Whether you are going on vacation, moving abroad, or traveling for work, it is always comforting to know the basics before you arrive. Feeling comfortable with what people eat, how they interact in public, and even how they get around, are some of the first steps to feeling at ease in another culture. If you know what to expect you can spend less time fretting and more time soaking in the all of the new experiences travel brings.
Costa Rica is a Central American nation between Nicaragua and Panama. The economy of Costa Rica is rather diverse; major industries include finance, ecotourism, and pharmaceuticals. The tropical climate produces two seasons: the dry “summer” season and the rainy “winter” season.
The capital of Costa Rica is San Jose. Other major cities include Puerto Limon, Alajuela, and Heredia. The population of the nation is just under 5 million.
A short, strong handshake initiates conversation. Maintain eye contact when speaking and do not be alarmed if a hand is placed on your shoulder or arm during the conversation.
Boasting, anger, and impatience are qualities that are looked down upon in Costa Rica. Also be sure to schedule meetings in advance, rather than dropping by unexpectedly, which is acceptable in some other Central American nations.
The official language of Costa Rica is Spanish. Costa Rica has its own dialect of Spanish, as well as influences from other immigrants. Many residents may also speak English due to its highly educated workforce. Additionally, the tourism industry is vital in the rainforest areas, so English is common among many people. Bribri is a native language that is still spoken today.
Thorough knowledge of cultural norms is crucial before doing business in Costa Rica. Business people native to Costa Rica may arrive at a meeting a few minutes late, but foreigners are expected to be on time. The meeting will not begin until all of the attendees are present. Meetings are generally opportunities for group discussion, so it is good practice to be prepared with specific details to help supplement any points you need to make.
All opinions are valued equally in decision making. Group harmony and risk prevention are two important goals for most businesses. Thus, pay careful attention to tone, expression, and word choice in conversation, as there will likely be subtle clues intended to convey conflicting opinions.
Many homes in Costa Rica have tile flooring, intended to keep the interior cool. Air conditioning is not common in homes, so windows may be opened to the breeze. This breeze is also helpful to dry laundry because tumble dryers are nearly non-existent in Costa Rica.Kitchens are rarely equipped with a dishwasher and it is recommended that any stovetop appliances are unplugged when not in use to conserve electricity.
Some homes have gates and greenery surrounding the property. Family life is treasured in Costa Rica, as seen when all of the members eat dinner, play outdoors, or watch TV together in the evenings.
Favorite foods in Costa Rica include:
- Casado- rice, black beans, plantains, salad, tortilla, meat
- Gallo pinto-rice and red beans, served for breakfast
- Tamale- rice and spices wrapped in banana leaves to cook
- Arroz con pollo- chicken and rice
- Arroz con leche- rice pudding dessert
- Flan-custard dessert
Costa Rica has the highest literacy rate in Central and Latin America. Its educational system is highly ranked. In rural areas, school can even be taught over the radio! All students are required to wear a uniform to school, whether they attend a private or public school.
Students attend six years of elementary school, then five to six years of high school. The first three years of high school, students study general subjects. The remaining years provide students with specialized skills and training.
After graduating, students may choose to attend University to earn a degree. There are 60 universities in Costa Rica.
Cars are the most common method of transportation in Costa Rica, but be advised that some locations are only accessible by air or water. There are also public busses, or more adventurous options….think horseback, ziplines, and mountain bikes!
Attractions: Museums and Nature
Some of the top attractions in Costa Rica are:
- Precolumbian Gold Museum
- Jade Museum
- Museum of Contemporary Art and Design
- Costa Rican Center of Science and culture
Some of the most beautiful natural features of Costa Rica include:
- Manuel Antonio National Park
- Tortuguero National Park
- Arenal Volcano
- Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
- Playa Conchal
- La Fortuna Waterfall
- Various Hot Springs
Make multiple copies of your documentation and keep these materials in a safe place. These documents should include the location of your nearest home country embassy in case of emergency. When you travel, always be sure to provide at least one other person with your itinerary. Keep your belongings close to you, especially in high traffic areas such as bus stops, crowded intersections, and around shopping centers.
As in every country, there are places that are dangerous to go to if you are unfamiliar with the area. Ask the locals where they do not go, and try to avoid travelling alone and at night. Only use office taxis, which are red and clearly display the taxi company. Do not leave valuables in the car at any time.
When exploring Costa Rica’s natural features, only go with an experienced local guide. Listen to their instructions carefully at all times. Do not visit volcanos when there is a risk of eruption posted.
Facts about Costa Rica
- There are about 52 different types of hummingbirds in Costa Rica
- Much of the country is protected under national park and nature preserve initiatives
- There is no standing army for Costa Rica
- “Pura Vida” means “Pure Life” and is a beloved saying throughout the country
- Because the country is located nearly on the equator, the sun rises and sets at almost the exact same time every day
- The small country contains about 5% of the world’s biodiversity, which is found in the dense rainforests