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Costa Rica Guide - Costa Rica Real Estate

Costa Rica

By Meritxell Serrano



  • Culture
  • Economy
  • Geography
  • Government
  • History
  • Industry
  • Infrastructure
  • Nature
  • Weather


The people of Costa Rica are perhaps the most homogeneous among Central American populations. They identify deeply with the national ideals of democracy and peace, leading to a strong national character in many ways distinct from those of other countries of the isthmus, and contributing to the nation's popularity.

Although most of the population may be classed as "mestizo" -- a blend of European colonists with indigenous and black peoples -- racial differences are still quite noticeable. Guanacaste's inhabitants are generally darker-skinned than other Costa Ricans, for example, as a result of a high percentage of mixture with the original Chorotega Indian inhabitants.

The Atlantic Coast hosts 40,000 African Americans, who represent the largest racial minority in the country. Native Americans are currently spread throughout the country, mostly inhabiting one or another of 22 reserves authorized by law in 1976, which aimed to protect the native's land and culture. Three important tribes survive as distinct communities: the Bribri, from the Talamanca area; the Borucas, in the southern Pacific coastal areas; and the Guayami on the Panamanian border. Other groups such as the Chorotegas, Cabecares, Guatusos and Terrabas have been almost completely absorbed by western culture, and their cultures are more completely represented by archaeological remains than by their current lifestyles.

From the archaeological point of view, Costa Rica has three distinctive regions: Guanacaste/Nicoya in the Pacific northwest, the Atlantic Watershed/Central Highlands area in the Eastern and central portions of the country, and the Southern Pacific or "Diquis" area.

In pre-Columbian times, Costa Rica served as a meeting place for major indigenous cultures. It was a port for traders to exchange their goods, cultures and languages, producing a diverse local culture.

The nation's native inhabitants were agriculturalists, skilled in the arts of ceramics, fine weaving, metal working, and stone carving. Today, examples of these products are found in museums such as the National Museum, with a collection of over 45,000 objects (pottery, stone, gold and jade), the Gold Museum, and the Museum of Jade. Guayabo National Monument is an archaeological site in which the remains of a very highly developed pre-Columbian city can be seen. Researchers believe that native people lived here between 1000 B. C. and 1400 A. D.

Today Costa Rica is highly cosmopolitan. Spanish is the state language, although the black community is bilingual (most of them speak Spanish and English), as are the indigenous groups such as the Bribris, who still speak their native languages in addition to Spanish.

Costa Ricans are predominantly Catholic, but freedom of religion is protected by the constitution, and the Protestant community is quite important. There is a Catholic Church in every city or town. Fiestas, dances, and other cutural and religious events take place around the church, where people gather to socialize or simply enjoy the clear night-time sky.

Traditions are very important to the Costa Rican people. Religious holidays are among the most festive occasions, especially that of August 2nd, when thousands of Costa Ricans pay homage to the Virgen de los Angeles.

The northern region of Guanacaste has provided many of the country's folk traditions. The dance "Punto Guanacasteco" is still performed on special occasions, and the Guanastecan tradition of reciting "bombas" (humourous short rhymes) is familiar to all.

Colorful wooden ox-carts are an enduring part of rural Costa Rican scenery, used to carry agricultural products. During colonial times they were actually the most important means of transportation. Folk dances from the provinces of Cartago and Heredia are also notable elements of folk culture.

Typical meals vary between regions. Limón, in the Atlantic lowlands, enjoys a distinctive cuisine that makes extensive use of coconut oil and milk. Corn is the base for many dishes which originated in northern Costa Rica, and are now enjoyed throughout the country.

Costa Rica, especially San José, is currently home to a great deal of modern art and artists, although the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, along with the Costa Rican Art Museum, were created only 20 years ago. Since their establishment, artists have found support to their artistic activities through annual contests, special awards, scholarships, and art festivals.

Art galleries began to spread in 1972. Since then, the national market has become more demanding, forcing artists to become more disciplined and original. Today, the most popular art forms include sculpting, painting, and woodcarving.

The best known arts and crafts are those of Nicoya, where the Chorotega Indian style of making pottery is still present. Within the Central Valley, the village of Sarchí is the center of handcrafts, with products ranging from colorful souvenir miniature ox-carts to leather bags and purses. Sarchí also offers the possibility of visiting the factories where crafts are produced.

