Costa Rica, officially the Republic of Costa Rica (Spanish: República de Costa Rica), is a country in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua to the north, Panama to the southeast, the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Caribbean Sea to the east, and Ecuador to the south of Cocos Island. It has a population of around 4.5 million, of whom nearly a quarter live in the metropolitan area of the capital and largest city, San José.
Costa Rica was sparsely inhabited by indigenous people before coming under Spanish rule in the 16th century. It remained a peripheral colony of the empire until independence as part of the short-lived First Mexican Empire, followed by membership in the United Provinces of Central America, from which it formally declared sovereignty in 1847. Since then, Costa Rica has remained among the most stable, prosperous, and progressive nations in Latin America. Following a brief but bloody civil war, it permanently abolished its army in 1949, becoming one of only a few sovereign nations without a standing army. Costa Rica is an observing member of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF).
The country has consistently performed favourably in the Human Development Index (HDI), placing 69th in the world as of 2015, among the highest of any Latin American nation. It has also been cited by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as having attained much higher human development than other countries at the same income levels, with a better record on human development and inequality than the median of the region. Its rapidly developing economy, once heavily dependent on agriculture, has diversified to include sectors such as finance, pharmaceuticals, and ecotourism.
Costa Rica is known for its progressive environmental policies, being the only country to meet all five UNDP criteria established to measure environmental sustainability. It was ranked 42nd in the world, and third in the Americas, in the 2016 Environmental Performance Index, was twice ranked the best performing country in the New Economics Foundation's (NEF) Happy Planet Index, which measures environmental sustainability, and was identified by the NEF as the greenest country in the world in 2009. Costa Rica officially plans to become a carbon-neutral country by 2021. In 2012, it became the first country in the Americas to ban recreational hunting.
Since the late 1980s Costa Rica has been a popular nature travel destination, and its main competitive advantage is its well-established system of national parks and protected areas, covering around 23.4% of the country's land area, the largest in the world as a percentage of the country's territory, and home to a rich variety of flora and fauna, in a country that has only 0.03% of the world's landmass, but that is estimated to contain 5% of the world's biodiversity. The country also has plenty of world renowned beaches, in the Pacific Oceanand in the Caribbean Sea, within short travel distances between the coasts by air and land, and also several active volcanoes that can be visited with safety.
By the early 1990s, Costa Rica became known as the poster child of ecotourism. According to the Costa Rican Tourism Board, 46% of international tourists visiting the country in 2009 engaged in activities related to ecotourism, including trekking, flora, fauna, and bird watching, and visits to rural communities. However, most visitors look for adventure activities, which Costa Rica offers as well. Costa Rica was included by Ethical Traveler magazine in the 2011 and the 2012 list of The Developing World's 10 Best Ethical Destinations.
Costa Rica has managed to stay away from the political turmoil and violence that neighbouring nations still suffer from. The nation constitutionally abolished its army permanently in the 1940s. It is the only Latin American country included in the list of the world's 22 oldest democracies, and is a peaceful and politically stable nation. Costa Rica has consistently been among the top Latin American countries in the Human Development Index, and is cited by the UN Development Program as one of the countries that has attained much higher human development than other countries at the same income levels.
Costa Rica is ranked third in the world and first among the Americas in terms of the 2010 Environmental Performance Index. And the New Economics Foundation (NEF) ranked Costa Rica as the happiest nation in the world in 2009 and in 2012. NEF ranked Costa Rica as the "greenest" country in the world.
This nation has bewilderingly diverse culture, climates, flora, fauna, and landscapes. From rain forests, to dry tropical and temperate forests, to volcanoes, to Caribbean and Pacific beaches, to high mountains, and marshy lowlands.
The name Costa Rica means 'Rich Coast' in Spanish.
Costa Rica is located on the Central American isthmus, lying between latitudes 8° and 12°N, and longitudes 82° and 86°W. It has a total of 1,290 kilometers (800 mi) of coastline, 212 km (132 mi) on the Caribbean coast and 1,016 km (631 mi) on the Pacific.
Costa Rica borders Nicaragua to the north (309 km or 192 mi of border) and Panama to the south-southeast (639 km or 397 mi of border). In total, Costa Rica comprises 51,100 square kilometers (19,700 sq mi) plus 589 square kilometers (227 sq mi) of territorial waters.
The highest point in the country is Cerro Chirripó, at 3,819 metres (12,530 ft); it is the fifth highest peak in Central America. The highest volcano in the country is the Irazú Volcano (3,431 m or 11,257 ft). The largest lake in Costa Rica is Lake Arenal.
Costa Rica also comprises several islands. Cocos Island (24 square kilometers/9.3 square miles) stands out because of its distance from the continental landmass, 300 mi (480 km) from Puntarenas, but Calero Island is the largest island of the country (151.6 square kilometers/58.5 square miles).
Near 25% of Costa Rica's national territory is protected by SINAC (the National System of Conservation Areas), which oversees all of the country's protected areas.
