Costa Rica's cultural divides exist mostly across geographic regions of existence.

Central valley residents maintain a much more urban lifestyle of Spanish influence than the mountainside communities, which are generally more indigenous and reliant on natural resources, or the beach communities on the Pacific or Caribbean coasts, which carry somewhat of an Islander vibe. There is also quite the lifestyle division between social classes based on income. Tourists and full-time residents also have different experiences of being in Costa Rica, which is important to note in a country so reliant on tourism for economic purposes.

Costa Rica Central Valley

Central Valley Life

Nearly 3.5 million of Costa Rica's almost 5 million people live in a region called the central valley. As there are no street names in Costa Rica, that is a lot of folks moving around spaces that are defined only by verbal direction based on landmark. One of the ways that people are still able to navigate without getting lost is by the fact that every church faces west, all the towns have a soccer field and small store, and subdivisions are all named based on different developments in their heritage.

Catholicism is the religion of choice, as claimed by 76% of current Costa Rican residents. This came mostly from the Spanish settlers who took over in the 1500s, primarily landing in the central valley because of the available land for natural resources. Today there are community squares, celebrations and holidays, all marked by pura vida. 

Like "aloha" in Hawaii, there is a common greeting, goodbye, and general colloquialism shared among individuals here: pura vida, which translates into "pure life." It is an absolute wonderful feeling to share with neighbors and friends, frequently adding comfort to interpersonal encounters. This flair of speech has been around since the middle of the 20th century.

City life is modern, with dining and shopping and hustle and bustle, especially considering 1.5 million people live in the San Jose metropolitan area. Here is where 4 of Costa Rica's 7 "states" come together as cities that bear the names of the larger areas bordered together. They are San Jose, Cartago, Heredia, and Alajuela. Though separated by lines on a map, these places truly create one single urban hotspot.

Tourists are recommended to have a reservation in advance, especially during the months of December and May. Central valley visits offer easy drives to other locations around Costa Rica, but also have a plethora of options cities and nearby suburbs. Whether it is the hustle and bustle, or the local plantation coffee growers, there is plenty of Costa Rican life to experience here!


Costa Rica Mountainous Region

Mountainside Living

This is Costa Rica's active country! Towns may be separated by miles of unforgiving terrain and dirt roads but they carry a full ration of amenities once there. With plenty of opportunities to explore running rivers, zip line through the rain forests, or simply take in the volcanic vistas offered by rim route roads, tourists can really make an adventure out of getting away from the central valley or beach areas.

While only 1% of Costa Rica's population is of indigenous descent, there are some pockets in the hills where life has seemingly gone unchanged over the past several hundred years. The most accessible are the Boruca. Some items in the village are for sale at small stores, a museum, and straight from the artists in the village. Most prized are their intricately created and painted masks. One of the most popular times to visit the Boruca is during the new year celebration festival, Baile de los Diablitos: a three-day retelling of the war between indigenous Costa Ricans and the Spanish.

Monteverde, Buenos Aires, and San Ramon are three major cities that can be found in this higher elevation region. All of them offer shopping, dining, and lodging, as well as tours into the surrounding wilderness.

The Irazu Volcano National Park really ought not to be missed. It is classified as an active volcano, but the last activity it showed was in 1996. Another active volcano worth visiting is Poas. The massive crater with sulfur pool visible at the bottom draws thousands of visitors every year. Its last major eruption was in 1910. Don’t forget, Costa Rica is part of the Ring of Fire!

Costa Rica Pacific Coast

Pacific Coast Ways

Running along Costa Rica about 500 miles north to south lies the varied terrain of semiarid beaches, tropical cliffs and wild islands. There is no denying that where the sun sets is a wonderful place to be in Costa Rica. Saltwater invites residents to depend on its rich habitat for food as well as tourist opportunities. The burgeoning resort industry is starting in the north, while further south along this coastline remains removed from passing time.

The uppermost section of Pacific Coast in Costa Rica is the Nicoya Peninsula. So much construction has gone into this area that there are towns where almost no native Costa Ricans live. The culture is literally being defined by new waves of people who want to live here!

Mountainous terrain between each town keeps isolated villages from expanding and gives each of them a unique ambience. Some of the constants between all of them are outstanding sightseeing and the possibility of being involved with nature. Scuba diving, boat tours, hiking the jagged coast, and feeling transported from the rest of the world are some of the major reasons to visit this region. 

Being pampered in the northern section of Pacific coastline gives way to feeling freed from modern society near the south end. Well-maintained roads are washed out along the southern cliffs and eventually turn to dirt only. The south embodies a much more "back to the land" vibe, and there is even an indigenous village way down near the Panama border. This area truly carries a sweetness about it that must come from the translation of the name “Sweet Gulf."

Costa Rica Caribbean Coast

Caribbean Coast Confusion

The Caribbean coast and its province of Limon is the most diverse region of Costa Rica. Roughly 1/3 of the population is of Jamaican slave heritage. There are also larger populations of the indigenous Bribri tribe here than across the rest of the country. Rounding out the diversity is a huge "Tico" influence. Costa Ricans refer to themselves as being Tico because of their highly mixed genetics over the past 500 years. It means, "a little bit." This region more than a little bit happening!

Limon is only 125 miles long, compared to the 500 mile stretch of Pacific coastline, but it contains a similar relaxing ambience. The northern Caribbean coast, near Tortuguero, is a swampy, forested, nature lover's dream. No roads can make it back in there, so a small plane or boat ride is necessary. This is where rain becomes part of the main culture, as it is the wettest spot due to precipitation in Costa Rica. Well over 200 inches per year falls here.

Banana plantation culture dominated the upper middle section of Caribbean coastline for years. There is history to be found here, as well as the surviving farms that are still working. Guapiles is the city most utilized for accessing this stretch of the region.

The port of Limon provides a near midpoint on the stretch of Costa Rica's Caribbean coast. This is not a typical tourist town, but with 85,000 people of mostly Afro-Caribbean descent, museums, and a vibrant, active atmosphere thriving right next to the ocean, there is not much more unique of a setting to be found in Costa Rica. To the north are the thickest, wettest rain forests in the country; to the south some of the most laid-back beaches in Central America.

Puerto Viejo and Cahuita are wonderful, vibrant cities along the southern coast. Costa Rica has really taken a long time to take pride in promoting this area for tourism because it is so wildly different than the rest of the country. The food is primarily influenced from the Islander descent. The language spoken in this region is an English-Creole mix. There are great beaches, great opportunities to get on the water, and easily accessible rain forest at every turn.