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Costa Rica

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For the plant genus Costarica, see its synonym Sicyos.
Republic of Costa Rica
República de Costa Rica
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: "Vivan siempre el trabajo y la paz"  (Spanish)
"Long live work and peace"
Anthem:  Noble patria, tu hermosa bandera  (Spanish)
Noble homeland, your beautiful flag 1
and largest city
San José
9°56′N 84°5′W
Official languages Spanish
Recognised regional languages Mekatelyu, Bribri
Demonym Costa Rican; Tico
Government Constitutional democracy
( Presidential republic)
 -  President Laura Chinchilla
Independence Declared
 -  from Spain September 15, 1821 
 -  from Mexico October 4, 1824 
 -  from UPCA March 21, 1847 
 -  Recognized by Spain May 10, 1850 
 -  Total 51,100 km2 ( 128th)
19,653 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 0.7
 -  July 2010 estimate 4,253,897 ( 123rd)
GDP ( PPP) 2009 estimate
 -  Total $48.881 billion
 -  Per capita $10,579
GDP (nominal) 2009 estimate
 -  Total $29.318 billion
 -  Per capita $6,345
Gini (2007) 48.0
Error: Invalid Gini value · 30th
HDI (2010) Decrease 0.725
Error: Invalid HDI value · 62nd
Currency Costa Rican colón ( CRC)
Time zone CTZ ( UTC-6)
Drives on the right
Calling code +506
ISO 3166 code CR
Internet TLD .cr

Costa Rica (pronounced  /ˌkoʊstə ˈriːkə/)(US pronunciation), officially the Republic of Costa Rica (Spanish: Costa Rica or República de Costa Rica, pronounced:  [reˈpuβlika ðe ˈkosta ˈrika]) is a country in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua to the north, Panama to the east and south, the Pacific Ocean to the west and south and the Caribbean Sea to the east.

Costa Rica, which means "Rich Coast", constitutionally abolished its army permanently in 1949. It is the only Latin American country included in the list of the world's 22 older democracies. Costa Rica has consistently been among the top Latin American countries in terms of the Human Development Index, ranked 62nd in the world in 2010, and is cited by the UNDP as one of the countries that has attained much higher human development than other countries at the same income levels. The country is ranked 3rd in the world, and 1st among the Americas, in terms of the 2010 Environmental Performance Index.

In 2007 the Costa Rican government announced plans for Costa Rica to become the first carbon neutral country by 2021. According to the New Economics Foundation, Costa Rica ranks first in the Happy Planet Index and is the " greenest" country in the world.


Pre-Colombian period

A pre-Colombian incense burner with a crocodile lid (500 – 1350 AD), from Costa Rica.

Historians have classified the indigenous people of Costa Rica as belonging to the Intermediate Area, where the peripheries of the Mesoamerican and Andean native cultures overlapped. More recently, pre-Colombian Costa Rica has also been described as part of the Isthmo-Colombian region. The northwest of the country, the Nicoya Peninsula, was the southernmost reach of the Nahuatl culture when the Spanish conquerors arrived in the 16th century. The central and southern portions of the country had Chibcha influences.

The impact of the indigenous peoples on modern Costa Rican culture has been relatively small compared to other Latin American nations, since the country lacked a strong native civilization to begin with and most of the indigenous people either died from diseases introduced by the Europeans, such as influenza and smallpox, or from mistreatment by the Spanish colonists. The remainder of the native population was mostly absorbed into the Spanish-speaking colonial society through miscegenation, except for some small remnants, the most significant of which are the Bribri and Boruca tribes that still inhabit the mountains of the Cordillera de Talamanca, in the southern part of Costa Rica, near the frontier with Panama.

Spanish colonization

During most of the colonial period, Costa Rica was the southernmost province of the Captaincy General of Guatemala, which was nominally part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain (i.e., Mexico), but which in practice operated as a largely autonomous entity within the Spanish Empire. Costa Rica's distance from the capital in Guatemala, its legal prohibition under Spanish law to trade with its southern neighbors in Panama, then part of the Viceroyalty of New Granada (i.e., Colombia), and the lack of resources such as gold and silver, made Costa Rica into a poor, isolated, and sparsely inhabited region within the Spanish Empire. Costa Rica was described as "the poorest and most miserable Spanish colony in all America" by a Spanish governor in 1719.

