Cities in COSTA RICA

San jose

Geography and Landscape


Costa Rica (officially: República de Costa Rica) is a republic in Central America. The total area of the country is 51,100 km2, making Costa Rica the third smallest country on the American mainland. In some places, Costa Rica is less than 145 km wide and only 290 km long.

Costa Rica is bordered to the northwest by Nicaragua (309 km), to the southeast by Panama (330 km), to the west by the Pacific or Pacific Ocean and to the east by the Caribbean Sea. The coastline of Costa Rica has a total length of approximately 1300 km; The Caribbean coast is about 200 km long and the coast of the Pacific Ocean about 1100 km.

Costa Rica satellite photoCosta Rica satellite photoPhoto: Public domain

Some islands that belong to Costa Rica are Isla Chira (43 km2) in the Gulf of Nicoya, Isla Tortuga, Isla del Caño, Isla San Lucas and Isla Cabo Blanco. The Costa Rican territory also includes the uninhabited Isla del Coco (22 km2), which is located 532 km from the mainland in the Pacific Ocean.

The government of Costa Rica has legally designated approximately 11% of the land area as a nature reserve. These "parques nationales" and "reservas biológicas" are easily accessible and all ecosystems are represented here.


Small Costa Rica has an impressive, varied landscape. Much of the country consists of mountainous land. The most important element is the mountain range that cuts through the country from northwest to southeast and consists of the volcanic Cordillera de Guanacaste, the Cordillera de Tilarán, the Cordillera Central and in the south the Cordillera de Talamanca. Between the last chains is a central plateau, the Valle or Meseta Central; Most of the Costa Ricans also live here and the capital San Jose is located at an altitude of 1300 meters.

Parallel to the Cordillera Talamanca runs the coastal mountain range called Fila Costeña and in between lies the Valle Central. To the north of all these mountain ranges is a river-intersected lowland plain or "llanura". The rivers flow into the Río San Juan.

The coastal area along the Pacific is hilly, with small coastal plains, bays and peninsulas here and there.

Mount Chirripó, highest mountain in Costa RicaMount Chirripó, highest mountain in Costa RicaPhoto: Peter Andersen CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The mountain ranges are between 1500 and 4000 meters high, and the most impressive is the Cordillera Talamanca. Here is also the highest mountain in Costa Rica, the Cerro Chirripó with 3820 meters. To the east and west, the cordilleras slowly turn into tropical plains. The coastal strip in the east, the Caribbean Sea side, is very varied and consists of mangrove forest (including red mangrove and black, white, tea, and button mangrove), swamps, lagoons, rainforest and palm beaches. The jagged coastline in the west, the Pacific side, looks very different with savannah landscapes, forests, tropical rainforest and dark volcanic sand beaches.

Costa Rica has about 40 large and very many small rivers, which are often connected by channels in the Caribbean coastal plain. The province of Guanacaste is very rich in water, with many rivers that originate in the cordilleras and flow into the Gulf of Nicoya or the Río Tempisque. The Río Térraba, or the Río Grande de Térraba, is Costa Rica's longest river. It flows 195 km west to eventually flow into the Pacific Ocean. The second longest river is the Río Tempisque with 158 km in the province of Guanacaste. The Río San Juan is 135 km long and the Río Pacuare 133.5 km; they both flow into the Caribbean Sea.

Laguna de Arenal Costa RicaLaguna de Arenal Costa RicaPhoto: Grez CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The largest lake in Costa Rica is the Laguna de Arenal with an area of approximately 75 km2 and located at an altitude of approximately 550 meters. It used to be a small mountain lake, but the construction of a dam in the river Arenal created the current reservoir.

The swamps of Costa Rica can be divided into forest and palm swamps. The palm swamps consist of only one type of palm: the water palm or "yolilla".

The Parque Nacional Barra Honda is intersected by limestone cliffs. Over millions of years, the rain has created underground rivers, chambers and vaulted ceilings with spectacular stalactites and stalagmites.

Costa Rica has more than 30 nature reserves, and many have existed for decades. More than a fifth of its area has designated the country as a protected natural area - as a national park or biosphere reserve, as an Indian territory or as a region on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

As a result, Costa Rica has been discovered by ecotourism and is a great attraction for biologists.

Volcanoes and earthquakes

Arenal Volcano, Costa RicaArenal Volcano, Costa RicaPhoto: Ardyiii CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

The mountainous country in the north of Costa Rica is volcanic. The volcanoes that lie here are part of a whole series of volcanoes that extends from northern California to southern Chile.

Costa Rica mainly has stratovolcanoes with their well-known cone shape. The only volcano that still makes itself heard regularly is the 1,633 meter high Arenal, which spews out a cloud of glowing ash and grit several times a day under loud rumble. During periods of high activity, the frequency can be up to three eruptions per hour, weeks in a row. The Rincón de la Vieja (1,895 m), Poás (2704 m; Costa Rica's largest crater: 1.5 km in diameter and 300 m deep), Irazú (3,432 m, 488 m in diameter and 300 m deep) and Turrialba are dormant volcanoes with lava lakes, vapor sources and gas sources.

The former volcano is an amalgamation of several volcanoes. Nine craters have been identified on the mountain. Only one crater of these is still active.

Costa Rica is also located in a narrow area where very strong earthquakes occur, the so-called Pacific belt. Almost every year the country suffers from one or more small earthquakes.

The last major earthquake was on April 22, 1991 with a magnitude of 7.4 on the Richter scale near Limón on the Caribbean coast. The earthquake was followed by a gigantic tidal wave; dozens of people died and the infrastructure was badly damaged.

Climate and Weather

Storm clouds Costa RicaStorm clouds Costa RicaPhoto: Bernal Saborio CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

In general it can be said that Costa Rica has a subtropical to tropical climate with a dry season from December to April and a wet season from May to September. Due to its location near the equator, there are hardly any temperature differences at sea level. The temperature differences between the hottest and the coldest month do not exceed 4° C. The annual averages are on the coast at 26 to 27° C, at 1000 m altitude at approx. 20° C and at 3000 m altitude at 7 to 8° C.