Costa Rican literature is developing, although it boasts several internationally-known writers whose works have been translated into many languages. Poetry, essays and short stories are among the nation's most important literary works. Promising younger writers have developed their own distinctive styles, and have produced several notable works. New editorial and publishing houses are fostering the growth of fresh ideas, and provide a means for poets to see their works published.

Costa Rica's National Symphony Orchestra was formed in 1970. Financed by the state, this Orchestra offers regular concerts of classical music. The National Theatre Company and the National Dance Company are also state funded.


What is the secret of an economy that despite a myriad of challenges and difficulties supports the largest middle class in Central America?

Costa Rica has built an economy based on agricultural products, starting as subsistence farming in colonial times and growing to be a major element of international commerce in the present. The country's fertile soil has been the key to economic growth.

However, international marketing is a relatively recent phenomenon: it was not until the latter half of the 19th century's that traditional items such as coffee, bananas, beef and sugar began to be exported. Non-traditional items followed, and since 1990 products such as textiles, ornamental plants and flowers, fish, and pharmaceutical products, among others, have been increasingly exported to foreign countries.

Between 1979 and 1982, when world prices for traditional crops collapsed, Costa Rica's economy went through the deepest crisis in its history. At the same time oil prices rose, with immense effects on a country that depends heavily on the importation of raw materials. Costa Ricans today still feel the consequences of those distressing times.

Several international programs emerged at that time to try to overcome these unfortunate circumstances. The Programa de Ajuste Estructural (PAE) was the most important of these, and is still active today. Supported by the World Bank, it seeks to increase the country's participation in the world marketplace by encouraging non-traditional exports as a first step towards economic diversification.

As part of its economic transformation, Costa Rica's welfare state, originally funded mostly by foreign loans, is transferring some of its institutions to private ownership. Arrangements with the Mexican and US governments have also become increasingly important during the last decades.

These changes have not positively affected all Costa Ricans, but as time passes they will bring better economic conditions to the country as a whole. Other problems, such as high unemployment and a minimum wage that doesn't keep up with increases of the costs of food and shelter, are also now being confronted.

Despite these problems, Costa Rica is still far better off than many other developing countries. Elementary and secondary education are free, for instance, and nutrition programs offer at least two meals a day to students of primary schools. There are also three state universities in the Central Valley, with branches in other areas of the country. Although university education is not free, tuition fees are low and scholarships are available to most students.

Almost every citizen has access to health care, whether they make payments to the Social Security System or not. Even the poorest families living in remote areas of the country are provided with paramedical centers which doctors and nurses visit on fixed schedules, and the number of regional hospitals is growing. The creation of new housing also has a prominent place in social programs.

Costa Rica has a relatively healthy financial environment with good prospects for growth, providing a secure basis for new investments. The Bolsa Nacional de Valores (National Securities Exchange) is a self-regulated corporation established in 1976. It belongs to the country's security market, whose activities are regulated by two institutions: the Central Bank and the Comisión Nacional de Valores (National Securities Commission).

The government is constantly concerned with the reduction of inflation, an always difficult task in any country. The national debt is currently near US$4 billion, and pressures to repay have increased during the last few years. Still, Costa Rica's standards of living are the second-highest in Central America. During 1992, the country's economic growth rate was 7.3% and the Gross National Product increased by 4.9%. The diversification of the economy, as well as an impressive and sudden growth of the tourist industry over the past years, is allowing the country to forsee a brighter future.


The country of Costa Rica is frequently compared to the state of West Virginia, and indeed the two have much in common, especially size and abundance of rugged terrain. West Virginia has abundant water resources, but Costa Rica receives three times the rainfall of West Virginia and the mountains of Costa Rica reach heights of over 12,000 feet (3650 m). Even their similarity in size is rather misleading, for the effective size of Costa Rica is far greater than that of its northern sister.

As Edward Abbey noted, distance and space are functions of speed and time. One can drive from the northern border of West Virginia at Morgantown to Bluefield at its southern border in 5-6 hours, but to drive from the Nicaraguan border of Costa Rica to the Panamanian border takes over 15 hours under the best of conditions on the Pan-American Highway. Other routes take considerably longer.

The effective size of Costa Rica, then, is far greater than that of a state of similar dimensions in the United States, for vehicles move slowly and time passes deliberately in this surprisingly large country. The rugged terrain combined with a dense drainage network and correspondingly great volume of runoff provide more opportunities for whitewater paddling than for any other area of comparable dimensions. Surely no other land contains as much paddleable whitewater per square mile as Costa Rica.

