40 Facts about ‘pura vida’ and Costa Rican culture! (Part 1)

If you’re planning on visiting the beautiful tropical nation of Costa Rica for a vacation – or maybe a more prolonged stay – it’s important you learn about the culture, etiquette, and traditions of the wonderful Ticos and Ticas (we’ll explain that) who live there. Here are the first 20 facts about pura vida and Costa Rican culture, and in part two of this blog we’ll cover the next 20. Be sure to follow us on social media or email if you have any questions!

  1. Costa Ricans are known for their laid back, friendly and hospitable ways. They are almost always cordial and welcoming to foreigners, too, often inviting them to family gatherings or dinners.
  1. Costa Ricans call themselves Ticos and Ticas, a reference to their affinity for adding an “ico” to the end of words, which denotes that something is small or little in a cute way.
  1. When a woman is pregnant in Costa Rica they say she is “con luz,” or “with light.”
  1. When someone is your boyfriend or girlfriend – your other half – in Costa Rica, they are called your “media naranja,” or the other half of your orange.
  1. The national saying in Costa Rica is “Pura vida,” which means “pure life,” a sunny, feel good expression used as a greeting, goodbye, or if someone asks how you are doing.
  1. Names can sometimes be confusing in Costa Rica and work differently than in North America. Ticas (female Costa Ricans) don’t take their husband’s last name, but uses her full maiden name for life, so there is no change on her national ID card, drivers license, etc. Children, however, take their father’s last name just like in the United States or Canada.
  1. The median age for marriage in Costa Rica is twenty-one for women and twenty-four for men, significantly younger than the average age of matrimony in the United States.
  1. Although Costa Rica is a traditionally Catholic nation, divorce and separation are frequent and not as scorned as in other Central or South American countries.
  1. Many wealthy men (and probably women) still have affairs, keeping mistresses and even second families. But the laws for child support are stern in Costa Rica, with the National Child Welfare Board garnishing wages of men who fail to pay child support, even blocking them from traveling abroad.
  1. It’s still common for extended families to live under one roof. Most of the time, two or three generations or more live together, with older relatives being cared for by their younger family members. It’s also not uncommon to see female-headed domestic units with multiple generations among poor or common people.
  1. Most Costa Ricans live with their mother and father at home right up until the time they are married. This is the practice for both young women and men, who traditionally never left home to live solo or be independent outside of marriage. However, these days that is becoming less of the norm.
  1. Costa Rica, like most Latin American countries, exhibits a good deal of male chauvinism in its daily life, called “machismo.”
  1. However, in contrast to all of that “machismo,” it is in many ways a very progressive country towards women. For instance, a large number of Costa Rican women are professionals and hold high positions in businesses and the government. Costa Rica even has a female president! But no matter how much success women achieve, they are still expected to take care of children and the home.
  1. Most Ticos and Ticas take pride in being cultured, polite, and civil. They men greet each other with a handshake and the women with kisses on the cheek.
  1. The Spanish practice of referring to your elders or those you respect in a different tense is practiced, as you’ll notice the less formal “tu” form of verbs is cast aside for “usted” in those situations.
  1. Costa Rica is culturally diverse, with some parts of the Atlantic coast of the country more resembling a Caribbean island than a Latin nation. In places like Limon and the beautiful Puerto Viejo they descend from African roots and speak a patois of English as well as Spanish.
  1. Pedestrians have very few rights in Costa Rica so you’ll often see whole families sprinting across the street hand in hand, hoping to make it to the other side! It’s so bad that the slang Tico word for “speed bumps” is “Son muertos,” or, “The dead people.”
  1. Costa Ricans have no addresses and very few street signs.  When mailing something or giving directions, they just point out proximity to nearby landmarks. For instance, when directing someone to your home – even for mail or business purposes – you might just say, “50 meters south and 100 west of the church of San Pedro.”
  1. Babies are usually bundled up in clothes more suiting a colder climate despite the heat. They do this because they consider fresh air to be harmful or cause colds or illness, so dress their babies warmly.
  1. Starting in the 1950s when the modern nation of Costa Rica was formed, the government extensively patronized and promoted the arts, including funding a National Symphony and Youth Orchestra, a major publishing house, dance and theater troupes, and several major museums.
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