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Map of Costa Rica

Costa Rica, Central America...

Quite probably the most beautiful and biologically rich nation on Earth, Costa Rica is the rising star of the ecotourism world. Long white beaches in the northwest, broken occassionally by rugged rocky coastlines, slowly give way to rich wetland estuaries and tumbling jungle as you move down the Pacific coast. The interior is dotted with several world-famous volcanoes, such as Arenal and Poás, as well the towering peaks of the Cordillera de Talamanca. Near its northern reaches, straddling the continental divide, is the beautiful Quaker community of Santa Elena, surrounding the Monteverde Cloudforest Reserve. Beyond the fertile valleys and volcanic slopes of the highland plateau, where coffee plantations ring the capital, San José, and its suburbs, is the rich Atlantic slope. The thick jungles of Tortuguero in the northeast, accessible only via canal, give way to the choaked streets and busy port of Limón. Further south the village of Cahuita beckons, with its lively but casual nightlife, and the black sand beaches of Puerto Viejo escort you along the road to the Panamanian border. The thick rainforest persists in many areas (despite rampant logging from the 1960s through the late '80s and continued commercial logging in some regions), especially in protected zones like Corcovado and Tortuguero. The birdlife is ultra-abundant, the mammal and reptile populations are impressive, and rivers decorate the nation like quartz in marble. Everywhere a rich diversity of biological and geological subjects vie for your attention.

This peaceful Central American democracy is culturally rich and diverse, as well, deserving an equal amount of attention for its beautiful inhabitants.  It is unquestionably the best destination for travelers hoping to see nature up close and experience the wonders of the tropical rainforest. The growth in popularity of such vacations has meant increased traffic through Costa Rica in recent years, yet the flow of tourists is surprisingly well managed and, we believe, a positive influence for the preservation of the country's natural lands. It is certainly a boon to the Costa Rican economy.

Costa Rica Profile...

 OFFICIAL NAME Republic of Costa Rica 

CAPITAL CITY San Jose

GEOGRAPHY

Location: Middle America, bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean, between Nicaragua and Panama

Area: 
total area: 51,100 sq km 
land area: 50,660 sq km 
comparative area: slightly smaller than West Virginia 
note: includes Isla del Coco

Land boundaries: total 639 km, Nicaragua 309 km, Panama 330 km 

Coastline: 1,290 km 

Maritime claims: 
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm 
territorial sea: 12 nm 

International disputes: none 

Climate: tropical; dry season (December to April); rainy season (May to November) 

Terrain: coastal plains separated by rugged mountains 

Natural resources: hydropower potential 

Land use: 
arable land: 6% 
permanent crops: 7% 
meadows and pastures: 45% 
forest and woodland: 34% 
other: 8% 

Irrigated land: 1,180 sq km (1989 est.) 

Environment: 
current issues: deforestation, largely a result of the clearing of land for cattle ranching; soil erosion 
natural hazards: occasional earthquakes, hurricanes along Atlantic coast; frequent flooding of lowlands at onset of rainy season; active volcanoes
international agreements: party to - Biodiversity, Climate Change, Endangered Species, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Wetlands, Whaling; signed, but not ratified - Desertification, Marine Life Conservation 

Country... 

Costa Rica is a small country, however it is a destination with much to offer the visitor. Principal among the reasons to visit Costa Rica is the friendly educated populace. Costa Rica offers a rich natural heritage and paradise of natural habitats to explore and experience. It is known for its civilized way of life, and it is no exaggeration to describe the country as an "oasis of peace." 

Costa Rica is one of the oldest democracies in America, as well as being a free and independent republic. Its habitants enjoy full political stability with a long-standing commitment to democratic freedom. Peace is Costa Rica's most valued feature. The country has had no army since it was abolished in the mid-20th century. 
Costa Rica is a place of simplicity and tranquility. The social impact of the democratic tradition in Costa Rica is clearly felt. In 1869, a compulsory state funded system of education was established. The government makes the necessary funds available for medical and educational programs, with both services achieving outstanding success. In the case of education, 93% of the population can read and write. Life expectancy is between 72 and 75 years of age - an excellent average. 

Country Facts...