Geography has given Costa Rica a privileged place in the world. It is a land bridge in every sense: it lies between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans, and between two continents, North and South America. With Nicaragua on the north border and Panamá on the south, Costa Rica is the second-smallest country in Central America, with an area of only 51,100 square km. Despite its small size, it is home to an immense diversity of plants and animals from both North and South America, and has outstanding weather, soil and vegetation.

The backbone of the country is formed by a series of mountain ranges that extend south from Nicaragua across the country to the Panamanian border, with only one meaningful break: the Meseta Central or Central Valley, which is surrounded by impressive mountains. This is the most important and developed region of Costa Rica, where you will find the capital of San José and the towns of Heredia, Alajuela, Cartago and Turrialba, among others. The valley is the center of Costa Rican government, industry, agriculture, commerce, and financal activities; the population is growing steadily, and at the present moment 60 percent of the country's population lives in this region. Most urban development occurs in this area; here you will find everything from old-fashioned cozy homes and antique cathedrals to ultra-modern buildings and luxurious shopping centers. However, the greatest richness of this region lies under the surface, for it contains the country's most fertile volcanic soils, ideal for coffee and other agricultural products.

The mountainous backbone of Costa Rica has different names along its course: the northern mountains are grouped into the Guanacaste, Tilarán and Central Cordilleras, rising up to 11,322 feet (3,440 meters). Some of the volcanoes that help to make up these Cordilleras are still active -- Poás Volcano, at 8,900 feet (2,705 meters), has what some specialists consider to be the largest volcanic crater in the world. Irazú Volcano, at 11,322 feet (3,440 meters), and Arenal Volcano, at 5,358 feet (1,635 meters), both also active, put on fiery shows from time to time.

Continuing further south towards Panamá, we enter the impressive Talamanca Cordillera. This volcanic cordillera holds the highest peak of the country, Cerro Chirripó at 12,532 feet (3,820 meters). Chirripó also has the lowest temperatures of the country: they may vary from 80º F to 30º F at nighttime. Running throughout most of the country's surface, rivers and waterways form a complex network that provides the country with fresh water and hydraulic power all year round, and with enough to spare to export to neighbouring countries. Large rivers, such as the Reventazón, Térraba and Tempisque, are scarce due to the small size of the country, but that doesn't stop whitewater rafting and kayaking from being highly popular sports.Costa Rica's rivers are well known in the boating community.

Costa Rica has two coastlines: one bordering the Caribbean Sea (Atlantic Ocean), another bordering the Pacific Ocean. The Atlantic Coastline is a flat and regular lowland about 125 miles (210 km.) long. The Pacific Coast instead is over 630 miles (1,016 km.) long, characterized by irregular and rocky headlands. It has two deep bays formed by the Nicoya Peninsula to the north, and the Osa Peninsula to the South.

Most of the islands of Costa Rica are in the Pacific Ocean, but both oceans are equally rich when it comes to marine and coastal life. We must mention Isla del Coco, a 24 square-km island lying some 500 km off the coastline in the Pacific ocean, well-known for the legends it has inspired (buried pirate treasures) and the incredible richness of its associated marine flora and fauna. This is Costa Rica's only oceanic island, and it has been declared a National Park,to protect its still untouched natural resources and habitats.


Armed forces as an institution were abolished in Costa Rica in 1949. Instead, Costa Rica has Civil, Rural and Municipal Guards for internal security services. To many, this is the secret to Costa Rica's peace and democracy. But the true reason may well be that the country's power structure is built in such a way that it doesn't allow any one person or group to acquire and maintain too much control over national affairs.

Costa Rica is regulated by the Constitution of the 7th of November, 1949, the same document that abolished the army, and which still prevents abuse of power by a strong president. National power is divided among three branches: the executive, the legislative and the judicial powers.

Executive power is wielded by the president of the country, assisted by two vice presidents and a cabinet of 18 Ministers. They are elected every four years and may not be re-elected for a second term.

Although this council is where most of the country's power lies, many actions require the support of the Legislative Assembly. The Assembly holds legislative power; it may amend the president's budget, and it holds the right to appoint the Republic's comptroller or contralor, who checks on public expenditures and controls executive actions related to the national budget. If a two-thirds majority of the Assembly votes against presidential decisions, they will be overturned; the Assembly is also the country's only institution with the power to declare war.

