Costa Rica

From New World Encyclopedia
República de Costa Rica
Republic of Costa Rica
Flag of Costa Rica Coat of arms of Costa Rica
Motto"Vivan siempre el trabajo y la paz(Spanish)
"Long live work and peace"
Noble patria, tu hermosa bandera (Spanish)
Noble homeland, your beautiful flag

Location of Costa Rica
(and largest city)
San José
9°56′N 84°5′W
Official languages Spanish
Recognized regional languages Mekatelyu, Bribri
Demonym Costa Rican; Tico
Government Constitutional democracy
(Presidential republic)
 -  President Luis Guillermo Solís
 -  1st Vice-President Helio Fallas Venegas
 -  2nd Vice-President Ana Helena Chacón Echeverría
Independent Declared 
 -  from Spain September 15, 1821 
 -  from Mexico (the First Mexican Empire) July 1, 1823 
 -  from United Provinces of Central America March 21, 1847 
 -  Recognized by Spain May 10, 1850 
 -  Constitution November 7, 1949[1] 
 -  Total 51,100 km² (19,700 sq mi) km² (128th)
19,653 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 0.7
 -  2011 estimate 4,301,712[2] (123rd)
 -  Density 84[2]/km² (107th)
220/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2015 estimate
 -  Total $74.324 billion[3] 
 -  Per capita $15,365[3] 
GDP (nominal) 2015 estimate
 -  Total $52.800 billion[3] 
 -  Per capita $10,916[3] 
Gini (2009) 50[4] (high
Currency Costa Rican colón (CRC)
Time zone UTC−06:00 (UTC-6)
Internet TLD .cr
Calling code [[++506]]

The Republic of Costa Rica ("Rich Coast") is a country in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua to the north, Panama to the south-southeast, the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, and the Caribbean Sea to the east. Costa Rica is seen as an example of political stability in the region, and is sometimes referred to as the "Switzerland of Central America" because of its high growth rates, economic stability, and low crime. With a population of 4 million, the country enjoys a literacy rate of over 90 percent. It was the first country in the world to constitutionally abolish its nation's army, in 1948. Since then, it has experienced unbroken democratic rule.

Costa Rica is also at the forefront of conservation and environmental management innovations that recognize biological resources as an important national asset. Costa Rica has developed one of the world's most successful ecotourism industries.

The Costa Rican people's peaceful and embracing mindset is a model for other nations of the world. Despite much political unrest and violence in neighboring countries, Costa Ricans have absorbed tens of thousands of refugees, mostly from Nicaragua. Costa Rica's response to this influx was to share their high quality of life with these displaced peoples by working hard to integrate and educate them, and see them as a benefit for the country's future.


Costa Rica is located on the Central American isthmus, 10° North of the equator and 84° West of the Prime Meridian. It borders both the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean with a total of 1,290 km (802 miles) of coastline: 212 km (132 miles) on the Caribbean coast and 1,016 km (631 miles) on the Pacific.

Valle Central de Costa Rica
On the Rio Savegre just below San Gerardo de Dota in the Talamanca Mountains of Costa Rica.

Costa Rica's border with Nicaragua covers 309 km (192 miles) and its border with Panama covers 639 km (397 miles). In total, Costa Rica comprises 51,100 square km (19,730 sq. miles), of which 50,610 square km (19,541 sq. miles) is land and 440 square km (170 sq. miles) is water, making it slightly smaller than the U.S. state of West Virginia and about half the size of Ireland. Costa Rica is the most geologically diverse area in Central America. From its rolling hills in the central highlands to its rain forests, white sand beaches, hot springs, and volcanoes, Costa Rica is full of geological wonders.

The highest point in the country is Cerro Chirripo, at 3,810 m (approximately 12,515 feet), the second highest peak in Central America, after Volcan Tajumulco in Guatemala. The highest volcano in the country is the Irazú Volcano (3,431 m or 11,257 feet).

Costa Rica also is comprised of several islands. Cocos Island stands out because of its distance from continental landmass (24 sq. km, 500 km or 300 miles from the Puntarenas coast), but Calero Island is the largest island at 151.6 square km (59 sq. miles).

