Geography of Costa Rica

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Geography of Costa Rica
Costa Rica relief location map.jpg
Continent North America
Region Central America
Coordinates 9°56′N84°5′W / 9.933°N 84.083°W / 9.933; -84.083
Area Ranked 126th
  Total51,100 km2 (19,700 sq mi)
Coastline1,290 km (800 mi)
Borderstotal: 661 km (411 mi)
Highest point Mount Chirripó
3,821 metres (12,536 ft)
Lowest point Pacific Ocean
0 m
Longest river Térraba River (fully inland)
160 km (99 mi)
Largest lake Lake Arenal
85 km2 (33 sq mi)
Exclusive economic zone574,725 km2 (221,903 sq mi)
Shaded relief map of Costa Rica. Costa Rica map shaded relief.png
Shaded relief map of Costa Rica.

Map of Costa Rica. Costa Rica map detail.PNG
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 has 212 km of Caribbean Sea coastline and 1,016 on the North Pacific Ocean.


The area is 51,100 km² of which 40 km² is water. It is slightly smaller than the U.S. state of West Virginia.


Costa Rica is located on the Caribbean Plate. It borders the Cocos Plate in the Pacific Ocean which is being subducted beneath it. This forms the volcanoes in Costa Rica, also known as the Central America Volcanic Arc. [1]

The Caribbean Plate began its eastward migration during the Late Cretaceous. During the Late Paleocene, a local sea-level low-stand assisted by the continental uplift of the western margin of South America, resulted in a land bridge over which several groups of mammals apparently took part in an interchange.

Many earthquakes in Costa Rica have occurred.

Political and human geography

Costa Rica shares a 313 km border with Nicaragua to the north, and a 348 km with Panama to the south.

Costa Rica claims an exclusive economic zone of 574,725 km2 (221,903 sq mi) with 200 nautical mile s (370.4 km; 230.2 mi) and a territorial sea of 12 nautical miles (22.2 km; 13.8 mi).

Land use: Arable land: 4.8%. Permanent crops: 6.66%. Other: 88.54%.

Administrative divisions of Costa Rica include 7 provinces, 82 cantons,and 478 districts. There are also 24 indigenous territories.

Physical geography


There are many islands of Costa Rica, the most remote being Cocos Island and the largest being Isla Calero.

Mountain ranges

The nation's coastal plain separated by the Cordillera Central and the Cordillera de Talamanca, which form the spine of the country and separate the Pacific and Caribbean drainage divides.

The Cordillera de Guanacaste is in the north near the border with Nicaragua and forms part of the Continental Divide of the Americas.

Much of the Cordillera de Talamanca is included in the La Amistad International Park, which is shared between Costa Rica and Panama. It contains the country's highest peaks: the Cerro Chirripó and the Cerro Kamuk. Much of the region is covered by the Talamancan montane forests. It also includes the Cerros de Escazú which borders the Costa Rican Central Valley to the south.


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

Irrigated land covers 1,031 km².

Rivers of Costa Rica all drain into the Caribbean or the Pacific.

Extreme points

Cocos Island is the southwestern extreme of the country. Otherwise to the north it's Peñas Blancas, to the south and east the Panama border, and to the west the Santa Elena Peninsula.

The lowest point is sea level, and the highest is Cerro Chirripo: at 3810 m.


The climate is tropical and subtropical. Dry season (December to April); rainy season (May to November); cooler in highlands.

Because Costa Rica is located between 8 and 12 degrees north of the Equator, the climate is tropical year round. However, the country has many microclimates depending on elevation, rainfall, topography, and by the geography of each particular region.

Costa Rica's seasons are defined by how much rain falls during a particular period. The year can be split into two periods, the dry season known to the residents as summer (verano), and the rainy season, known locally as winter (invierno). The "summer" or dry season goes from December to April, and "winter" or rainy season goes from May to November, which almost coincides with the Atlantic hurricane season, and during this time, it rains constantly in some regions.

