People of Costa Rica

Most of the 4 million people who live in Costa Rica are descendants of the Spanish.  There are still 8 indigenous tribes in Costa Rica who make up approximately  1.7% of the population (see detail below).  In central areas a large number of people are fair skinned, often with blue or green eyes.  In the outlying areas more people are’ mestizos’ – a mixture of Spanish and indigenous blood, on the Caribbean coast you will see strong links to African lineage.

The people of Costa Rica are known as Ticos (men) and Ticas (women). This stems from the diminutive ‘tico’ used at the end of a word, but in the case of the inhabitants of Costa Rica, it also signifies affection.

Ticos are very family oriented – you will often find extended families living together, or next door to each other. Family is hugely important in Costa Rica.

Ticos are friendly and welcoming and also very laid back. The pace of life here is slower than you might be used to, but just embrace it and enjoy your holiday all the more.  Practice a bit of Spanish and you will find they will open up even more and be eager to help you if needed.

Costa Rican’s have a higher than average life expectancy of 79 years of age.  The Nicoya Peninsula is known to have a high concentration of people who are over 100!  Maybe it’s the laid back lifestyle and healthy diet that results in longevity.

‘Pura Vida’ is the Tico philosophy. It translates as ‘Pure Life’ but can also be used as a greeting or a farewell or even a thank you.  If someone asks how you are doing, Pura Vida as the answer means that things are going well – so you can see it has a few connotations, but all are positive.

Costa Rica is a very progressive and peaceful country. After a brief civil war the Army was abolished in 1948, instead the Government invested in the protection of national parks and reserves which account for over 25% of Costa Rica’s land.  Costa Rican’s are known for their love of nature and wildlife and they are invested in their country, its wildlife and also the ecosystem.



The Boruca tribe of about 2700 individuals live in the Puntarenas area of Costa Rica. Theirs was one of the first reservations established in the country for its indigenous people.  They are known for their weaving and colourful hand carved masks which are made for the ‘Fiesta de los Diablos’.  The festival depicts the fight between the Boruca Indians and the Spanish conquistadors.  The Boruca are depicted as devils and the Spanish as bulls – the beautiful and ornate masks are sought after souvenirs.


The Bribri tribe live in the mountains and coastal areas of southern Costa Rica, they are the original inhabitants of Talamanca. There are four different Bribri reservations in total.  Approximately 11,500 Bribri Indians live on the reserves but it is estimated that their true population is around 35,000.  The Bribri are relatively self-sufficient and grow their own crops.  They are amongst the most isolated of the indigenous tribes of Costa Rica and as such have maintained their language and culture.


The Cabécar is one of the largest of the Indigenous groups, and also the most isolated. To reach them requires a long hike up in the Chirripo Mountains.  As they are so isolated they do not have access to many of the things we might take for granted.  They are very traditional people and have preserved their culture.  They mainly speak their own language rather than Spanish.


Found in southern Costa Rica, along the Panama border, the Guaymí (also known as the Ngäbe) first came to Costa Rica from Panama in the 1950s.  They rely on agriculture as their main source of income growing bananas, rice, beans, corn etc.


The Heutar are found in the Central Valley in Ciudad Colon and Puriscal. They are mostly known for their handwoven baskets and straw hats.


The Maleku Indians number about 600 people. Their Reserve is about an hour north of La Fortuna but prior to Spanish colonisation, their territory included the Arenal volcano and Rio Celeste.  They are now working towards buying back their land from the government.  They are striving to preserve their language, at present only about 300 people speak it.


Also known as the Chorotega, the Matambú Indians live in the Guanacaste region. They originally fled to Costa Rica in 500AD to escape slavery in Mexico.  Historically they were powerful and fought hard against the Spanish.  Today however, they are peaceful and known for their agriculture, ceramics and pottery.


There are only around 600 Térraba Indians. They are relatively self sustaining, growing enough produce to fee the reservation.  Nowadays, only the elders speak the Térraba language, so unfortunately, it is dying out.