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HomeTopicsArts and CultureDiscover Tiquicia: A Glimpse into Costa Rican Culture

Discover Tiquicia: A Glimpse into Costa Rican Culture

Costa Rica, affectionately known as Tiquicia by its residents, is a country with rich traditions and quirks that make it truly unique. From the playful bombas – witty rhyming couplets exchanged at festivities – to the lively bull-teasing events that draw enthusiastic crowds, Costa Ricans celebrate life with infectious joy and humor.

To fully immerse yourself in the Costa Rican way of life, one must navigate the labyrinthine central markets, decipher the colorful Tico colloquialisms, and embrace the laid-back “Tico Time” that governs all aspects of life in this enchanting Central American nation.

Here are just a few of the traditions and idiosyncrasies of Tiquicia to help make your time in Costa Rica even more enjoyable.


Bomba can mean a service station, a pump or a bomb. But that’s not all. Another bomba is an earthy, sometimes amorous couplet or four-line rhyme. Heard throughout the country, they are deeply rooted in Guanacaste’s cowboy culture. Bombas are part of every festivity. People try to “outbomba” each other with a funnier, more sexual or downright rude rhyme invented especially for the occasion or on the spot.


“Bullfighting” in Tiquicia is actually bull “teasing.” The bull is never killed but is taunted by throngs of agile young men and an occasional woman. The cocky improvisados, improvised bullfighters, run around the ring shouting and waving brightly colored shirts and caps. When the bull charges, they head for safety and vault over the barriers in the nick of time. These popular events, part of many local carnivals, are often televised nationally.

Cafecito, Anyone?

Coffee, once the backbone of Costa Rica’s economy, has taken a back seat to tourism. Nevertheless, the tasty coffee grown in the highlands on rich volcanic soil is justifiably world-renowned and remains the staff of life for Ticos.

Central Markets

Every major city has one, and you can find food, flowers, leather goods, knickknacks and almost anything your heart desires. A maze of stalls and typical restaurants, these markets date back to when farmers brought their goods to town by oxcart. The crowded, narrow aisles also attract adept pickpockets, so watch your wallet. A great way to start your day in San José is to head for the Central Market (Av. 1/Ctrl., Ca. 6/8), have breakfast in one of the sodas (family-run eateries) and plan your activities for the day.

Cimarronas and Mascaradas

Cimarronas, which means “wild,” are Tico bands with trumpets, saxophones, trombones, cymbals and big drums. At festivals and parades they accompany the mascaradas (clowns) who support on their shoulders enormous papier-mâché heads depicting animals, devils, giants and famous personalities.

Dichos: Tico Colloquialisms

While a few books are dedicated to tiquismos, Costa Rican slang, you won’t find them in most regular Spanish dictionaries. But Ticos will be happy to explain that adiós! means “hi” unless you’re leaving for a long time, in which case it means “good-bye.” ¿Upe? Is anybody home? A chunche (thing) can refer to almost anything, and if you are going to Chepe, you’re off to San José. It’s all pura vida and tuanis mae, or super and cool, buddy.

Directions, Tico Style

Who said they are confusing? There’s nothing difficult about trying to find a place that’s 300 meters south and 50 meters west of the fig tree that fell down 10 years ago! First, get down to basics. Buy a compass. Next, remember that 100 meters is equivalent to one block and 50 meters is about halfway down the street.

Also, know that street numbers and names are rarely visible. It’s good to remember that city streets (calles) run one way (north-south) and avenues (avenidas) run perpendicular to them. Numbers east of Calle Central are odd and numbers west are even. Numbers north of Avenida Central are odd; numbers south are even. Buildings are known by name or color. Your best bet is to ask for directions and write them down. If in doubt, take a taxi, but give the driver directions “Tico style” to avoid confusion.

Don & Doña

These respectful titles precede first names to address anyone from the president, doña Laura, to the owner of the corner store, don Rafa.

Farmers Markets

Ferias are held on Saturdays or Sundays throughout the country, including in San José’s neighborhoods. The fun starts around 5 a.m. when farmers arrive with their bounty of fresh, cheap produce. Friendly vendors are happy to chat about the exotic tropical fruits, explain how to cook weird-looking veggies or offer you a sample of their cheese. Freshly squeezed juice, coffee and breakfast treats are also on hand.

Festejos Patronales or Turnos

Ticos love to pachanguear (party), and virtually every month there’s a carnival to celebrate a patron saint’s day. The custom dates back to colonial times and brings together everyone for religious services, merrymaking and to raise funds for community projects. Turnos, fun for the whole family, offer soccer matches, cabalgatas or topes (horse parades), games, music, dancing and typical food. They are usually relatively tourist free.

Livin’ & Lovin’

Ticos, amorous by nature, often show public displays of affection. Hand-holding and passionate embraces are acceptable and often seen on buses, street corners and in parks.

Names, Last and Last Again

All Ticos tack both their fathers’ and mothers’ last names to their given names. The first apellido, or surname, is the principal one and comes from their father. The second apellido comes from their mother. People are identified by both names, and women keep their own last name when they marry.


Ticos are known for their good humor and are surprisingly straightforward about race and physical characteristics. “Gorda” or “Gordo” (fatty) are common endearments among friends and family, as are “Flaca” or “Flaco” (skinny) and “Negro” or “Negra.” Anyone with slanted eyes is referred to as “China” or “Chino.”

Oxcarts and Oxen

Symbols of the nation. In 2006, UNESCO declared Costa Rica’s oxcarts a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. These colorful wooden carts pulled by teams of stately oxen played a crucial role in the country’s economy by hauling coffee from the mountain slopes to the port of Puntarenas.

The oxcarts, with their intricate hand-painted designs, have become a source of pride, and their cultural/historical significance is celebrated at the annual Oxcart Parade in San José and at many other festivals including an annual parade (second Sunday in March) in San Antonio de Escazú, where there is also a monument to the oxcart driver. In Sarchí, where oxcarts are made in every size, you can also see the world’s largest oxcart.


Comments made by men to women on the street can be yelled, hissed or said innocently in passing. Many are flattering, like guapa (pretty) and reina (queen). But others can be vulgar or sexually offensive. Whether you are flattered or offended by piropos, you can’t stop them, so dress appropriately and keep moving.

“Suicide” Showers

Hot-water tanks are a rarity in middle-class homes and cheaper hotels. Never fear, hot water’s there. It comes from an electrical contraption that heats water in the showerhead. These are known as “suicide showers” by many foreigners, but they work well. Just remember, the slower the flow, the hotter the water.

Tico Time

This drives visitors crazy. It means events never start on time and could be more than an hour later than scheduled. If you arrive for dinner or a party on time, you’ll likely find your hosts totally unprepared. Expats usually specify hora gringa, meaning be punctual. When doing business, remember “ahora” (now) = in a little while, and “ahorita” (soon) = anything from minutes to hours. You’re in Tiquicia, so be patient, take a book and relax.

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