The location receiving the most rain is the Caribbean slopes of the Cordillera Central mountains, with an annual rainfall of over 5,000 mm (196.9 in). Humidity is also higher on the Caribbean side than on the Pacific side. The mean annual temperature on the coastal lowlands is around 27 °C (81 °F), 20 °C (68 °F) in the main populated areas of the Cordillera Central, and below 10 °C (50 °F) on the summits of the highest mountains. [2]

Climate data for Costa Rica
Average high °C (°F)27
Average low °C (°F)17
Average precipitation mm (inches)6.3
Percent possible sunshine 40373933252021222022253428
Source: [3]

Flora and fauna

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

Costa Rica is a biodiversity hotspot. While the country has only about 0.03% of the world's landmass, it contains 5% of the world's biodiversity. [4] [5] It is home to about 12,119 species of plants, of which 950 are endemic. [6] 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. [6] Deforestation in Costa Rica has been reduced from some of the worst rates in the world from 1973 to 1989, to almost zero by 2005. [7]

The diversity of wildlife in Costa Rica 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. [8] 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. [9]

Over 25% of Costa Rica's national territory is protected by SINAC (the National System of Conservation Areas), which oversees all of the country's protected areas. There 29 national parks of Costa Rica many conservation areas of Costa Rica. Together protected areas comprise over one-fourth of Costa Rican territory. 9.3% of the country is protected under IUCN categories I-V. Around 25% of the country's land area is in protected national parks and protected areas, [10] [11] the largest percentage of protected areas in the world (developing world average 13%, developed world average 8%). [7] [12] [13]

Tortuguero National Park is home to monkeys, sloths, birds; and a variety of reptiles.

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is home to about 2,000 plant species, [14] including numerous orchids. Over 400 types of birds and more than 100 species of mammals can be found there. [14]

Over 840 species of birds have been identified in Costa Rica. As is the case in much of Central America, the avian species in Costa Rica are a mix of North and South American species. The country's abundant fruit trees, many of which bear fruit year round, are hugely important to the birds, some of whom survive on diets that consist only of one or two types of fruit. Some of the country's most notable avian species include the resplendent quetzal, scarlet macaw, three-wattled bellbird, bare-necked umbrellabird, and the keel-billed toucan. [15] The Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad is allowed to collect royalties on any biological discoveries of medical importance. Costa Rica is a center of biological diversity for reptiles and amphibians, including the world's fastest running lizard, the spiny-tailed iguana ( Ctenosaura similis ). [16]

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

Natural resources

Hydropower from Lake Arenal, the largest lake in Costa Rica. Total renewable water resources is 112.4 km³.

Freshwater withdrawal is 5.77 km³/year (15%/9%/77%), or per capita: 1,582 m³/year. Agriculture is the largest water user demanding around 53% of total supplies while the sector contributes 6.5% to the Costa Rica GDP. Both total and per capita water usage is very high in comparison to other Central American countries but when measured against available freshwater sources, Costa Rica uses only 5% of its available supply.

Increasing urbanization will put pressure on water resources management in Costa Rica.

See also

Related Research Articles

Central America central geographic region of the Americas

Central America is a region in the southern tip of North America and is sometimes defined as a subregion of the Americas. This region is bordered by Mexico to the north, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south. Central America consists of seven countries: El Salvador, Costa Rica, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. The combined population of Central America is estimated at 44.53 million (2016).

Monteverde Place in Puntarenas, Costa Rica

Monteverde, Costa Rica is a small community in Puntarenas, Costa Rica, located in the Cordillera de Tilarán mountain range. Roughly a four-hour drive from the Central Valley, Monteverde is one of the country's major ecotourism destinations. The area is host to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and several other natural attractions, which draw considerable numbers of tourists and naturalists.

National System of Conservation Areas or SINAC,, is part of the Ministry of Environment and Energy or MINAE of Costa Rica. It is the administrator for the nation's national parks, conservation areas, and other protected natural areas.

Wildlife of Costa Rica

The Wildlife of Costa Rica comprises all naturally occurring animals, fungi and plants that reside in this Central American country. Costa Rica supports an enormous variety of wildlife, due in large part to its geographic position between the North and South American continents, its neotropical climate, and its wide variety of habitats. Costa Rica is home to more than 500,000 species, which represents nearly 5% of the total species estimated worldwide, making Costa Rica one of the 20 countries with the highest biodiversity in the world. Of these 500,000 species, a little more than 300,000 are insects.

Golfo Dulce, Costa Rica bay

Golfo Dulce is a gulf in Costa Rica, located at the South of the Province of Puntarenas. The inlet starts on the Pacific Ocean side of Costa Rica and extends slightly northward before turning west. The most westward part is at the city of Rincon. The bay separates the Osa Peninsula from the mainland Costa Rica.

Braulio Carrillo National Park

Braulio Carrillo National Park is a National Park in Heredia Province and San José Province, in central Costa Rica It is part of the Central Conservation Area.

