10 facts you should know about Costa Rica before you go


10 facts you should know about Costa Rica before you go



Costa Rica, the third-smallest republic (after El Salvador and Belize) of Central America, is located on the narrow isthmus connecting North and South America. It is bordered to the north by Nicaragua and to the southeast by Panama; the Pacific Ocean washes the western coast, and the Atlantic Ocean, or Caribbean Sea, laps its eastern shore. This small country is situated in the tropics, between 8° and 11° North latitude and between 83° and 85° West longitude.


A backbone of volcanoes and mountains extends north to south, the ranges, or cordilleras, being an extension of the Andes Sierra Madre chain. There are four distinct mountain ranges—Guanacaste and Tilarán in the north, Central and Talamanca to the south. As a live part of the Pacific “Rim of Fire,” Costa Rica is home to seven of the isthmus’s forty-two active volcanoes. Earth tremors and small quakes that shake the country are not an unusual occurrence. Many dormant or extinct cones are also dotted along the mountain ranges.


2-    The country is divided into seven provinces: San José, Heredia, Alajuela, and Cartago, whose capital cities make up the central valley; Guanacaste, along the northwestern area of the country; Puntarenas, which runs from the center of the Pacific coast south; and Limón, which covers the Caribbean coast and is characterized by its Afro-Caribbean culture.


The highest point of the country is Mount Chirripó, which rises majestically to 12,532 feet (3,820 meters). Its amazing vistas, fresh air, cloud forests, and high, treeless plateau, or paramo, are all protected under the national park network.



3-    The Meseta Central, a high-altitude plain, occupies the heart of the country. San José, the capital, is located in the center, surrounded by the neighboring cities of Heredia, Alajuela, and Cartago. Almost two-thirds of the population live in this small, fertile valley, surrounded by the majestic Irazú, Poás, and Barva volcanoes. The verdant foothills above the city yield premium-quality, high-altitude coffee, exotic flowers for export, and a wide variety of vegetables. The countryside is dotted with abundant dairy farms, which produce delicious cheeses and other fresh dairy products. Above the pastures, protected areas help to conserve the cloud forests that drape the mountaintops and are home to the distinctive red and green quetzal bird.



Costa Rica has a tropical climate, modified by topography. The country has two seasons, the wet season, or invierno (winter), generally between May and November, and the dry season, verano (summer), from December to April. The wet season is characterized by sunny mornings followed by torrential downpours later in the day. There are occasional temporales throughout the rainy season. These consist of continual drizzles, usually lasting a few days. The wet season has become known as the “green season” in the tourist industry. On the Caribbean coast the dry season tends to be shorter, though September and October are usually the driest months there, when the rest of the country is experiencing its wettest weather. The Pacific northwestern area of Guanacaste is characterized by the driest climate in the country, though it too has a well-defined rainy season.




The dry season brings clear skies, sunny days, and breezes. December can be outright windy, with its famous north winds. Pelo de gato, or “cat’s hair,” is a fine mist that is blown down over the mountain slopes at this time of year, and afternoon rainbows over the mountains add to the magic. Clear, windy nights in the summer months can bring quite cool temperatures to the Central Valley and surrounding mountains. Temperatures vary little between the seasons, the main influence on temperature being altitude. Both coasts are generally very hot and humid, with the Caribbean coast being a few degrees cooler than the Pacific.



6-    The lowland plains are also hot and humid. As you climb, the temperature cools. In one of the coldest spots, Mount Chirripó, it is not unusual to have morning frost and sheets of ice covering the small lakes. The mean temperature for San José, situated at 3,691 feet (1,125 meters), is a comfortable 75°F (24°C).


7-    These near-perfect conditions contribute to the agreeable nature of the Ticos. Because they do not have to fight the elements for survival, they can focus on enjoying their idyllic climate.



History and geography have combined to unite the seven provinces of Costa Rica into a single, peaceful fraternity. Despite distinct regional differences, the Ticos share a strong sense of national identity. The seven provinces are Guanacaste, Puntarenas, Limón, Heredia, Alajuela, Cartago, and San José.



The large northwestern province of Guanacaste once belonged to Nicaragua. Its secession is celebrated every year on July 25, the Annexation of Guanacaste. This province differs from the rest of the country in being strongly influenced by indigenous culture, and the mixture of peoples has given the Guanacastecos their rich moreno (dark brown) complexion. They maintain many of the Chorotegas’ historical and cultural traditions—in their foods, dances, and local crafts—and the hot tropical region of Guanacaste is the source of many of the indigenous traditions still treasured and practiced nationally today. Their folklore and dances are widely valued as part of the national patrimony. The people of Guanacaste are known for their openness and spontaneity.


9-    Liberia, the capital, is located along the Inter-American highway. Its airport has become an important entry point for tourists. Guanacaste is a land of natural beauty encompassing lowland “dry” forests, vast, windswept plains, impressive volcanic mountain ranges, cloud forest and rain forest, national parks with vast underground caves, and miles of spectacular tropical beaches along the Pacific coast.


10-     The cowboys, or sabaneros, of the Guanacaste plains tend herds of cattle on large ranches, an occupation dating from the time when the region was still a part of Nicaragua. The cultivation of abundant and exquisite fruits, such as papaya, guanabana, and melons, is also an important local industry. The tourism boom of the last few decades has brought a flourishing economy to the area.


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