Another important factor behind Costa Rica's poverty was the lack of a significant indigenous population available for forced labor, which meant that most of the Costa Rican settlers had to work on their own land, preventing the establishment of large haciendas. For all these reasons Costa Rica was by and large unappreciated and overlooked by the Spanish Crown and left to develop on its own. It is believed that the circumstances during this period led to many of the idiosyncrasies for which Costa Rica has become known, whereas concomitantly setting the stage for Costa Rica's development as a more egalitarian society than the rest of its neighbors. Costa Rica became a "rural democracy" with no oppressed mestizo or indigenous class. It was not long before Spanish settlers turned to the hills, where they found rich volcanic soil and a milder climate than that of the lowlands.


Like the rest of Central America, Costa Rica never fought for independence from Spain. On September 15 1821, after the final Spanish defeat in the Mexican War of Independence (1810–1821), the authorities in Guatemala declared the independence of all of Central America. That date is still celebrated as Independence Day in Costa Rica, even though, technically, under the Spanish Constitution of 1812 that had been re-adopted in 1820, Nicaragua and Costa Rica had become an autonomous province with its capital in León.

Like other Central Spanish nations, Costa Rica considered annexation to the short-lived First Mexican Empire of Agustín de Iturbide, but, after its collapse in 1823, Costa Rica became instead a province of the new Federal Republic of Central America, which theoretically existed from 1823 to 1839, but which exercised a very loose authority over its constituent provinces, particularly the poor and remote Costa Rica. In 1824, the Costa Rican capital was moved to San José, leading to a brief outburst of violence over rivalry with the old capital, Cartago. While civil wars raged both among the provinces of the Federal Republic of Central America and between political factions within individual provinces, Costa Rica remained largely at peace.

The 1849 national coat of arms was featured in the first postal stamp issued in 1862.

In 1838, long after the Federal Republic of Central America ceased to function in practice, Costa Rica formally withdrew and proclaimed itself sovereign. The considerable distance and poor communication routes between Guatemala City and the Central Plateau, where most of the Costa Rican population lived then and still lives now, meant that the local population had little allegiance to the federal government in Guatemala. From colonial times up to the present day, Costa Rica's reluctance to become politically tied with the rest of Central America has been a major obstacle to efforts for greater regional integration.

Economic growth

Coffee was first planted in Costa Rica in the early 19th century and was first shipped to Europe in 1843, soon becoming Costa Rica's first major export. Coffee production would remain Costa Rica's principal source of wealth well into the 20th century. Most of the coffee exported was grown around the main centers of population in the Central Plateau and then transported by oxcart to the Pacific port of Puntarenas. Since the main market for the coffee was in Europe, it soon became a high priority to develop a transportation route from the Central Plateau to the Atlantic Ocean. For this purpose, in the 1870s the Costa Rican government contracted with U.S. businessman Minor C. Keith to build a railroad to the Caribbean port of Limón. Despite enormous difficulties with construction, disease, and financing, the railroad was completed in 1890.

Most Afro-Costa Ricans, who constitute about 3% of the country's population, descend from Jamaican immigrants who worked in the construction of that railway. United States convicts and Chinese immigrants also participated in the construction project. In exchange for completing the railroad, the Costa Rican government granted Keith large tracts of land and a lease on the train route, which he used to produce bananas and export them to the United States. As a result, bananas came to rival coffee as the principal Costa Rican export, while foreign-owned corporations (including the United Fruit Company) began to hold a major role in the national economy.

20th century

Historically, Costa Rica has generally enjoyed greater peace and more consistent political stability compared with many of its fellow Latin American nations. Since the late nineteenth century, however, Costa Rica has experienced two significant periods of violence. In 1917–19, General Federico Tinoco Granados ruled as a military dictator until he was overthrown and forced into exile. The unpopularity of Tinoco's regime led, after he was overthrown, to a considerable decline in the size, wealth, and political influence of the Costa Rican military. In 1948, José Figueres Ferrer led an armed uprising in the wake of a disputed presidential election. With more than 2,000 dead, the resulting 44-day Costa Rican Civil War was the bloodiest event in Costa Rica during the twentieth-century.