Tapantí National Park

Tapantí - Cerro de la Muerte Massif National Park,, is a National Park in the Central Conservation Area of Costa Rica located on the edge of the Talamanca Range, near Cartago. It protects forests to the north of Chirripó National Park, and also contains part of the Orosí River. The area known as Cerro de la Muerte Massif was added to the park on January 14, 2000.

Palo Verde National Park

Palo Verde National Park, is a National Park of Costa Rica, part of the Arenal Tempisque Conservation Area, that contains much of the area of the valley of the Tempisque River and covers an area of 45,492 acres in Guanacaste Province, 30 km west of Canas. The surrounding region is mostly tropical dry forests, and the Park concentrates on conserving vital floodplain, marshes, limestone ridges, and seasonal pools from the encroachment of civilization which was putting the ecology of the area at risk.

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.

Arenal Volcano National Park National park of Costa Rica

Arenal Volcano National Park is a Costa Rican national park in the central part of the country, part of the Arenal Huetar Norte Conservation Area. The park encompasses the Arenal Volcano, which "was" the most active in the country, which had previously been believed to be dormant until a major eruption in 1968. It neighbors Lake Arenal, which is the site of the country's largest hydroelectricity project, the Lake Arenal Dam.

Barbilla National Park

Barbilla National Park is a National Park in the Caribbean La Amistad Conservation Area of Costa Rica located on the eastern slopes of the Cordillera de Talamanca. It protects forests as well as Laguna Ayil and Cerro Tigre and the Dantas River watershed, covering parts of both Cartago and Limón Provinces. It was initially established in 1982.

Talamancan montane forests

The Talamancan montane forests ecoregion, in the tropical moist broadleaf forest biome, are in montane Costa Rica and Panama in Central America.

Costa Rican páramo Natural region in Costa Rica and western Panama

The Costa Rican páramo, also known as the Talamanca páramo, is a natural region of montane grassland and shrubland of Costa Rica and western Panama.

Cerro de la Muerte Biological Station

The Cerro de la Muerte Biological Station is one of the several field stations for biological research that exist in Costa Rica.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve protected area

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is a Costa Rican reserve located along the Cordillera de Tilarán within the Puntarenas and Alajuela provinces. Named after the nearby town of Monteverde and founded in 1972, the Reserve consists of over 10,500 hectares of cloud forest, the reserve is visited by roughly 70,000 visitors a year. The Reserve consists of 6 ecological zones, 90% of which are virgin forest. A high biodiversity, consisting of over 2,500 plant species, 100 species of mammals, 400 bird species, 120 reptilian and amphibian species, and thousands of insects, has drawn both scientists and tourists alike.

Tortuguero National Park national park

Tortuguero National Park is a national park in the Limón Province of Costa Rica. It is situated within the Tortuguero Conservation Area of the northeastern part of the country. Despite its remote location, reachable only by airplane or boat, it is the third-most visited park in Costa Rica. The park has a large variety of biological diversity due to the existence within the reserve of eleven different habitats, including rainforest, mangrove forests, swamps, beaches, and lagoons. Located in a tropical climate, it is very humid, and receives up to 250 inches (6,400 mm) of rain a year.

Serpentario de Monteverde

Serpentario de Monteverde is an urban park of approximately 14 hectares, located in southern Monteverde, in the Puntarenas Province, Costa Rica. It has an average altitude of 1327 meters and is contiguous to the Monteverde Orchid Garden to the north and the Butterfly Garden to the south. The site includes reptiles, poison arrow frogs and over 20 species of snakes. Most species in the serpentarium can be found wild in the surrounding forests.

Tumbes-Piura dry forests

The Tumbes-Piura dry forests (NT0232) is an arid tropical ecoregion along the Pacific coasts of southern Ecuador and northern Peru. The ecoregion contains many endemic species of flora and birds adapted to the short wet season followed by a long dry season. Threats include extraction of wood for fuel or furniture, and capture of wild birds for sale.

Eastern Panamanian montane forests

The Eastern Panamanian montane forests (NT0122) is an ecoregion in the east of Panama and the extreme northwest of Colombia. It contains diverse flora and fauna, with considerable endemism. The ecoregion is largely intact due to its inaccessibility, although the opening of an extension of the Pan-American Highway has introduced threats from human activity.


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  14. 1 2 "Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve". Retrieved 26 June 2010.
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