Indigenous communities and reserves are great places to discover authentic Costa Rican culture because they offer a multitude of unique experiences with their elaborate festivals, celebrations and traditions. There are about 110,000 (2.5% of the population) indigenous peoples in Costa Rica located throughout the country on a total of 22 reserves. Two indigenous groups in particular stand out in terms of cultural uniqueness:
The Boruca reserve, in southern Costa Rica has become a popular destination with rural tourists in recent years. The Boruca tribe is small with approximately 2,660 people and the reserve is one of the first reservations established in Costa Rica. They are famous for their fabric arts and elaborately decorated masks which are used in their celebration of the “Fiesta de los Diablos” – Day or Festival of the Devils. This is a three day festival that reenacts the battle between the Brouca Indians (the devils) and the Spanish conquistadors (depicted as Bulls).
The Bribri tribe (southern Atlantic) live in the Talamanca Canton in Limón Province and the exact population is unknown but estimated to be from 11,000 to 35,000.The Bribri have a social structure organized in clans and they are among the few indigenous in Central America to have kept their religious myths intact, transmitted from one generation to another through the tales of the elders. Their unique art work and mythology are prevalent in the elaborate festivals and religious celebrations.
Other areas in Costa Rica also have distinctive local cultures. For example the peoples around Santa Cruz on the Nicoya Peninsula are known for their intricate work in pottery still unitizing methods and design that have been used for over 1,000 years. This pre-Columbian style pottery is the work of the Chorotegas – one of the main indigenous groups of Costa Rica.
Another distinctive region is in the northwest province of Guanacaste. The campesinos (country folk) of this area have a unique blend of indigenous culture with a Spanish cowboy flavor. Their festivals and celebration are a colorful, lively and frequent.
Getting off the beaten path is an exciting way to see and experience Costa Rican culture. You may find yourself winding through narrow mountain trails, or reaching little traveled regions by boat taxi or even horseback, this is all part the adventure but you can be assured of one thing, taking the road less traveled is the most rewarding.