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Costa Rica Overview

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Costa Rica is a tiny country unlike any other. This Central American country, about the size of Delaware, is situated between Panama and Nicaragua, enjoys a history of peace and stability, and entertains more than a million tourists annually.

Breath-taking rainforests, booming volcanoes, some of the most rare and endangered wildlife on the planet, adventure, relaxation and fun abound.

Cultural Look into Costa Rica

The cultural activity in Costa Rica has only begun to flourish in the last 100 years, due to a historical European influence erasing most of the indigenous culture. This leads to the country being noted more for its natural beauty and friendly people than for its culture.

The capital of San Jose at first sight offers an energetic atmosphere with narrow streets, noisy vendors and tooting drivers. However below this surface you will find a more civilized city with quiet places to eat, drink and meet and multiple museums displaying everything from paintings and precious stones to colonization memories and archaeological findings.

In principle over 90% of the Costa Rica population is of Roman Catholic faith. Most church attendance takes place at christenings, funerals and marriages. The Caribbean coast population, consisting mostly of black people, tend to be Protestant, and there are of course a few other beliefs in San José, including a small Jewish community.

Spanish is the main language throughout Costa Rica. On the Caribbean coast many people speak a lively dialect of English, known as Creole. Bribri is one of few Indian languages still spoken in remote areas. It is estimated to be understood by about 10,000 people. English is understood in most tourist destinations.
Costa Rican cuisine is not so much spicy and hot as it is tasty.

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.

Public communication such as radio, television, the internet is easily available, and music and pop culture that is popular around the world is popular and common in Costa Rica. Costa Rican traditional folk dances, accompanied by guitar, are preserved and especially popular.

The literacy rate is 95%, one of the highest in Latin America. 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

Costa Rica has a history filled with strife, civil wars, and Juntas.

The beginning of the 1950's saw the rise to power of Jose Maria (Don Pepe) Figueres Ferrer. His Junta made vast political reforms that changed the course of history in Costa Rica. Women and blacks received the vote, banks were nationalized, and presidential term limits were established.

In 1987, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to break the cycle of civil war in the area and foment relative stability that continues. Currently Costa Rica enjoys a reputation as one of the most peaceful, prosperous, and least corrupt countries in Latin America. Costa Rica is an active participant in the current Central American Free Trade Agreement, and imports consumer goods, capital equipment, and petroleum. Exports are coffee, sugar, fruit, electronic components and medical equipment. Major trading partners are United States, The Netherlands, Guatemala, Japan, Mexico, and Brazil.

A well-established tourism industry makes a significant contribution to the economy.

Ancient History

On his final voyage to America, Columbus landed at what is now the city of Limon, Costa Rica. He was warmly greeted by Carib Indians richly adorned with what appeared to be gold and precious gems. Stories of these riches circulated wildly, and prompted explorers and adventurers to name the territory Costa Rica, or golden coast.

There is archaeological evidence that wonderfully sophisticated gold and jade work were crafted in the southwest area of the country more than 1,000 years ago, but despite its name, Costa Rica was one of the poorest and least influential of the Spanish colonies. Life was hard, and there were few valuables or easily exploited resources, compared to more popular settlements in Mexico and Peru, where vast amounts of silver and gold had been discovered.

Visits to some of the 2,000 identified archaeological sites within the country reveal evidence of earlier civilizations that were well developed and prosperous.

The pretty little town of Turrialba, 33 miles east of San Jose, is best known as the starting point of exciting white water rafting trips, but just 12 miles northeast, lies Guayabo National Monument. This is Costa Rica's only pre-Columbian site that is excavated and opens to the public. Between 100B.C. and A.D.1400, the population might have been as many as 10,000 persons, but for some unknown reason, they abandoned the city shortly before the Spanish arrived. Excavated 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.

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

Costa Rica is a tropical country and experiences only two seasons: wet and dry. The dry season generally falls between late December and April. This is of course the most popular season to travel, which is why travelers to Costa Rica may find that many others that are visiting the country as well.

Costa Rica's wet season lasts the rest of the year. This time of year can be an invigorating time to travel and experience the country without the interruption of the tourist season. The Caribbean coast is covered by tropical forest and tends to be wetter than other parts of the country year round. That being said, the Caribbean side of the Continental Divide does experience a mild "dry season" period where average rainfalls are slightly lowered during September and October, almost the exact opposite of the Pacific side of the country.

Temperatures vary little between seasons and the main influence on temperature is altitude. San José, at an altitude of 1150m (3772ft) has a climate that feels like spring all year round: lows average 15°C (60°F) and highs average 26°C (79°F). The coastal regions are usually much warmer, with the Caribbean averaging 21°C (70°F) at night and over 30°C (86°F) during the day. The Pacific coast tends to be a few degrees warmer still. The humidity at low altitudes can be quite oppressive.

Explore the Wildlife of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a country of amazing biodiversity. Its wildlife, natural attractions and reputation for conservation attracts nature lovers from all over the world. Governmental initiatives have made efforts to preserve the country's image as an ecotourism destination, making Costa Rica one of the best places to experience the tropics naturally and with minimal impact. As much as 27% of the land is designated to National Parks, forest reserves and Indian Reservations.

Over 800 species of birds and 100 species of mammals have been identified in Costa Rica. About 25% of the country's land mass is protected parks and wildlife areas.

A tour of Corocvado National Park offers the hearty hiker a chance to enjoy one of the least traveled areas in Costa Rica. Trees and wildlife are spectacular and largely undisturbed. There are giant mahogany trees, and a magnificent population of scarlet macaws, parrots, hawks, kites and hummingbirds. Many tours include a jungle lunch and a swim under a waterfall, to help you experience a full sense of life in such an unusual and special place.

Tortuguero, along the Caribbean coast, (The name translates as full of turtles) National Park is the annual nesting ground of the endangered green turtle, giant leatherback, hawksbills, loggerheads, more than lives up to its name. You will also see many species of monkeys, birds, reptiles, and incredibly colored butterflies.

As you travel about the country, you will meet naturalists and guides eager to offer unique insights into the wildlife and environment.

Environment of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is located in the center of the isthmus that joins North and South America. It is the migratory thoroughfare and mating ground for species, man and animal, once separated by oceans. Costa Rica is near the equator with elevations from sea level to soaring mountain volcanoes. The result is a diversity of distinct life zones and ecosystems unknown almost anywhere else on the planet.

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.

Enjoy the forest from suspended skywalks or use ziplines to travel through the trees.

Arenal volcano and its pyrotechnics are a distinct presence during your Monteverde visit. A closer visit to Arenal with its perfect cone rising from gentle green hills startles with loud explosions, accompanied by mushroom clouds of gray, brown and orange smoke. Lakes of clear thermal waters invite a quiet soak and rest at the end of the day.

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 kola 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 is structured into three branches, Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. The president and the legislators are limited to one, four-year term. There are two vice presidents and a series of Ministers in charge of various departments. Small political parties exist and participate in elections. The PLN (National Liberation Party) and the PUSC (Social Christian Unity Party) have 97% of the votes.

The current president is Oscar Arias Sanchez, Nobel Peace Prize Winner. The process of government is orderly and the country has avoided military involvement in the political affairs of its neighbors.

Costa Rica maintains its standing as a stable and respected member of the world community.

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