Historians have classified the indigenous people of Costa Rica as belonging to the Intermediate Area, where the peripheries of the Mesoamerican and Andean native cultures overlapped. More recently, pre-Colombian Costa Rica has also been described as part of the Isthmo-Colombian region. The northwest of the country, Nicoya Peninsula, was the southernmost reach of the Nahuatl culture when the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 16th century. The central and southern portions of the country had Chibcha influences.
The impact of the peoples on modern Costa Rican culture has been relatively small compared to other nations, since the country lacked a strong native civilization to begin with. Most of the native population was absorbed into the Spanish-speaking colonial society through miscegenation, except for some small remnants, the most significant of which are the Bribri and Boruca tribes who still inhabit the mountains of the Cordillera de Talamanca, in the southern part of Costa Rica, near the frontier with Panama.
In 1838, long after the Federal Republic of Central America ceased to function in practice, Costa Rica formally withdrew and proclaimed itself sovereign. The considerable distance and poor communication routes between Guatemala City and the Central Plateau, where most of the Costa Rican population lived then and still lives now, meant the local population had little allegiance to the federal government in Guatemala. From colonial times to now, Costa Rica's reluctance to become politically tied with the rest of Central America has been a major obstacle to efforts for greater regional integration.
Costa Rica is composed of seven provinces, which in turn are divided into 81 cantons (Spanish: cantón, plural cantones), each of which is directed by a mayor. Mayors are chosen democratically every four years by each canton's people. There are no provincial legislatures. The cantons are further divided into 421 districts (distritos). The provinces are:AlajuelaCartagoGuanacasteHerediaLimónPuntarenasSan José
Costa Rica is located on the Central American isthmus, lying between latitudes 8° and 12°N, and longitudes 82° and 86°W. It borders the Caribbean Sea (to the east) and the Pacific Ocean (to the west), with a total of 1,290 kilometres of coastline, 212 km (132 mi) on the Caribbean coast and 1,016 km (631 mi) on the Pacific.
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 kilometres / 9.3 square miles) stands out because of its distance from continental landmass, 300 mi (480 km) from Puntarenas, but Calero Island is the largest island of the country (151.6 square kilometres / 58.5 square miles). Over 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. Costa Rica also possesses the greatest density of species in the world.
According to the World Bank, Costa Rica's GDP per capita is US$11,122 PPP (as of 2009); however, this developing country still faces the fourth-highest inflation rate in Latin America, lack of maintenance and new investment in infrastructure, a poverty rate estimated to be 5% to 8%, a 7.8% unemployment rate (2009 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 a global recession (down from 7% and 9% growth in the prior two years).
Costa Rica's inflation rate was an estimated 9.3% in 2007 and increased to 13.9% in 2008, Latin America's fourth-highest inflation rate for both years. 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. The idea is that by doing so the Central Bank will be able to better tackle inflation and discourage the use of U.S. dollars. However, as of August 2009, the value of the colón against the dollar has decreased to 86% of its late-2006 value (see commonly available forex trading charts). The unit of currency is the colón, and as of October 2010, it trades around 507 to the U.S. dollar, and about 705 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 chip manufacturer Intel, pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, and consumer products company Procter & Gamble. In 2006, Intel's microprocessor facility alone was responsible for 20% of Costa Rican exports and 4.9% of the country's GDP. 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.
In recent times, 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 espresso coffee, 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, the voters of Costa Rica narrowly backed a free trade agreement, with 51.6% of "Yes" votes.
With a $2.2 billion per year tourism industry, Costa Rica is the most visited nation in the Central American region, with two million foreign visitors in 2008, which translates into a relatively high expenditure per tourist of $1,077 per trip, one of the highest in the Caribbean Basin. In 2008, most visitors came from the United States (38.6%), neighboring Nicaragua (21.8%), Europe (11.3%) and Canada (5.2%). 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.
Ecotourism draws many tourists to visit the extensive national parks and protected areas around the country. Costa Rica was a pioneer in this type of tourism, and the country is recognized as one of the few with true ecotourism. In terms of the 2011 Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index, Costa Rica ranked 44th in the world and second among Latin American countries after Mexico. Considering its subindex natural resources, Costa Rica ranks sixth worldwide in the natural resources pillar, but 104th in terms of its cultural resources due to the country's limited number of cultural sites.
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 percent carbon neutral before 2030. As of 2010, Costa Rica is well on its way towards accomplishing this goal, currently producing 90 percent of its electricity through 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).