The victorious rebels formed a government junta that abolished the military altogether and oversaw the drafting of a new constitution by a democratically elected assembly. Having enacted these reforms, the junta relinquished its power on November 8, 1949, to the new democratic government. After the coup d'état, Figueres became a national hero, winning the country's first democratic election under the new constitution in 1953. Since then, Costa Rica has held 13 presidential elections, the latest being in 2010. All of them have been widely regarded by the international community as peaceful and transparent.


Costa Rica is located on the Central American isthmus, 10° North of the equator and 84° West of the Prime Meridian. It borders the Caribbean Sea (to the east) and the Pacific Ocean (to the west), with a total of 1,290 kilometres (800 miles) of coastline, 212 km (132 mi) on the Caribbean coast and 1,016 km (631 mi) on the Pacific.

Costa Rica also borders Nicaragua to the north (309 km or 192 mi of border) and Panama to the south-southeast (639 km or 397 mi of border). In total, Costa Rica comprises 51,100 square kilometres (19,700  square miles) plus 589 square kilometres (227 square miles) of territorial waters.

The highest point in the country is Cerro Chirripó, at 3,819 metres (12,530 feet), and is the fifth highest peak in Central America. The highest volcano in the country is the Irazú Volcano (3,431 m or 11,257 ft). The largest lake in Costa Rica is Lake Arenal.

Costa Rica also comprises several islands. Cocos Island (24 square kilometres / 9.3 square miles) stands out because of its distance from continental landmass, 300 mi (480 km) from Puntarenas, but Calero Island is the largest island of the country (151.6 square kilometres / 58.5 square miles). Costa Rica protects 23% of its national territory within the Protected Areas system. It also possesses the greatest density of species in the world.


Because Costa Rica is located between nine to ten 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 it rains during a particular period and not to the four seasons in the Northern Hemisphere. The year can be split into two periods, the dry season known to the residents as summer, and the rainy season, known locally as winter. 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 that receives the most rain is the Caribbean slopes of the Central Cordillera 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 main annual temperature on the coastal lowlands is around 80 °F (26.7 °C), 69 °F (20.6 °C) in the main populated areas of the Central Cordilera, and below 50 °F (10 °C) on the summits of the highest mountains.


President of Costa Rica Laura Chinchilla Miranda, the first woman to be elected president of the country.

Costa Rica is a democratic republic with a strong constitution. The country has had at least 59 years of uninterrupted democracy, making it one of the most stable countries in the region, and the only Latin American country included in the list of the world’s 22 older democracies since at least 1950. Costa Rica has been able to avoid the widespread violence that has plagued most of Latin America.

Costa Rica is a republic with three powers: executive responsibilities are vested in a president, legislative power is vested on the Legislative Assembly, and Judicial power is vested on the Supreme Court. There are two vice presidents as well as a cabinet designated by the president. The president, vice presidents, and 57 Legislative Assembly delegates are elected for four-year terms. A constitutional amendment approved in 1969 limited presidents and delegates to one term, although delegates are allowed to run again for an Assembly seat after sitting out a term.

The Supreme Electoral Body, the Office of the Comptroller General, the Office of the Procurator General of the Republic, and the Office of the Ombudsman also enjoy a lot of independence.

The Supreme Court is divided into four chambers, one dealing with Constitutional Law, one dealing with Criminal Law, and two dealing with Civil Law, Merchant Law and the like.

In April 2003, the constitutional amendment ban on presidential re-election was reversed, allowing Óscar Arias (Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 1987) to run for president for a second term. In 2006, Óscar Arias was elected in a tight and highly contested election against former Economics Minister Ottón Solís, running on a platform promoting free trade. He was succeeded by Laura Chinchilla who won the election of February 7, 2010, and took office on May 8, 2010. She is also from the National Liberation Party and is the first woman to be elected president of the country.

