Costa Rica, officially the Republic of Costa Rica (Spanish: República de Costa Rica), is a country in Central America bordered by Nicaragua to the north, Panama to the southeast, the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Caribbean Sea to the east and Ecuador at Cocos Island to the south. It has about 4.5 million inhabitants, almost a quarter of whom live in the metropolitan area of the capital and largest city, San José.
Costa Rica was sparsely populated with indigenous people before coming under Spanish rule in the 16th century. It remained an outpost colony of the empire until its independence as part of the short-lived First Mexican Empire, followed by its accession to the United Provinces of Central America, from which it officially declared sovereignty in 1847. Since then, Costa Rica has remained one of the most stable, prosperous and progressive nations in Latin America. After a brief but bloody civil war, it finally abolished its army in 1949 and became one of the few sovereign nations without a standing army. Costa Rica is an observer member of the International Organisation of Francophonie (OIF).
The country has consistently performed well in the Human Development Index (HDI), ranking 69th in the world in 2015, one of the highest of all Latin American nations. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) also certifies the country as having significantly higher human development than other countries with the same income level, with human development and inequality better than the region’s median. The rapidly developing economy, once heavily dependent on agriculture, has diversified to include sectors such as finance, pharmaceuticals and ecotourism.
Costa Rica is known for its progressive environmental policies and is the only country to meet all five criteria established by the UNDP to measure environmental sustainability. It was ranked 42nd in the world and third in the Americas in the 2016 Environmental Performance Index, was twice the top performing country in the New Economics Foundation’s (NEF) Happy Planet Index, which measures environmental sustainability, and was identified as the greenest country in the world by NEF in 2009. Costa Rica officially plans to become a carbon-neutral country by 2021. In 2012, it became the first country in the Americas to ban recreational hunting.
Geography of Costa Rica
Costa Rica is located on the Central American isthmus, between latitudes 8° and 12°N and longitudes 82° and 86°W. It has a total of 1,290 kilometres of coastline, 212 km on the Caribbean coast and 1,016 km on the Pacific coast.
Costa Rica borders Nicaragua to the north (309 km or 192 mi border) and Panama to the south-southeast (639 km or 397 mi border). Costa Rica has a total area of 51,100 square kilometres (19,700 sq mi) and 589 square kilometres (227 sq mi) of territorial waters.
The highest point in the country is Cerro Chirripó at 3,819 m; it is the fifth highest peak in Central America. The highest volcano in the country is Irazú Volcano (3,431 m or 11,257 ft). The largest lake in Costa Rica is Lake Arenal.
Costa Rica also has several islands. Cocos Island (24 square kilometres) is notable for its distance from the mainland, being 480 km from Puntarenas, but Calero Island is the largest island in the country (151.6 square kilometres).
Almost 25% of Costa Rica’s land area is protected by the SINAC (National System of Protected Areas), which oversees all protected areas in the country.
Flora and fauna
Costa Rica is one of the most popular destinations for ecotourists because of its biodiversity. Costa Rica has the highest species density in the world and about 25 % of the national territory is protected by a system of protected areas and national parks. It has been repeatedly claimed that Costa Rica could be home to up to 6% of the world’s plant and animal species in an area equivalent to the US states of Vermont and New Hampshire. Tropical plant and animal species abound in Costa Rica. Among the most impressive plants are huge ficus trees with abundant epiphytes on their branches and about 1500 different orchids. The animals are equally impressive, be it a jaguar (the largest predatory cat in the New World), the elusive margay or wonderful birds like the green or scarlet macaws (lapas in Costa Rican Spanish). The amphibians are also impressive; the brightly coloured poisonous frogs catch the eye as do the giant toads.
Demographic in Costa Rica
The 2011 census counted 4,301,712 inhabitants, divided into the following groups: 83.6% white or mixed race, 6.7% mulatto, 2.4% Amerindian, 1.1% black or Afro-Caribbean and 5.2% other. The average Costa Rican in the Central Valley is 67.5% European, 29.3% Amerindian and 3.2% African.
There are also more than 104,000 Indian or indigenous inhabitants, who make up 2.4 per cent of the population. Most of them live in isolated reservations, divided into eight ethnic groups: Quitirrisí (in the central valley), Matambú or Chorotega (Guanacaste), Maleku (north of Alajuela), Bribri (south of the Atlantic Ocean), Cabécar (Cordillera de Talamanca), Guaymí (south of Costa Rica, along the border with Panama), Boruca (south of Costa Rica) and Térraba (south of Costa Rica).
The population of European origin is mainly Spanish, with significant numbers of Italian, German, English, Dutch, French, Irish, Portuguese and Polish families, and a large Jewish community. The majority of Afro-Costa Ricans are English-speaking Creole descendants of black Jamaican workers who immigrated in the 19th century.
In the 2011 census, 83.6% of the population was classified as white or mixed race. Mulattoes (a mixture of white and black) made up 6.7 % and indigenous people 2.4 %. The indigenous and European mestizo population is much smaller than in other Latin American countries. The exceptions are Guanacaste, where almost half the population is visibly mestizo, a legacy of widespread mergers between Spanish settlers and Chorotega Indians over several generations, and Limón, where the vast majority of the Afro-Costarican community lives.
Costa Rica receives many refugees, mainly from Colombia and Nicaragua. Due to this immigration and illegal immigration, an estimated 10-15% (400,000-600,000) of Costa Rica’s population is Nicaraguan. Some Nicaraguans migrate to find seasonal jobs and then return to their country. Costa Rica has taken in many refugees from various other Latin American countries who fled civil wars and dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s, including Chile and Argentina, as well as El Salvadorans who fled government guerrillas and death squads.