Costa Rica's ecological reputation has been somewhat tarnished in recent times by its illegal shark finning industry, which is mainly run by Taiwanese ships, and has decimated shark stocks in that region. Main customers are China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Costa Rica is an active member of the United Nations and the Organization of American States. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the United Nations University of Peace are based in Costa Rica. It is also a member of many other international organizations related to human rights and democracy.
A main foreign policy objective of Costa Rica is to foster human rights and sustainable development as a way to secure stability and growth.
Costa Rica is a member of the International Criminal Court, without a Bilateral Immunity Agreement of protection for the United States military (as covered under Article 98).
On 10 September 1961, some months after Fidel Castro declared Cuba a socialist state, Costa Rican President Mario Echandi ended diplomatic relations with Cuba through Executive Decree Number 2. This freeze lasted for 47 years until President Óscar Arias Sánchez announced on 18 March 2009 that normal relations were to be re-established, saying, "If we have been able to turn the page with regimes as profoundly different to our reality as occurred with the USSR or, more recently, with the Republic of China, how would we not do it with a country that is geographically and culturally much nearer to Costa Rica?" Arias also announced both countries would exchange ambassadors.
Costa Rica also has a long-term disagreement with Nicaragua over the San Juan River, which defines the border between the two countries; the disagreement arises regarding Costa Rica's rights of navigation on the river,the impact of Nicaraguan operations on the rivers, such as dredging, and the correct border near de Calero Island region.
On July 14, 2009, the Hague(ICJ) court upheld the rights Costa Ricans had to navigate for commercial purposes to subsistence fishing on their side of the river. An 1858 treaty extended navigation rights to Costa Rica, but Nicaragua denied passenger travel and fishing were part of the deal; the court ruled Costa Ricans on the river were not required to have Nicaraguan tourist cards or visas as Nicaragua alleged, but, in a nod to the Nicaraguans, ruled Costa Rican boats and passengers have to stop at the first and last Nicaraguan port along their route. They must also have an identity document or passport. Nicaragua can also impose timetables on Costa Rican traffic. Nicaragua may require Costa Rican boats to display the flag of Nicaragua, but may not charge them for departure clearance from its ports. These were all specific items of contention brought to the court in the 2005 filing.
On June 1, 2007, Costa Rica broke diplomatic ties with the Republic of China in Taiwan, switching recognition to the People's Republic of China. Costa Rica was the first of the Central American nations to do so. President Óscar Arias Sánchez admitted the action was a response to economic exigency.
In appreciation, the People's Republic of China took upon themselves to build Costa Rica a brand-new, $100 million, state-of-the-art football stadium in Parque la Sabana, located in the province of San José. Approximately 600 Chinese engineers and laborers took part in this project, and it was inaugurated in March 2011, with a match between the Costa Rica and China national teams.
Costa Rica finished a term on the United Nations Security Council, having been elected for a nonrenewable, two-year term in the 2007 election. Its term expired on 31 December 2009; this was Costa Rica's third time on the Security Council.
Costa Rica is home to a rich variety of plants and animals. While the country has only about 0.25% 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 (developing world average 13%, developed world average 8%). Costa Rica has successfully managed to diminish deforestation from some of the worst rates in the world from 1973 to 1989, to almost zero by 2005.
One national park, the Corcovado National Park, is internationally renowned among ecologists for its biodiversity (including big cats and tapirs) and where visitors can expect to see an abundance of wildlife. Corcovado is the one park in Costa Rica where all four Costa Rican monkey species can be found. These include the white-headed capuchin, the mantled howler,the endangered Geoffroy's spider monkey and the Central American squirrel monkey, found only on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica and a small part of Panama, and was considered endangered until 2008, when its status was upgraded to vulnerable. Deforestation, illegal pet-trading, and hunting are the main reasons for its threatened status.
Tortuguero National Park—the name Tortuguero can be translated as "Full of Turtles"—is home to spider, howler and white-throated capuchin monkeys; the three-toed sloth and two-toed sloth; 320 species of birds; and a variety of reptiles. The park is recognized for the annual nesting of the endangered green turtle, and is the most important nesting site for the species. Giant leatherback, hawksbill, and loggerhead turtles also nest there.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is home to about 2,000 plant species, including numerous orchids. Over 400 types of birds and over 100 species of mammals can be found there.