Provinces, cantons, and districts

Provinces of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is composed of seven provinces, which in turn are divided into 81 cantons ("cantón" in Spanish, plural "cantones"), each of which is directed by a mayor. Mayors are chosen democratically every four years by each canton's people. There are no provincial legislatures. The cantons are further divided into districts (distritos). The provinces are:

  1. Alajuela
  2. Cartago
  3. Guanacaste
  4. Heredia
  5. Limón
  6. Puntarenas
  7. San José


Intel microprocessor facility in Costa Rica is responsible for 20% of Costa Rican exports and 5% of the country's GDP
A coffee plantation in the Orosi Valley.

According to the World Bank, Costa Rica's GDP per capita is US$11,122 PPP (as of 2009); however, this developing country still faces the fourth highest inflation rate in Latin America, lack of maintenance and new investment in infrastructure, a poverty rate estimated to be 5% to 8%, a 7.8% unemployment rate (2009 est.), and a trade deficit of 5.2%. For the fiscal year 2007, the country showed a government surplus. Economic growth in 2008 diminished to a 3% increase in the face of a global recession (down from 7% and 9% growth in the prior 2 years).

Costa Rica's inflation rate was an estimated 9.3% in 2007 and increased to 13.9% in 2008, Latin America's 4th highest inflation rate for both years. On October 16, 2006, a new currency exchange system was introduced, allowing the value of the CRC colón to float between two bands as done previously by Chile. The idea is that by doing so the Central Bank will be able to better tackle inflation and discourage the use of U.S. dollars. However, as of August 2009, the value of the colón against the dollar has decreased to 86% of its late-2006 value (see commonly available forex trading charts). The unit of currency is the colón, and as of October 2010 it trades around 507 to the U.S. dollar, and about 705 colones to the euro.

The central government offers tax exemptions for those who are willing to invest in the country. Several global high tech corporations have already started developing in the area exporting goods including chip manufacturer Intel, pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, and consumer products company Procter & Gamble. In 2006 Intel's microprocessor facility alone was responsible for 20% of Costa Rican exports and 4.9% of the country's GDP. Trade with South East Asia and Russia boomed during 2004 and 2005, and the country obtained full Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (APEC) membership in 2007 after becoming an observer in 2004.

In recent times pharmaceuticals, financial outsourcing, software development, and ecotourism have become the prime industries in Costa Rica's economy. High levels of education among its residents make the country an attractive investing location. Since 1999, tourism earns more foreign exchange than the combined exports of the country's three main cash crops: bananas, pineapples and coffee. Coffee production has played a key role in Costa Rica's history and economy and by 2006 was the third cash crop export.

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, with Costa Rican Tarrazú among the finest Arabica coffee beans in the world used for making espresso coffee, together with Jamaican Blue Mountain, Guatemalan Antigua and Ethiopian Sidamo.

Costa Rica's location provides access to American markets as it has the same time zone as the central part of the United States and direct ocean access to Europe and Asia. In a countrywide referendum on October 5, 2007, the voters of Costa Rica narrowly backed a free trade agreement, with 51.6% of "Yes" votes.

Poás Volcano Crater is one of the country's main tourist attractions.

With a $2.2 billion per year tourism industry, Costa Rica is the most visited nation in the Central American region, with two million foreign visitors in 2008, which translates into a relatively high expenditure per tourist of $1,077 per trip, and a rate of foreign tourists per capita of 0.46, one of the highest in the Caribbean Basin. In 2008 most visitors came from the United States (38.6%), neighboring Nicaragua (21.8%), Europe (11.3%) and Canada (5.2%). In 2005, tourism contributed 8.1% of the country's GNP and represented 13.3% of direct and indirect employment. Tourism now earns more foreign exchange than bananas and coffee combined.

Costa Rica has gambling casinos. The USA banned Costa Rican online poker sites; later as compensation, the USA offered Costa Rica greater access to other service markets, including research and development, storage, technical testing and analysis. The settlement was after the country filed for arbitration at the World Trade Organization. "The agreement has been satisfactory for the country," said Foreign Trade Minister Marco Ruiz in a written statement.

