Beyond the Tropical Paradise: The Rich Culture in Costa Rica

Dancers publicly showcasing the culture in Costa Rica through their clothing and movements
See beyond the tropical paradise. Get to know the beautiful culture in Costa Rica.

What makes Costa Rica unique?

Is it the stunning beaches, the beautiful mountains, and the well-kept wildlife sanctuaries?

Indeed, it is. But there is much more to the country than being a tropical paradise.

Costa Rica was colonized by Spain for over 300 years. While the Spaniards sought to make their mark on the country, Costa Ricans held on to their indigenous heritage, creating a unique blend of influences and original customs.

That being said, get to know how this blend is specifically infused in the rich culture in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica Holidays and Traditions

You can often hear people say that to move forward to a better future, you need to look back and gain insights from the events of the past.

Like many others who followed this advice, the people of Costa Rica try to remember their history by celebrating holidays.

Here are some of them.

Independence Day

Spain had control over Costa Rica for more than 300 years.

But in 1808, Napoleon’s invasion of Spain weakened their forces, offering Costa Ricans the chance to seek freedom.

Citizens of Cartago, then capital of the country, formed the council of Junta and later allied with Mexico.

However, the Central American provinces decided to establish the Federal Republic of Central America.

It was then on September 15, 1821 that Costa Rica was declared an independent nation.

Every year, on this day, the people celebrate by carrying a freedom torch from Nicaragua to Cartago.

Meanwhile, other traditions include patriotic parades, street dances, and performances by marching bands.

Virgen de los Ángeles Day

During the Age of Exploration, the Spaniards aimed to introduce Catholicism to indigenous populations.

While they failed to persuade some to accept the faith, they were able to successfully convert the majority of Costa Ricans.

Even today, Costa Ricans are known for their unwavering devotion, with reported miracles only reinforcing their strong belief.

That being said, on August 2, they celebrate Virgen de los Ángeles Day, commemorating the discovery of a miraculous statue called La Negrita, which they believed to be an indigenous representation of the Virgin Mary.

On this day, most citizens participate in a pilgrimage to Cartago.

People participating in a religious procession
Witness the devotion of the people. Visit the country during the celebration of Costa Rica holidays and traditions.

Then, as part of Costa Rica culture and traditions, people would pray and cleanse themselves in a small stream near the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles, which they believed contained healing properties.

Fiestas de los Diablitos

When the Spaniards arrived in Costa Rica, they initially failed to gain control as the indigenous people, called the Boruca, successfully resisted their attempts to take over their village.

In celebration of this, Costa Rica annually celebrates Fiesta de los Diablitos.

During the festival, adult males from a Costa Rican family carve masks and perform a mock dance that symbolizes their defiance towards the Spaniards.

Traditional Clothing in Costa Rica

People today carefully consider their clothing choices as a reflection of their personal style. But on a national level, clothing serves as a reflection of a group’s cultural identity.

As part of the culture in Costa Rica, women’s traditional clothing consists of colored skirts, ruffled blouses, and leather sandals. Meanwhile, men wear a white-brimmed hat, a neckerchief, white shirt, red belt, white long pants, and leather sandals.

Although their clothing incorporates patterns and symbols that often reflect their indigenous beliefs regarding nature, the colorful pieces are somewhat similar to Spanish and Mexican clothing.

While this clothing ensemble is generally worn during holidays and festivities, each province puts its own unique twist on traditional attire.

For instance, women in Alajuela wear a black ribbon with a medallion, often a gold cross, while men opt for blue jeans instead of white pants.

A person weaving to create traditional clothing in Costa Rica
Appreciate the look. Traditional clothing in Costa Rica is more than just its beautiful colors, it reflects the country’s rich culture as well.

Moreover, their traditional clothing is often woven by indigenous tribes who use their art as a source of income.

Costa Rica Dance Culture

What is Costa Rica famous for?