Flora and fauna
Costa Rica is one of the world's most popular destinations for eco-tourists because of its biodiversity. Costa Rica has the greatest density of species in the world, and around 25% of its national territory is protected by a system of conservation areas and national parks. It has been stated in various places that Costa Rica may contain as much as 6% of the world's plant and animal species in an area the combined size of the U.S. states of Vermont and New Hampshire. Tropical plant and animal species abound in Costa Rica. Some of the more impressive plants range from huge ficus trees with epiphytes abounding on their limbs to approximately 1500 different orchids. The animals are equally as impressive, whether it's a jaguar (the largest cat in the New World), the ever-elusive Margay, or the wonderful birds like the green or scarlet macaws (lapas in Costa Rican Spanish). The amphibians are also quite impressive; the poison dart frogs with their bright colors are bound to catch your attention, or the giant cane toads.
Because Costa Rica is located between 8 and 12 degrees north of the Equator, the climate is tropical year round. However, the country has many microclimates depending on elevation, rainfall, topography, and by the geography of each particular region.
Costa Rica's seasons are defined by how much rain falls during a particular period and not to the four seasons to which the residents of the temperate latitudes are accustomed. The year can be split into two periods, the dry season known to the residents as summer, and the rainy season, known locally as winter. The "summer" or dry season goes from December to April, and "winter" or rainy season goes from May to November, which almost coincides with the List of Atlantic hurricane seasons, and during this time, it rains constantly in some regions.
The location receiving the most rain is the Caribbean slopes of the Central Cordillera mountains, with an annual rainfall of over 5000 mm. Humidity is also higher on the Caribbean side than on the Pacific side. The mean annual temperature on the coastal lowlands is around 27°C, 20°C in the main populated areas of the Central Cordillera, and below 10°C on the summits of the highest mountains.
The 2011 census counted a population of 4,301,712 people distributed among the following groups: 83.6% whites or mestizos, 6.7% mulattoes, 2.4% Native American, 1.1% black or Afro-Caribbean, and 5.2% others. An average Costa Rican from the Central Valley has an 67.5% European, 29.3% Amerindian and 3.2% African ancestry.
There are also over 104,000 Native American or indigenous inhabitants, representing 2.4% of the population. Most of them live in secluded reservations, distributed among eight ethnic groups: Quitirrisí (in the Central Valley), Matambú or Chorotega (Guanacaste), Maleku(northern Alajuela), Bribri (southern Atlantic), Cabécar (Cordillera de Talamanca), Guaymí(southern Costa Rica, along the Panamá border), Boruca (southern Costa Rica) and Térraba (southern Costa Rica).
The population of European ancestry is primarily of Spanish descent, with significant numbers of Italian, German, English, Dutch, French, Irish, Portuguese, and Polish families, as well a sizable Jewish community. The majority of the Afro-Costa Ricans are Creole English-speaking descendants of 19th century black Jamaican immigrant workers.
The 2011 census classified 83.6% of the population as white or mestizo. Mulattoes (mix of white and black) represented 6.7% and indigenous people 2.4%. Native and European mixed blood populations are far less than in other Latin American countries. Exceptions are Guanacaste, where almost half the population is visibly mestizo, a legacy of the more pervasive unions between Spanish colonists and Chorotega Amerindians through several generations, and Limón, where the vast majority of the Afro-Costa Rican community lives.
Costa Rica hosts many refugees, mainly from Colombia and Nicaragua. As a result of that and illegal immigration, an estimated 10–15% (400,000–600,000) of the Costa Rican population is made up of Nicaraguans. Some Nicaraguans migrate for seasonal work opportunities and then return to their country. Costa Rica took in many refugees from a range of other Latin American countries fleeing civil wars and dictatorships during the 1970s and 1980s, notably from Chile and Argentina, as well as people from El Salvador who fled from guerrillas and government death squads.
According to the World Bank, in 2010 about 489,200 immigrants lived in the country, mainly from Nicaragua, Panama, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize, while 125,306 Costa Ricans live abroad in the United States, Panama, Nicaragua, Spain, Mexico, Canada, Germany, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, and Ecuador.
Christianity is Costa Rica's predominant religion, with Roman Catholicism being the official state religion according to the 1949 Constitution, which at the same time guarantees freedom of religion. It is the only state in the Americas which established Roman Catholicism as its state religion; other such countries are microstates in Europe: Liechtenstein, Monaco, Vatican City and Malta.
According to the most recent nationwide survey of religion, conducted in 2007 by the University of Costa Rica, 70.5% of Costa Ricans are Roman Catholics (44.9% practicing Catholics), 13.8% are Evangelical Protestants (almost all are practicing), 11.3% report that they do not have a religion, and 4.3% belong to another religion. The rate of secularism is high by Latin American standards.
Due to small, but continuous, immigration from Asia and the Middle East, other religions have grown, the most popular being Buddhism, with about 100,000 practitioners (over 2% of the population). Most Buddhists are members of the Han Chinese community of about 40,000 with some new local converts. There are also smaller numbers of Hindu, Jewish, Bahá’í, Muslim and Neo-Pagan adherents.
