Indigenous peoples in Costa Rica

With a population of 104,143 people divided between eight different ethnic groups, indigenous peoples account for 2.5% of the country’s total population of around 4.5 million.

Of the 104,143 people who self-identify as indigenous, 78,073 state that they belong to one of the country's eight indigenous peoples while the rest do not specify their belonging.

Seven of these groups speak languages that are of Chibchense origin.

These groups are the:

  • Huetar in Quitirrisí and Zapatón
  • Maleku in Guatuso
  • Bribri in Salitre, Cabagra, Talamanca Bribri and Kekoldi
  • Cabécar in Alto Chirripó, Tayni, Talamanca Cabécar, Telire and China Kichá, Bajo Chirripó, Nairi Awari and Ujarrás
  • Brunca in Boruca and Rey Curré
  • Ngöbe in Abrojos Montezuma, Coto Brus, Conte Burica, Altos de San Antonio and Osa
  • Teribe in Térraba

And one group speak a language that is of Meso-American origin:

  • Chorotega in Matambú

Indigenous territories 

The indigenous territories continue to be invaded by non-indigenous persons and the organisations designated to administer them lack legitimacy as they do not correspond to the traditional power structures. Quite the contrary, the forms and structures of these associations are alien to indigenous culture and were imposed on them more than three decades ago.

Almost 6% of the national area of Costa Rica is made up of 24 indigenous territories, covering a total of 3,344 km2. Some 48,500 people live on the 24 indigenous territories, of whom 35,943 are indigenous and the rest (25.9%) not. The situation is even more alarming in the Southern Zone of the country where levels of non-indigenous encroachment have reached between 50% and 90%. The right to consultation continues to be denied.

Discrimination and Social Exclusion

The indigenuos peoples continue to be discriminated against and suffer higher levels of social exclusion, in addition to less public investment than other sectors. 


Costa Rica is one of the few countries on the continent that does not constitutionally recognise its ethnic and cultural diversity. It ratified ILO Convention 169 two decades ago but this does not mean that indigenous rights have been recognised, nor that the legislative changes required by the Convention have been made.

Costa Rica also voted in favour of adopting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007.

Yearly Update

Download the 2016 yearbook article on indigenous peoples in Costa Rica to learn about major developments and events during 2015.