Stunning Pacific and Caribbean coastlines, mountains, volcanoes, waterfalls, lakes and islands, Cost Rica is an uber environment-friendly country with a strong commitment to preserving natural resources. Costa Ricans tend to be proud, friendly and diverse people who enjoy sharing their culture and social activities with newcomers. Pura vida (enjoying life) is the national motto. Costa Rica does not have a national military, which demonstrates just how much Costa Ricans value democracy, peace and political freedom.

Costa Ricans: A Glimpse into the Heart of Central America

Nestled in the heart of Central America, Costa Rica is more than just a beautiful tropical destination. The true essence of this nation lies in its people, known as Costa Ricans or "Ticos." Renowned for their warmth, hospitality, and rich cultural heritage, Costa Ricans paint a vivid tapestry of traditions, values, and way of life. Let’s journey into the vibrant world of the Ticos.

The Vibrancy of Tico Culture

Costa Rican culture is a harmonious blend of indigenous heritage, Spanish colonial influences, and contemporary global trends.

Traditions and Festivals

Costa Ricans celebrate life with numerous festivals. Events like the "Fiestas Patronales" and the "Carnaval" showcase traditional dances, music, and colorful parades. The "Día de los Boyeros," celebrating oxcart drivers, reflects Costa Rica’s agrarian roots with decorated oxcarts parading through towns.

Artistic Expressions

Art plays a significant role in Tico culture. Traditional crafts, such as the painted oxcarts and the intricate Chorotega pottery, are not only artistic expressions but also narrate tales of their history.

Culinary Delights of Costa Rica

No exploration of Costa Rican culture would be complete without indulging in its cuisine. Rooted in agricultural abundance, Tico cuisine is a flavorful mix of fresh ingredients and traditional cooking techniques.

Staple Foods

Gallo Pinto, a blend of rice and beans, is the nation's signature dish. Served typically for breakfast, it's often accompanied by eggs, cheese, and plantains. Casado, a hearty lunch platter, offers a taste of beans, rice, salad, and a choice of meat or fish.


Coffee holds a special place in the heart of Costa Ricans. Known globally for its high-quality beans, sipping on a freshly brewed Costa Rican coffee is a must. Additionally, "agua dulce," a warm drink made from sugarcane, is beloved by locals.

The Pura Vida Philosophy

Beyond the tangible aspects of culture and cuisine, the spirit of Costa Rica is encapsulated in the phrase "Pura Vida," translating to "Pure Life."

Embracing Simplicity

For Costa Ricans, Pura Vida is more than just a saying—it's a way of life. It’s about cherishing the simple pleasures, from enjoying a meal with family to admiring a sunset.

Optimism and Resilience

The phrase also reflects the optimistic and resilient nature of Costa Ricans. Whether it's facing personal challenges or environmental conservation, the Ticos approach life with positivity and determination.

The Warmth of Tico Hospitality

Visitors to Costa Rica often recount tales of the genuine warmth and friendliness of its residents. This hospitality is not just a cultural trait but a reflection of the Ticos' appreciation for life and its myriad experiences.

Community Bonds

In Costa Rican communities, close-knit bonds are common. Neighbors look out for each other, and social gatherings are frequent, showcasing the nation’s emphasis on community and connection.

Final Thoughts

Costa Ricans, with their rich traditions, delicious cuisine, and the ever-present Pura Vida philosophy, offer a glimpse into a culture that values life, community, and the environment. For those looking to immerse themselves in Central American culture, understanding and engaging with the Ticos is the perfect starting point.

Teenagers here enjoy the movies, dancing and visiting each other’s homes. Sports are very popular, especially soccer. Don’t miss out on local carnivals and festivals—they will be a great opportunity to soak in local culture with new friends!

Host Family & Community

Although you may live anywhere in Costa Rica, most likely you will be in a suburban or urban area. Sharing among extended family members is deeply appreciated, so expect family life to play a significant role in your experience. Mealtimes are often filled with passionate conversations on a variety of subjects, and may be stretched for weekend lunches.


You will probably attend a public school, which runs from February through December, Monday to Friday (7 am to 4.30 pm). Costa Rican students wear uniforms. You can always participate in sport tournaments with your high school or in the community, as well as join music groups and different clubs based on your interests.

A photo posted by Clara Aiello (@_harley_97) on


Spanish is the primary language spoken in Costa Rica, and some people also speak English very well. You don’t have to know Spanish before the program, but having a basic knowledge of Spanish or English will be helpful.


Potatoes, eggs, corn, rice and beans, and dairy products are staples of the Costa Rican diet, Meat or fish may not be included in some meals throughout the week. You will also find a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables and fruit juices.

Let AFS guide your intercultural adventure

Go abroad with AFS to discover who you really are, make new lifetime friendships and immerse yourself in a fascinating intercultural experience.

Our learning program will prepare you for an amazing AFS intercultural experience. The program begins at your home country with a pre-departure orientation and continues with orientations and other supported learning activities and facilitated conversations will help you maximize your experience, cope the challenges of navigating a new culture and community and gain knowledge, skills, and a global understanding, throughout your time abroad, and as you return to you home country. AFS volunteers will be there to support and guide you and your host family through your learning journey abroad.


The Global Competence Certificate (GCC) program will support your intercultural learning experience. This state-of-the-art program prepares you to successfully navigate new cultural environments—during your AFSNext experience and long after you finish the program. Online intercultural learning modules combined with in-person sessions help you develop practical and global skills, knowledge and attitudes that employers need and mission-driven organizations believe will help achieve their social impact goals. You will receive your certification upon completion of the training program. 

Explore the Programs Available in Costa Rica