  • 130 species of freshwater fish
  • 160 species of amphibians
  • 208 species of mammals
  • 220 species of reptiles
  • 850 species of birds
  • 1,000 species of butterflies
  • 1,200 varieties of orchids
  • 9,000 species of plants
  • 34,000 species of insects
  • Canal networks through jungles
  • Cloud forests
  • Coral reefs
  • Deciduous forests
  • Elevations from sea level to 12,529 feet
  • Mangrove swamps
  • Rain forests
  • Tropical dry forests
  • Volcanoes (112 craters)
  • White, black, and pink shell beaches on both coasts
  • Extensive networks of rivers
  • History...
  • Costa Rica was discovered in 1492 by Christopher Columbus in his 4th and final voyage to America. Popular myth says that he called it Costa Rica, meaning Rich Coast, because the natives wore beautiful gold adornments. The Spaniards settled in Costa Rica, but soon discovered that very little gold (nor other precious metal and stones) were present in this country. Thus Costa Rica was pretty much forgotten during the conquering years from Europe. Most settlers that did go to Costa Rica, did it because they wanted to be left alone, work on their farm and live a peaceful life.
  • Independence from Spain occurred in 1821, without the need of a war as it occurred in many other countries. Soon after their independence, Costaricans opted to form their own republic: democracy was then born in Costa Rica. This democratic system has been maintained throughout Costa Rica's history with very little interruption.
  • If you ask any Costarican what period in time has been the most defining point in the history of Costa Rica, more than likely they will tell you that this occurred in 1948, when after a short civil war, the President Jose Maria Figueres and the national assembly voted for an abolition of the army. Thus, Costa Rica became one of the few countries in the world without an army. Internal peace is only kept through a small police force. This allowed Costa Rica to avoid the ever-so-common coup d'etats that occur in many other countries, but also it liberated a large percent of its expenditures to dedicate them to education and health. This is how Costa Rica has become one of the leaders in literacy and health in Latin America despite its scarce resources.
  • Costa Rica's motto is the "Switzerland of the Americas", not only due to the beautiful mountains in this country, but also because of the peacefulness and neutrality it has enjoyed for so long. This history of peace has been internationally recognized in many ways among which is the Nobel Peace price awarded to ex-President Oscar Arias in recognition for his efforts for peace in the Central American region.

  • Costa Rica in now trying to make a crucial move from a traditional agricultural economy to an industrialized one. Foreign investment is increasing at very fast rates, and the economy is slowly metamorphosing. However, to most Costaricans it is peace that is the ultimate goal in life. Riches and prosperity are always secondary to peace.

    Government... 

    Costa Rica is a democratic republic with a strong system of constitutional checks and balances. Executive responsibilities are vested in a President, who is the country's center of power. There also are two Vice Presidents and a 19-member Cabinet (that includes one of the Vice Presidents). The President and 57 Legislative Assembly Deputies are elected for four-year terms. A constitutional amendment approved in 1969 limits Presidents and Deputies to one term, although a Deputy may run again for an Assembly seat after sitting out a term. 

    The electoral process is supervised by an independent Supreme Electoral Tribunal -- a commission of three principal Magistrates and six alternates selected by the Supreme Court of Justice. Judicial power is exercised by the Supreme Court of Justice, composed of 22 Magistrates selected for renewable eight-year terms by the Legislative Assembly, and subsidiary courts. A Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, established in 1989, reviews the constitutionality of legislation and executive decrees and all habeas corpus warrants. 

    The country's seven provinces are headed by Governors appointed by the President, but they exercise little power. There are no provincial legislatures. Autonomous state agencies enjoy considerable operational independence; they include the nationalized commercial banks, the state insurance monopoly, and the social security agency. Costa Rica has no military and maintains only domestic police and security forces for internal security. 

    Costa Rica long has emphasized the development of democracy and respect for human rights. Until recently, the country's political system has contrasted sharply with many of its Central American and Caribbean neighbors; it has steadily developed and maintained democratic institutions and an orderly, constitutional scheme for government succession. Several factors have contributed to this tendency, including enlightened government leaders, comparative prosperity, flexible class lines and educational opportunities that have created a stable middle class, and high social indicators. Also, because Costa Rica has no armed forces, it has avoided the possibility of political intrusiveness by the military that some neighboring countries have experienced. 

    In the February 1994 elections, center-left National Liberation Party (PLN) candidate Jose Maria Figueres was elected President, succeeding Rafael Angel Calderon of the center-right Social Christian Unity Party (PU.S.C). Figueres, the son of former President Jose "Don Pepe" Figueres, defeated PU.S.C rival Miguel Angel Rodriguez in one of the closest elections in Costa Rican history. By winning 28 of 57 seats, the PLN regained a plurality in the legislature -- which in 1990 it had lost for the first time in more than 30 years. The PU.S.C won 25 seats, while minor parties took the remaining four. 

