Facts and Figures


Geography

Costa Rica is located in Central America with Nicaragua to its north and Panama to its south. Its territory is 19,652 square miles (51,022 square kilometers) plus 227 square miles (589 sqare kilometers) of territorial waters. Volcanic mountains - several of which produce sporadic eruptions - run northwest to southeast, dividing Costa Rica into Pacific and Atlantic zones.

The capital, San José, is on the meseta central, a plateau twenty-five miles by twelve miles (40 kilometers by 20 kilometers).

Costa Rica's broken topography creates myriad microenvironments. One-quarter of the territory endures practically in its wild state with rainforests, dry tropical forest, and savannas. Costa Rica protects 23% of it’s national territory within the protected areas system and has a level of biodiversity - 4 to 7 percent of the world total - unmatched by any other nation its size.


Economy

The most important export goods of Costa Rica include: coffee, sugar cane, pineapple, banana, papaya and ornamental plants.

Further export products are textiles and computer parts.

Tourism is one of the main economic activities in the country, offering employment to thousands of Costa Ricans.


Flora and Fauna

Costa Rica is home to a rich variety of plants and animals. While the country has only about 0.1% of the world's landmass, it contains 5% of the world's biodiversity . Around 25% of the country's land area is in protected national parks and protected areas, the largest percentage of protected areas in the world.

Around 800 species of birds have been identified in Costa Rica. 12.000 plant species grow in Costa Rica. 1.200 of these are orchid species and 3000 are different kinds of hardwoods.

Costa Rica is also a center of biological diversity for reptiles and amphibians, including the world's fastest living lizard, the spiny-tailed iguana.


Language

The only official language is Spanish. Spanish is spoken as mother tongue by 97% of the population. On the Caribbean Coast the people speak the Jamaican form of the Patois and only in a few indigenous communities are the native languages spoken.

English is a language commonly taught in educational institutions, as are French and German, and nowadays also Chinese.


Education

The literacy rate in Costa Rica is 97%, one of the highest in Latin America. Elementary and high schools are found throughout the country in practically every community. Universal public education is guaranteed in the constitution. Primary education is obligatory, and both preschool and high school are free. There are both state and private universities, with public universities traditionally being regarded as the best quality available in the country.

History

In 1502 Christopher Columbus made the first European landfall in the area and landed at Puerto Limon.

Settlement of Costa Rica began in 1522. For nearly three centuries, Spain administred the region as part of the Captaincy General of Guatemala under a military governor. The Spanish called the country „Rich Coast“. Finding little gold, however, the Spanish turned to agriculture.

In 1821, Costa Rica declared independence from Spain. The nineteenth century introduction of banana and coffee cultivation brought wealth to the country. San José was one of the first capitals in the world possessing electric street lights.

The era of democracy in Costa Rica began in 1899 with the first free elections.

The country experienced several periods of internal strife, most notably in 1919 and 1948. But Costa Rica’s history has mostly been peaceful and its politics democratic, unlike many of its neighbour countries.

Modern Political History of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a democratic republic with a strong constitution, meaning that the president is the head of state and head of government.

The current president of Costa Rica is Luis Guillermo Solís.


Culture

Costa Rican culture is a unique blend of smaller cultures that together make up an interesting mix. Before the first European landfall in 1502, the north of the country was the southernmost point of Maya influence, and the central and southern portions of the country had indigenous Chibcha influences. However, the indigenous peoples have not had very much influence on modern Costa Rican culture. Most of the Indians died from disease and mistreatment by the Spanish conquistadors.

In the 19th century, the Caribbean region of Costa Rica received a considerable number of immigrants, mainly from Jamaica, who initially came as workers during the construction of the railroads and later settled in the area. There was also an important number of Chinese immigrants, who came first to the port-towns of Limon and Puntarenas, and later spread in small numbers to most cities in the country. Immigrants from Europe arrived during the early 20th century, causing an impact on the country's political and economic elite. All of these influences have helped to develop the extremely varied ethnicity of the country.


Religion

Roman Catholicism is the official state religion according to its 1949 Constitution, which at the same time guarantees freedom of religion. There are some other minorities like Jews, Rastasafaris and Buddhists.