The largest lake in Costa Rica is Lake Arenal. The country has a model national park system: A developed and progressive system that stresses ecotourism. Costa Rica protects over 25 percent of its national territory within national parks.

Costa Rica is divided into 8 regions or provinces, which are Guanacaste, Alajuela, North Puntarenas, Heredia, Cartago, Limon, San Jose, and South Puntarenas.

Costa Rican shoreline

History of Costa Rica

In pre-Columbian times the Native Americans in what is now Costa Rica were part of the Intermediate Area located between the Mesoamerican and Andean cultural regions. This has recently been redefined to include the Isthmo-Colombian area, defined by the presence of groups that spoke Chibchan languages. These groups are also believed to have created the Stone Spheres of Costa Rica, between 200 B.C.E. and 1600 C.E.

Christopher Columbus, who stayed for 17 days in 1502, was so impressed by the gold decorations worn by the friendly locals he gave it the name Costa Rica, “the rich coast.” The native Mayans and Aztecs were conquered by Spain later in the sixteenth century. Costa Rica became the southernmost province in the Spanish territory of New Spain. The provincial capital was in Cartago. When gold was not found in Costa Rica, the Spanish colonizers lost interest in the region. As a result, Spanish settlers who stayed had to work the land of the highland valleys without the aid of slaves. They did not mix with the local indigenous peoples, who were small in number, or with the Afro peoples on the east coast who arrived in the era of the African slave trade. As a result, the majority ethnic group of Costa Rica is overwhelmingly white European (96 percent). They refer to themselves as Ticos.

After briefly joining the Mexican Empire of Agustín de Iturbide, Costa Rica became a state in the United Provinces of Central America from 1823 to 1839. In 1824, the capital moved to San José. From the 1840s on, Costa Rica was an independent nation. One province, Nicoya, was once an autonomous region known as Partido Nicoya. In 1824, its inhabitants voted to peacefully annex their land to Costa Rica. This province, now known as Guanacaste, is the only Costa Rican province that has its own flag and national anthem. It is known for its strong ties to its indigenous heritage.

Costa Rica has mostly avoided the violence that has plagued Central America. Since the late nineteenth century only two brief periods of violence marred its democratic development. In 1949, President José Figueres Ferrer abolished the army; and since then, Costa Rica has been one of the few countries to operate a democratic system without the assistance of a military.

Costa Rica, although still a largely agricultural country, has achieved a relatively high standard of living. Land ownership is widespread and it hosts a rapidly expanding electronics industry.


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 are two vice presidents and a 15-member cabinet that includes one of the vice presidents. The president and 57 Legislative Assembly deputies are elected for four-year terms. Costa Rica uses a form of proportional representation to elect its national legislative body. Governors appointed by the president head the country's seven provinces, but they exercise little power. There are no provincial legislatures. Autonomous state agencies enjoy considerable operational independence; they include the telecommunications and electrical power monopoly, the nationalized commercial banks, the state insurance monopoly, and the social security agency. Costa Rica has no military by constitution and maintains only domestic police and security forces for internal security.

A constitutional amendment approved in 1969 limited presidents and deputies to one term, although a deputy may run again for an Assembly seat after sitting out a term. An amendment to the constitution to allow second presidential terms was proposed and the constitutionality of the prohibition against a second presidential term was challenged in the courts. In 2003, the prohibition was officially recognized as anti-constitutional, thus allowing Óscar Arias (winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, 1987) to run for President a second time in the 2006 elections. Arias won the 2006 presidential elections by a very thin margin. Arias supported a free trade agreement with the United States, which was approved in a referendum in 2007.

The success of democracy in Costa Rica has much to do with the grassroots, hands-on involvement of everyday Ticos. They do not take their peaceful nation for granted in a region that has often been rife with instability due to political corruption, dominating military regimes, poverty, and the lure of the international drug trade. Costa Rica shares its national wealth through good health care and education programs available to all. Almost 30 percent of the national budget is dedicated to education and culture. Costa Rica enjoys an overall life expectancy of 76 years, which is the highest in Latin America according to the CIA World Factbook.