The Legislative Assembly is formed of 57 members, known also as deputies, democratically elected from the country's seven provinces. The number of deputies from a province varies depending on the province's population.

Judicial power lies with the Supreme Court. Its members -known as magistrates- are assigned by the Legislative Assembly for 8-year terms, and they may serve two terms unless voted out of office by the Assembly.

The Supreme Court also embraces 100 lower civil and criminal courts, whose judges are assigned by the magistrates. Constitutional reviews by the courts are important, and have helped keep presidential power under control.

Costa Rica's government structure has what may be called a "fourth power". It is known as the Electoral Tribunal, and it is in charge of overseeing elections every four years. It is staffed by three magistrates assigned by the Supreme Court, and six substitutes who are independent of the government.

The existence of this tribunal reflects how important clean elections are for Costa Ricans. It must also be noted that although people are serious about electing a new president, February often turns into a big, joyful fiesta every four years. People begin to wave their flags everywhere they go, honk their horns, and invent songs and jokes to deliver as they walk on the streets strewing confetti.

These activities are carefully overseen by the Electoral Tribunal to ensure a peaceful electoral process; the oversight process also ensures democracy and fairness, since it is involved with every phase of the process from registering voters (all citizens over 18 years old), to controlling political advertising to avoid political smear campaigns, campaign planning, setting the actual election date (usually every four years, on the first Sunday of February) and vote counting.

Costa Rica is divided into seven provinces, which in turn are subdivided into 81 cantones or counties, and these into 429 districts. Each province is headed by a governor appointed by the executive power. Districts are ruled by local governments known as municipalidades. They are headed by a munícipe whose election depends on the percentage of votes obtained by each political party every four years. Municipal councils have limited powers, and their decisions do not affect national policy. Nevertheless, they are becoming increasingly aware of how much their actions bring about national implications, and thus governors and community leaders organize themselves to demand for financial support.

Health care, education and social welfare programs embrace most citizens. The provision of these basic rights is managed by well-established institutions, such as the Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social (social security), the Instituto Nacional de Seguros (insurance institute), and a strong educational system led by the Ministry of Education that receives 23 percent of the national budget.

The quality of education and health care is a matter of constant debate in many sectors of the country. Bureaucracy and corruption among the highest levels of government may be found, especially since the government is large relative to the size of the country.

Despite several challenges faced by the government, Costa Rican citizens enjoy equality before the law, the rights of petition, assembly, and freedom of speech. Costa Rica is a true democratic Republic in which the lack of centralized power has built a democracy with outstanding results.


When thinking of Costa Rica, different images from those generated for the rest of Central America come to mind. History itself has made this country a different place to live. The first people to inhabit this land were the Chorotegas - originally from what we today know as Mexico- and the Chibchas - a Colombian native nation. Both pre - Columbian populations brought their own culture and life to a land naturally diverse.

The Chorotegas inhabited Guanacaste and the Nicoya Península. The Chibchas first migrated to the South Pacific, and then divided into clans that spread onto different areas. There were also important migrations from the jungles of Brazil and Ecuador to the lowland jungles of the Costa Rican Atlantic Coast, also known as Talamanca.

Upon the first arrival of the Spaniards (1502), the native inhabitants of Costa Rica had developed a complex social structure; they had their own monetary system, a ritual calendar, and had developed the skill of writing. But first-comers were not so impressed by these achievements as they were by the gold decorations and the friendly reception provided by the native people. When the Spaniards came back to colonize the area, they encountered a different situation. The jungle was hostile to the invaders, tropical diseases were impossible to handle, there was no sign of gold mines, and most of all, the native peoples did not surrender easily, but rather fought back fiercely.

Colonization was finally accomplished by the Spaniards in 1562, when Juan Vásquez de Coronado founded Cartago in the central highlands, instead of attempting to colonize the coastal areas.

This colony was different from Spanish colonies anywhere else: the native population was so small that there was little chance to form the mestizo culture, so common among other colonies. It also meant that the workforce available to Spaniards was smaller. The treasures Spaniards expected to find in this rich land turned out to be very scarce. Hence, this area was effectively forgotten for many years. Furthermore, no new colonies were established in Costa Rica until 1717, when Heredia was founded. Then San José followed (1737), and later Alajuela (1782). By 1800 only 50,000 people lived in the entire country. A change was urgently needed if Costa Rica was to grow and become a Republic. This change was provided by the independence movement.

