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Horses on pasture near Arenal Volcano

Costa Rica Overview

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Welcome to Costa Rica!

Situated between Panama and Nicaragua, the tiny Central American country of Costa Rica is unlike any other, with a peaceful history and a booming tourism business. Breath-taking rainforests, booming volcanoes, some of the most rare and endangered wildlife on the planet, adventure, relaxation and fun abound.

The Culture of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is known more for its natural beauty and friendly people than for its culture, since a heavy European influence largely erased the indigenous culture that existed more than 100 years ago. Ninety percent of the country’s population is Roman Catholic, with a few small Protestant and Jewish communities as well, and Spanish is the official language (although Creole can be heard on the Caribbean coast and the indigenous language of Bribri is also still spoken in remote areas).

The Costa Rican population is a rich blend of Spanish, Italian, German, Jewish, Polish, Creole English, Jamaican, Atlantic slave, and indigenous descendants, all bringing the richness of their individual heritage.

In the lively capital of San Jose, the narrow streets, noisy vendors and honking drivers might deter you at first, but once you start to explore, you'll find that it's a buzzing metropolitan city with great places to relax and dine. The multiple museums display everything from paintings and precious stones to colonization memories and archaeological findings.

The literacy rate is one of the highest in Latin America at 95%, universal public education is a constitutional guarantee, and elementary and high schools are in almost every community. Primary education is mandatory, preschool and high school are free, and there are both state and private universities.

Modern History of Costa Rica

Although Costa Rica has experienced its share of civil wars and political turmoil, its modern history is one of relative peace. In the 1950s, Jose Maria Figueres Ferrer rose to power and ultimately reformed the political structure, giving women and black citizens the right to vote, nationalizing the banks, and establishing presidential term limits.

The current period of peace started in the late 1980s, under the Nobel Peace Prizewinner President Oscar Arias Sanchez, who helped lead the country out of their cycle of civil wars. Currently, despite the country’s small size, it contributes to the local Central American economy with considerable imports and exports and a healthy tourism industry.

Ancient History

Despite its name, which means “Rich Coast” when translated from Spanish, historically Costa Rica was one of Spain’s least influential colonies. Originally explored by Columbus on one of his last trips to the Americas, he was greeted by indigenous peoples adorned with gold and precious gems, thus giving the country its name.

Archaeological exploration at more than 2,000 identified sites indicate that there were prosperous civilizations at various points in the region’s history, and the Guayabo National Monument is one of the best examples. This site – open to the public – is dated between 100 BC and 1400 AD and is estimated to have been the home of some 10,000 people. Shortly before the Spanish arrived, the city seemed to be abandoned for unknown reasons, but the ruins consist of paved roads, working aqueducts, stone bridges, and house and temple foundations.

In the pre-Columbian rooms of the National Museum in San Jose, is 2,500-year-old jade with sensitive and sophisticated carvings, ornately decorated grinding stones, a collection of gold jewelry and figurines, all indicative of a highly developed and refined civilization. In the courtyard are examples of the mysterious bolas, stone spheres that remain unexplained, but are found throughout the countryside.

Tico Cuisine

Costa Rican cuisine is simple and mildly spiced. Daily fare consists of maize tortillas and the national dish (Gallo Pinto) of fried rice and black beans. It is often eaten three times a day with variations of eggs, cheese, meat, or chicken, and chayote stew or salad at dinner. United States fast food is the popular lunchtime choice. Eat where the locals eat, they know where the food is tasty and trustworthy.

Costa Rica exports much of its seafood and, despite an extensive coastline; seafood within the country is expensive. Vegetables are not a large part of the diet and an inordinate amount of home cooking is fried.

There is no national drink, but Fresco de Frutas, fruit salad floating on cola and water is delicious. Guaro, nearly tasteless and potent is the alcoholic drink of choice. Special occasion foods follow ethnic customs of the region.

Politics in Costa Rica

The government of Costa Rica has three branches: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. The majority parties are the PLN (National Liberation Party) and the PUSC (Social Christian Unity Party), and the current president is Luis Guillermo Solís, who was elected in 2014 to replace Laura Chinchilla.

Geography of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is located in Central America, between Nicaragua to the north, Panama to the east and south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south. Coast Rica boasts Caribbean beaches to the east and North Pacific beaches to the west.

Costs Rica's topography, with its mountainous continental divide, creates many microenvironments. Almost one-quarter of the territory endures in its wild state with rainforests, dry tropical forests, and savannas, and is one of the most diverse in the world.

Costa Rica Weather

Located in the tropics, Costa Rica experiences warm weather all year round and just two seasons: wet (May-November) and dry (December-April). The dry season is much more popular for travelers, meaning that tourist traffic can be high in many visitor destinations; the wet season offers a fair alternative, especially during the drier months of September and October, since this is the shoulder season for travel.

The weather patterns are different on the Pacific & Caribbean coasts. The Caribbean coast has lush tropical forests which make it wetter all year than other parts of the country, except for a mild drier season in September and October; the weather in the Pacific tends to be the exact opposite of this.
Temperatures are consistent all year round but do vary based on altitude:
  • San José, altitude 1150m (3772ft) - feels like spring all year round with lows around 15°C (60°F) and highs averaging 26°C (79°F).
  • Caribbean average temperature - 21°C (70°F) at night and over 30°C (86°F) during the day.
  • Pacific – a few degrees warmer than the Caribbean coast, but considerably more humid.

Explore the Wildlife of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is one of the best ecotourism destinations thanks to its incredible biodiversity and green government initiatives. Over 25 percent of the country is designated as a protected park or wildlife area, and more than 800 species of birds and 100 species of mammals have been identified here.

Corcovado National Park is a pristine area perfect for hikers and birdwatchers to spot scarlet macaws, parrots, hawks, kites and hummingbirds flying among the giant trees. And Tortuguero National Park features a dense tropical forest that extends right up to the Caribbean coast, where visitors might see the endangered green turtle, giant leatherback, hawksbills, loggerheads, and more. There are also many species of monkeys, birds, reptiles, and incredibly colored butterflies.

The Monteverde Cloud Forest is a highland tropical rain forest constantly bathed in warm soft mist. The fern covered forest floor is the home of various species of cats, including the jaguar, birds, insects, and more than 2,000 different orchids. The active Arenal Volcano billows plumes of smoke and explosive activity, making for exciting hikes around the volcano’s cone.

 

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