Popular Sports in Costa Rica

Popular Sports in Costa Rica
Photo: Paolo Giocoso/Grand Tour/Grand Tour/Corbis

Costa Ricans are a proud bunch, especially when it comes to their sports teams. The national pastime, soccer (a.k.a. fútbol), was huge even before the 2014 World Cup team advanced to the quarter-finals and became national heroes. Now it’s all anybody talks about. Beyond that, Ticos love a good bullfight (not to mention a cockfight or a dogfight, which are both very bloody and very illegal), and they’re slowly realizing that the ocean is a fun place to play, be it with a surf board, a stand-up paddleboard, or a fishing pole. Hiking doesn’t make the list because arguably it is not a sport, but there’s obviously plenty sporting activity to be had in Costa Rica’s vast national park system, which takes up 25 percent of its land. Zip-lining, mountain biking, canyoning, and white-water rafting are all widely popular, particularly among tourists. Although the price is sometimes absurdly high, these outdoor sports can be found across the country.

Soccer Games

The national pastime here is soccer, and at the 2014 World Cup, Costa Rica’s team—La Sele—made it farther in the tournament than ever before, defeating a number of the top teams on the planet to do so. During your visit, check to see if there will be any regional games going on at the National Stadium, a giant, clam-shaped venue gifted to the Ticos by China.


The Tico bullfight is more like a rodeo, in that the bulls aren’t slain and (arguably crazy) men often ride them. Oh, and spectators can also choose to climb into the ring, Pamplona-style. These events take place all over the country at seasonal fiestas, and the largest one of the year—Zapote—is sort of like the Costa Rican Super Bowl. Young children grow up learning about a bull named Malacrianza, the most famous in the country for his tendency not only to toss riders, but to kill them.

Surfing and Stand-Up Paddleboarding

The movie Endless Summer 2 came out in 1994 and featured Costa Rica’s Pacific beaches, and the country has never been the same. It’s entirely normal now to see people tossing their boards on the backs of vans at the airport and setting out for Tamarindo, Pavones, Jacó, Santa Teresa, Puerto Viejo, and many other hot surf spots. More recently, stand-up paddleboarding has caught the interest of some former surfers, and Costa Rica recently competed in its first world championship.

Nature Sports: Zip-Lining, Mountain Biking, White-Water Rafting

Costa Rica is easily the adventure sports capital of Central America, and maybe of all the Americas. If zip-lining was any more ubiquitous, I’d probably be taking a zip-line to work every morning. Mountain biking is also getting super popular in Guanacaste, particularly among Ticos who participate in national competitions. And for the record, the Pacuare is one badass river to raft.

Sport Fishing

Sport fishing isn’t quite as popular as it used to be, but tell that to the marinas full of fishing boat captains in Quepos, Playa Herradura, and the Papagayo Peninsula. Salty (mostly) male travelers come from all over the world to fish off the country’s Pacific shore, where they can snag blue marlin, sailfish, wahoo, and more.

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