Costa Rica Geography and Population

Costa Rica – geography

Costa Rica is located in the middle of the Central American isthmus. The Cordillas here consist of two parallel mountain ranges with a plateau in between. The highest peaks reach 4000 m; most are active volcanoes and the area is seismically active with frequent earthquakes.

The majority of the population inhabits the central plateau. It has a fertile volcanic soil and a pleasant tropical climate with summer rains. Here are the four largest cities (San José, Heredia, Cartago and Alajuela), which together hold half the population. The Atlantic coast is predominantly inhabited by blacks. The warm, humid climate with year-round rainfall is ideal for banana production. The area here combines important economic resources with a cultural distinctiveness. The Pacific coast, which is rocky and characterized by rainforest and mangroves, is sparsely populated.


Costa Rica introduced early social reforms with public health and support for the most vulnerable groups. This has had an impact on the country’s relatively high standard of living and low population growth. The crisis of the 1980’s has had a marked impact: the number of poor and malnourished children is rising and child mortality is rising.

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The ethnic composition is very homogeneous; 97% are white or mestizer of Spanish descent. The blacks make up 2%; they are especially descendants of West Indian railway workers. Less than 1% are Indians. Population growth is just over 2% per year, and the birth rate is declining. For culture and traditions of Costa Rica, please check calculatorinc.

Officially, the country houses 43,000 refugees from other Central American countries, but the real number is closer to 300,000. It is especially farm workers from Nicaragua who, for political or economic reasons, want to stay in Costa Rica. The many refugees are straining the economy, and increased border surveillance and control of foreigners in the country have been introduced.

Economy and business

The Spanish colonization of Costa Rica was not nearly as destructive as elsewhere, as the country had no minerals of importance. The Spaniards who settled subsisted as peasants. With the establishment of export-oriented agriculture in the late 1800-t. the earth was concentrated on fewer hands, and an upper class of coffee landlords. Their power was partially offset by a large group of small farmers with political influence.

Agriculture remains the main occupation and employs 26% of the population (1990). Large areas along the coast are laid out for plantations, especially bananas and sugar. Coffee and cocoa are grown mainly on smaller uses. Large cattle farms are found both in the highlands and on the Pacific coast.

The strong dependence on the export products coffee, bananas, sugar and beef has created a dynamic which makes it necessary to constantly expand the areas in line with falling world market prices. This means that the country is no longer self-sufficient in food. There is increased pressure on the land, growing inequality in land distribution (1% of farms own 36% of the land (1990)) and increasing migration to cities. Government credits have mainly gone to export-oriented agriculture, and this policy is supported by e.g. World Bank. The ecological consequences of the policy have been noticeable. Every year, forest is involved in cattle farming; 71% of the area was forested in 1955 against only 30% in 1990. Laying out of national parks has only to a lesser extent slowed down deforestation. The country’s investment in “ecotourism” has contributed to a tripling of the number of tourists through the 1990’s, but inflicts the rainforest a certain strain in the form of construction and waste problems. The Danish rainforest group Nephentes has been working for several years to save part of the rainforest in the northeast, but without significant results.

The industry is characterized by small businesses. Among other things, sugar, fertilizers, agricultural machinery and consumables. Throughout the 1990’s, it has succeeded in attracting foreign investment to the so-called maquiladoras, and in 1999, industrial products accounted for half of the country’s exports. These include about components for the American computer company Intel’s microprocessors, which are made at Latin America’s only chip factory. Mining is of secondary importance and no oil or gas has been found on a commercial scale. On the other hand, hydropower resources are very large, and hydropower plants produce over 98% of the country’s electricity consumption.