Costa Ricans, who call themselves “Ticos,” love soccer, peace and pura vida. Used to greet friends and say farewell, pura vida means “pure life” or “full of life.” This simple phrase seems to embody the Ticos’ philosophy of celebrating good fortunes -- big and small -- along with strong community and family ties.

Costa Rica sometimes is referred to as the “Switzerland of Central America,” a reference to its strong democracy and reputation for political stability. The Ticos abolished their army in 1948, and military money was diverted to improving the lives of the citizens. Today, Costa Rica’s well-educated population enjoys a relatively high standard of living.

Before the Spaniards arrived in search of gold, indigenous Indian tribes inhabited this fertile stretch of land, spanning 200 miles from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. One aspect of that culture is preserved in the capital, San Jose, at the Jade Museum, which showcases the largest pre-Columbian jade collection in the Americas.

In modern-day Costa Rica, the national sport is soccer and a favorite pastime is breaking the waves; surfers dominate beaches along the Pacific Ocean. Famous for its rich, shade-grown coffee, Costa Rica also is a major producer of pineapples and bananas. Known as the “Big Three,” Del Monte, Dole and Chiquita are primary exporters. From Puerto Limon, excursions to the capital city of San Jose usually include a ride on the “banana train” to the banana-growing district, where people can get a glimpse of this important industry.  

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