The average annual precipitation vary between 2000 mm minimum and 4000 mm maximum. Strongly affected by trade winds and depressions in the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean coast receives significant rainfall all year round in the form of tropical downpours; more than 3000 mm on average and in the Barra del Colorado reserve in the north more than 6000 mm. Sometimes in a certain year there is between 8000 and 9000 mm. September and October are the driest months here.

The area along the Pacific coast has a dry and a wet season. In the northwest there is rainfall "only" between 1000-2000 mm per year ("tierra caliente") and between December and April there is hardly any rainfall and it is distinctly dry, hot and sunny. This is because the entire area is then in the rain shadow of the mountain ranges.

Sunset Costa RicaSunset Costa RicaPhoto: Kansasphoto CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Between 600 and 1650 meters is the temperate zone or "tierra templada", including the Meseta Central with the capital San José. The average minimum temperature there is 16.3° C and the average maximum temperature is 24.9° C. Annual rainfall is between 1600 and 2000 mm.

Areas between 2000 and 3300 meters form the "tierra fría", with temperatures of 10 to 16° C, especially in the higher parts of the Cordillera Central and the Cordillera de Talamanca. On the high peaks of the Cerro Chirripó and the Irazú volcano, the average temperature does not exceed 7° C. Snow rarely falls, but temperatures can drop below freezing.

Hurricanes crossing the Caribbean from the Atlantic Ocean usually pass through Costa Rica along its northern border. As a result, the country has relatively little to do with natural disasters compared to a number of neighboring countries. In the rainy season, however, there are occasional floods in the lower areas.

Plants and Animals


Guaria Morada orchid is Costa Rica's national flowerGuaria Morada orchid is Costa Rica's national flowerPhoto: MadriCR CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The plant world of Costa Rica is very extensive and varied. There are more than 12,000 different plant species and probably many unknown species still grow in remote areas. It is significant that no fewer than 1200 types of orchids are growing. Climate, soil conditions and altitude ensure the great diversity. Costa Rica's national flower is of course an orchid: the deep pink Guaria Morada.

The vegetation varies from tropical rainforest in the eastern lowlands to dry steppes in Guanacaste. The area of rainforest has been drastically reduced in recent decades and is now only found in fragmented areas, especially in the mountainous areas of the Cordillera de Talamanca, on the Osa peninsula and some parts of the Cordillera Central. The tropical rainforest is dominated by forest giants that can grow up to 60 meters high. Because the bright sun shines constantly on the crowns of these trees, there is a desert climate, as it were, in the tops of the trees. The trees have adapted to this situation through small, thick, leathery leaves. The shrub and herb layer is not much in the rainforest due to the lack of sun. Some common varieties that still grow here are arum and dewclaws.

Cloud forest Costa RicaCloud forest Costa RicaPhoto: Haakon S. Krohn CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The cloud forest thrives on the slopes of the cordilleras, where the warm rising air from the Caribbean lowlands condenses. Due to the very high humidity in these cloud forests, the plant growth is very abundant and varied. The trees of the cloud forest are somewhat smaller than those of the rainforest and the vegetation on the ground is very dense. A typical cloud forest tree is the copal with its peculiar shapes. Remarkable here are the ferns and lichen and beard mosses (epiphytes) that grow on the trees, including the well-known bromeliad, the "matapalos" or tree bugs (e.g. Ficus benjamina) and lianas. A notable herb on the ground floor is the Gunnera insignis or "sombrilla de pobre" ("umbrella of the poor") with enormous leaves. The Parque Nacional Braulio Carillo is Costa Rica's most extensive cloud forest; other areas are Poás, Tapantí and Monteverde.

In the relatively dry northwest of Costa Rica, the so-called "sabana" vegetation predominates, consisting of grasses, shrubs and rain-green forests with trees that generally do not exceed about 15 meters, including calabash, thorn acacia and olive oak. These deciduous trees lose their leaves in the dry season. But the rain-green forests are also under heavy pressure; many forests have been cleared to make way for livestock farms. They are found almost exclusively on the coastline of the Pacific Ocean and in Costa Rica these types of forests can only be found in the national parks of Guanacaste and scattered on the Nicoya Peninsula. Columnar cacti also thrive in this environment.

Guanacasta, Costa RicaGuanacasta, Costa RicaPhoto: Peloy (Allan H.M.) CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

A characteristic tree in this area is the unmistakable Guanacaste, a low tree with a spreading crown and bearing huge ear-shaped fruits. Another special tree species in the province of Guanacaste is the "palo verde", the green tree, family of the mimosa and never taller than nine meters and recognizable during the flowering period by its clusters of yellow flowers. Other notable plants are the calabash tree and the American balsam tree, recognizable by its reddish-brown, paper-thin bark and aromatic resin.

Above the tree line, from about 2800 meters, the páramo vegetation dominates. There is hardly any vegetation here, except for some low shrubs, mosses and grasses. This vegetation can be found on the Cerro de la Muerte, the Cerro Chirripó and the Irazú volcano. In the tropical forest of the Costa Central grows, among other things, the "manzanillo de playa", whose fruits, but especially the branches and leaves, contain a poisonous liquid.

La Amistad international park, Costa RicaLa Amistad international park, Costa RicaPhoto: Velorian at wts wikivoyage CC 1.0 Generic no changes made

The La Amistad National Park covers a significant part of the Cordillera de Talamanca. In total, this cross-border nature reserve covers 400,000 ha; slightly less than half is on Costa Rican soil. The area has different climatic zones, each with its own animal and plant world, about which little is known. Many of the more than 10,000 plant species that scientists have mapped are endemic and therefore do not occur anywhere else in the world. The same applies to a number of animal species. In 1983 UNESCO placed La Amistad on the World Heritage List.

La Amistad, together with the Chirripó and Cahuita National Parks, with a number of protected forest areas, animal reserves and buffer zones, form the Area de Conservación La Amistad.

The Reserva Biológica Lomas Barbudal is a small reserve, yet there are several plants that are rare in the rest of the country, including mahogany, Panama redwood, gonzalo alves, cortez amarillo and rosewood.