As a whole, around 700 species of birds have been identified in Costa Rica. The Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad is allowed to collect royalties on any biological discoveries of medical importance.
Costa Rica is a center of biological diversity for reptiles and amphibians, including the world's fastest running lizard, the spiny-tailed iguana (Ctenosaura similis).
As of 2010, Costa Rica has an estimated population of 4,640,000. Whites and mestizos make up 94% of the population, while 3% are Black, or Afro-Caribbean, 1% Native American, 1% Chinese, and 1% other.
There are also over 60,000 Native American or indigenous inhabitants, representing 1.5% 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 Spaniard descent, with significant numbers of Italian, German, English, Dutch, French, Irish, Portuguese, Lebanese 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 2000 census classified 94% of the population as white or mestizo and less than 3% as black or Amerindian. 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 Spaniards 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 80s, 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, about 441,000 immigrants live legally in the country, the majority of them Nicaraguans, while 127,060 Costa Ricans live abroad in the United States, Panama, Nicaragua, Spain, Mexico, Canada, Germany, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, and Guatemala.
Christianity is the predominant religion, and Roman Catholicism is the official state religion according to the 1949 Constitution, which at the same time guarantees freedom of religion.
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% of the population are practicing Catholics, 13.8% are Evangelical Protestants (many of them Pentecostal), 11.3% report they do not have a religion, and 4.3% belonged to another.
Because of the recent small but continuous immigration from Asia and the Middle East, other religions have grown, the most popular being Buddhism (because of a growing Chinese community of 40,000), and smaller numbers of Hindu, Jewish, Bahá’í, and Muslim 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 (Mormons) claim more than 35,000 members, and has a temple in San Jose that served as a regional worship center for Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, and Honduras. However, they represent less than one percent of the population.
Costa Rica was the point where the Mesoamerican and South American native cultures met. The northwest of the country, the Nicoya peninsula, was the southernmost point of Nahuatl cultural influence when the Spanish conquerors (conquistadores) came in the 16th century. The central and southern portions of the country had Chibcha influences. The Atlantic coast, meanwhile, was populated with African workers during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Costa Rican cuisine is a blend of Native American, Spanish, African and many other cuisine origins. Dishes such as the very traditional tamale and many others made of corn are the most representative of its indigenous inhabitants, and similar to other neighboring Mesoamerican countries. Spaniards brought many new ingredients to the country from other lands, especially spices and domestic animals. And later in the 19th century, the African flavor lent its presence with influence from other Caribbean mixed flavors. This is how Costa Rican cuisine today is very varied, with every new ethnic group who had recently become part of the country's population influencing the country's cuisine.
As a result of the immigration of Spaniards, their 16th century Spanish culture and its evolution marked everyday life and culture until today, with Spanish language and the Catholic religion as primary influences.
The Department of Culture, Youth, and Sports is in charge of the promotion and coordination of cultural life. The work of the department is divided into Direction of Culture, Visual Arts, Scenic Arts, Music, Patrimony and the System of Libraries. Although the department creates many initiatives, they are constrained by lack of resources. Permanent programs, such as the National Symphony Orchestra of Costa Rica and the Youth Symphony Orchestra, are conjunctions of two areas of work: Culture and Youth.
Dance-oriented genres, such as soca, salsa, bachata, merengue, cumbia and Costa Rican swing are enjoyed increasingly by older rather than younger people. The guitar is popular, especially as an accompaniment to folk dances; however, the marimba was made the national instrument.
"Pura Vida" is the most recognizable phrase attached to Costa Ricans, and it reflects the Costa Rican way of life. Often, people walking down the streets, or buying food at shops say hello by saying "Pura Vida", which means pure life, or good life. It can be phrased as a question or as an acknowledgement of one's presence. A recommended response to "How are you?" would be "Pura Vida".
The literacy rate in Costa Rica is 94.9%, one of the highest in the world. When the army was abolished in 1949, it was said that the "army would be replaced with an army of teachers." 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 only a few schools in Costa Rica that go beyond the 12th grade. Students who finish 11th grade receive a Costa Rican Bachillerato Diploma accredited by the Costa Rican Ministry of Education.
There are both state and private universities, with the public universities being regarded as the best in the country, as well as being one of the best means of social mobility, given the large proportion of the budget spent to subsidize students from poor families. The University of Costa Rica has been awarded the title "Meritorious Institution of Costa Rican Education and Culture". In recent years, many private universities and colleges have consolidated because demand for higher education exceeds places available in the public sector.