Costa Rica's economy is dependent on ecotourism, agriculture, textiles, and more recently, exports of electronic circuits. Coffee is the king of exports and some coffee plantations are utilizing a conservationist attitude in farming this crop through self-sustaining growing methods. "Shade coffee" is the name given to coffee grown under the natural forest canopies. Costa Rica's location in the Central American isthmus provides easy access to American markets. It is in the same time zone as the central part of the United States and has direct ocean access to Europe and Asia. The United States is the greatest recipient of Costa Rican exports.

Fishermen set sail near Quepos, Costa Rica, on the Pacific coast.

The economy of Costa Rica has been booming because the government implemented a seven-year plan of expansion in the high tech industry. There are tax exemptions for those who are willing to invest in the country. Costa Rica is an attractive destination for international investment as it is very progressive in modernizing and expanding its economy.

Several global high tech corporations like chip manufacturer Intel, pharmaceutical company Glaxo Smith Kline, and consumer products company Procter & Gamble have started developing exporting operations. Trade with Southeast Asia and Russia has boomed during 2004-05, and the country is expected to obtain full Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (APEC) membership by 2007 (the country became an observer in 2004).

Costa Rica is a member of CABEI, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, which manages purposeful strategies for the reduction of poverty, improvement of telecommunications and transportation infrastructure, and encouragement of entrepreneurial development and free enterprise throughout Central America.

In early 2004, Costa Rica became the fifth member of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). As of 2006, the country was still addressing many sensitive issues with the implementation of the agreement. A debate on whether to accept or decline the policies that entail economic engagement as a CAFTA member is still underway.

The unit of currency is the Costa Rican colón (CRC).

Flora and Fauna

Anhinga drying its feathers

Costa Rica is a true tropical paradise. It is home to a rich variety of plants and animals. While the country has only about 0.1 percent of the world's land mass, it contains 5 percent of the world's biodiversity. Unique and exotic fruits and vegetables contribute to a delicious array of Tico cuisine.

Possessing incredible natural beauty and tropical and semitropical climates, Costa Rica is a showcase of wildlife, rainforests, and sea life. Costa Rican's have taken a conservational stance towards the beautiful and bountiful land. More than 25 percent of Costa Rica is composed of protected forests and reserves. There are 32 national parks, 8 biological reserves, 13 forest reserves, and 51 wildlife refuges. Each of these natural refuges is unique. The Cocos Island Marine Conservation Area is about 500 km (310 miles) out into the Pacific Ocean and only open to tours with special permission. Corcovado National Park is internationally renowned among ecologists for its biodiversity (including big cats and tapirs). Tortuguero National Park is home to the spider monkey, howler monkey, white-throated Capuchin monkeys, the three-toed sloth, 320 species of birds (including eight species of parrots), and a variety of reptiles. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve hosts 2,000 plant species, including numerous orchids. Over 800 types of birds can be found there, as well as over 100 species of mammals.


Metal church in Grecia, Costa Rica.

In the central part of the country, most people are of European descent, but some are also mestizos (mixed European and Native American ancestry). As a result of very little intermarriage, most of the population today retains European complexions. The pure indigenous population today numbers about 29,000, less than one percent of the population. In Guanacaste, most of the population descends from a mix of the Chorotega Indians, Bantu Africans, and Spaniards. Descendants of black nineteenth century Jamaican immigrant workers constitute an English-speaking minority and at three percent of the population number about 96,000. Costa Ricans of mestizo and European descent account for a combined 94 percent of the population (the vast majority being of Spanish decent). Another one percent is ethnically Chinese. In addition, there are many Americans who either come to retire or work and live in the country.

Today there is a growing number of Amerindians who migrate for seasonal work opportunities as agricultural workers, mainly in the southeastern border region with Panama. The most important group of immigrants in Costa Rica are Nicaraguans, who represent ten percent of the population. Most of them were originally refugees from civil war during the late 1970s and 1980s, but after the Esquipulas Peace Agreement, an increasing number of Nicaraguans continued to migrate into Costa Rica for economic reasons. There is also a growing number of Colombian, Panamanian and Peruvian immigrants. The Costa Rican attitude towards these immigrants is that by taking good care of them, they are investing in the future of the country.