A common tree on the Caribbean coast is the bread tree, a descendant of the Southeast Asian bread tree. This species was introduced to the West Indies in 1793. From there it was brought from Jamaica to the province of Limón. The 20-meter-high evergreen tree has dark green, glossy leaves that can grow up to a meter in length.



Squirrel monkey, Costa RicaSquirrel monkey, Costa RicaPhoto: Lindadevolder CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The monkeys of Costa Rica are all great apes and related to the great apes of the Old World, such as gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans. The monkeys of the Old and New World, however, have been separated from each other for many millions of years and therefore developed differently. The monkeys of Latin America and therefore also of Costa Rica are all tree dwellers with a prehensile tail as a kind of fifth limb.

There are four species in Costa Rica that are scattered across the country: squirrel monkeys, howler monkeys, spider monkeys and capuchin monkeys.

Tooth-poor mammals such as armadillos, sloths and anteaters are common in Costa Rica.

The anteater family consists of three types: the giant anteater, the tamandua and the dwarf anteater.

Two types of sloth live in Costa Rica: the two-toed sloth and the three-toed sloth.

The nine-band armadillo is found all over Costa Rica and inhabits the most diverse ecosystems.

Feline predators evolved in North America and did not reach South and Central America until the isthmus between the Americas came into being. In addition to the well-known jaguar, the following felines also live in Costa Rica: puma, ocelot, margay, and jaguarundi.

Other predators include the coati or coati, the raccoon and the roll-tailed bear or kinkajoe.

The largest mammal order in Costa Rica is that of bats, of which about a hundred species occur. They are not only insect eaters but also eat fruit, nectar, mice and frogs.

Well-known apparitions are the fishing bat, vampires and the tent bat.

Special rodents are the agouti or golden hare and the paca. Ungulates are not very common, only a few species of dwarf deer (including Virginia deer and white-tailed deer), parrot and white-lipped pigs or bristles, and tapirs.

A remarkable appearance is the porcupine. In the waters of the Refugio de Fauna Silvestre Barra del Colorado in northwestern Costa Rica, the waters are full of sábalo or tarpon, robaló or Caribbean pike, guapote, macarela or mackerel and the gas fir or leg pike. The gaspar is sometimes called a living fossil because this fish belongs to the order of the ray-finned. The heyday of these fish was in the middle of the Mesozoic Era, about 210 to 150 million years ago. The order of the bony fish originated from this order.

Sapo Dorada , Costa RicaSapo Dorada , Costa RicaPhoto: Cliff CC2.0 Generic no changes made

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve was the only area in the world where the rare "Sapo Dorado", a golden toad, was found. These unique animals have not been seen for several years.

The Lomas Barbudal reserve is especially important for insects. More than 250 species of bees have been counted here, as well as many species of wasps, butterflies and moths.

Parque Nacional Cahuita is important because of the coral reef that extends 500 meters off the coast. Dozens of species of coral live there, including: elk antler coral, brain coral, fan coral or sea fan, star coral and fire coral. Beautifully colored fish swim between the coral, such as the blue-yellow colored angel fish, the black-yellow colored angel fish, the troepial fish or duke fish and the blue parrot fish. Barracudas, stingrays, three types of sharks and six types of moray eels also live on the reef.

The Parque Nacional Corcovado is a rainforest area with an enormous wealth of plants and animals: 6000 insects, 500 tree species, 367 bird species, 140 mammals, 117 reptiles and amphibians and 40 freshwater fish have been found in the park.


King Vulture, Costa RicaKing Vulture, Costa RicaPhoto: David J. Stang CC 4.0 International no changes made

With more than 800 bird species, 200 of which are migratory birds, Costa Rica is a true paradise for bird watchers. Costa Rica's national bird is the inconspicuous Grays thrush.

Costa Rica's most commonly observed birds of prey are a number of vulture species: turkey vulture, black vulture and the rare king vulture. The latter bird is still found in the Lomas Barbu Valley Reserve and the Corcovado National Park. Among the small birds of prey, the laughing falcon is very striking, as are the bald-legged screaming owl, the piebald tawny owl and the crested owl.

Large waders and other water birds live along slow-flowing rivers, such as the pink spoonbill, white ibis, the rare scarlet ibis, wood stork, black-bellied whistling duck, blue-winged teal, night heron and the large but rare jabiru. A number of heron species are the cow heron, the tiger bittern and the barge-billed heron.

Special are the great frigate bird, bigua cormorant and snake-necked bird.

Special tropical birds are the brightly colored trogons, including the beautiful quetzal. The quetzal was once the sacred bird of the Aztecs, and even Costa Rica's national currency is named after these special birds. This bird mainly lives in cloud forests at altitudes between 1000 and 2500 meters.

The island of Isla Bolaños (prov. Guanacaste) was declared a protected nature reserve in 181 for the breeding brown pelicans, American pied oystercatchers and American frigate birds. Magpie jays and black vultures also occur here.

Swainson's toucan, Costa RicaSwainson's toucan, Costa RicaPhoto: Rob Stoltje CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Toucans: sulfur-billed toucan, Swainson's toucan, emerald toucan, green mountain toucan

Parrots (± 20 species): red macaw, Costa Rica Müller amazon, yellow-necked amazon, Salvin's amazon, small white-fronted amazon, woodpecker parrot, green aratinga, the rare scarlet macaw, crimson macaw

Hummingbirds (± 54 species): long-beaked sun seeker, cerise hummingbird, violet sable-winged hummingbird, hermit hummingbird, emerald hummingbird, tzacati amazilia, green violet hummingbird, green-crowned brilliant hummingbird, red-billed hummingbird

Songbirds: including nuthatch, oven bird, ant bird, red-headed mannequin, weaver bird, tangara

Special birds: Montezuma Oropéndula, mountain blackbird, black guan (type of forest turkey), collared arassari, striped woodpecker, three-legged bellbird, blue-hooded moth, black-browed moth, brown curock, 'pia pia', laughing gull, Verraux pigeon, Cabanis' thrush, kiskadikaan, red-footed beak moth flamed gullet, gold-crowned chlorophone


Coral snake Costa RicaCoral snake Costa RicaPhoto: Bernard DUPONT CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Of the 135 species of snakes found in Costa Rica, 17 are poisonous. As far as venomous snakes are concerned, Costa Rica actually has two groups, the pit vipers (including the lance point snake or fer-de-lance) and the coral snakes. The largest snake in Costa Rica is the boa constrictor, a non-dangerous strangulation snake with a maximum length of 3.5 meters.

