Most Costa Ricans refer to themselves as "Ticos" or "Ticas". Ticos being male, Ticas being female. The words derive from "hermanticos" and "hermanticas" meaning "little brothers" and "little sisters". The Costa Rican people are extremely proud of their country's 100 years of Democracy and the fact that for over 50 years they have not had an Army. Their pride also extends to Costa Rica's ecological wonders and magnificent physical beauty, their comparatively high standard of living and growing economy, as well as their educational and health care system. No where in the world will you find a people so concerned with their environment that its Government has set aside 20% its land in protected National Forest and Wild Life Refuges.
As a people, the population of Costa Rica is relatively young. The median age is 27 years old with a life expectancy of 74 for men and 80 for women, one of the highest life expectancies in the world. 66% of the population falls in the age range of 15-64.
Ticos are a gentle, friendly, warm and kind people. They are also extremely well mannered and polite. Visitors and residents alike will tell you of course the country is beautiful, but it is the people that make it what it is.
The culture and traditions of the Costa Rican people are rooted in strong family values, which form the foundation of social and cultural life in Costa Rica. There are social inequalities and poverty does exist, but in no way are the inequalities and poverty as severe as the country's Central American neighbors. Compared to developed countries, average income is low but much higher than neighboring countries. The wealthy businessmen and elites have a disproportionate share of political power, but this is moderated by a large middle class and numerous political parties and groupings that work within a democratic system that promotes equal opportunity.
Due to an overwhelming European influence, over 94% of Costa Ricans are white or "Mestizo" (mixture) of Spanish heritage stemming from the explorations of Columbus and the Spanish conquests of the early 1500s. 3% of the Cost Rican population is black with most of them living in the province of Limón, 1% is Indian, 1% is Chinese and 1% is other.
There is also a very large expatriate community from the United States, Canada, and Europe. More Americans (per capita) make Costa Rica their home than in any other country outside of the US.Costa Rica also hosts many refugees, mainly from Colombia and Nicaragua. As a result, an estimated 10% of the Costa Rican population is made up of Nicaraguans, most of who migrate for seasonal work opportunities and then return to their country. In addition, Costa Rica has taken in many refugees from a wide range of other Latin American countries fleeing civil wars and dictatorships during the 1970s and 80s - notably from Chile and Argentina, as well as those from El Salvador who fled from civil war and government death squads.
The official language is Spanish, though many Ticos speak English fairly well, especially if they work in tourism or business. If you are just visiting, you won't have to know how to speak Spanish. But if you plan to live here, you should learn. You will enjoy the country, its culture and people much more, and feel like you belong here. More important, to do so shows you are respectful of them, their culture, and their country. An added bonus is that wherever you go shopping you will receive lower prices!
The predominant and official state religion in Costa Rica is Roman Catholicism, though most Ticos practice what is known as "soft" Catholicism. They mostly attend church for Baptisms, weddings, funerals and Easter and Christmas masses. You will find in every town or village a catholic church with it main doors facing west and across from every church is a public park. Other religions have their presence in Costa Rica as well; among them are Judaism, Buddhism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Protestants, Hinduism and Islam.
Because of the overwhelming European populations, there is very little indigenous cultural influence. Since the country was a poor subsistence-agriculture nation until the middle of the 19th century, cultural activities have really only blossomed in the last 100 years.
Costa Rica is famous for its natural beauty and friendly people, rather than its culture. Ticos consider San José to be the cultural center of the country, and it is here that the most important museums are found. It is also the center of a thriving acting community, and theater is one of the favorite cultural activities in Costa Rica.
The most famous theater in the country is the Teatro Nacional (National Theater), built between 1890 and 1897. The story goes that a noted European opera company featuring the talented singer, Adelina Patti, was on a Latin American tour but declined to perform in Costa Rica for lack of a suitable hall. Immediately, the coffee elite put a special cultural tax on coffee exports to enable a world-class theater to be built. The Teatro Nacional in the heart of San José is now the venue for plays, opera, performances by the National Symphony, ballet, poetry readings and other cultural events. It is also an architectural work in its own right and is a must see landmark in any city tour of San José.
Ticos absolutely love music and dancing. Music is an integral part of most Latin American cultures and Costa Rica is no exception. Ticos enjoy Latin, American and British contemporary rock, and have a special affinity for tunes from the 70's and 80's. However, when it comes to dancing, most prefer the traditional Latin rhythms of salsa, merengue, cumbia, lambada and soca. On the weekends, discos and dance halls are packed, as the typically conservative Ticos really let loose and ardently flirt while dancing the night away.
Costa Rica is home to a diverse musical scene. From Classical to Calypso, music is everywhere- in the streets, homes, restaurants, bars, discos, theaters and on the radio.
Ticos really enjoy topes (horse parades) in almost every town and city, a tradition that originated on the dry plains and cattle ranches of Guanacaste.
Ticos are well known for their gregarious nature which becomes very apparent during the numerous fiestas, street fairs and carnivals celebrated throughout the nation. These celebrations give you tremendous insight into Costa Rica's culture and cuisine. You can sample typicalfood, enjoy Latin music or watch a Costa Rican bull fight. Relax, the bull is never harmed or killed in Costa Rica!
Along the Atlantic coast, Afro-Caribbean cultures are immediately apparent in the reggae beats, Calypso music and Patois spoken by the locals. While indigenous tribes now make up less than 2% of the country's population, Indian arts and handicrafts are preserved in museums and are sold on reservation tours.
Costa Rica's biggest festival is the International Arts Festival, which is held in San Jose every year in March. The festival features theater, music, dance, film and a variety of art shows with participants from many countries. Other major cultural events include the annual Monteverde Music Festival in February and the South Caribbean Music Festival also in February, held in Puerto Viejo.
Costa Rica is known the world over for its incredible wildlife and beautiful landscapes. But if you look beyond ecotourism, cultural treasures will be found everywhere.