Old basilica in Cartago, Costa Rica

Christianity is the main religion in Costa Rica. Some 92 percent of Costa Ricans are Christian. Like many other parts of Latin America, Protestant denominations are enjoying rapid growth. However, three out of four Costa Ricans still adhere to Roman Catholicism. Due to small but recent immigration from Asia, the Middle East, and other places, new religions have sprung up—the most popular being Buddhism (due to a growing Chinese community of 40,000). There are small numbers of Costa Ricans that adhere to Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism.


In Costa Rica, the locals refer to themselves as Tico, maje, or mae. "Tico" comes from the locally popular usage of "tico" diminutive suffixes (for example, “momentico” instead of “momentito”). The tico ideal is that of a very friendly, helpful, laid back, unhurried, educated, and environmentally aware people, with little worry for deadlines or the "normal" stresses of modern life. Visitors from the United States are often referred to as gringos, which is virtually always congenial in nature. The phrase "Pura Vida" (Sp. “pure life”) is a motto ubiquitous in Costa Rica. It encapsulates the pervading ideology of living in a peaceful, calm, unflustered manner, appreciating a life surrounded by nature, family, and friends.

Inside of the Teatro National de Costa Rica, the Costa Rican National Theater.

Costa Rican traditions and culture tend to be almost identical to Spanish or European culture. Their accent with everyday words is the most Spanish-sounding among Central America. Costa Rica boasts a varied history. It was the point where the Mesoamerican and South American native cultures met. The northwest of the country, Nicoya, was the southernmost point of Nahuatl cultural influence when the Spanish conquerors came in the sixteenth century. The center and south portions of the country had Chibcha influences. However, the Indian people influenced Costa Rica as a whole very little as many of them died from disease and mistreatment by the Spaniards. The Atlantic coast was populated with African slaves. In addition, during the nineteenth century, thousands of Chinese and Italian families came to the country to work on the construction of the railroad system that connects the urban populations of the Central Plateau to the port of Limon in the Caribbean.

One of the best known cultural celebrations in Costa Rica is known as Guanacaste Days, a seven-day celebration to commemorate the province of Guanacaste’s peaceful annexation to Costa Rica in 1824. Traditional Guanacastan music, food, handicrafts, evening fireworks, and parades all give atmosphere to this yearly celebration of peace and democracy. The people of Guanacaste province have a saying, "De la Patria por Newstra Voluntad," which translates into: "part of the country by our choice."


  1. Central Intelligence Agency, Costa Rica The World Factbook.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Costa Rica tiene 4 301 712 habitantes Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas y Censos (INEC), Costa Rica. Retrieved January 2, 2017.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Costa Rica International Monetary Fund. Retrieved January 2, 2017.
  4. Gini Index. World Bank. Retrieved January 4, 2012.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Barber, Ben. “At Peace Amid Turmoil: Costa Rica’s Unexpected Story of Success.” World and I (March 2004).
  • Biesanz, Mavis Hiltunen, Richard Biesanz, and Karen Zubris Biesanz. The Ticos: Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica. Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998. ISBN 1555877370
  • Booth, John A. Costa Rica: Quest for Democracy. Westview Press, 1998. ISBN 0813376319
  • “CABEI committed to fight against poverty in Central America.” A Special International Report Prepared by The Washington Times (March 24, 2000).
  • Daling, Tjabel. Costa Rica in Focus: A Guide to the People, Politics and Culture. Interlink Publishing Group, 2001. ISBN 1566563976
  • Gadwa, Tess. “Guanacaste Days: Celebrating Democracy’s Heritage in Costa Rica.” World and I (July 2001).
  • Greenspan, Eliot. Costa Rica For Dummies. For Dummies, 2005. ISBN 0764584413
  • Nelson, Kay Shaw. “Costa Rican Cuisine.” World and I (August 1991).

External links

All links retrieved January 10, 2024.


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