Having been part of the area colonized by the Spanish starting from the 15th century, Costa Rica and several other countries in the Americas have borrowed heavily from Spanish culture. Many aspects of Costa Rica culture including cuisine, customs and creative arts have Spanish influences. For anyone planning to retire in Costa Rica, understanding the local culture is important to fit in and quickly adapt to life there.
The biggest ethnic group in Costa Rica is of Spanish ancestry. There are also European minorities including Italians, Germans, British, Swedish, Dutch, French and Greek. Other minority groups include Costa Rica Jews, Mulattos (mixed white and black ancestry), Blacks (of African descent) and Asians.
Spanish is the official Language in Costa Rica. English is the most commonly taught second language and you will find a large number of citizens who understand it. Other foreign languages present include French, Italian, Chinese and German. There is also a wide variety of indigenous languages spoken in different parts of the country.
Due to the Spanish inheritance, the majority of Costa Ricans are Roman Catholic (70.5%). At 13.8%, evangelical protestants are the next biggest religious group. 11.3% do not profess any religion and the remaining belong to the few other religions present such as Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism and Islam.
The most striking thing about cuisine in Costa Rica is the freshness of the food. There is an abundance of markets selling fresh fruit, meats, vegetable and cheese. Bakeries provide freshly baked bread throughout the day.
You will find the cuisine influenced by Spanish, South American, American and Caribbean Culture. By fusing all these influences, Costa Rica has developed its own unique taste and flavor of food.
The most popular dish, referred to as the National dish, is the Gallo Pinto (literally translated as "spotted chicken"). It consists of white rice and black beans flavored with cilantro, garlic, onions and salt. A local ingredient called Salsa Lizano is also added. It is usually served for breakfast, along with eggs, cheese and tortillas.
A variation of this meal is common at lunchtime going by the name Casado (which literally means "married," referring to a man). You can add your choice of meat to the rice and beans and include various sides such as fried plantain, spaghetti or just a salad.
Other common foods you will find in plenty include tropical fruits and vegetables, seafood, meat and coffee.
Through support of the Government’s ministry of Culture, tourists and private donors, the art scene in Costa Rica has continually grown. The most common forms of art are paintings and sculptures. Local music and folklore is also something to look forward to. In literature, several well-known authors have written great works. A good example is Oscar Núñez Oliva.
There are numerous national, cultural and religious festivals dominating the Costa Rican calendar. Every month, you can be sure of one or more festivals taking place.
The Costa Rica volcanoes are some of the country's best-known attractions. They include Arenal Volcano and Chato Volcano. For adventure activities in Costa Rica visit the Manuel Antonio National Park, Tortuguero National Park or the Chimpo National Park.
If you are an art lover, plan a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design in San José and Our Lady of the Angels Basilica in Cartago.
Other attractions not to miss include the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum and the National Theater (both in San José) as well as the La Fortuna Waterfall and Uvita Island.
A mixture of shopping malls, art galleries, bookstores, crafts shops and jewelers provides anything you might need. Be sure to visit the largest and most ornate shopping mall, the Multiplaza Escazu.
After a long day visiting tourist attractions or going on adventures, enjoy the packed and vibrant nightlife of Costa Rica. If you love rowdy fun, the beach town of Jaco is a good place. San Jose itself is packed with nightclubs and bars. If you want to escape the crowds in the capital, try the suburbs or even go camping at night; the night skies are a remarkable sight.
The best thing about the Costa Rica culture is that it is easy to fit into. There are no weird rituals you have to follow, just go there and enjoy yourself.