Costa Rica has a number of impressive lizards, of which the iguanas and basilisks are the most striking. The largest iguanas are the black and the green iguana. Basilisks are actually iguanas too, but have distinctive combs on the head, back and tail. A common reptile is the alligator lizard.

Crocodiles: Spectacled caiman, Central American crocodile, beaked crocodile

Santa Rosa National Park is one of Costa Rica's most important protected areas. On Playa Nancite, in the south of Santa Rosa, hundreds of thousands of sea turtles come ashore every year between September and December to lay eggs. Costa Rica is therefore one of the most important nesting areas for sea turtles.

The five species that occur in Costa Rica are green turtle, hawksbill turtle, loggerhead turtle, warana or mongrel turtle and leatherback turtle.

Frogs: red-eyed tree frog, poison dart frog, strawberry frog

In 2015, it was announced that a new species of glass frog, the only 2.5-large Hyalinobatrachium dianae, had been discovered in Costa Rica.

Fish and other marine life: sailfish, blue marlin, black marlin, yellow-tailed mackerel, 'papagallos', smooth dogfish, gruntfish, yellowtail, eagle ray, stingray, eel, sea angel, octopus, starfish, seahorse, whale shark, hammerhead shark, jack mackerel, spinner dolphin, pilot whale, black sword whale, jumping crab

Special: lungless salamander


Blauwe Morpho, Costa RicaBlue Morpho, Costa RicaPhoto: Rodtico21 CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Costa Rica has about tens of thousands of different insect species including stick insects, termites, parasol ants, praying and saber crickets. In total, about 3000 butterfly species have been counted in Costa Rica, including the beautiful blue morpho, heliconius butterfly, owlet and large pintails.

American scientists have discovered a vegetarian spider in the jungles of Costa Rica and Mexico, it was announced in October 2009. The Bagheera Kiplingi lives in South America and feeds on the leaves and buds of plants. As far as is known, the Bagheera Kiplingi is the only one of the more than 40,000 spider species that is not a carnivore. Since no prey has to be caught, the animal does not spin a web.


Pre-Columbian Period

Stone sphere from Pre-Columbian Costa RicaStone sphere from Pre-Columbian Costa RicaPhoto: WAvegetarian at the English language Wikipedia CC 3.0 no changes made

The first humans reached the Americas from Asia 40,000 to 50,000 years ago. Both continents were still connected at that time.

The oldest stone utensils and food remains found in Costa Rica date from around 12,000 BC. Mammoth teeth have also been found, indicating that they were hunters who lived a nomadic existence.

Unlike many other countries in Central America and South America, Costa Rica has almost no major structures and a considerable degree of civilization dates back to about 3,000 BC. The territory of Costa Rica can therefore be considered as a transition area between Central and South America and the peoples living here are clearly influenced by both civilization areas.

Around this time, Circumcaribes from northern South America and Chibcha (northern Andean region) settled on the Caribbean coast, in the south and on the central plateau of Costa Rica. The main peoples that developed after this were the Huetar and the Boruca. Goldsmithing was established in about AD 500. introduced in Costa Rica.

About 800 AD. a population movement towards Costa Rica started from Mexico. As a result, the peoples originally from South America were expelled from northwestern Costa Rica or more or less forced to assimilate with the new occupiers. Until colonial times, the Chorotega was the most important civilization in this part of Costa Rica.

Spanish rule

16th century church, Costa Rica16th century church, Costa RicaPhoto: Edwin Dalorzo in the public domain

During the fourth and last voyage (1502-1504) of the explorer Christopher Columbus, he arrived at the rocky island of La Isla Uvita, located in front of the current city of Puerto Limón. The coastal area was called "costa rica", the "rich coast". However, many valuables were not found and Columbus soon sailed on to Panama.

From 1519, expeditions were sent from Panama to Costa Rica in particular and the first Spanish settlement was founded in 1524. Due to the fierce resistance of the indigenous population, the Spaniards did not manage to colonize the entire area for the time being. Only years later did they reach the habitable plateau in Central Costa Rica and in 1561 the first capital was founded there: Garcímuñoz, a city that was relocated a few years later and from that time was called Cartago. Since 1540 it was a province of the Viceroyalty of Mexico and part of the Captain General of Guatemala (Audiencia de Guatemala)

However, the rulers there hardly looked at poor Costa Rica, which soon became known as having no gold or spices to be found. Hence, colonization of Costa Rica barely got underway and Cartago remained the only "significant" settlements in the Valle Central and the city of Esparza well into the 18th century. The "encomienda" system that was so successful elsewhere, called "rapartiemento" in Costa Rica, also failed. In short, this system meant that settlers were assigned land and slaves and in return the Indians had to teach Christianity. The number of Indians was simply too small (ca. 30,000) to run a slavery-based economy. Many Indians died during wars or from contagious diseases, others went into the mountains and were no longer found by the Europeans. The settlers who nevertheless stayed in the country had to build a difficult life. At the beginning of the 19th century only two percent of today's Costa Rican territory was colonized.

The United States of Central America

Costa Rica's first stamp from 1863Costa Rica's first stamp from 1863Photo: Public domain

In 1821 Guatemala declared its independence and the transitional government in Costa Rica had two options: seeking affiliation with the Mexican kingdom of Iturbide or with the United States of Central America. The conservative and liberal members of the government were diametrically opposed and the difference of opinion even turned into a real civil war. On April 5, 1823, the struggle was decided in favor of the liberals, who preferred a federation. In retrospect, the entire war turned out not to have been necessary because the kingdom of Iturbide had already fallen.

