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Costa Rica

central american land native

Costa Rica, republic in the southern part of Central America, between Nicaragua and Panama. Costa Rica is the second smallest of the Central American republics, measuring between 75 and 175 mi (121 and 282 km) from the Caribbean to the Pacific coasts. San Jose is the capital.

Land and climate

Costa Rica consists of tropical coastal plains, chains of mountain ranges running in a northwest-southeast direction through the interior, and a central plateau. The mountains begin near the Nicaraguan border, split into 2 major ranges curving around the plateau, and continue into Panama. The highest peaks are in the south (Chirripó Grande, 12,533 ft/ 3,820 m) and in central Costa Rica, where 4 volcanic cones reach altitudes from 9,000 to 12,000 ft (2,743 to 3,658 m) above sea level. The central plateau is the most densely populated section of Costa Rica and the center of coffee cultivation. It lies at an elevation of 3,000–4,000 ft (914–1,219 m) in the climatic zone known as tierra templada (temperate land). In the lowlying coastal areas the annual temperature averages close to 80° F (26.6° C). At elevations of more than 5,900 ft (1,800 m), year-round averages drop below 62° F (16.6° C). Rainfall is heaviest along the Caribbean coast, feeding the several short rivers that rise in the mountains. Broadleaf evergreens cover more than half the land, cleared in places for banana plantations. Grasslands cover the Meseta Central.


Unlike the peoples of the other Central American countries, most Costa Ricans are of direct Spanish descent, though most also claim to have some Native American blood. A large part of the population is made up of mestizos, people of mixed Spanish and Native American ancestry. About half of the people live in rural areas, frequently on small farms that they own and work. With the exception of a few Native American tribes, all inhabitants speak Spanish. Costa Rica has one of the lowest rates of illiteracy in Central America. School attendance is free and compulsory for children between the ages of 7 and 14. The University of Costa Rica is located at San José.


Though some gold and silver is mined in western Costa Rica, the country's volcanic soil is its most important natural resource. The principal cash crop and export product is high-grade coffee, which is in constant demand on world markets. Bananas, which rival coffee in importance as an export product, are raised on the humid plantations along the Pacific coast, where rubber trees also thrive. Local industry is mainly confined to sugar refining, food processing, and the manufacture of a limited range of consumer products. The discovery of large sulfur deposits has led to the construction of several processing plants. Despite the modest resources and the almost total lack of fuel, Costa Rica is being industrialized at a fairly rapid pace.


Columbus discovered Costa Rica in 1502, but because of its lack of resources the region escaped the ravages of the conquistadors. Since few Native Americans survived, the white farmers worked their own land, establishing a significant middle class and avoiding the semifeudal peonage system so destructive in other Latin American countries. In 1821 Costa Rica declared independence from Spain, joining first the Mexican Empire and then the Central American Federation, which dissolved into anarchy in 1838. Despite internal strife in 1919 and 1948, the country's history has been peaceful and its politics democratic. Its welfare system, dating from 1924, is one of the most advanced in the hemisphere. The country has had traditionally good relations with the United States. In 1995, a free trade agreement with Mexico took effect.


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