, and frequently served with sour cream and sweet fried plantain; it is absolute perfection when washed down with a cup of local high-quality coffee.

19. The Pacific and Caribbean Coast

hammerhead shark

Costa Rica has over 800 miles of coastline to explore, and visitors often find themselves torn between the Pacific and Caribbean coasts for the numerous virtues they both have.

The Caribbean Coast has a traditional Caribbean vibe. Activities such as drinking large quantities of rum, listening to beachfront reggae bands, and sampling Caribbean food are popular here. The Caribbean side also has its own coral reef and is a great place to go snorkeling and swimming with turtles, or for spotting tropical fish. Most people who head this way spend their time in the town of Puerto Viejo, a jumping-off point for Tortuguero national park, and home to a number of cool places to relax and listen to music. The Caribbean side of Costa Rica is less touristy than the Pacific Coast and is good for peace and quiet.

The Pacific coast has a prominent surfing culture and features cool beach towns such as Tamarindo, Samara, and Montezuma. Bursting with nightlife and popular with beach bums, the Pacific side is a great place to meet backpackers and digital nomads. There are 11 national parks on the Pacific coast, including the marine park of Ballena Marino, popular for whale-spotting. Don’t be disheartened if you want to escape the crowds; there are miles of crystal clear water and jungle lined beach on the Pacific Coast just waiting to be discovered.

20. Coatimundis

coatimundi
Coatimundis are known for thieving.

These adorable little guys are everywhere and they are not shy! The South American equivalent of raccoons, these creatures are less adored by the local residents than they are by tourists. You will see them quite often while hiking through the rainforest, but packs of them have migrated to the cities as well. They are here to steal your sandwiches!

21. Biodiversity

forest canopy
Costa Rica has incredible biodiversity.

Since its colonization in the 16th century, much of Latin America’s lush tropical forest has been torn up to make way for cash crops. In the 1980s the president decided harmful agricultural practices should be abandoned, and asked that greener practices be fully embraced. As a result, Costa Rica is one of the few countries in the world where deforestation has actually been reversed and it is one of the top 20 countries in the world for biodiversity. As of 2016, natural forest makes up over 50% of Costa Rica’s landmass.

Costa Rica’s care for its wildlife has paid off, and an estimated 5% of all known species can be found in the country’s thick forests. There are 29 national parks and numerous government schemes to promote ecotourism. Costa Rica is truly bursting with life!

22. Adventure Sports

zip line
The National Parks are known for their zip-lines.

Costa Rica is wild, and it’s a great place to get up close and personal with nature and do something that gives you a head rush at the same time. Adventure sports are in high demand in Costa Rica. Nobody seems to leave the country without at least taking a super-fast zipline over the jungle canopy. Those who are braver may want to try a bungee jump.

Whitewater-rafting is another favorite, and the gentler rivers such as the Rio Balsa are great for Whitewater beginners. More experienced (and more nuts) visitors will enjoy the Naranjo river, with its narrow canyons and wild turns, it is an exciting place to face the rapids.

Canyoning is also increasing in popularity and is an amazing way to explore natural caves and waterfalls. If you decide to go canyoning in the Monteverde rainforest, you will get to climb up no less than six waterfalls, whilst surrounded by rare birds and exotic mammals.

23. Isla Del Coco

coconut tree sunset
Coconut island is known for its rumored buried treasure

The Isla De Coco, or Coconut Island is a popular boat trip away from the coast of Costa Rica, and is known for its enormous schools of hammerhead sharks. Whether this frights you or excites you, it is worth a visit to the sandy island, once named the most beautiful in the world.

Home to some lovely flora and fauna, it was also previously home to a number of famous pirates, including Captain Morgan of rum fame. The Coco islands picked up the nickname treasure island for endless rumors of buried pirate gold. According to one story, a couple of pirates landed on the island, escaping the justice of the Spanish crown, and hid their stolen loot. The treasure has never yet been recovered (although heaps of people have tried to find it!) but it may be worth a look if you are in the area.

24. Hot springs

hot springs
Tabacon Hot Springs

Costa Rica is a great place to visit if you love the spa because of the many volcanic hot springs.

The most famous are the hot springs located around Arenal Volcano, known for its many picturesque hotels which weave seamlessly into the rainforest park. Many of the hotels have their own hot springs, and you can usually enter without staying in them, for a small fee. Perhaps the most luscious of them all are the springs at the Tabacon Grand Spa, which roll out as river across the resort. They look truly beautiful even if you don’t have a dip in them. Many of the hot springs also have semi-submerged bars that allow you to drink Pina Coladas and soak your day away. The mineral-rich waters are supposedly great for your skin so make sure you take a swim!

What else is Costa Rica known for? Share your answers in the comment box below.

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