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Costa Rica Geography

Costa Rica, with 51,100 sq. km, is the second smallest Central American country. This mountainous country is located between the Caribbean Sea to the East and the Pacific Ocean to the West. Positioned on the Central American Isthmus 10˚ North of the Equator and 84˚ West of the Prime Meridian. It borders Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south and is therefore situated in the midst of the Tropics.

Costa Rica has close to 1,300 km (800 mi) of coastline. The Pacific Coastline with more of a mountainous terrain makes up roughly 80% of the total coastline. Caribbean Coastal Areas are characterized by long sand beaches, humid, lower ocean tide variations, and often times swamps and mangroves. The Pacific Coastline on the other hand is characterized by lagoons and hills to high cliffs reaching into the sea, large tidal variations, rain forest to dry forest to the north which are due mainly to the Papagayo Winds.   The Pacific Coast is distinguished by two large peninsulas reaching out into the sea.  The northern and larger peninsula is called Peninsula de Nicoya and is home to the dry forest. The southern and smaller peninsula is called Peninsula de Osa and is home to the Corcovado National Park and rain forest.

Through time Costa Rica evolved from volcanoes growing out of the ocean creating a natural bridge between North and South America. This is one of the major reasons Costa Rica enjoys the greatest density of species in the world.

Costa Rica dedicated close to one quarter of its total land mass to protected areas. Thanks to Costa Rica's geography, it is able to supply the majority of its electricity demand by hydro generation in places like the largest and man made Arenal Lake.

The large mountain ranges are mainly formed through volcanic activity triggered by the tectonic plates pushing against the Western seaboard of the Americas and run mostly northwest to southeast throughout the country.

The most northwestern mountain range is called the Cordillera de Guanacaste, consisting of a spectacular chain of volcanoes that can be appreciated by the traveler heading south from the Nicaraguan border along the Pan-American Highway (Interamericana). Among the most popular from north to south are:


Farther to the southeast is the Cordillera de Tilaran, with popular destinations such as:

The Cordillera de Tilaran runs into the Cordillera Central, which includes:

The southeastern-most mountains are associated with the Cordillera de Talamanca, which is higher and  more remote and rugged terrain. At least 15 separate mountain peaks are around 3,000 m. above sea level. Hikers should not miss the opportunity to visit:

The mountain ranges have many different altitudes that determine the geology, climate and ecosystem variations. The mountain ranges surround the central plain and form the Central Valley in the center of the highlands (1,000 -1,500 m). Over half the population resides in the Central Valley and is home to four out of the six most populated cities: Alajuela, Cartago,  Heredia, and San Jose.

Costa Rica is also home to several islands such as:

Source: CIA country report

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