Costa Rica: What’s In a Name?

When you hear the name Costa Rica, what comes to mind?

For most, the name Costa Rica evokes images of pristine rainforest, white sand beaches, and friendly, laid-back locals. While you can find all of these things in Costa Rica in abundance, the nation’s name was intended to invoke something quite different by the man who named it. Join us in diving into the fascinating history of how Costa Rica got its name and, of course, how you can have more historical and cultural experiences on your Costa Rica vacation.

Who Named Costa Rica? 

Believe it or not, Spanish was not the first language spoken in Costa Rica. There’s evidence that indigenous people lived and thrived within the modern borders of Costa Rica for at least 10,000 years. In fact, there were several major indigenous tribes here, each with their own language. You can still find elements of Boruca, Guatusos, and Cabecares culture in local folk music, art, and cuisine, but these people did not give their home the name we call it today.

So who did?

As with many other countries in the New World, is was the Spanish who named Costa Rica. Just as Christopher Columbus is credited with being the first European to see what would become the United States, he was also the first to bring back tales of his experiences in Costa Rica. During his very last voyage to “The West Indies,” he was greeted by a group of natives. Columbus noticed the golden jewelry that adorned their noses and ears and took this scene with him back to Spain, inspiring the name Costa Rica.

What Does Costa Rica Mean? 

Costa Rica. It rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it? It’s meaning is “Rich Coast,” and that’s exactly what Gil Davila, the first Spaniard to attempt to settle the area, was hoping for. The name did not, however, prove to be true. At least, not in the way that it was intended.

Costa Rica turned out to be a poorly-performing colony for the Spanish empire. It was one of the most difficult to settle and had the least influence with the Crown. Despite the fact that Davila returned to Spain with an impressive collection of gold and other treasures, settlers had a difficult time merely eking out a living in its resistant jungles. To add to the difficulty, there weren’t nearly as many natural resources to exploit as Davila originally thought.

In the eyes of the Spanish, Costa Rica wasn’t very rich after all.

We, however, think the Spanish simply weren’t looking in the right places. We have plenty of natural resources. They’re just better experienced in person. Today, Costa Rica is one of the most sought-after eco-travel destinations in the world. Its biodiversity is extensive for its relatively tiny size, and much of its rainforests are protected from development. Those very same jungles that repelled all efforts to tame this land helped create the rich culture of local people and are the crown jewel of a Costa Rica vacation today.

How to Learn More Costa Rican History and Culture 

Want more Costa Rica historical and cultural experiences? The best way to learn is to come see us! From museums and historical sites to folk music and events, Costa Rica Star Villas is your guide to everything Costa Rica. Here are just a few of the experiences we’d be happy to set up for you.

Learn Spanish in Tamarindo

Want to learn the meaning behind other Costa Rica places and sayings? Take a language class. Tamarindo is the best place to kick off your Costa Rican adventure with a Spanish lesson or two. Several schools in the area offer either quick introductions or extended courses designed to help you soak up the language, complete with our local Tico flair. Many locals speak English so learning Spanish isn’t necessary to get around in Costa Rica, but it is the perfect way to immerse yourself in local culture.

Chock full of both Spanish and indigenous culture, Tamarindo is the perfect travel hub for Guanacaste’s northern peninsula. It’s a popular place to begin a Costa Rica vacation, and you’ll have the chance to meet many of your fellow travelers if you wish. Want to be close to your profesor de Español? Check out our Tamarindo Villas. [Link to Tamarindo villas, when page is built]

See Indigenous Art in Playa del Coco 

Whether you’re looking to bathe in the beauty of local artwork or take home a one of-a-kind souvenir to remember your trip, the Rojas Bros Boruca Indigenous Art & Gallery in Playa Del Coco is the place to be. Colorful plant seeds delicately strung together into necklaces, elaborately carved and painted masks, and hand-woven cloth are all created by local artisans. They’re all on display here, and many are available for sale as well.

Want to be close to this award-winning museum? Check out our Villas in Playa del Coco

Experience Local Cuisine right in your Villa 

Traditional and regional cuisine can be found all over Costa Rica. But believe it or not, you don’t even have to leave you accommodations to experience some of the best Arroz con Pollo and Gallo Pinto you’ve ever had! That is, if you book your stay with Costa Rica Star Villas. Every one of our villas comes with the option to have an experienced private chef produce custom menus for your entire group. Make every meal both easy and delicious during your stay.

Or try your hand at Costa Rican cuisine in your private villa kitchen. We’d be happy to arrange groceries, supplies, and a knowledgeable chef to teach you how to cook like a Tico.


Can’t wait to experience the culture of Costa Rica? We don’t blame you. That’s why we make it so easy to book your stay – plus any tours, excursions, transportation, and additional services. Call us today to get started.

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