In 1821 Costa Rica tardily received the news that Central American colonies had declared independence from Spain. But being an independent country was no easy task, and cooperation was required. Thus, the Central American Federation was created (1823) as a means to facilitate the region's efforts towards sucessful independence. In 1838, the union fell apart, and Costa Rica declared its own independence, continuing to see itself as a separate country ever since.

History shows that democracy became the sole ruler of Costa Rica after its declaration of indpendence. There have been though few breaks in the country's democracy. One of them is Braulio Carrillo's dictatorship (1835 - 1842). As the elected president of the newly formed country, Carrillo imposed his decisions and suppressed any opposition to his will. Even now Costa Ricans resent his dictatorship.

But his time in office brought about good signs also: he organized the country's political system and encouraged people to produce coffee. Thanks to this initiative, and the region's soil and climate ideal conditions, Costa Rica increased coffee exports and became more economically secure.

In 1842, Carrillo was forced from power by Francisco Morazón and his party, who then became the new president. But Costa Ricans were not pleased with his efforts to reestablish the Federation, and he was executed one year later.

The nation's first president came into power in 1847; his name was José María Castro Madríz. Coffee producers didn´t find his willingness to sponsor freedom of press meaningful, and by 1849 Costa Rica had a new president: Juan Rafael Mora, a member of the new coffe aristocracy. He is well-known for his opposition (1856) to William Walker, a Yankee adventurer who tried to conquer Costa Rica and enslave its inhabitants.

In April 1870, General Tomás Guardia overthrew the government and served for 12 years. During this time, he managed to use coffee earnings and taxations to finance public investments, such as roads and buildings. By making primary education free and obliglatory for both sexes, he helped improve the population's awareness on the political process of the nation.

In 1889, the Costa Ricans finally witnessed the country's first steps towards democracy. President Bernardo Soto called for elections with popular participation, although women and blacks were still excluded. After this election, new presidents kept trying to amend the Constitution to continue their rule, or to impose their own choice for president, but the country remained at peace until democracy faced a new challenge in 1919: Federico Tinoco, the nation's Minister of War at the time, formed a dictatorship that overthrew the elected president, Alfredo González Flores. But costarricans had already accepted liberty as their form of life, and were not willing to give it up. Due to their opposition, Tinoco was exiled by 1919.

From here, there follows a tranquile series of administrations, destroyed only by 1930's Depression. National efforts didn't accomplish much, and unemployment, low salaries and poor working conditions remained as a result of an old-fashioned partenalistic state.

In 1940, Costa Rica's constitution underwent new reforms - still effective- sponsored by Rafael Angel Calderón Guardia. Such reforms established worker's rights to organize, social security and minimum wage standards. Calderón was succeeded in 1944 by Teodoro Picado.

In 1948, Costa Rica's democracy was put on hold again. José Figueres Ferrer opposed outgoing president Teodoro Picado -who was supported by Calderón- because he refused to hand power over to president-elect Otilio Ulate Blanco.

As a result, a civil war broke out. After several weeks of fighting, Figueres and his forces emerged victorious. Two thousand people were killed during the 1948 Civil War, but their deaths brought about political changes that still are of great importance to Costa Rica. In fact, a new political constitution was drafted after the war, a task undertaken by an interim government represented by Figueres himself. This new constitution became a turning point in Costa Rica's history since it abolished the armed forces as a permanent institution.

Costa Rica's democracy makes it a beautiful place to live in; but the absence of an army makes its beauty unique, incomparable. The dissolution of the army was only one among many other outstanding acts: the constitution also established a neutral electoral tribunal, allowed women, blacks, and everyone over 18 to vote, and prohibited presidents from running for successive terms.

Over the following 40 years, these reforms were continued and extended due to Costa Rica's awareness of the importance of building a free country. The lack of an army has led to larger investments on educational, health care and ecological programs. In 1987, president Oscar Arias was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to spread peace and democracy throughout Central America.

Democracy and peace, Costa Rica's traditional ways of life, have helped the development of environmental consciousness and measures for environmental protection. Recently, Costa Rica signed an historic new agreement by which the country will be responsible for the maintenance of forest vegetation which will help to clean the air polluted by industry in other countries.


