Costa Rica is located in Central America between Nicaragua and Panama. The country has a total area of 50,895sq.km/19,340sq.mi, roughly the size of West Virginia in the United States. A small country by most standards, Costa Rica offers a wealth of natural attractions and is a popular destination for travellers interested in ecotourism and wilderness travel.
The country's geography offers ample opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking, horseback riding and river rafting. There are several white and black sand beaches on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts offering diving, snorkelling and sportfishing. Costa Rica has the best-developed national parks system in Central America providing shelter for 598 species of mammals, reptiles and amphibians. There are 848 bird species native to the country, making Costa Rica a birder's paradise.
A spine of mountains and volcanoes divides Costa Rica, which has four distinct mountain ranges. Costa Rica is part of the Pacific "Rim of Fire" and has seven of the isthmus's 42 active volcanoes, as well as dozens of dormant and extinct cones. The active volcanoes are some of the country's most dramatic natural attractions.
Costa Rica's tropical setting is comprised of several diverse habitats including 12,000 plant varieties. Ecologists define 12 tropical Life Zones in the country including dry, moist, wet and rainforests. A wide variation in elevation creates several climatic zones in the country.
The country's official language is Spanish, and most Costa Ricans ("ticos") practice Roman Catholicism. Costa Rica has a population of three million people. Cruises and yachts moor at Puerto Caldera, Puerto Limón, Curú, Quepos, Playa Flamingo, Playa Herradura, San Josecitas, Tortuga Island, Puntarenas and Golfito.
Little is known about the indigenous people who inhabited the area before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1502. Large, organized civilizations did not exist in the area, however there were several small indigenous communities that were sparsely located in Costa Rica. Columbus named the country Costa Rica (Rich Coast) for the impressive gold jewellery worn by the Natives.
Colonization of Costa Rica began in 1506, however both the natives and Spaniards were plagued by disease and various attempts at settlement were unsuccessful. However, the fertile soil and healthy climate in the Central Valley provided better conditions for the colony of Cartago, founded in 1563. The colony had spread to other cities by the 1700s, but Costa Rica was one of the poorest and most isolated colonies of the Spanish empire.
Central America gained independence from Spain on September 15, 1821. Throughout the 19th C, Costa Rica prospered from coffee exports and a class structure began to emerge. Democracy has been the hallmark of Costa Rican politics since the first democratic election in 1889.
In 1948, political unrest led to several weeks of civil war resulting in the deaths of over 2,000 people. Costa Rica's 1949 constitution gave women and Blacks the vote and stunned the world by dismantling the country's armed forces. Costa Rica became the only country without an army, and remains a worldwide example of a peaceful nation.
Useful tips: Vehicle travel is sometimes difficult and requires 4WD.
There are several small air landing strips around the country.
The national currency is the colon, however foreign travellers are generally billed in US dollars.