In San José, as well as in the rest of Costa Rica, there is a vast cultural diversity. Throughout Costa Rican history, waves of immigrants have added to the pre-Hispanic native populations, settling on this land and making it their home. The people of Costa Rica are complex and full of surprises.
Costa Rican culture is in many ways a reflection of its racial diversity. The predominant influence has long been European, which is reflected in everything from the official language (Spanish) to the architecture of the country's churches and other historic buildings. The indigenous influence is less visible, but can be found in everything from the tortillas that make part of a typical Costa Rican meal, to the handmade ceramics sold at roadside stands. Some of the native people in Costa Rica are the Bribri, Cabécar, Maleku, Teribe, Boruca, Ngöbe, Huetar, and Chorotega.
Presently, in addition to the majority Mestizo demographic, there are several colonial and national immigrant ethnicities that have reestablished their unique cultural heritage like African descendants, Chinese, Hebrews, Libanese, Italians, etc.
An important aspect of Costa Rica's cultural legacy is their love for peace and democracy. Costa Ricans are proud to have had more than a century of democratic tradition and more than 50 years without a military. The money the country saves by not spending in military issues is invested in improving the Costa Ricans' standard of living, which has fostered a culture of social peace that makes it such a pleasant place to visit.
Costa Ricans, also known as “Ticos,” are famous for being very hospitable people and they would like to keep this reputation. They are well-mannered and hard working, always willing to offer a smile and a handshake to people. As the capital of the country, San Jose also represents the capital of culture and amusement. It offers a series of places for all family members to enjoy: museums, theaters, cinemas, and recreation centers.
Among the most relevant landmarks in San José are the following. The National Theater with its imposing, gothic architecture and performances that include every art gender; the Gold Museum, which will show you Pre Columbian, Costa Rican art; the National Museum, which will let you travel through Costa Rica’s history; and the Children’s Museum, which will guide you through an interactive learning adventure for all the family, applied with innovative devices on each subject, to learn while you play.
By the standards of a developed country, Costa Rican incomes are very low, but when compared to other neighbors, salaries and earnings prove to be much better. Besides the poor and middle classes, there is an upper class, which is very elitist. As in other countries, this class is composed by both traditionally rich families as well as by "nouveau riche" families.
Costa Rica is also homogenous when it comes to social classes. Most of the population can be placed in a middle-class, and even though extreme poverty exists, it's not as large a problem as it is in other Latin American countries.
Most of the Ticos are very conservative individuals who do not usually welcome "strange" or different ideas. The country's economy and industry have grown incredibly in the past years, but the culture still retains conservative tendencies. Some negative aspects that according to foreigners portray Costa Rican culture are the lacking of initiative and being too passive. Foreigners also complain about the lack of punctuality and of quick decision-making. However, the positive aspects of the Tico identity are the friendliness and hospitality that most people transmit. Costa Ricans are also extremely social, and they enjoy gatherings and celebrations of all sorts.
One aspect of Costa Rican culture must be treated separately from others is "machismo". The machista way of thinking is shared to some extent by most men and women, although it is not as extreme as in other Latin American countries. While machismo has its negative aspects, it also has its advantages, and is often used by most local women to their advantage.
Finally, when talking about culture, one must not forget the topic of religion. Even though 90% of the country is Catholic, many people do not practice this religion very actively. Ever since colonial times, the Catholic institution has not exerted a powerful influence either politically or culturally. Most Costa Rican Catholics view their religion more as a tradition than as a practice or even a faith.
Many foreigners have fallen in love with the country and the culture of Costa Rica. The main characteristic of the culture seems to be moderation, as opposed to other countries that offer a culture full of extremes and excesses. Some might consider this the reason many foreigners have chosen the country as a travel destination, or as a permanent residence.