The issue here is not quantity, but variety. An agricultural economy prevails in a country where land is covered by small-sized family farms, instead of the large one-owner haciendas common in other Latin American countries.

Its industry ranges from gourmet coffee beans to electric power needed to get the water boiling for your mid-morning coffee break, and the timber to make a comfortable chair to drink it in. This is the result of government's efforts to diversify the country's economy, since for many years previously coffee was its only source of foreign income, creating an instable economy.

The first coffee beans arrived from Jamaica in 1779, when the country was still a colony of Spain. The coffee industry then began to grow, helped by ideal coffee-growing conditions (a warm and mild climate, fertile volcanic soils and abundant rainfall) in the Meseta Central area. International markets have ranked Costa Rica's coffee beans among the best in the world.

One-third of the country's workforce is involved in coffee production. Coffee exports are the most important in terms of earnings, closely followed by bananas, which represent 30% of the nation's income. In fact, Costa Rica is the second biggest exporter of bananas in the world.

Banana plantations began with the Boston Fruit Co. (today the United Fruit Company) in 1870. Now, over 40,000 hectares are covered by these plantations; the green carpet of banana plants has become an outstanding part of the Caribbean landscape.

Seventy percent of agricultural land is used for cattle pasture. Three quarters of Costa Rica's cattle are found in Guanacaste, known as "cattle country". Here, meat-raising is common, and it supplies both national consumption and international markets, accounting for 9% of the country's export earnings. Milk breeds are raised mostly in the high mountains of the Central Valley. The dairy industry is highly developed, with new technology is being implemented every year.

Sugar cane has also aided the country's economy, while cocoa is grown in the Atlantic coast area and cotton grows in the northwest plains of Guanacaste. Other non-traditional products, such as papaya, sweet potatoes, strawberries, flowers, grains and tobacco are encouraged to stabilize the country's economy in the face of variations in price or demand of any particular product.

The importance of manufacturing is increasing in Costa Rica. Since the nation's economy is based on agricultural products, food processing is currently the most important industry of this type. In recent years, pharmaceutical and textile exports have also risen.

A few years ago Costa Rica imported a number of products that it exports today. Industry, technology and education go hand in hand when it comes to this part of the isthmus. Well-trained human resources are a powerful lure for foreign investments. Raw-Back Draw Industry (maquila) has become a growing source of employment for Costa Ricans, since it requires personnel specialized in high technology areas.

Geothermal and hydroelectric power are provided by the country's natural resources. Today Costa Rica is self-sufficient in electricity, and has in fact become an exporter of electric power to other Central American countries.

Tourism seems to be becoming the nation's most important industry, and ecotourism flourishes here stimulated by Costa Rica's extremely strong interest in nature conservation and environmental protection.

The government's efforts seem to leading the way to a responsible tourism industry for future generations to enjoy, but money still talks loudly, and large, expensive and luxurious resorts are being built along the coastal areas, sometimes destroying important ecosystems and drastically changing the landscape. Local inhabitants, and the country as a whole, may benefit economically from this source of employment in the short term, but if this process is too damaging to the natural enviroment, the medium- and long-term pictures are far less attractive. What actions must be taken to allow the emergence of a sustainable tourist industry?


The Inter-American Highway crosses the country from North to South, providing the best and most frequently-used route into Costa Rica from Nicaragua and Panamá. Within the country, there are over 35,000 kilometers of roads leading to most of your preferred destinations, although the further you get into the countryside, the less paved roads you will find.

Renting a car is a good option, and there are plenty of national and international car rental companies. The country also offers excellent domestic bus services, with scheduled trips to every principal town, city, and tourist area. There is also an international bus service that takes you south to Panamá, and as far north as Guatemala.

Juan Santamaría International Airport is the largest international airport. Located in the province of Alajuela, a few minutes away from downtown San José, the airport offers high safety standards, supported by modern aerial navigation equipment and safety regulations.

Domestic flights leave from the Juan Santamaría and Tobías Bolaños National Airports in the Central Valley, as well as from other, smaller airports in Liberia, Palmar Sur, Golfito, Barra del Colorado and Limón, and several other cities. Costa Rican airlines provide most domestic flights, but only a few of these local airlines have international flights as well.

