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As our faculty, staff, and students begin arriving in Costa Rica for the second term of our 2014-15 school year, we thought we’d share seven interesting facts about this happy-go-lucky nation of nearly five million residents. Whether you are working on a school project or just looking to impress your friends, these facts will have everyone convinced that you’re a tico or tica!
Fact #1: Thanks, but no tanks. Costa Rica has no standing military.
There are twenty two other countries who can lay claim to having no army, navy, or air force, but Costa Rica is the only one on the list with a population that totals over one million. The Costa Rican military was officially disbanded by president and noted pacifist Jose Figueres back in 1948, who cleverly decided that the money would be better spent on education and eco-tourism. Costa Rica’s dedication to peace and the democratic process led to the United Nations University for Peace opening its headquarters in Ciudad Colón, a small idyllic town on the outskirts of San Jose. Students from all across the world now gather here to obtain their master’s degree in a variety of programmes related to peace and peacebuilding. So if the the only camouflage you care to see is frogs blending in with their surroundings, Costa Rica might be the perfect place for you!
Fact #2: Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet
Costa Rica is pretty small (for context, West Virginia is slightly larger) but what it lacks in size it makes up for in sheer biodiversity. In fact, Costa Rica is considered to possess the highest density of biodiversity of any country worldwide. To put things in perspective: Costa Rica only takes up .03 percent of the earth’s surface yet it contains 5 percent of all known plants and animal species (over 14,000 of which are insects, so if bugs crawling up your pant leg isn’t your thing, you might check into visiting Antarctica — only 67 species have been discovered there). Protecting all of these plant, animal, and fungi species is of paramount importance to the Costa Rican government, so important in fact that Costa Rica has vowed to become the first carbon-neutral country in the world by 2021. To do so they will need to get the emissions from the country’s transport sector down, but with roughly 91% of Costa Rica’s energy already coming from renewable sources such as hydroelectric power (73%), geothermal plants (13%), and wind turbines (4%), they are definitely headed in the right direction.
Fact #3: Most Costa Ricans have four names
The Costa Ricans approach their naming conventions a little differently than most places in the world: almost everyone in the country has four names. Most Costa Ricans are given two first names (sometimes even a third) and then take the last name of their father (which comes first) and their mother (which comes second). Many Costa Rican children have different last names than their parents, which can be incredibly confusing for newcomers to this tropical land! So, as an example, if my first names were Lee and Roy, my father’s last name was Carlton, and my mother’s last name was Brotherton, my name would be:
Lee Roy Carlton Brotherton
Needless to say, many Costa Ricans use abbreviations and nicknames to keep things simple. No need to change credit cards or identification cards after a wedding though, so everybody wins there!
Fact #4: Christopher Columbus discovered Costa Rica in 1502
While Christopher Columbus is best known for establishing regular contact between what is now The United States and Europe, his exploration also drastically shaped the culture of Costa Rica. A common belief is that Costa Rica draws its name from the admiration Columbus and his men had for the gold and jade ornaments they witnessed the indigenous population sporting upon their arrival in Puerto Limón. Columbus mistakenly believed that all of Costa Rica must be flush with gold, hence describing it as the “Rich Coast.” In time the Spanish would discover that Costa Rica is in fact lacking in resources such as gold and silver, and the lack of a large indigenous population to enslave made it particularly difficult to colonize. One Spanish governor even went so far as to describe it as “the poorest and most miserable Spanish colony in all of America.” Thankfully, the name Costa Rica now seems like a natural fit due to the ease in which vegetables and fruits are able to sprout up from the soil.
Fact #5: Pedestrians are known as “targets” and speed bumps are known as “muertos (dead people)”
There are many excellent reasons to hit the road in Costa Rica, and if you want to experience beaches on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts (another fun fact: Costa Rica borders both oceans) or journey through the rainforest canopy, chances are at some point you’ll need to rent a car, hail a taxi, or hop on a bus. Just realize that driving here, like in many Central American countries, is not for the faint of heart. Costa Ricans approach it with a sense of humor, however, referring to pedestrians as “targets” and speed bumps as “muertos (dead people).” The meter in a taxicab is also commonly known as a “Maria” — an apparent reference to the Virgin Mary and her honesty. There are Costa Ricans who do not drive, however, so to make sure that business is always booming, many restaurants, including fast food giants like McDonalds and Burger King, offer home delivery. In fact, McDonalds makes more home deliveries in Costa Rica than the post office! Word of warning: street signs are also few and far between, so if you plan on visiting Costa Rica make sure to bring a GPS!
Fact #6: Costa Ricans are a happy people who lead a long, healthy life
If you ever find yourself sunning on one of Costa Rica’s many beaches, don’t be surprised if you find yourself subconsciously humming along to Pharell William’s “Happy.” That’s because Costa Rica ranks atop the Happy Planet Index — the leading global measure of sustainable well-being. So why are Costa Ricans so happy? Chalk it up to the slow way of life in a tropical paradise. Even better: Costa Ricans can expect to live to the ripe old age of 79 years. That’s a lot of years of happy, healthy living. No wonder so many expatriates decide to spend their golden years embracing the pura vida!
Fact #7: Costa Rica is the only country where IVF is completely banned
A lot of people head to Costa Rica specifically for medical tourism (Costa Rica ranks #5 on the Medical Tourism Index), but no one is visiting for in-vitro fertilization. That’s because the practice has been banned here since 2000; Costa Rica is actually the only country in the world to completely ban the practice, despite being ordered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to legalize in vitro fertilization procedures back in 2012. Roughly 76% of Costa Rica’s population are Roman Catholic, which helps explain why the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court handed down the ban in the first place. It will be interesting to see if the ban is overturned in the coming years (but I wouldn’t count on it).
We hope you’ve found these bits of information on Costa Rica useful and highly recommend you consider paying it a visit for your next vacation. The ticos and ticas that I met during my time there were some of the friendliest people that I’ve encountered in the world. Here’s to an excellent term!