On July 1, 1823, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua started as the United States of Central America. However, the federation was far from a success and Costa Rica tried to withdraw as early as 1824. But this process was not without a struggle either; In 1835 the cities of Heredia, Alajuela and Cartago signed an alliance (league) against San José and in September another brief civil war broke out, the so-called "La guerra de la Liga". This time San José emerged as the great victor and also became the new capital of Costa Rica. In 1838 Costa Rica permanently withdrew from the United States of Central America and declared its independence; president at the time was dictator Braulio Carrillo Colina. He fired the entire government, but Francisco Morazán, ex-president of the United States of Central America, managed to overthrow him and bring the country back into the federation. This did not last long, however, because in 1848 the federation fell apart and at the same time the República de Costa Rica was proclaimed.

Economically, Costa Rica was put on the world map in the rest of the nineteenth century by growing coffee and growing bananas. Due to increasing prosperity, the population grew rapidly and a new class was also created: the coffee aristocracy, which consisted of politically powerful coffee traders and plantation owners. Furthermore, many guest workers were needed to do all the work on the plantations.

The social relations between the large landowners and the small farmers intensified during this time and they were forced to search for unexplored areas in the north and south of the country.

In the mid-1800s, a civil war in neighboring Nicaragua threatened favorable developments in Costa Rica. Again, a battle raged between conservatives and liberals, which was won by the liberals with the help of the American freebooter William Walker. Walker did not waste any time and immediately proclaimed himself president and then tried to subdue all of Central America. The Costa Ricans opposed this, and under the leadership of President Juan Rafael Mora, Walker's men were finally defeated in April 1856.

In 1899, the American Minor Keith founded the United Fruit Company, currently a large multinational with a lot of political power in this part of the world.

Twentieth century

Angel Calderon, Costa RicaAngel Calderon, Costa RicaPhoto: Asamblea Legislativa CC 4.0 International no changes made

Internationally, Costa Rica had occasional border disputes with Nicaragua and Panama at the beginning of the 20th century (before 1903 Colombia). After Costa Rica had repeatedly recognized its rights by arbitral award in the dispute with Panama, it proceeded to occupy the disputed area in 1921. The dispute with Nicaragua was not settled by treaty until the year 1956.

Liberal politics at the beginning of the 20th century worked out well for the population. Education was improved, there was freedom of the press and the right to vote for men was broadened (women and minorities only received universal suffrage in 1948).

The separation of Church and State and the curtailment of the powerful landowners led to many coups and coups attempts.

The global economic crisis in the 1930s fueled popular discontent and forced President Angel Calderón of the Partido Republicano Nacional (PRN) to implement rigorous social reforms. Much has been achieved, particularly in terms of working conditions and land reforms. The opposition at that time consisted of the Partido Social Demócrata (PSD) and the conservative Partido Unión Nacional (PUN). In 1948 the elections were won by a joint candidate of both parties, Otilio Ulate. However, stories of ballot fraud immediately arose and that was a good reason for the ruling coalition of communists and socialists to declare the elections invalid and continue to rule.

This resulted in a civil war on March 10, 1948: La Guerra de Liberación. The insurgents' leader was José Figueres, president of the PSD. He managed to drive President Calderón away to Nicaragua.

Costa Rica continues without an army

Figueras, Costa RicaFigueras, Costa RicaPhoto: Larry Luxner CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

After the civil war, Figueres formed a provisional government of Social Democrats and Conservatives. However, disagreements quickly arose within the government about the reforms initiated, which threatened right-wing interests. Calderón watched this from Nicaragua with pleasure and waited for his chance. Figueres was aware of this and quickly reached an agreement with the conservatives in his government. The original reforms were implemented and, very importantly, the army was replaced by police units. Since that time there have been no more military coups in Costa Rica, unique for all of Latin America. Moreover, a new constitution was passed that once again arranged everything properly and formed the beginning of the Second Republic. Otilio Ulate took office as the first president on November 1, 1949.

In 1953 Calderón returned from exile and his PRN decided to partner with the PUN of Ulate. In the end, this even resulted in a new political party, the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana) PUSC. Figueres transformed his PSD into the Partido de Liberación Nacional (PLN).

The fifties and sixties of the last century brought economic prosperity to Costa Rica, as a result of which infrastructure, education, agriculture and industry and health care were also properly addressed. Costa Rica was particularly successful in the periods when Figueres was in power. In 1978 a center-right coalition led by R. Carazo was formed.

In the late 1970s, the Costa Rican economy collapsed, partly due to financial mismanagement. Government debt and inflation rates skyrocketed, and there was also a threat of involvement in the conflict between the Sandinistas and Contras in Nicaragua. After the coming to power of the Sandinista Liberation Front (FSLN) in Nicaragua in July 1979, relations between the two countries initially improved, but during the presidencies of LA Monge (1982-1986) and Oscar Arias Sanchez (1986-1990), both of the PLN, relations deteriorated with Nicaragua, which accused Costa Rica of supporting counter-calls operating out of Costa Rica.

Costa Rica finally declared itself a neutral, unarmed state with no army in 1983. The crowning glory of this neutrality policy was the role of President Oscar Arias Sanchez in the Nicaraguan conflict. His peace plan, Esquipulas II, was signed by five Central American presidents (those of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica) and he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for this. However, the increasing dependence on financial aid from the United States put limits on Costa Rica's policy of neutrality.

In 1990 Christian Democrat Rafael Angel Calderón was elected president. Austerity-oriented economic policy led to demonstrations in 1992, after which a number of measures were withdrawn. An earthquake in April 1992 caused extensive damage, killing at least 90 people.

In May 1994, center-left José María Figueres came to power; he opposed the policies of the neoliberal Calderón. In March 1995, the presidential term and parliamentary term were extended from four to five years. Also in 1995, tensions with neighboring Nicaragua increased over the illegal presence of an estimated 300,000 Nicaraguans in northern Costa Rica.