    Social Democratic in orientation, the PLN generally has been the dominant party in Costa Rica since 1948, when "Don Pepe" reestablished democracy and abolished the military in the wake of the short-lived but violent civil war. The PU.S.C is aligned with Christian Democratic and conservative parties in the Western Hemisphere and Europe. Costa Rican governments have tended to alternate between moderately conservative and moderately liberal as the PLN and various anti-PLN coalitions have traded control of the presidency, although in 1974 and 1986, PLN candidates succeeded PLN incumbents. 

    Economy...

    Despite trying to remain neutral, Costa Rica was affected adversely by regional political turmoil in the late 1970s and the 1980's. Instability in neighboring Nicaragua and Panama discouraged new investment and tourism in Costa Rica. Many displaced Nicaraguans and Salvadorans sought refuge there, further burdening the country's educational and health facilities. An oil shock and debt crisis also made economic recovery difficult. 

    Following an economic crisis in the early 1980s, Costa Rica made significant progress toward macroeconomic stability, structural adjustment, and growth through increasingly diversified exports. Gross domestic product (GDP) growth has averaged 5% since 1987, non-traditional exports and tourism have increased rapidly and now account for almost 60% of foreign currency earnings, and official unemployment declined to 4% and inflation, to 10 percent in 1993. A debt-buyback program under the U.S. "Brady Plan" was completed in May 1990, enabling Costa Rica to repurchase 60% of its commercial bank debt and to stabilize its foreign debt servicing. 

    However, Costa Rica still faces macro-economic problems because of serious fiscal deficits exacerbated by pressures to increase government spending linked to the four-year cycle of presidential, legislative, and local elections. The deficit is compounded by a bloated public sector, unsustainable wage and pensions, increases, mushrooming internal debt, and the lack of effective competition due to remaining public sector monopolies. The fiscal deficit ballooned from 1% of GDP in 1993 to about 8% in 1994, but was cut to 3.8 % in 1995. 1996 should see further progress in cutting the deficit and inflation from over 22% to about 15%. The stabilization program slowed economic growth to 2.5% in 1995 and increased unemployment from 4.2 to 5.2% in 1995. 

    The Government of Costa Rica announced establishment of a high-level commission to resolve the problem of internal debt, which in 1996 rose to the equivalent of $2.3 billion in local currency and required about one-third of the government's budget for servicing. 

    Programs of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (U.S.AID) have aimed to maintain stability and promote trade and investment liberalization. Such programs have had success; U.S.AID closed its bilateral Costa Rican mission in 1996 since Costa Rica achieved "advancing developing country" status. Further liberalization of Costa Rica's trade and investment regimes, resolution of the internal debt problem and passage of legislation expanding private sector investment in energy, telecommunications, roads, ports, and airports would boost opportunities for foreign and local investors and increase Costa Rica's prosperity. 

    Costa Rica has sought to widen its economic and diplomatic ties, including outside the region. In April 1994, Costa Rica signed a bilateral free trade agreement with Mexico. The United States and Costa Rica are negotiating a bilateral investmentagreement to increase protection for foreign investment. Costa Rica has maintained connections with the European Union, along with the other Central American states, through periodic ministerial consultations. The country is a founding member of the World Trade Organization and has actively participated in the followup to the Summit of the Americas, including working groups to bring about the Free Trade Area of the Americas by the year 2005. 

    People...

    Unlike many of their Central American neighbors, present-day Costa Ricans are largely of European rather than mestizo descent; Spain was the primary country of origin. Few of the native Indians survived European contact; the indigenous population today numbers about 29,000 or 1% of the population. Descendants of 19th-century Jamaican immigrant workers constitute an English-speaking minority and -- at 3% of the population -- number about 96,000. 

    In 1502, on his fourth and last voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus made the first European landfall in the area. Settlement of Costa Rica began in 1522. For nearly three centuries, Spain administered the region as part of the Captaincy General of Guatemala under a military Governor. The Spanish optimistically called the country "Rich Coast." Finding little gold or other valuable minerals in Costa Rica, however, the Spanish turned to agriculture. 

