The relative economic prosperity and political stability, as well as the strong rootedness of the Hispanic cultural tradition, characterize the small Central American republic of Costa Rica.
Located in the southern portion of the Central American isthmus, Costa Rica is bordered by the Caribbean Sea to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the south and west, Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the southeast. The area of the country is 51,100km2.
Geology and relief
The relief of Costa Rica is mountainous. The volcanic mountain range from Nicaragua runs along the country longitudinally, first with the name of Guanacaste and then as the Central Sierra. Its last massif is that of Turrialba, where the volcano of the same name is located, in the province of Carthage. Another important mountain range is the Talamanca, originally from Panama, which extends towards the volcanic mountain range penetrating the provinces of Cartago and San José. Between the two mountain ranges is the Central plateau, the most fertile and inhabited area in the country. .
The coasts are generally low, with uniform contours in the Atlantic and more irregular in the Pacific, where the Nicoya and Osa peninsulas are located. The largest plains are those of the Tempisque valley, in the province of Guanacaste, and those that stretch between the mountain range and the Atlantic until reaching the San Juan River and Lake Nicaragua. The culminating point of the country is the 3,820m high Chirripó Grande peak, in the Talamanca mountain range.
The coastal slopes, up to a thousand meters above sea level, are hot and humid (25 to 27 C). From one thousand to two thousand meters of altitude, the temperatures are mild, as, for example, in the Central plateau (15 to 25 C). Above two thousand meters, the climate is cold (5 to 15 C). The rainy season extends from May to November, with more abundant rainfall on the coastal strips, especially in the Atlantic, and more scarce at high altitudes.
Few rivers are navigable, but they have high hydraulic potential. On the Atlantic side, San Juan stands out; Frio, the main tributary of Lake Nicaragua; the flow of Tortuguero; Reventazón, which helps to fertilize the Central plateau; and Sixaola, on the border with Panama. Of the rivers that flow to the Pacific, the Tempisque, an important communication route of Guanacaste, deserves mention; the Grande de Tárcoles and the Grande de Térraba (or Diquis), in whose basin there is the greatest hydroelectric potential in Costa Rica.
Flora and fauna
According to Relationshipsplus.com, almost half of Costa Rica’s territory is covered with forests, in which species of economic value are found, such as cedar and mahogany. In coastal areas, from northeast to south, where rainfall is more abundant, the tropical forest predominates; on the mountainous slope of the Atlantic, the vegetation has characteristics of humid tropical forest; in the Central plateau, the typical vegetation is the dry tropical forest, with fewer trees and soil covered with grasses and herbaceous. The cerrado is characteristic of Potrero Grande and part of Guanacaste, while the mixed forest predominates in the higher regions.
The fauna is that of the neotropical zoogeographic zone, which covers South America, Central America, the Antilles and half of Mexico. There are more than 800 species of birds and a wide variety of mammals, such as monkeys, anteaters, deer, lynx, coyotes, sloths, weasels, otters and foxes.
The population of the Central plateau, where most of the inhabitants are concentrated, is mostly of European origin, mainly Spanish. The descendants of blacks and Indians were absorbed by the Spanish population. The Pacific Northwest coast is home to a more pronounced ethnic mix of Spaniards, Indians and Blacks, which has resulted in a darker skin type. On the Caribbean coast, where about six percent of the population live, black descendants of African slaves are grouped. Many of them came from Jamaica, in the 19th century, to work on the construction of railroads, and speak a variant of English.
In the south of the country, some indigenous peoples remain, such as bribris, heads and borucas. In the north there are some tribes of Guatemalan Indians. The language of all Costa Rican Indians is related to chibcha, although the Borucas and Guatemalans are in an advanced state of acculturation.
The capital of Costa Rica is San José, founded by the Spaniards in a valley on the Central plateau at 1,180m above sea level, and designed on a chessboard, the classic model of Spanish colonization. Other important cities are Cartago, Limón, Puntarenas and Alajuela. The official language is Castilian.
Costa Rica does not have the conditions of extreme poverty that are frequent in other regions of Central America. Its gross domestic product is the largest in the region and the national income is distributed relatively evenly. From the 1970s onwards, the country experienced economic difficulties due to high oil prices in the international market and falling prices for coffee, its main export product. The need to import a large volume of industrialized products contributed to unbalance the balance of payments, with which all the country’s reserves were consumed. In the last decades of the twentieth century, tourism has become one of the main sources of foreign exchange in the country, mitigating the effects of the crisis.
Costa Rica’s main productive activities are agriculture and livestock. Corn, rice and beans are grown on the peaceful side of the mountain ranges. The most important export products are coffee, grown on the Central plateau, and bananas, which grow on both coasts. The country also exports sugar cane, cocoa and meat. The land ownership regime does not present the striking contrasts typical of other Latin American countries.
There are deposits of minerals in the country, such as bauxite and manganese, but their location makes extraction economically unfeasible. Water reserves are the greatest potential for industrial development in Costa Rica.
Concentrated on the Central plateau, the industrial facilities are also found in Puntarenas and Limón. The food, beverage, clothing, footwear and furniture industry predominates. For export, electric machines, paper, medicines and metallurgical products are manufactured.
Terrestrial communications are intertwined in the Central plateau, in San José and Cartago, Heredia and Alajuela, from where narrow and tortuous roads leave for the neighboring valleys and mountains. Two national railway lines depart from the capital, in addition to other smaller railways, managed by banana companies. From 1955, the Pan-American highway favored domestic land transportation and with the rest of Central America. The main ports are Limón, Golfito and Puntarenas. The only international airport in the country is located in Alajuela.