The February 1998 presidential election was won by Miguel Angel Rodríguez of the opposition Partido Unidad Social Cristiana (PUSC). He defeated José Miguel Corrales of the PLN, who suffered from popular dissatisfaction with the economic policies of the outgoing President Figueres. The parliamentary elections were also won by the PUSC; 27 seats against 23 of the PLN.

21st century

Arias, Costa RicaArias, Costa RicaPhoto: Ricardo Stuckert/PR CC 3.0 Brazil no changes made

At the end of the 20th century, the economic situation in Costa Rica went in the right direction again, mainly due to the increasing tourism. Yet bureaucracy, corruption, inflation and high external debt largely determine the economic and political agenda. On the negative side, the president and the members of parliament can only be elected for one term, which means that there is almost no continuity and that the much-needed far-reaching reforms cannot or hardly be implemented. However, an amendment to the constitution in April 2003 has made it possible to do so, but there must be eight years between the two terms of office. All governments fear serious social tensions. As a result, the voter constantly switches from one party to the other (PUSC and PLN), hoping that it can deliver on its promises.

The president, Oscar Arias (PLN) does not have a majority in the parliament installed on May 1, 2006: of the 57 seats, the PLN has only 25 seats. The two largest opposition parties PAC and Movimiento Libertario have 17 and 6 seats respectively, while the PUSC of former President Abel Pacheco has been reduced to 5 seats.

Some criticism of President Arias' policy has already been heard. According to critics, for example, he would be more concerned with solving the problems abroad than with the problems at home in his own country. He does seem to be investing energetically in infrastructure, education and healthcare. In November 2008, Chinese President Hu Jintao will visit Costa Rica, after Costa Rica broke diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 2007. In March 2008, Arias re-establishes relations with Cuba.

Laura Chinchilla, Costa RicaLaura Chinchilla, Costa RicaPhoto: World Travel & Tourism Council CC 2.0 no changes made

In February 2010, Costa Rica received a female head of state for the first time in history. 50-year-old socially conservative political scientist Laura Chinchilla of the National Liberation Party, ally and successor of President Oscar Arías, received almost 47% of the vote. The appointment will be confirmed in May 2010. The United Nations is ordering Nicaragua and Costa Rica to withdraw their troops from the border areas. Luis Guillermo Solis becomes the new president in April 2014. In December 2015, Costa Rica wins a protracted territorial dispute with Nicaragua over a patch of land near the San Juan River. Center-left candidate Carlos Alvarado won the March 2018 presidential election by a surprisingly large margin over his evangelical pastor rival Fabricio Alvarado.

Carlos Alvarado Costa RicaCarlos Alvarado Costa RicaPhoto: MadriCR CC 4.0 International no changes made



Girls wave flags of Costa RicaGirls wave flags of Costa RicaPhoto: Bruce Thomson CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

In contrast to the population of the other republics in Central America, that of Costa Rica is very homogeneous and mostly white: 94% are of Spanish, Italian and other European descent. Two other major minority groups are Afro-Caribbeans and Chinese. The Costa Ricans call themselves "hermanitico" (little peasants) and derived from it Tico's and Tica's.

In itself, the African influence is quite limited because Costa Rica is one of the few countries on the American continent where no slaves have been imported from Africa. The Afro-Caribians descend from the guest workers who were recruited from the English-speaking Caribbean islands, especially Jamaica. Most of the approx. 35,000 Afro-Caribbeans live in the Talamanca region in the province of Limón and they represent about 35% of the total population there.

The early 20th century was followed by many Chinese who helped build the Pacific Railroad. They mainly live on the other side of the country, in areas on the Pacific Ocean.

Mestizos, of Spanish Indian descent, mainly live as farmers in the agricultural province of Guanacaste.

Quite a number of Nicaraguans live in the north and northwest of Costa Rica, often refugees from the Nicaraguan civil war.

In recent years, more and more retirees, "pensionados" or "rentistas", from the United States, Canada and some European countries have settled in Costa Rica to enjoy their retirement.

The three main Native American groups, who make up less than 1% of the population, live in the inaccessible mountain regions. In all, there are about 15,000 descendants of indigenous pre-Columbian tribes, the so-called "indigenas". Costa Rica is, after Uruguay and Brazil, the least Indian country in Central and South America.

Most indigenas live in one of the 22 reserves that Costa Rica has. About 7000 Bribrí and Cabécar Indians live in the Talamanca Mountains. In the south of Costa Rica, high above the Térraba valley, there are about 3000 Boruca and Térraba Indians. The 5000 Guaymi live in the heart of the Osa Peninsula. They only moved from neighboring Panama to Costa Rica in the 1940s. About 100,000 Guaymi still live in Panama.

Smaller tribes are Chorotegas, Huetares and Malecus.


Hustle and bustle in the streets of San Jose, Costa RicaHustle and bustle in the streets of San Jose, Costa RicaPhoto: Cephas CC 4.0 International no changes made

About 50% of the Costa Rica population lives in the cities. Almost two thirds of the total population lives in the central highlands, the Meseta Central. The largest city is the capital San Jose with more than 1 million inhabitants (2017).

Demographic data

Costa Rica was home to nearly 5 million people in 2017. The population density is approximately 96 inhabitants per km2, making Costa Rica the most densely populated country in Central America after El Salvador.

Population growth for 2017 was 1.16%.

The average life expectancy for a third world country is very high; 76.1 years for men and 81.5 years for women. (2017)

Costa Rica has a young population; 22.6% is between 0 and 14 years old. 69.6% of the population is between 15 and 65 years old; 7.8% is 65 years or older. (2017)

Costa Rica has the lowest birth and death rates in Central America, with 15.5 births per 1000 inhabitants and 4.7 deaths per 1000 inhabitants in 2017.


Spanish language mapSpanish language mapPhoto: Michael Jester in the public domain

The official language in Costa Rica is Spanish. This Spanish differs considerably in pronunciation, vocabulary and sentence construction from the Spanish on the Iberian Peninsula. Yet it is said that the Costa Ricans, along with the Columbians, speak the most intelligible Spanish in the world.

The Castellano, spoken in Spain, is well understood by the Costa Ricans.