    The small landowners' relative poverty, the lack of a large indigenous labor force, the population's ethnic and linguistic homogeneity, and Costa Rica's isolation from the Spanish colonial centers in Mexico and the Andes all contributed to the development of an autonomous and individualistic agrarian society. An egalitarian tradition also arose; this tradition survived the widened class distinctions brought on by the 19th century introduction of banana and coffee cultivation and consequent accumulations of wealth. 

    In 1821, Costa Rica joined other Central American provinces in a joint declaration of independence from Spain. Although the newly independent provinces formed a Federation, border disputes broke out among them, adding to the region's turbulent history and conditions. Costa Rica's northern Guanacaste Province was annexed from Nicaragua in one such regional dispute. In 1838, long after the Central American Federation ceased to function in practice, Costa Rica formally withdrew and proclaimed itself sovereign. 

    An era of peaceful democracy in Costa Rica began in 1899 with elections considered the first truly free and honest ones in the country's history. This began a trend continued until today with only two lapses: in 1917-19, Federico Tinoco ruled as a dictator, and, in 1948, Jose Figueres led an armed uprising in the wake of a disputed presidential election. 

    With more than 2,000 dead, the 44-day civil war resulting from this uprising was the bloodiest event in 20th-century Costa Rican history, but the victorious junta drafted a constitution guaranteeing free elections with universal suffrage and the abolition of the army. Figueres became a national hero, winning the first election under the new constitution in 1953. Since then, Costa Rica has held 10 presidential elections, the latest in 1994. 

    Climate... 

    Costa Rica holds a privileged place in the world, being located in the very center of the isthmus of Central America. It is flanked to the east by the Caribbean, the west by the Pacific Ocean, to the north by Nicaragua and to the south by Panama. The total surface area is only 20,000 square miles, but it contains a wide variety of rivers, plains, mountains, valleys, volcanoes, beaches and forests. Costa Rica is a tropical country situated between two oceans. These factors combined with a complex, mountainous topography, give rise to a wide variety of habitats. These range from Tropical Dry Forest to Lowland Rainforest to Highland Paramo with a corresponding variety of climatic conditions. The temperatures vary from between 58 degrees and 72 degrees Fahrenheit in the Central Valley and between 72 and 82 degrees in the lowlands. The temperatures in each region remain relatively stable from May to November. There are three main mountain ranges in Costa Rica. The two volcanic ranges dominate the northwest and one non-volcanic range gives contour to the south. Mount Chirripo is the highest mountain in the country at 12,500 feet. 

    Business Hours...

    These vary according to the company or institution. Most government offices are open to the public from 8:00 a.m. up until 4:00 p.m. Private companies open from 8:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Shops and business open from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. in most cases. Others keep a 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. working day. In the Capital, there are supermarkets which are open right round the clock.

    Post Office...

    As in other parts of Central America, the post office in Costa Rica is generally slow and bureaucratic. All correspondence should be sent airmail. A typical letter takes from 10 days to three weeks to arrive at a U.S. destination, and even longer to reach Europe. 

    The post office system, called CORTEL covers the whole country. It costs about 25 cents (U.S) to
    send a postcard to North America and about 40 cents for a letter. Most post offices have fax and
    telegraph services.

    Telecommunications...

    This is one of the most efficient services in Latin America. International calls can be dialed direct from any point in the country. There are public telephones throughout the entire country and when these are not available, operator assisted telephones.

    Currency...

    The unit of currency is the colón, consisting of 100 centimos (223.00 colones equal U.S.$1; 1997).The Banco Central, established in 1950, is the bank of issue and administers foreign reserves. In the late 1980s the annual value of imports was about $1.7 billion and of exports, about $1.4 billion. The chief exports included coffee, bananas, beef, textiles, and sugar. Principal imports were manufactured goods, machinery, transportation equipment, chemicals, crude petroleum, and foodstuffs. The United States, Germany, Guatemala, El Salvador, Venezuela, and Japan were major trade partners. The entry in 1963 of Costa Rica into the Central American Common Market brought about major  increases in trade in that region.

    100 Colones5,000 colones
    1,000 colones500 colones
    Click here for  Costa Rica, Central America currency exchange rates

    Language...

    Spanish is the official language of Costa Rica, although, English is spoken by a large percentage.
    German, Italian, and French are also spoken.

    English is taught in high schools and universities, as a second language.

    In the Caribbean area, there is a higher percentage of English speaking individuals than Spanish
    speaking ones, due to the influence of the people of Jamaican descent.

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