Geography of Costa Rica

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Political map of Costa Rica. Costa Rica map.png
Political map of Costa Rica.
Shaded relief map of Costa Rica. Costa Rica map shaded relief.png
Shaded relief map of Costa Rica.

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Map of Costa Rica.
Topography of Costa Rica Costa Rica Topography.png
Topography of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is located on the Central American Isthmus, surrounding the point 10° north of the equator and 84° west of the prime meridian. It borders both the Caribbean Sea (to the east) and the North Pacific Ocean (to the west), with a total of 1,290 km of coastline (212 km on the Caribbean coast and 1,016 km on the Pacific).

Costa Rica Country in Central America

Costa Rica, officially the Republic of Costa Rica, is a country in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua to the north, the Caribbean Sea to the northeast, Panama to the southeast, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, and Ecuador to the south of Cocos Island. It has a population of around 5 million in a land area of 51,060 square kilometers. An estimated 333,980 people live in the capital and largest city, San José with around 2 million people in the surrounding metropolitan area.

Equator Intersection of a spheres surface with the plane perpendicular to the spheres axis of rotation and midway between the poles

An equator of a rotating spheroid is its zeroth circle of latitude (parallel). It is the imaginary line on the spheroid, equidistant from its poles, dividing it into northern and southern hemispheres. In other words, it is the intersection of the spheroid with the plane perpendicular to its axis of rotation and midway between its geographical poles.

Prime meridian A line of longitude, at which longitude is defined to be 0°

A prime meridian is a meridian in a geographic coordinate system at which longitude is defined to be 0°. Together, a prime meridian and its anti-meridian form a great circle. This great circle divides a spheroid, e.g., Earth, into two hemispheres. If one uses directions of East and West from a defined prime meridian, then they can be called the Eastern Hemisphere and the Western Hemisphere.


Costa Rica shares a border with Nicaragua to the north (313 km long border) and with Panama to the south (348 km long border). The area of Costa Rica is 51,100 km² of which 51,060 km² is land and 40 km² is water, making it slightly smaller than the U.S. state of West Virginia.

Nicaragua Country in Central America

Nicaragua, officially the Republic of Nicaragua, is the largest country in the Central American isthmus, bordered by Honduras to the northwest, the Caribbean to the east, Costa Rica to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the southwest. Managua is the country's capital and largest city and is also the third-largest city in Central America, behind Tegucigalpa and Guatemala City. The multi-ethnic population of six million includes people of indigenous, European, African, and Asian heritage. The main language is Spanish. Indigenous tribes on the Mosquito Coast speak their own languages and English.

Panama Republic in Central America

Panama, officially the Republic of Panama, is a country in Central America, bordered by Costa Rica to the west, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The capital and largest city is Panama City, whose metropolitan area is home to nearly half the country's 4 million people.

U.S. state constituent political entity of the United States

In the United States, a state is a constituent political entity, of which there are currently 50. Bound together in a political union, each state holds governmental jurisdiction over a separate and defined geographic territory and shares its sovereignty with the federal government. Due to this shared sovereignty, Americans are citizens both of the federal republic and of the state in which they reside. State citizenship and residency are flexible, and no government approval is required to move between states, except for persons restricted by certain types of court orders. Four states use the term commonwealth rather than state in their full official names.

Physical geography

Extent of Costa Rica's western EEZ in the Pacific Localisation de l'ile de Clipperton.png
Extent of Costa Rica's western EEZ in the Pacific

The nation's terrain is a coastal plain separated by rugged mountains, the Cordillera Central and the Cordillera de Talamanca, which form the spine of the country and separate the Pacific and Caribbean watersheds. Costa Rica claims an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical mile s (370.4 km; 230.2 mi) and a territorial sea of 12 nautical miles (22.2 km; 13.8 mi).

Terrain Vertical and horizontal dimension and shape of land surface

Terrain or relief involves the vertical and horizontal dimensions of land surface. The term bathymetry is used to describe underwater relief, while hypsometry studies terrain relative to sea level. The Latin word terra means "earth."

Cordillera Central (Costa Rica) mountain range in Costa Rica

The Cordillera Central is a volcanic mountain range in central Costa Rica which continues from the Continental Divide to east of Cordillera de Tilarán. It extends 80 km from Tapezco Pass to the Turrialba Volcano and ending on the Pacuare River. It is separated from Cordillera de Tilarán by Balsa River and Platanar and Zarcero hills. The Cordillera Central is part of the American Cordillera, a chain of mountain ranges (cordillera) that consists of an almost continuous sequence of mountain ranges that form the western "backbone" of North America, Central America, South America and Antarctica.