In general, all letters are spoken except the "h". The Costa Ricans very often use diminutives. They use "ico" as the reduction output, so they say "momentico" for "a short moment" (Spanish: momentito).

The remote Indian communities still speak an indigenous language. The most common Indian language is Bribrí. Other Indian languages are Cabecar, Guaymi and Maleko.

On the east coast there are some enclaves where Negro or Pidgin English is the main language. The English spoken on this coast comes from Jamaica and Barbados.


Virgen de los angeles patron saint of Costa RicaVirgen de los angeles patron saint of Costa RicaPhoto: Mariordo(Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz)CC 4.0 no changes made

However, the constitution guarantees freedom of worship. The state church of Costa Rica is the Roman Catholic Church, which includes more than 90% of the population. However, like almost everywhere in the world, the influence of the Catholic Church is waning.

Patron saints, "santos" or "santas", still play an important role in the lives of the Costa Ricans. The Virgen de los Angeles is the country's patron saint. The festivals in honor of the local patron saints, "fiestas cívicas", consist of small processions and are celebrated for several days.

People sometimes secretly turn to the supernatural world of the "brujos" (spirits). In this Indian ritual a kind of priest, the "curandero", acts as the medium.

A number of small Protestant groups (about 40,000 believers) are concentrated in the cities and very active. The black population is officially Protestant, but they too have a kind of belief in the supernatural, originally from West Africa.

In addition, there are members of the Jehovah's Witnesses and Jews. About 3% indicate that they have no faith.


State structure

Coat of arms Costa RicaCoat of arms Costa RicaPhoto: Public domain

The Republic of Costa Rica is a constitutional democracy (since 1949), where the president is both head of state and government and thus has great power.

There are presidential elections every four years and two vice-presidents and the unicameral parliament are elected simultaneously by universal suffrage. Re-election of the incumbent president was not allowed until 2003. However, an amendment to the constitution in April 2003 has made it possible to do so, but there must be eight years between the two terms of office. The president composes the cabinet, commands the Guardia Civil and annually submits his government program to the legislative National Assembly (Congreso Constitucional of Asamblea Legislativa). The National Assembly consists of one Chamber and has 57 representatives of the people. They are elected for a four-year term, but may not serve for two consecutive terms. They can be re-elected after an intervening period of four years.

A 2/3 majority in parliament is required for constitutional changes.

Costa Rica has no armed forces, which was abolished in the 1949 constitution. Costa Rica is therefore politically one of the most stable countries in Latin America. Democratic elections have been held since 1948. Costa Rica does have several thousand guards counting civilians. For the current political situation, see chapter history.

Administrative division

Provinces of Costa RicaProvinces of Costa RicaPhoto: Golbez CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Costa Rica is administratively divided into seven provinces, each with a governor.

provincecapitalareapopul.ation in 2000
AlajuelaAlajuela9.753 km2716.286
CartagoCartago3.125 km2432.395
GuanacasteLiberia10.141 km2264.238
HerediaHeredia2.657 km2354.732
LimónLimón9.188 km2339.295
PuntarenasPuntarenas11.277 km2357.483
San JoséSan José4.959 km21.345.750


School children Costa ricaSchool children Costa RicaPhoto: Ruansolano CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Costa Rica was one of the first countries in the world to establish in the constitution (of 1869) that education should be free and compulsory.

Basic education in Costa Rica is therefore compulsory, but after that many children are forced to leave school and go to work in order to boost the often low income of the family. Sometimes in remote areas there are also no secondary schools for miles around. Most secondary schools can be found in the urbanized Valle Central, in and around the capital, San José.

The quality of the education is not much, and parents send their children to private schools whenever possible. Very wealthy parents can afford to send their children to universities and colleges abroad.

According to the government, only 7% of the population is illiterate, in reality that percentage will be much higher.

The University for Peace in the capital San José was an initiative of President Rodrigo Carazo (1978-1982). Its aim is to teach the idea of peace in universities and educational institutions around the world. The university develops projects on peace education, ecology, human rights and conflict resolution for churches, trade unions and other institutions.

Typically Costa Rica

Stone Spheres Costa RicaStone Spheres Costa RicaPhoto: Rodtico21 CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Hundreds of artificial stone spheres have been found in southern Costa Rica. They are perfectly round, between 10 cm and 2 meters in size, and weigh up to 16 tons.

The spheres were thought to be made by the pre-Columbian Brunca and may represent the constellations. The spheres, also known as "esferas de piedra" or "Indian balls", are often found near public buildings and parks today.



Export Costa RicaExport Costa RicaPhoto: R Haussman, Cesar Hidalgo, et. al. CC 3.0 no changes made

Costa Rica is the most prosperous country in Central America. The abolition of the army made it possible to invest a lot of money in education and the political calm made the country attractive for foreign investors. Important was the establishment of the American microprocessor manufacturer Intel in 1998. The arrival of Intel led several other high-tech companies to establish themselves in Costa Rica.

Right now, the Costa Rican economy is in a kind of transition phase. Work is in progress to transform the economy based on traditional agricultural products into an economy that makes modern products based on high technology. The service sector, including tourism, has also grown enormously. In fact, tourism is the main source of foreign exchange and provides employment for a large number of Costa Ricans.

As a result, the economy grew strongly from 1998 to 2003, despite a stagnation in 2000 and 2001. In 2003 the economy grew again by 5.6% and in 2004 by more than 4.4%. A trade agreement with the United States will enter into force in 2009, boosting economic growth. In the years 2010 to 2013, the economy will grow at approximately 4% per year, after which growth will slow down somewhat and in 2017 it will be 2.7%

The biggest bottleneck for Costa Rica is still the large financing deficit and the associated outstanding debts, which have been reduced considerably in recent years. The debt is 50% of GDP at the end of 2017.

As is so often the case, only a small part of the population really benefits from increasing prosperity. About a quarter (21.7% in 2017) lives below the poverty line. Although that is not as clear to see in Costa Rica as many other third world countries.

