The People

Its population of 4.6 million puts it in the same population range as Ireland or the state of Alabama with about 1/3 of its inhabitants living in its capital city, San José. With many Costa Rican's having blended backgrounds, the Costa Rican population covers a broad spectrum of skin color. Current ethnicity statistics report the following: Whites and mestizos (people of mixed European and native Indian heritage) make up a 94% of the population, people of African heritage make up 3%, Amerindians (indigenous peoples of the Americas) make up 1% and Chinese ethnicity account for 1%.

Ticos, as Costa Ricans are gladly called, speak Spanish. Less common in Costa Rica, you can also hear varied tribal languages among the Amerindians and a Jamaican patois language along the Caribbean coastline considered Creole-English.

The vast majority of Costa Ricans claim a Christian faith with 75% Roman Catholic, 14% Evangelical Christian and 1.5% Jehovah's Witness. Costa Rican president Laura Chinchilla is Catholic and considered a social conservative. She was an active supporter of the "March for Life and Family" which was organized by a coalition of church leaders with a stated mission of opposition to legalized of abortion and same sex marriage.

Woven into the Tico culture, land and attitude is the nation's favorite expression: "pura vida" which translates to "pure life" or "the good life." The good life in Costa Rica comes with an average life expectancy of 79 years and a 94% literacy rate. With more travelers discovering its "pura vida" reputation, Costa Rica is drawing an increasing number of retirees from the United States, Canada and Europe calling Costa Rica home.

Refugee immigration to Costa Rica, particularly from distressed neighbor Nicaragua, is also increasing with many settling illegally. These immigrants are happy to join an economy that sees the average Tico earning about $540/month. Estimates are that 10% of the population is now Nicaraguan. Like many nations, however, Costa Rica's annual population growth rate of its citizenry has slowed. The 2011estimated population growth rate was 1.308% compared with 3.8% in the 1960s.

Currently, as in the past 20 years, 20% of the population falls below the poverty line. This kind of financial pressure increases the difficulties of raising a family. Pockets of contrasting shanty towns and precarios (squatter villages) consisting of scrap material houses, sporadically appear in Costa Rica's larger cities.

Now and historically, many Costa Ricans turn to drugs and alcohol as an escape. According to the national alcoholism and drug dependency agency IAFA, some 620,000 Costa Ricans struggle with alcohol abuse. Fully a quarter of a million can be described as "alcoholics." Costa Rica often serves as a midway warehouse from Columbia to Mexican drug cartels. Being in plentiful supply, crack and regular cocaine have become the nation's drugs of choice. The results have been devastating to marriages, and the children living under it.

Child prostitution has been a growing segment of Costa Rica's large tourism industry. Sex trafficking and child prostitution are spurred on by existing poverty a middle class gap. Many of Costa Rica's 8,000 street children are lured into child prostitution by earnings guarantees and end up being sexually exploited.

This activity also contributes to the nations 20% of births coming from mothers under the age of eighteen as well as the 9,700 people in Costa Rica (mostly concentrated in the San José area) infected with HIV as reported by UNAIDS and the World Health Organization.

The Corruption Perception Index (CPI) finds Costa Rica at number 50 out of 182 nations. Nicaragua faired the worst in the region at 134. Other nations included: Honduras at 129, Guatemala at 120, Panama in at 86, and 80 for El Salvador. While Costa Rica stands out as the most honest member of the neighborhood, New Zealanders or Swedes, who scored highest, might frown on the frequency of quick transactions that can undo speeding tickets and sweeteners that make inspectors or regulators look away.