The Sinagoga Shaarei Zion synagogue is near La Sabana Metropolitan Park in San José. Several homes in the neighborhood east of the park display the Star of David and other Jewish symbols.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claims more than 35,000 members, and has a temple in San José that served as a regional worship center for Costa Rica. However, they represent less than 1% of the population.
According to the World Bank, Costa Rica's GDP per capita is US$12,874 PPP (as of 2013); however, this developing country still faces lack of maintenance and new investment in infrastructure, a poverty rate estimated to be 23%, a 7.8% unemployment rate (2012 est.), and a trade deficit of 5.2%. For the fiscal year 2007, the country showed a government surplus. Economic growth in 2008 diminished to a 3% increase in the face of the global recession (down from 7% and 9% growth in the prior two years).
Costa Rica's inflation rate was an estimated 4.5% in 2012. On October 16, 2006, a new currency exchange system was introduced, allowing the value of the CRC colón to float between two bands as done previously by Chile. This policy's objective was to allow the Central Bank to be able to better tackle inflation and discourage the use of U.S. dollars. However, as of August 2009, the value of the colón, Costa Rica's unit of currency, against the dollar has decreased to 86% of its late-2006 value (see commonly available forex trading charts). As of April 2014, it trades around 550 to the US$, and about 760 colones to the euro.
The central government offers tax exemptions for those willing to invest in the country. Several global high-tech corporations have already started developing in the area and are exporting goods, including Intel, GlaxoSmithKline, and Procter & Gamble. In 2006, Intel's microprocessor facility alone was responsible for 20% of Costa Rican exports and 4.9% of its GDP. In 2014, Intel announced it would end manufacturing in Costa Rica and lay off 1,500 staff. The facility now continues as a test and design facility with approximately 1,600 remaining staff. Trade with Southeast Asia and Russia boomed during 2004 and 2005, and the country obtained full Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (APEC) membership in 2007 after becoming an observer in 2004. The Financial Times Intelligence Unit awarded Costa Rica as "Caribbean and Central American Country of the Future 2011/12" for its success in attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) as first in the region in terms of FDI project numbers since 2003.
Pharmaceuticals, financial outsourcing, software development, and ecotourism have become the prime industries in Costa Rica's economy. High levels of education among its residents make the country an attractive investing location. Since 1999, tourism earns more foreign exchange than the combined exports of the country's three main cash crops: bananas, pineapples and coffee. Coffee production has played a key role in Costa Rica's history and economy, and by 2006, was the third cash crop export.
The largest coffee growing areas are in the provinces of San José, Alajuela, Heredia, Puntarenas, and Cartago. Costa Rica is famous for its gourmet coffee beans, with Costa Rican Tarrazú among the finest arabica coffee beans in the world used for making espressocoffee, together with Jamaican Blue Mountain, Guatemalan Antigua and Ethiopian Sidamo.
Costa Rica's location provides access to American markets as it has the same time zone as the central part of the United States and direct ocean access to Europe and Asia. In a countrywide referendum on October 5, 2007, Costa Rican voters narrowly backed a free trade agreement, with 51.6% of "Yes" votes.
Costa Rica stands as the most visited nation in the Central American region, with 2.2 million foreign visitors in 2011, followed by Panama with almost 1.5 million visitors. International tourist receipts rose to US$2.4 billion in 2012, and the lead country of origin was the United States with 864,340 tourists, followed by Nicaragua with 474,011 visitors, and Canada with 136,261. In 2005, tourism contributed 8.1% of the country's GNP, and represented 13.3% of direct and indirect employment. Tourism now earns more foreign exchange than bananas and coffee combined.
A pioneer of ecotourism, Costa Rica draws many tourists to its extensive national parks and protected areas. In the 2011 Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index, Costa Rica ranked 44th in the world and second among Latin American countries after Mexico. In the "natural resources" subindex, Costa Rica ranks sixth worldwide in the natural resources pillar, but 104th in terms of cultural resources. Costa Rica ranks third of sixty countries covered in the 2014 Global Green Economy Index. In the sustainable tourism category, Costa Rica is ranked first.
Costa Rica has also developed a system of payments for environmental services. Similarly, Costa Rica has a tax on water pollution to penalize businesses and homeowners that dump sewage, agricultural chemicals, and other pollutants into waterways. In May 2007, the Costa Rican government announced its intentions to become 100% carbon neutral by 2021. As of 2015, 93 percent of the country's electricity comes from renewable sources.
In 1996, the Forest Law was enacted to provide direct financial incentives to landowners for the provision of environmental services. This helped reorient the forestry sector away from commercial timber production and the resulting deforestation, and helped create awareness of the services it provides for the economy and society (i.e., carbon fixation, hydrological services such as producing fresh drinking water, biodiversity protection, and provision of scenic beauty).