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In fact, you’ll see many signs that read, Bienvenidos ...

Adventure Guide to Costa Rica

Pura Vida ~ unofficial national slogan of Costa Rica that translates as “pure life.” You won’t see a “Yankee Go Home” banner at a demonstration in Costa Rica.

In fact, you’ll see many signs that read, Bienvenidos, “Welcome.” Ticos (tea-coes), or Ticas (tea-caz) are a warm and welcoming people that really like North Americans and they show it.

The gringo community of full- and part-time residents is quite large, with many Canadian and American retirees drawn by the climate, social benefits and lower cost of living. Costa Rican people call themselves Ticos or Ticas (female). These words stem from hermaniticos, and hermaniticas, meaning little brothers and little sisters.

The Costa Rican culture is typical of Latin America in that it is predominantly Catholic and conservative – but not stridently so. The people here, mostly descended from the Spanish with a mix of indigenous and African, are more racially homogenous than in other Central American countries. The population on the Caribbean coast around Limón is more predominately African, a result of the importation of Afro-Caribbean workers for the banana fields. The official language is Spanish, though many college educated Ticos and those in the tourist trade speak English. On the Caribbean side, most people speak both languages.

Ticos are generally well educated, with a 93% literacy rate – higher than the United States. An old Costa Rican saying claimed, “We have more teachers than soldiers,” and that is still true today, some 60 years after Costa Rica abolished its army. The country has a history of peace and stability unmatched among its neighbors and is known for its tolerance. This status has made it a natural asylum for penniless refugees as well as wealthy deposed dictators.

The lack of armed conflict reflects the political and social characteristics compromise and non confrontation are important social tools. Sometimes infuriatingly so. “People in other countries can be categorical, but not Ticos,” explains playwright Melvin Méndez. “We beat around the bush to avoid saying ‘No,’ a syllable that seems almost rude to us. Rather than hurt someone, we say one thing and do another.”

If you stay long enough you’ll find dealing with the layers of bureaucracy frustrating, with long lines at banks and offices. Life runs on Tico time, which means that a 2 pm appointment may be 2:30 or even 3:30. On the other hand, all these things pale in comparison to the genuinely pleasant nature of los Ticos.


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