Why Costa Rica?
The happiest country in the world awaits
When Christopher Columbus landed on an island off Limón in 1502, he reportedly named this land Costa Rica (“Rich Coast”) because of the gold jewelry worn by the natives who greeted him. But the Spanish never found the source of this gold, and they largely neglected this jungle backwater for the next couple of centuries.
Today green is the new gold, and Costa Rica is a global ecotourism capital, an enchanted magnet that draws close to 3 million visitors a year, who inject an annual $3 billion into its economy. The former stepchild of New Spain is now the envy of its neighbors.
Here are 10 reasons to come to Costa Rica — for one week, for two weeks or forever.
1) It’s the happiest country in the world.
On three occasions in the past decade (2009, 2012 and 2016), Costa Rica has ranked No. 1 on a list of happiest countries in the world, as determined by the Happy Planet Index, created by the London-based New Economic Foundation to measure overall well-being, equality, longevity and ecological footprint.
2) It has some of the world’s longest-living people.
The Nicoya Peninsula in Guanacaste is one of five “Blue Zones” in the world identified by National Geographic researcher Dan Buettner as having the longest-lived people in the world. (The others are Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Ikaria, Greece; and a Seventh-Day Adventist community in Loma Linda, California.) Costa Rica’s longevity is attributed to a healthy diet, moderate daily exercise, sensible exposure to the sun, strong family and community connections, and a faith-based lifestyle.
3) It’s among the most biodiverse countries on Earth.
Costa Rica has only 0.03 percent of the world’s land mass yet accounts for some 5 percent of its biodiversity. In other words, it contains only 3/10,000ths of all land on Earth, yet an astonishing 1 out of 20 of all animal species living in the world can be found here.
4) It’s among the world’s most environmentally protected countries.
Costa Rica has an area of about 20,000 square miles, smaller than West Virginia, yet more than 25% of this consists of national parks or other protected areas.
5) It’s on its way to achieving carbon neutrality.
Costa Rica has an ambitious plan to become carbon-neutral by 2021, the 200thanniversary of its independence, and it’s moving toward this goal faster than any country in the world. Carbon neutrality means leaving a carbon footprint of zero, typically by reducing the use of fossils fuels, switching to renewable energy sources, planting trees and buying carbon credits. Costa Rica announced in July 2018 that it had generated 98.53 percent of its electricity over the past four years from renewable sources — hydroelectric, geothermal, wind, biomass and solar.
6) It has no army.
After a 1948 civil war that lasted 44 days, a new government headed by José “Pepe” Figueres abolished the army in a constitution adopted in 1949. Since then, nobody has missed the army much, nor have there been any wars or significant internal violence. Much of the money formerly devoted to the military was invested instead in education, health care and social services.
7) It’s safe, stable and well-educated.
Costa Rica is the safest country in Central America, according to the Global Peace Index 2018, created by the Australia-based Institute for Economics and Peace. In fact, Costa Rica is ranked the second-safest country in all of Latin America after Chile. Presidents limited by law to one term hand over power peacefully every four years without violence in elections widely considered fair. And Costa Rica’s literacy rate is 96 percent, the highest in the region.
8) It rolls out the red carpet for visitors.
A tiny country with a population of 5 million, Costa Rica welcomed an amazing 3 million visitors in 2017, making tourism the country’s top industry. Recognizing the goose that lays the golden egg, Costa Rica pulls out all the stops to make tourists feel welcome, training legions of locals to work in tourism-related businesses, and English is widely spoken. While xenophobia or resentment of foreigners is a common problem in many parts of the world, outsiders here are welcomed with open arms.
9) It has a temperate climate year-round.
Though Costa Rica’s elevation varies widely, from sea level to the 12,533-foot summit of Mount Chirripó, Costa Rica has an average temperature of between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. It doesn’t so much matter when you come but where you go. Because it’s only 8 to 11 degrees from the Equator, there is little variation in temperature year-round. Of course, it takes a lot of rain to make a rainforest, and you can expect heavy showers, typically in the afternoon, during the rainy season (from May to mid-November on the Pacific side of the country). In much of the country, you could wear shorts and a T-shirt year-round, but in the highest mountains you might need two wool blankets at night.
10) The Ticos, the Ticos, the Ticos
The Costa Rican people are known as Ticos, and they are some of the friendliest and most welcoming people you will find anywhere. Ticos from all walks of life are quick with a smile, a handshake, a kiss or a joke, and their friendliness is genuine. For all you hear about the trees, flowers, monkeys, sloths and frogs, the people of Costa Rica are and always will be the country’s greatest asset.