11 Eye-Opening Facts You Won’t Believe about Costa Rica
1. Everyone’s a millionaire
The first of the Costa Rican facts is about their money. The local currency in Costa Rica is called the cólon after the famous explorer Christopher Columbus or Cristóbal Colón as he is called in Spanish. Since around 500 colones are equivalent to a dollar, you can easily be a cólon millionaire while only having a few thousand dollars to your name!
2. There’s no army
Costa Rica is one of just 23 countries in the world which does not have an army. The country abolished the armed forces 70 years ago in 1948. Edgar Cardona, the Defence Minister at the time, proposed the measure to allow the government to boost spending on health and education services. This inspired decision has paved the way for decades of peace, political stability and economic prosperity compared with Costa Rica’s turbulent neighbors Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador. In 1989 Panama followed suit and abolished their armed forces, following Costa Rica’s example.
3. And few street signs!
Until recently, street signs were a rare sight in Costa Rica. A $1 million dollar project was launched in the capital city of San José to install signs, but in smaller towns and rural areas most people simply rely on local landmarks when giving directions. It’s not uncommon to hear instructions like “It’s 200 meters west of the big tree” when you ask locals for help finding an address!
4. The Jesus Christ lizard
Although it might sound blasphemous to some, one of Costa Rica’s most curious animals is the Jesus Christ Lizard. Locals say the lizard was given the name thanks to its amazing ability to run on water to escape from predators!
5. There’s a university of peace
As part of Costa Rica’s commitment to peaceful conflict resolution in Central America and beyond, in 1980 the University for Peace or UPEACE was established within a nature reserve close to San José. The university has educated thousands of students from over 100 countries who have gone on to work for NGOs and government institutions in conflict situations all over the world.
6. Over half a million species live there (but it covers just 0.03% of the earth’s surface)
Despite being roughly the size of West Virginia or Lake Michigan, Costa Rica is home to nearly 6% of the world’s biodiversity. In total over 500,000 different species can be found in Costa Rica. Part of the reason for this rich diversity is that Costa Rica links North and South America and has acted as a bridge for animal and plant life for thousands of years. Amazingly, every year new discoveries are made. Between 2011 and 2013 a mind-blowing 5000 new species were found, including butterflies, moths, frogs, lizards, birds and mammals!
7. 25% of the country is protected
Costa Ricans are well aware of the rich natural beauty of their nation and they work hard to preserve it. Around 25% of the land is designated as a park or reserve to protect it from devastating practices like logging and deforestation. These areas include 27 national parks, 58 wildlife refuges and 15 mangrove and wetland reserves.
8. Living to 100 isn’t uncommon
Costa Rica has one of the highest life expectancies in the world with an average of 79 years. The laid back nation is also home to one of the world’s seven Blue Zones where people commonly live to 100 thanks to a healthy diet and stress-free lifestyle.
9. A “soda” isn’t what you think it is!
When Costa Ricans talk about a “soda”, they’re actually talking about a small restaurant which serves typical local cuisine. Usually little more than a whole in the wall, most won’t even give you a menu as they all serve the same dishes! Sodas are the most authentic places to try typical Costa Rica plates since they’re where locals go eat every day.
10. Food for life?
Speaking of typical Costa Rican cuisine, the national dish is the Casado which also means to be married in Spanish. It’s normally composed of rice, beans, fried sweet plantain and meat which are “married” together to form the dish. Another theory is that the plate is named after the idea that once a man got married, he would be provided with food for the rest of his life!
11. There are five active volcanoes
Visitors to Costa Rica often flock to the country’s famous Arenal volcano which used to erupt 41 times a day on average before activity levels dropped in 2010. Four other active volcanoes are spread across the country, including the Poás Volcano which is just 19 km from San José and last erupted in 2017.