When you arrive in Costa Rica, one of the first Spanish terms you will hear is the country's official motto, pura vida or pure life. These words spring from the lips of taxi drivers, shopkeepers, bankers and tour guides with odd, comforting regularity. But pura vida is more than just a catchy slogan for the national tourism agency - it really is the way that Costa Ricans view their country and their lifestyle. Life moves a little slower, people smile more, and the stress of daily life will seem to diminish with each passing minute. It also describes a fierce pride in a country that values education and families, chooses to have no military, protects their natural surroundings and welcomes foreigners with open arms.
Costa Rica's biggest attraction, besides the promise of a pure life, is the sheer diversity of its geography and wilderness. With only one percent of the Earth's land mass but six percent of its biodiversity, Costa Rica has become a leader in sustainably developing and showcasing its natural attractions. There is a comprehensive system of national parks and protected wilderness areas covering over 25 percent of the country. These parks are home to some of the world's most fascinating and endangered plant and animal life on the planet. Luckily, both local and foreign entrepreneurs have devised ways to allow visitors and researchers to explore these areas with minimal damage to the wildlife and habitat. Whether you prefer flying through the jungle canopy on zip lines, hiking along the forest floor, running the rivers or engaging in any number of activities in the cloud forests, tropical jungles or volcanic slopes, you can do it in Costa Rica.
Flanked by both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Costa Rica is also home to superb diving, fishing, surfing and swimming areas. Many of these coastal areas are also protected through the national park system, allowing visitors to experience the beauty of the coral reefs, mangrove forests and breaking surf while contributing to its conservation. Both coasts are also home to areas that are exclusively designed to protect the wildlife that live or simply stop there during migration. A variety of sea turtles stop along Costa Rica's coastlines every year to lay their eggs in the sand. Whales travel along the coast annually and diverse species of sharks are common sights. Coral reefs and islands surrounded by deep water are safe havens for marine animals and plants that are vital to the ocean's well-being.
While Costa Rica's natural gifts are the main attraction for visitors and a huge benefit to those fortunate enough to live there, it's the attitude and lifestyle of the locals that captivates people. Every local and expatriate in Costa Rica wishes they had a few colones for every time they heard a tourist say, "I want to live here forever." They know exactly what they mean - it's almost impossible to resist the call of pura vida.
- Major Cities: Puntarenas, Limón, Liberia
- Capital City: San José
- Boundaries: Nicaragua to the North, Pacific Ocean to the West, Atlantic Ocean to the East, Panama to the South
- Population: 4.2 million
- Languages: Spanish. English is widely used but not an official language. In Limón, locals speak a Creole dialect of English mixed with Spanish.
- Diversity: European and mestizos 94%, Afro-Caribbean 3%, Chinese 1%, Amerindian 1%, other 1%
- Official Religions: Roman Catholic 70.5%, Evangelical Protestant 13.8%, other 4.3%, none 11.3%
- Government: Democratic republic
- Currency: Costa Rica Colones (CRC)
- Gross National Income (GNI) per capita: $11,900
- Population using Improved Drinking Water Sources: 98%
- Time Zone: GMT-6 (Central Time). Costa Rica does not observe Daylight Savings.
- Country Calling Code: +506
- Climate: Mild in the central highlands; tropical and subtropical in coastal regions
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