Major ports, two on the Atlantic Coast and three on the Pacific, give substantial support to the national economy by handling the exportation of products such as coffee, bananas and sugar cane. They also receive imported merchandise and transfer incoming crude petroleum to national refineries. Lately, Puerto Limón and Puerto Caldera are also welcoming thousands of tourists travelling in large and luxurious cruise ships.

Health and education are among the nation's most developed institutions. The Ministry of Health looks after the health of Costa Rica's inhabitants with preventive and curative medical programs. State hospitals such as the Hospital Nacional de Niños and the Hospital México, are well equipped with modern medical technology and large facilities. There are 1,491 patients per doctor and Costa Rican life expectancy is an unusually high 75.2 years. A Social Security System was established in the 40's and it is still caring for Costa Rican citizens today.

By law, primary education is compulsory and free; thus the country's literacy rate (over 90%) is among the highest in Latin America and other developing countries. Today, every little town has its own school.

Three state universities and one technological institute lead the country's higher education system. Partially financed by the state, these universities offer scholarships based on financial need. A growing number of private universities are offer another educational alternative. State and private libraries are available throughout the country.

Costa Rica's telecommunication systems are among the most advanced in Latin America. Costa Rica had the first seven-digit telephone number system in Central America, implemented in March, 1994. International calls can be made by dialing a three-digit number that connects you with an operator. Telephone lines, postal and telegraph offices are available in cities and villages throughout the country.

Virtually every business or company has a fax machine, and Radiográfica Costarricense offers fax services to the general public. A growing number of companies have Internet presences, and the private use of the Internet is increasing explosively.

Geothermal and hydroelectric power are important resources in Costa Rica, allowing Costa Rica to be self-sufficient in electricity, and, in fact, a power exporter to other Central American countries.

A vast variety of lodgings are provided for the public by national and foreign investors, from charming Bed and Breakfasts, cozy town hotels, and countryside room and board services, to large haciendas, giant resorts, and luxurious hotels. Remote areas also offer a variety of nature lodges and privately-owned reserves designed especially to let you absorb Costa Rica's incredible natural richness and diversity at first hand.


Nature is Costa Rica's best tour. No matter how long it takes to get to the remotest reserve, or how close to the city a national park is, no matter how few facilities there are at the site, nature will be there to overwhelm you with its peacefulness and beauty.

Geologically, Costa Rica is a three million-year-old bridge, a pathway actually between the two American continental masses. This makes Costa Rica a special place, allowing the movement of species from one continent to another and the creation of an incredibly diverse flora and fauna.

Thousands of species have found the right habitat in this small tropical country. Numbers fail to completely represent its biological diversity, but you can try imagining well over 500,000 species of flora and fauna (representing approximately 5% of all species known to exist on earth) living together in a country of only 51,000 square kilometers.

The country's diversity encompasses 850 species of birds, from hummingbirds to macaws, toucans, hawks, and the marvelous quetzal; over 35,000 species of insects; 208 species of mammals, from jaguars and cougars to ocelots, tapir, monkeys and bats; 220 species of reptiles such as sea turtles, iguanas, crocodiles, lizards and snakes; up to 2,000 orchids, and an immense variety of other plants, flowers and trees.

Of course, they all need the right spot to live and reproduce, which is handily provided by Costa Rica's vast variety of natural habitats, from rare tropical dry forests to swamps, mangrove, rainforests, cloud forests, coral reefs, páramos, rivers, beaches, lakes, grasslands, hilillo forests, and marshlands. The well-known Holdridge Life Zone system, which categorizes environments based on variation in temperature and rainfall, divides Costa Rica into at least twelve major life zones.

To talk about nature in Costa Rica means talking about conservation, environmental awareness and ecotourism. Since 1950, national and international efforts have emphasized the need to take action against exploitation and destruction of Costa Rica's natural resources and habitats.

Although development tends to take advantage of nature's abundance without giving it a second thought, Costa Rica has managed to put 27% of the country under legal protection. There are a total of 18 national parks, 7 biological reserves and 10 national wildlife refuges, plus a small number of private protected areas. National Parks are protected from the violent intrusion of humans. Instead, environmental research, educational activities and small-scale recreational tourism is encouraged.

