Costa Rica is a nation on the isthmus of Central America; it is about 19,730 square miles in size, roughly as large as West Virginia or Denmark. Located in the tropics between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, it shares a border with Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south.
Geography and Climate
Costa Rica is marked by considerable geographic diversity, due in part to its mountainous terrain and its location between two large bodies of water. A series of mountain ranges or “cordilleras” running northwest to southeast divide the two coastal plains. The Pacific coast tends to be narrow and rocky, while the Caribbean coast is flatter and wider with more coastal wetlands.
Because Costa Rica is part of the Ring of Fire – a region of intense seismic activity that encircles the Pacific Ocean – earthquakes are not uncommon, and the country has several active volcanoes. A number of large rivers flow from the mountains; some drain into the ocean while others cross the northern border and drain into Lake Nicaragua.
Like most tropical countries, Costa Rica has two seasons: wet and dry. The dry season begins in December and lasts until April; May through November are, in most areas, the rainiest months. In general, the Caribbean coast is warmer and more humid than the Pacific. Throughout most of the country, temperatures are mild and very stable, varying little from month to month.
The country is known for its rich ecological variety, and about one-quarter of Costa Rica – including rain forests, marine parks and wetlands – has been set aside as protected lands. By some estimates, about five percent of the planet’s biodiversity is found here. This progressive program of environmental protection has made Costa Rica a magnet for wildlife researchers and eco-tourists.
Costa Rica’s first inhabitants were Mesoamericans; their population is estimated to have been roughly 400,000 at the time Christopher Columbus visited Costa Rica in 1502. In later years, the indigenous population shrunk to less than 10,000 due to disease, poverty and slavery. Though it was administered by Spain through the regional capital in Guatemala City, the colony had little wealth to export and few natives to work as laborers. Costa Rica never gained the prosperity that colonies like Mexico and Guatemala enjoyed.
In 1821, Costa Rica joined other Central American colonies in declaring independence from Spanish rule, and it became a state in the Federal Republic of Central America. In 1838, Costa Rica declared its sovereignty and withdrew; the Federated Republic disbanded soon thereafter. Unlike other Central American nations, Costa Rica never experienced significant periods of revolt or civil unrest – in fact, the Nicoya-Guanacaste region seceded from Nicaragua to join its less-turbulent neighbor in 1824.
William Walker, an American soldier of fortune, landed in Nicaragua in 1856 attempting to conquer Central America and take advantage of its agricultural wealth, including the region’s now-famous coffee crop. Walker marched into Costa Rica but was repelled by a hastily-organized militia. Coffee continued to define much of Costa Rica’s early history; coffee barons wielded considerable control over the government, but there were many reforms to check their influence and the nation entered the 20th century with a stable government.
In 1948, a brief 44-day civil war broke out between conservative forces and the working class, who were joined by the Catholic Church. When peace was restored, José Figueres Ferrer emerged as leader; he quickly instituted many reforms, including voting rights for women and minorities, taxes on the wealthy, and – perhaps most remarkably – eliminating the military, labeling it a threat to true democracy. The nation has, as a democratic republic, enjoyed an unusual degree of prosperity and stability ever since.
Costa Rica Today
San Jose is Costa Rica’s capital and largest city; located in the central highlands, its population is about 2 million. The country’s agricultural wealth, its well-educated population, and its central location to North and South America trade markets are its chief economic resources. In 2009, CAFTA-DR (the U.S.-Central American-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement) entered into force in Costa Rica. International corporations like Intel, Proctor and Gamble and Bayer have established major manufacturing and administrative centers there. It is a major tourist destination, and a growing community of retirees now call Costa Rica home.
Despite these economic investments, there are some concerns that crime is rising in Costa Rica, and the nation’s infrastructure of roads, dams and wastewater treatment facilities is in need of some updating. Electrical blackouts affected much of the country in 2007 as a result of unusually low rainfall, which limited hydroelectric power.
Related Costa Rica Resources
About.com Central America: Costa Rica Before You Go 
About.com Central America: Costa Rica Beaches 
About.com Central America: Costa Rica Islands 
About.com Central America: Costa Rica Nicoya Beaches 
About.com Central America: Costa Rica Manuel Antonio 
About.com Central America: Costa Rica Tamarindo Beach 
About.com Central America: Costa Rica Jaco Beach 
About.com Central America: Costa Rica Santa Elena and Monteverde 
About.com Central America: Costa Rica Pictures 
About.com Central America: Costa Rica Safety 
About.com Central America: San Jose 
About.com Central America: Costa Rica National Parks 
About.com Central America: Costa Rica Backpacking 
About.com Central America: Top Backpacking Destinations 
About.com Central America: Central America Surfing 
About.com Geography: Costa Rica Geography and Maps 
About.com Geography: Ring of Fire 
U.S. Department of State: Background Note: Costa Rica 
U.S. Department of State: Map of Costa Rica 
Central Intelligence Agency: Costa Rica Factbook 
Geographia: Costa Rica History and Culture 
Geographia: Costa Rica 
Infoplease: Costa Rica 
Lonely Planet: Costa Rica 
Lonely Planet: Costa Rica: History 
Lonely Planet: Costa Rica: Weather 
Lonely Planet: Costa Rica: Animals 
Lonely Planet: Costa Rica: Wildlife 
Lonely Planet: Costa Rica: Endangered Species 
Info Costa Rica 
Info Costa Rica: Costa Rica Today 
Info Costa Rica: Independence 
Info Costa Rica: 1948 Civil War 
Info Costa Rica: History 
Info Costa Rica: Retirement 
Info Costa Rica: Culture 
Info Costa Rica: Government 
Info Costa Rica: Education 
Info Costa Rica: Nature 
Info Costa Rica: People 
Info Costa Rica: Places 
Info Costa Rica: Weather 
Info Costa Rica: Sports 
Central America: Costa Rica 
The Tico Times: Culture 
Costa Rica News Site: News 
Sun Ranch: Retirement 
Costa Rica Guides: Costa Rica facts