Cordillera de Talamanca mountain range

The Cordillera de Talamanca is a mountain range that lies on the southeast half of Costa Rica and the far west of Panama. Much of the range and the area around it is included in the La Amistad International Park, which also is shared between the two countries.

The spine of the country produces many major river systems. Rivers draining into the Caribbean include:

The Colorado River, or the Rio Colorado, in Costa Rica is a distributary of the San Juan River which flows 96 kilometres (60 mi) towards the Caribbean in the northern parts of Heredia and Limón Provinces. The surrounding habitats are protected as part of the second largest rain forest preserve in the country, the Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge.

Pacuare River river in Costa Rica

The Pacuare River, or the Río Pacuare, flows approximately 108 kilometres (67 mi) to the Caribbean. It is a popular location for white water rafting, whitewater kayaking and riverboarding. The rainforests that surround the river are home to exotic animal species such as jaguars, monkeys, ocelots, and a very large number of birds. Also it was considered one of the 5 nicest rivers to practice rafting.

Reventazón River river in Costa Rica

The Reventazón River or Rio Reventazón, is a river in Costa Rica which forms part of the Reventazón-Parismina drainage basin, it is 145 kilometres (90 mi) long and flows into the Caribbean sea. It starts at the base of the Irazú Volcano, passing through the east side of the Central Valley, and flows through the Orosí and Turrialba Valleys. After reaching the Caribbean coastal plains it joins the Parismina River and forms what is called the Reventazón-Parismina.

Rivers draining into the Lake Nicaragua or the San Juan River (Rio San Juan), whose waters eventually drains into the Caribbean, include:

Lake Nicaragua largest lake in Central America

Lake Nicaragua or Cocibolca or Granada is a freshwater lake in Nicaragua. Of tectonic origin and with an area of 8,264 km2 (3,191 sq mi), it is the largest lake in Central America, the 19th largest lake in the world and the tenth largest in the Americas, slightly smaller than Lake Titicaca. With an elevation of 32.7 metres (107 ft) above sea level, the lake reaches a depth of 26 metres (85 ft). It is intermittently joined by the Tipitapa River to Lake Managua.

San Juan River (Nicaragua) river that flows east out of Lake Nicaragua into the Caribbean Sea

The San Juan River, also known as El Desaguadero, is a 192-kilometre (119 mi) river that flows east out of Lake Nicaragua into the Caribbean Sea. A large section of the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica runs on the southern bank of the river. It was part, with the lake, of a proposed route for a Nicaragua Canal in the 19th century. The idea of the project has been revived in the last decade, including the possibility of other routes within the country. The Ecocanal project has obtained a Concession from the National Assembly of Nicaragua to re-open the San Juan River to commercial barge traffic.

Sapoá River is a river of Costa Rica. With headwaters in the Guanacaste National Park, it flows north and crosses into Nicaragua. It empties into Lake Nicaragua.

Frío River is a river of Costa Rica, Alajuela province. The last few kilometers it passes through Nicaragua.

San Carlos River (Costa Rica) river in the Alajuela Province of Costa Rica

The San Carlos River is a river in the Alajuela Province of Costa Rica that drains into the San Juan River and thus into the Caribbean Sea. Its basin covers an area of about 3,100 km2. The river has a length of 142 km of which about 60 km allow navigation. The river originates from the confluence of the Jabillos River and Peje River both originating on the eastern side of the Cordillera de Tilarán and traverses the San Carlos Canton. It meets the San Juan River close to Boca San Carlos.

Rivers draining into the Pacific Ocean include:

In the eastern half of the country, the San Juan River forms the northern border with Nicaragua.

Mountain ranges

Cordillera de Tilarán

The Tilaran Range is part of the Continental Divide east of Lake Arenal and the nearby active volcano Arenal, and running into the Cordillera Central range further east. It is located in the Abangares district of the province of Guanacaste.

At the edge of the range is the Monteverde cloud forest preserve, a major ecotourism destination.

Cordillera Centro

The Central Range continues the Continental Divide east of Cordillera de Tilarán. It has four large volcanoes: Poás, Barva, Irazú and Turrialba. The highest peak is Irazú at 3,432 m.

Cordillera de Guanacaste

The Guanacaste Range is in northern Costa Rica near the border with Nicaragua. The range forms part of the southern region of the Continental Divide, the highest peak being the extinct stratovolcano Miravalles at 2,028 m. Peaks include:

Cordillera de Talamanca

Much of the Talamanca Range is included in the La Amistad International Park, which is shared between Costa Rica and Panama. The country's highest peaks lie in this mountain range: the Cerro Chirripó and the Cerro Kamuk. Much of the region is covered by the forest.