According to the World Bank, about 489,200 immigrants lived in the country in 2010, mainly from Nicaragua, Panama, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Belize, while 125,306 Costa Ricans lived abroad in the United States, Panama, Nicaragua, Spain, Mexico, Canada, Germany, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Ecuador.
Christianity is the predominant religion in Costa Rica, with Roman Catholicism being the official state religion under the 1949 Constitution, which also guarantees freedom of religion. It is the only state in the Americas that has Roman Catholicism as its state religion; the other such countries are European microstates: Liechtenstein, Monaco, the Vatican City and Malta.
According to the latest national survey on religion conducted by the University of Costa Rica in 2007, 70.5 per cent of Costa Ricans are Roman Catholic (44.9 per cent practising), 13.8 per cent are evangelical Protestants (almost all practising), 11.3 per cent say they have no religion and 4.3 per cent belong to another religion. The level of secularism is high by Latin American standards.
Due to small but continuous immigration from Asia and the Middle East, other religions have developed, the most popular being Buddhism with about 100,000 followers (over 2% of the population). Most Buddhists are members of the Han Chinese community, which numbers about 40,000, with some new local converts. There are also smaller numbers of Hindus, Jews, Baha’i, Muslims and neo-pagan followers.
Sinagoga Shaarei Zion Synagogue is located near La Sabana Metropolitan Park in San Jose. Several houses in the neighbourhood east of the park display the Star of David and other Jewish symbols.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has over 35,000 members and has a temple in San José that serves as the regional worship centre for Costa Rica. However, they represent less than 1% of the population.
Economy of Costa Rica
According to the World Bank, Costa Rica’s GDP per capita is US$12,874 PPP (as of 2013); however, this developing country still struggles with a lack of maintenance and new investment in infrastructure, an estimated poverty rate of 23%, an unemployment rate of 7.8% (2012 estimate) and a trade deficit of 5.2%. In fiscal year 2007, the country recorded a budget surplus. Economic growth declined to an increase of 3 % in 2008 (compared to 7 % and 9 % growth in the previous two years) in the face of the global recession.
Costa Rica’s inflation rate was estimated at 4.5% in 2012. On 16 October 2006, a new exchange rate regime was introduced that allows the value of the CRC colón to fluctuate between two bands, as Chile did previously. The aim of this policy was to allow the central bank to better fight inflation and to discourage the use of US dollars. However, since August 2009, the value of the colón, Costa Rica’s unit of currency, against the dollar has fallen to 86% of its value at the end of 2006 (see commonly available charts on foreign exchange trading). In April 2014, it was trading at around 550 against the US dollar and around 760 colones against the euro.
The central government offers tax exemptions for those who want to invest in the country. Several global high-tech companies have already begun to expand and export goods in the region, including Intel, GlaxoSmithKline and Procter & Gamble. In 2006, Intel’s microprocessor plant alone contributed to 20 percent of Costa Rican exports and 4.9 percent of GDP. In 2014, Intel announced it would end production in Costa Rica and lay off 1,500 employees. The plant now continues as a test and engineering facility with about 1,600 remaining employees. Trade with Southeast Asia and Russia exploded in 2004 and 2005, and the country gained full membership of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in 2007 after having observer status in 2004. The Financial Times Intelligence Unit awarded Costa Rica the title of Caribbean and Central American Country of the Future 2011/12 for its success in attracting foreign direct investment (FDI). The country has led the region in the number of FDI projects since 2003.
Pharmaceuticals, financial outsourcing, software development and ecotourism have become the most important sectors of the Costa Rican economy. The high level of education of the population makes the country an attractive investment location. Since 1999, tourism has brought in more foreign exchange than the exports of the country’s three main cash crops combined: Bananas, pineapples and coffee. Coffee production has played a key role in Costa Rica’s history and economy and was the third most important export in 2006.
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. Costa Rican Tarrazú is one of the best Arabica coffee beans in the world, used for espresso coffee along with Jamaican Blue Mountain, Guatemalan Antigua and Ethiopian Sidamo.
Costa Rica’s geographical location provides access to US markets, as it shares the same time zone as the central United States and has direct sea access to Europe and Asia. In a nationwide referendum on 5 October 2007, Costa Rican voters narrowly supported a free trade agreement with 51.6 percent voting in favour.
Costa Rica stands out as the most visited country in the Central American region with 2.2 million foreign visitors in 2011, followed by Panama with almost 1.5 million visitors. International tourism receipts rose to US$2.4 billion in 2012, and the top country of origin was the United States with 864,340 tourists, followed by Nicaragua with 474,011 visitors and Canada with 136,261. In 2005, tourism contributed 8.1% of the country’s gross national product and provided 13.3% of direct and indirect employment. Tourism now brings in more foreign exchange than bananas and coffee combined.
As a pioneer of ecotourism, Costa Rica attracts many tourists to its vast national parks and protected areas. In the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index 2011, Costa Rica ranks 44th in the world and second among Latin American countries after Mexico. In the Natural Resources sub-index, Costa Rica ranks sixth in the world, but 104th in cultural resources. Costa Rica ranks third among the sixty countries covered by the Global Green Economy Index 2014. In the category “Sustainable Tourism”, Costa Rica is in first place.
Costa Rica has also developed a system of payments for environmental services. Similarly, Costa Rica has introduced a water pollution tax to penalise businesses and property owners that discharge sewage, agricultural chemicals and other pollutants into waterways. In May 2007, the Costa Rican government announced its intention to become 100% carbon neutral by 2021. Since 2015, 93 % of the country’s electricity has come from renewable sources.
In 1996, the Forest Act was enacted to provide direct financial incentives to landowners for providing environmental services. This has helped shift the focus of forestry away from commercial timber production and associated logging, and raise awareness of the services it provides to the economy and society (carbon sequestration, hydrological services such as drinking water production, biodiversity protection and scenic beauty).