Costa Rica was the meeting point of Mesoamerican and South American indigenous cultures. The northwestern part of the country, the Nicoya Peninsula, was the southernmost point of Nahuatl cultural influence when the Spanish conquistadores arrived in the 16th century. The central and southern parts of the country were under the influence of the Chibcha. The Atlantic coast, on the other hand, was settled by African workers in the 17th and 18th centuries.
As a result of the immigration of Spaniards, the Spanish culture of the 16th century and its development continue to shape daily life and culture to this day, with the Spanish language and the Catholic religion being the main influences.
The Department of Culture, Youth and Sport is responsible for the promotion and coordination of cultural life. The work of the department is divided into the Directorate of Culture, Fine Arts, Performing Arts, Music, Heritage and the Library System. Permanent programmes, such as the National Symphony Orchestra of Costa Rica and the Youth Symphony Orchestra, are a combination of two areas of work: Culture and Youth.
Dance-oriented genres such as soca, salsa, bachata, merengue, cumbia and Costa Rican swing are more popular with older people than with younger ones. The guitar is popular, especially for accompanying folk dances, but the marimba has become the national instrument.
“Pura Vida” is the best-known phrase attached to Costa Ricans, and it reflects the Costa Rican way of life. Often, people walking down the street or buying groceries in shops greet you with “Pura Vida“, which means “pure life” or “good life”. This can be phrased as a question or an acknowledgement of someone’s presence. A recommended response to “How are you?” would be “Pura Vida“.
Costa Rican cuisine is a mixture of indigenous, Spanish, African and many other origins. Dishes such as the very traditional tamale and many other corn-based dishes are very representative of the indigenous population and similar to those of other neighbouring Mesoamerican countries. The Spanish brought many new ingredients into the country from elsewhere, including spices and domestic animals. And later, in the 19th century, African flavours brought their presence along with the influence of other mixed Caribbean flavours. As a result, Costa Rican cuisine today is very diverse, with each new ethnic group that has recently arrived in the country influencing its cuisine.
Costa Rica first participated in the Summer Olympics in 1936 with fencer Bernardo de la Guardia and in the Winter Olympics for the first time in 1980 with skier Arturo Kinch. Costa Rica’s four Olympic medals were won by sisters Silvia and Claudia Poll in swimming, with Claudia winning the only gold medal in 1996.
Football is the most popular sport in Costa Rica. The national team has participated in four FIFA World Cups and reached the quarter-finals for the first time in 2014. Their best result in the CONCACAF Regional Gold Cup was second place in 2002. Paulo Wanchope, a striker who played for three English Premier League clubs in the late 1990s and early 2000s, is credited with improving the recognition of Costa Rican football abroad.