Cerros de Escazú

The Cerros de Escazú borders the Central Valley to the south and is considered the northernmost portion of the Cordillera de Talamanca.


Costa Rica's climate is mostly tropical and subtropical.


Rainforest in Costa Rica Rainforest at Puentes Colgantes.jpg
Rainforest in Costa Rica

Like all Central American countries, Costa Rica is considered a biodiversity hotspot. According to the INBio, about 4.5% of the world's biodiversity can be found in Costa Rica. Costa Rica is home to about 12,119 species of plants, of which 950 are endemic. [1] There are 117 native trees and more than 1,400 types of orchids; a third of them can be found in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Almost a half of the country's land is covered by forests, though only 3.5% is covered by primary forests. [1] Deforestation is a devastating process, with more than 8,100 ha of forest being lost annually. The main reason for such high deforestation levels is to make plains for cattle ranching.

Wildlife diversity is very high; there are 441 species of amphibians and reptiles, 838 species of birds, 232 species of mammals and 181 species of fresh water fish. Costa Rica has high levels of endemism; 81 species of amphibians and reptiles, 17 species of birds and 7 species of mammals are endemic to the country. However, many species are endangered. According to the World Conservation Monitoring Centre, 209 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and plants are endangered. [2] Some of the country's most endangered species are the Harpy eagle, the Giant anteater, the Golden toad and the Jaguar. IUCN reports the Golden toad as extinct. [3]

Protected areas

Costa Rica is famous for its 26 national parks and more than 160 protected areas. The other types of protected areas in Costa Rica are National Wildlife Refuges, Biological Reserves, Protection Zones, and Absolute Nature Reserves. Together the protected areas comprise over one-fourth of Costa Rican territory. 9.3% of the country is protected under IUCN categories I-V.

Tortuguero National Park

The creation of the Tortuguero National Park in 1970 gave much needed protection to one of the region's most important and unique natural resources: a 22 km stretch of shoreline that serves as the principal nesting site for sea turtles.

Environmental issues

Environmental issues include deforestation, largely a result of the clearing of land for cattle ranching; soil erosion; coastal marine pollution; fisheries protection; solid waste management; and air pollution.


Environmental treaties

Costa Rica is party to many environmental treaties, including the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention on Environmental Modification, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Montreal Protocol, the Ramsar Convention, the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, the Desertification Convention, the Endangered Species Convention, the Basel Convention, the Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Convention on Marine Dumping, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. It has signed but not ratified the Convention on Marine Life Conservation and the Kyoto Protocol.


Costa Rica map of Koppen climate classification. Koppen-Geiger Map CRI present.svg
Costa Rica map of Köppen climate classification.


Total: 51,100 sq km
Land: 50,660 sq km
Water: 440 sq km

Land boundaries

Total: 661 km
Border countries: Nicaragua 313 km, Panama 348 km


1,290 km

Maritime claims

Territorial sea: 12  nmi (22.2 km; 13.8 mi)
Exclusive Economic Zone: 200 nmi (370.4 km; 230.2 mi)
Continental shelf: 200 nmi (370.4 km; 230.2 mi)


Tropical and subtropical; dry season (December to April); rainy season (May to November); cooler in highlands. It is said there are 15 different climates in a day.


Coastal plains separated by rugged mountains including over 100 volcanic cones, of which several are major volcanoes. some parts are tropical

Extreme points

Natural resources

Hydropower from Lake Arenal, the largest lake in Costa Rica.

Land use

Arable land: 4.8%
Permanent crops: 6.66%
Other: 88.54%

Irrigated land

1,031 km²

Total renewable water resources

112.4 km³

Freshwater withdrawal

Total: 5.77 km³/year (15%/9%/77%)
Per capita: 1,582 m³/year

Natural hazards

Occasional earthquakes, hurricanes along Atlantic coast; frequent flooding of lowlands at onset of rainy season and landslides; active volcanoes.

See also

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Costa Rican Central Valley plateau and a geographic region of central Costa Rica

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San Carlos (canton) Cantón in Alajuela, Costa Rica

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Cordillera de Guanacaste mountains in Costa Rica

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Cerro Kamuk mountain in Costa Rica

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Costa Rican páramo Natural region in Costa Rica and western Panama

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Limón (canton) canton in Limón Province

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Dices cottontail species of mammal

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Costa Rica–Panama border international border

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  1. 1 2 Costa Rica Forest Information and Data.
  2. Home. Unep-Wcmc. Retrieved on 2012-01-28.
  3. Incilius periglenes IUCN Red List's article about the Golden toad