There are plenty of things that the country is known for, such as its tourist destinations and beautiful women. But in terms of culture, one of the famous aspects of Costa Rica is its dances, which pre-date Spanish colonization.

Unlike modern dances, every movement you’ll see in a Costa Rican dance is used to tell a folk story or reflect a traditional rite.

Here are some of them.

Punto Guanacasteco

In Costa Rica dance culture, Punto Guanacasteco reflects the traditional rites of courtship.

The dance starts with men surrounding the women, and over time, their actions progress from flirtatious glances to teasing movements.

Moreover, as the music becomes more energetic, the men would then shout suggestive verses, which reflect the bold nature of flirting in Costa Rica.

Chorotega

If you’ve already been to Costa Rica, you may have seen a Chorotega performance, as it is mainly used to introduce tourists to the country’s folk stories and legends.

Among the many tales portrayed, a few to mention are the plight of the farmers and the legend of star-crossed lovers.

The dance itself reflects the stories of the Chorotega citizens, many of whom were farmers who frequently encountered conflicts with neighboring towns.

Suin Criollo

Suin Criollo is inspired by the swing dance of the United States; hence, it is relatively new.

Despite using traditional Costa Rican music and movements that matched it, some looked down on the dance, leading to its prohibition in most dance halls in the 1970s.

But because many still enjoyed it, Suin Criollo was eventually accepted and is now an integral part of the culture in Costa Rica.

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Costa Rica Lifestyle

Culture directly shapes people’s values, beliefs, behaviors, and relationships with others. On the flip side, people shape culture through their choices, interactions, and innovations.

This cycle is clearly reflected in the rich Costa Rican culture and the lifestyle of its people.

Pura Vida

Pura Vida literally translates to “pure life” and reflects how people live a relaxed, stress-free life in harmony with nature.

Despite living in a fast-paced world, most never fail to follow this practice in their daily life in Costa Rica.

Although the term may have stemmed from a famous movie or book, Costa Ricans have been practicing it for a long time. As a result, it has been deeply ingrained in their culture.

For instance, during the country’s colonization, there weren’t many uprisings as most people strived to peacefully coexist with the Spaniards.

Moreover, as Costa Rica’s economy is primarily centered on agriculture, people focused more on maintaining a connection with nature rather than on material pursuits.

Sustainable Living

As mentioned, Costa Rica is a tropical paradise. In an effort to preserve their environmental treasures, Costa Ricans try to practice sustainability.

This can be seen in tangible aspects of their culture. This includes well-kept sanctuaries, the use of eco-friendly materials and techniques in their artworks, incorporation of local ingredients in their cuisine, and eco-friendly cultural activities in Costa Rica for both locals and tourists.

Their sustainable lifestyle stems from their cultural mindset of responsibility as farmers and exporters of commodities, ensuring the land’s preservation for resources and long-term productivity.

Costa Rican Family Traditions

The culture in Costa Rica places a strong emphasis on family ties, as people value spending quality time together during weekends, holidays, and even meals.

Friends showcasing the pura vida lifestyle in their daily life in Costa Rica
Pura vida. Learn how to live a stress-free daily life in Costa Rica.

Moreover, members of the family readily offer financial, emotional, and practical support whenever needed.

Elders are also highly respected for their wisdom and guidance, contributing to the harmonious Costa Rican family dynamic.

Such values stemmed from indigenous practices of collective decision-making and togetherness, as well as the influence of Catholicism and traditional gender roles that were introduced during colonization.

Embracing Beauty and Culture in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is known for its stunning tourist destinations and natural landscapes. While you can visit the country simply to see its magnificent attractions, your experience will be more worthwhile if you immerse yourself in their rich culture.

Participate in Costa Rica holidays and traditions, learn some dances, or engage in some of their daily activities.

This way, Costa Rica won’t be another country that you simply checked off your bucket list; it will be a country that has allowed you to step out of your comfort zone, broaden your perspective, and create authentic connections with people from a different background.

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