Costa Rican People
The estimated population of Costa Rica is about 4 million, of which more than 60% live in the central highlands.The population growth rate is about 2% and the infant mortality is 13 per 1000 births. With a population density of over 70 people per square kilometer, Costa Rica ranks third most densely populated in Central America. As a result of successive waves of Spanish colonizers, only 2% of the current population of Costa Rica is of indigenous descent. Of these, over 60% are protected within the Reserva de la Biosfera la Amistad, a designated world heritage site encompassing about 250,000 hectares across southeastern Costa Rica and northwestern Panamá.
Several indigenous groups have managed to maintain their culture through geographic isolation and government protection including: the Bribri from the Talamanca area, the Guayami near the border with Panamá, the Borucas in southern Puntarenas province and the Miskitos of mixed African and indigenous blood on the southern Caribbean coast. The Indigenous Bill of 1977 granted the eight native tribes rights to self-government on their lands. However, they only received citizenship in 1992 and the right to vote in 1994. 1% of the population is of Asian decent (mostly Chinese) and another 2% is black, mostly confined to the Caribbean coast near Limón. This unique sub-culture is descended from Jamaicans who were brought over to construct the railway spanning the country in the late 1800s.
The principle language is Spanish, although many black caribeños still speak a dialect of Caribbean English brought over from Jamaica. We highly recommend purchasing a Spanish phrasebook or taking some introductory courses before visiting. This background knowledge in the language will greatly enhance your experience on because it will allow you to make friends wherever you go. Adding to the cultural diversity of the country is a small Italian community in San Vito in the south, Quakers in Monteverde and Jewish communities in the larger cities. Also, more than 35,000 U.S. retirees, who prefer the warm climate and tranquilo attitude of the people, have settled in Escazú, Santa Ana and Alajuela in recent decades. Since the start of political and economic instability in the 1980s, more than 250,000 Nicaraguans have sought work and residence in Costa Rica.
Costa Ricans are unique among Central Americans and they are proud of it. Perhaps this evolved over years
of isolation in the central highland settlements (indeed, Costa Ricans were not aware of their independence for a full month after it was granted). Their customs, education and standard of living are on par with European countries. Although “Costa Rican” is costariquense (coh-stah-ree-KEN-say) in Spanish, the people like to refer to themselves as tico / a, referring to the use of the diminutive in the language. Adding -ito / a to the end of a noun is a cute or affectionate way of saying it. In general, Costa Ricans are very friendly, non-confrontational and hospitable. They are curious about the language and customs of foreign visitors and eager to help them find their way around their country.
Costa Rican society is relatively conservative and this is reflected in their often reserved behavior. Making a good impression is particularly important, so people from rural communities, for example, dress up to go into town. Although many young women in the cities wear tight clothing, it is not revealing. Almost everybody wears long pants (especially jeans), even in the muggy Caribbean lowlands, but skimpy bathing wear is acceptable on the beach. With the exception of the occasional Guanacaste horseman, fashion and hairstyles largely reflect Western popular culture. Courtesy is very important to ticos. They are very polite and attentive. It is traditional for men to shake hands upon greeting and for women and mixed-gender encounters, a kiss on the right cheek.
Ticos are sensitive people, but are very understanding when dealing with people who are unfamiliar with the language and customs. However, they openly refer to friends or even perfect stranger as chino / a if s/he has slightly narrow eyes, gordo / a (fat) if s/he is slightly overweight and negro / a (black) if s/he has slightly dark skin. Do not be offended; these are used as handy nicknames, especially useful to distinguish two people with the same first name.