Agricultural sector

Bananas Costa RicaBananas Costa RicaPhoto:Marlith CC 3.0 Unported no changea made

Until the late 1980s, agriculture was the most important economic sector in Costa Rica. Due to the rise of the high-tech industry, agriculture is only responsible for 5.5% of the gross national product. Approx. 14% of the Costa Rican working population works in agriculture (2017), of which 50,000 in banana production. Thanks to better methods, agricultural production increased by 20%.

Traditionally, the main agricultural products of Costa Rica are bananas, coffee, sugar, cocoa and meat. After Ecuador, Costa Rica is the world's second largest exporter of bananas. Both the banana industry and the coffee industry are under pressure from competition and low world market prices. In Costa Rica, bananas are grown in endless plantations in the Caribbean lowlands.

Coffee cultivation is concentrated in the Valle Central and takes place on relatively small plantations owned by the local population. The harvest is processed by large cooperative coffee roasters.

In order not to depend only on traditional products, efforts have been made since the 1980s to specialize and diversify the range of agricultural products. More and more people are aiming for fruit, specialty coffees and floriculture.

Costa Rican fishermen mainly catch sardines, tuna fish, shark and shrimp. The cultivation of freshwater fish, especially tilapia, is on the rise.

Beef exports have fallen dramatically since its promising beginnings in the 1960s. Livestock farms for meat production are located in the north and northwest of Costa Rica. The livestock sector is in the hands of a small number of powerful farmers with extensive estates with large herds of zebu. The production of milk in the Valle Central is of little importance. Livestock farming had the major disadvantage that large tracts of forest were cut down throughout Costa Rica for grazing land, resulting in extensive soil erosion.

Food and beverage industry

Cocktail with fruit juice Costa RicaCocktail with fruit juice Costa RicaPhoto: David Berkowitz CC 2.0 Generic nio changes made

The food sector is very important to the economy of Costa Rica. There are approximately 13,000 companies, which provide approximately 50,000 jobs in small and medium-sized businesses. The main products are dairy, meat, sausage, poultry products and bakery products. The production of tropical fruits, fruit juices, sweets and chocolate is increasing.

The main imports are ice cream, beef, grain, spirits, wine, beer and various non-alcoholic drinks.

Construction, infrastructure and ICT

Intel factory in Costa RicaIntel factory in Costa RicaPhoto: Mariordo Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz CC 3.0 no changes made

The construction and infrastructure sector has performed well over the last ten years, both in terms of major infrastructure works and civil construction.

Various infrastructure projects have been started in recent years, including airport works, road works, port works, hospitals and hotels, resorts and restaurants for the tourism sector.

The developments in this sector are also leading to a growth in the demand for machines and equipment. Almost all of these are imported from mainly the United States, but also from Germany, Japan and Brazil. Costa Rica is a fairly large player in the field of ICT, with, among other things, a large Intel factory where microprocessors are manufactured.

Energy supply

Hydroelectric power station in Costa RicaHydroelectric power station in Costa RicaPhoto: Equesgo16 in the public domain

In the field of energy supply, Costa Rica occupies an important place among the Central American states. Approx. Costa Rica gets 95% of its energy from renewable sources.

By far the most important source of energy in Costa Rica is hydropower; more than 80% of the annual energy requirement is covered by this. New hydropower plants are planned that will generate so much hydropower that Costa Rica can export a large part of the electricity.

Other important sources of energy are geothermal energy from volcanoes and hot springs, wind energy, solar energy and bioenergy.

Traffic and transport

Panamerican Highway in Costa RicaPanamerican Highway in Costa RicaPhoto: Ll1324 in the public domain

The Inter-American highway forms the north-south connection and connects Costa Rica with neighboring Panama and Nicaragua. The road network in itself is quite extensive with approximately 35,000 kilometers, but only 20% is paved. Almost all roads run through the capital San José.

Railways run from San José to the seaports of Puerto Limón on the Caribbean coast and Puntarenas on the Pacific coast. In total, the Costa Rican rail network covers approximately 950 kilometers. However, the rail network is in a very poor condition and freight transport is still limited.

The national airline LACSA flies from Juan Santamaría International Airport near San José to North and Central America and the Caribbean. A second international airport is Daniel Oduber's, located near Liberia in northwestern Costa Rica. Many charter flights depart from here to popular Pacific Ocean beach destinations.

Private companies maintain domestic traffic. In total Costa Rica has about 15 airports.

Costa Rica has four major ports: Puerto Limón, Moín, Puntarenas and Caldera. The first two ports account for approximately 80% of all sea freight.

Holidays and Sghtseeing

Ecotourism Costa RicaEcotourism Costa RicaPhoto: Pigment-Ink CC 4.0 International no changes made

Tourism has been one of the most important sectors of the Costa Rican economy for some years now, providing most of the foreign exchange. Costa Rica focuses mainly on so-called ecotourism, but also on "adventure travel" and beach tourism.

Most visitors, about 50%, come from the United States and Canada. The share of visitors from Europe is increasing.

San Jose, Costa RcaSan Jose, Costa RcaPhoto: Andy Rusch CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

San Jose has changed drastically over the centuries, from an agricultural city to now a fairly cosmopolitan and sprawling Costa Rica capital. San Jose is full of natural sights and tourist attractions related to the country's tropical animals and plants.

Spyrogyra Butterfly Garden in San Jose, Costa RicaSpyrogyra Butterfly Garden in San Jose, Costa RicaPhoto: Bernard DUPONT CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

There are many butterflies and hummingbird species in the Spyrogyra Butterfly Garden and native animals in the Simon Bolivar Zoological Park. San Jose is a haven for those who want to get up close to the wonders of nature. Other must-see sights in San Jose include the late 19th-century National Theater, with its lavish marble foyer and great hall. By visiting the coffee farms on the outskirts of the city you will understand why the Costa Rican coffee from San Jose is some of the best in the world. Don't forget to check out the local life at the Central Market. It's buzzing and there are lively attractions and activities at all hours of the day. Read more on the San Jose page of Landenweb.

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Daling, T. / Costa Rica : mensen, politiek, economie, cultuur
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Last updated December 2021
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