Last updated on April 18th, 2021 at 02:06 pm EST
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Why do I love Costa Rica so much? Because of its kind, humble, and hardworking people.
It’s noon in Costa Rica, and papá, my 91-year-old Costa Rican abuelo (grandfather), is sipping hot coffee unhurriedly from his Saprissa mug. (Short for Deportivo Saprissa, Saprissa is one of Costa Rica’s provincial fútbol squads and the beloved team of many Costa Ricans, papá included.) On the wooden front porch of a modest home set in a rural community, he sits silently and savors the drink’s robust aroma and flavor as delicately as a savvy connoisseur. Though papá has consumed coffee—Costa Rica’s quintessential beverage—every day for years, he hasn’t yet grown tired of its taste. It’s warm, familiar, and as comforting as the feeling of home.
This pleasant scene wherein papá kicks back with café (coffee) paints a nice picture of what a retiree’s golden years could look like in Costa Rica, complete with time spent outdoors, some watching and waving to neighbors and passersby, and ample opportunities to relish life’s simplest pleasures. But papá isn’t retired; he’s not even close. The time he devotes to enjoying coffee each day is merely a break from his routine, which involves performing various physically demanding tasks around the house. Some mornings he’s out back cultivating vegetables or cacao (chocolate pods) in the yard. One afternoon, we spotted him preparing concrete for a new footpath. In the days leading up to Christmas, a celebration marked by togetherness, tradition, and tamales in Costa Rica, he’s busy cutting, cleaning, folding, and selling several kilograms of banana leaves to local matriarchs who cook with the leaves when preparing holiday meals. In a word, papá is unstoppable.
Despite the collection of candles that tops his birthday cake and pleas from his family to relax, the labor-loving elder cannot seem to withdraw from hard work. It’s what motivates him to keep moving regardless of his weakening muscles and slowing pace.
One thing I’ve learned from exploring Costa Rica over the past fourteen years and literally marrying into the local culture is that papá isn’t an anomaly. I’ve encountered more hardworking, relentless, and resilient people in this country than I ever knew existed.
In my own familial and social circles in Costa Rica, there are single moms and single dads working to raise multiple children. There are children who work alongside their parents to help provide for their siblings. There are people who work several jobs in order to afford to care for their elders. There are people who rise early so they can cook the day’s meals and clean their house before leaving home to perform paying jobs. There are people who ride the bus to and from their place of work each day for more hours than the duration of their shift. There are people who walk for hours each day because their place of work isn’t accessible by car or public transit. Beyond everyone I know here, there are countless others I haven’t yet met who I’m sure don’t have it easy. Most Ticos (Costa Ricans) make less than a third of what’s considered minimum wage in North American countries. Most Ticos also don’t live with the luxuries that you and I may be quick to deem necessities. Regardless, many Ticos are the happiest people I’ve ever met.
Ricky and I are very fortunate that our work projects (Pura Vida! eh? Inc., the Costa Rica Travel Blog, DIY Costa Rica, and Moon Costa Rica) send us all over Costa Rica. Though it’s always a treat to spend time at fascinating destinations, it’s the opportunity we get to meet new and interesting people that makes our work a dream come true, not just a job that we do.
Through our business, we’ve met and formed friendships with countless influential Ticos, from struggling artists to tour guides-in-training to busy entrepreneurs. We’ve met people who, during tragic natural disasters, lost homes and loved ones but are working to rebuild their community. Other people we’ve encountered devote time and energy to protecting what isn’t directly theirs, such as Costa Rica’s precious land and wildlife. Nearly everywhere we walk, climb, pedal, paddle, or drive, we find inspiration in someone new, a determined individual like papá who works tirelessly in Costa Rica, usually with a smile on his or her face and to an end that’s considered more valuable than money.
When you’re constantly surrounded by people who commit to their jobs, prioritize family, remain close to their friends, appreciate what they have, give generously without expecting something in return, and work (for the most part) without complaint, it becomes second nature to want the same. This is why I love Costa Rica: Its people inspire me to be and do better. As a result of embodying the Tico way, I live happier, I love more boldly, and I work toward meaningful ends. If you think I work for a paycheck, here’s a reality check: When you’re blessed with employment that permits you to do what you love, and what you love teaches you humility, you’re rich enough.
My wish for you, Costa Rica traveler…
If you’re in the process of planning a vacation to Costa Rica, you’re probably inundated with reasons to visit, including bountiful waterfalls and national parks; varied ecosystems and wildlife; active volcanoes and soothing hot springs; pristine beaches and spectacular surf; and plenty more. Ricky and I have experienced much of what you desire—the adventure, the nature, and the relaxation—but what we love most about Costa Rica is its people. Regardless of what draws you here, be sure to get to know some Ticos during your stay, whether they be tour guides, drivers, hotel employees, restaurant staff, parking lot attendants, or other kind souls. It’s their hard work and perseverance that makes Costa Rica the beautiful, welcoming, peaceful place that it is.
Our photo gallery of friendly Ticos (Costa Ricans)
Have a few seconds to spare? Take a peek at our photo gallery below which shows Ricky and I with some of the awesome Ticos we’ve met along our travels. We’re proud to call the group of fun and humble folks our friends. 🙂
QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: What do you love best about Costa Rica?