The National Park System embraces most of the country's ecosystems. Every imaginable climate, environmental region and type of natural treasure lies within these protected areas, from desolate moon-like Irazú, to ever green Poás, and rumbling and fiery Arenal (one of nine active volcanoes in Costa Rica). Everything from mist and clouds, to deep canyons (Braulio Carrillo National Park) and different landscapes within the same site. Intricate waterways and important nesting beaches for Green Sea Turtles, such as in Tortuguero National Park; large coral reefs in Cahuita, large extensions of protected land in giant La Amistad National Park, of 193,929 hectares; Chirripó National Park surrounding Costa Rica's highest peak; the largest inhabited island in the world, Isla del Coco National Park ("World Patrimony Site, 1990), with an amazing number of waterfalls, water caves, endemic species of plants, and 276 inches of rain per year.

These protected areas are also being used to develop important environmental projects. For example, the 49,515 hectare Santa Rosa National Park has undertaken a reforestation project that has attracted worldwide attention. Other protected areas have established educational displays for national and international visitors. Palo Verde National Park is a paradise for scientific research; La Amistad and Chirripó National Parks were declared both "Reserves of the Biosphere" (1982), and "World Patrimony Sites" (1983).

Biological Reserves, as well as National Wildlife Refuges, are meant to protect whole ecosystems as well as wildlife habitats. No sports, hunting or fishing are permitted within those areas -- only nondestructive study and scientific research.


Costa Rica is a tropical country located between 8 and 11 degrees north of the equator. It has twelve bioclimates, three different rainfall regimes and many microclimates, so researching its climatological conditions can be an almost neverending task.

Although Costa Rica is considered to have a stable climate, it is important to note that different temperature and weather conditions may be experienced within the same day, or within short distances, due mostly to the rugged terrain of this mountainous country. There are two well defined seasons: the rainy season or winter (invierno), and the dry season or summer (verano), with basically one main difference between them: rainfall averages. Dry season runs from December to April, and the rainy season from May to November. Rainfall averages for the country may reach the highest point during the months of September and October -- approximately 650 mm per month.

Seasonal changes don't bring significant changes in temperatures, although nights may be cooler in some areas during the rainy season. Mornings will most commonly be sunny all year round. San José is located 1150 meters above sea level, and has a moderate temperature throughout the year. It may go as low as 15º C at nighttime, and up to 26º C during the day, giving rise to the image of San José as a city with an eternal spring climate. The Intermontane Central Valley where San José lies has an average temperature of 20º C, and may actually be considered as dry compared to the humidity of the Caribbean Slope. When it rains, temperatures will drop slightly, mostly because of humidity and winds.

The Caribbean coastline has an average temperature of 21º C at night, and 30º C during the day. The rainy season has a rainfall average of 224 inches (5,600 mm) per year, along the coast, on the eastern face of the mountains and in the Caribbean lowlands. In most of Costa Rica the peak periods of rainfall occur during May to June and September to October, although precipitation remains substantial throughout the period. Though it is considered to be the wettest region of the country, rains usually occur at late evening and nighttime. Due to humidity and trade winds, temperatures will remain low, and even drop noticeably during rainy nights.

The Pacific coast is warmer than the Atlantic by 3º to 5º C. The northern part of the coastline as well as Guanacaste is totally dry for six months of the year. Rainfall raverages only 59 inches (1,500 mm) a year in the northwest and central part of the country. The South Pacific region is wetter than its counterpart to the north. General rainfall will reach up to 197 inches (5,000 mm) a year. High mountainous areas, such as the region surrounding Costa Rica's highest peak Cerro Chirripó, have cold, windy and cloudy conditions all year round. Chirripó remains below 10º C (50º F) during the day, and may experience temperatures as low as 0º C (32º F) at night. Frost and even snow have been reported. During early morning hours, Costa Rica's highlands usually reach below-freezing temperatures.

As a general rule, temperatures decline with elevation at a rate of approximately 3.5 Fahrenheit degrees per thousand feet in Costa Rica (6.5º C per 1000 m). Thus, average December temperatures vary from 79ºF (26ºC) at Orotina on the coast, to 66ºF (19ºC) in San José at 3500 feet (1100 m), to a chilly 43ºF (6ºC) in Villa Mills at 10,000 feet (3050 m).

First-time visitors to Costa Rica often neglect to bring a warm jacket with them after reading about the climates of the coastal regions and the Central Valley. A medium-weight fleece jacket is ideal.

Copyright 1997

Note: The above information is not to be used for any other purpose other than private study, research, criticism or review. Thank you.

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