Ecotourism draws many tourists to visit the extensive national parks and protected areas around the country. Costa Rica was a pioneer in this type of tourism, and the country is recognized as one of the few with true ecotourism. In the 2009 Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index, Costa Rica ranked 42nd in the world and first among Latin American countries. Just considering the sub-index natural resources, Costa Rica ranks 6th worldwide in terms of the natural resources pillar, but 89th in terms of its cultural resources.

Foreign relations

Costa Rica is an active member of the United Nations and the Organization of American States. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the United Nations University of Peace are based in Costa Rica. Costa Rica is also a member of many other international organizations related to human rights and democracy.

A main foreign policy objective of Costa Rica is to foster human rights and sustainable development as a way to secure stability and growth.

Costa Rica is a member of the International Criminal Court, without a Bilateral Immunity Agreement of protection for the United States military (as covered under Article 98).

Costa Rica also has a long-term disagreement with Nicaragua over the San Juan River which defines the border between the two countries; the disagreement arises because the river, on Nicaraguan soil, is the only way to reach several communities in Costa Rica served by the Costa Rican police.

On July 14, 2009, the Hague(ICJ) court stated that The Costa Ricans had their rights to navigate for commercial purposes upheld and the right to subsistence fishing on their side of the river. An 1858 treaty extended navigation rights to Costa Rica, but Nicaragua denied that passenger travel and fishing were part of the deal, the court ruled that Costa Ricans on the river were not required to have Nicaraguan tourist cards or visas as Nicaragua alleged but, in a nod to the Nicaraguans, ruled that Costa Rican boats and passengers have to stop at the first and last Nicaraguan port along their route. They must also have an identity document or passport. Nicaragua can also impose timetables on Costa Rican traffic. Nicaragua may require Costa Rican boats to display the flag of Nicaragua but may not charge them for departure clearance from its ports. These were all specific items of contention brought to the court in the 2005 filing.

On June 1, 2007, Costa Rica broke diplomatic ties with the Republic of China in Taiwan, switching recognition to the People's Republic of China. Costa Rica was the first of the Central American nations to do so. President Óscar Arias Sánchez admitted the action was a response to economic exigency.

In appreciation, the People's Republic of China has taken upon themselves to build Costa Rica a brand-new, $74 million, state-of-the-art, soccer stadium in Parque la Sabana, located in the province of San José. Approximately 600 Chinese engineers and laborers are taking part in this project, and it is scheduled to be done by November 2010.

Costa Rica finished a term on the United Nations Security Council, having been elected for a non-renewable two-year term in the 2007 election. Its term expired on 31 December 2009; this was Costa Rica's third time on the Security Council.

Flora and fauna

An anhinga drying its feathers
Heliconius doris Linnaeus butterfly of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is home to a rich variety of plants and animals. While the country has only about 0.25% of the world's landmass, it contains 5% of the world's biodiversity. Around 25% of the country's land area is in protected national parks and protected areas, the largest percentage of protected areas in the world.

One national park that is internationally renowned among ecologists for its biodiversity (including big cats and tapirs) and where visitors can expect to see an abundance of wildlife is the Corcovado National Park. Corcovado is the one park in Costa Rica where all four Costa Rican monkey species can be found. These include the White-headed Capuchin, the Mantled Howler and the endangered Geoffroy's Spider Monkey. They also include the Central American Squirrel Monkey, which is found only on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica and a small part of Panama, and was considered endangered until 2008 when its status was upgraded to vulnerable.

Costa Rican colibrí

Tortuguero National Park—the name Tortuguero can be translated as "Full of Turtles"—is home to spider, howler, and white-throated Capuchin monkeys; the three-toed sloth and two-toed sloth; 320 species of birds; and a variety of reptiles. The park is recognized for the annual nesting of the endangered green turtle and is the most important nesting site for the species. Giant leatherback, hawksbill, and loggerhead turtles also nest there.

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

As a whole, around seven hundred species of birds have been identified in Costa Rica. The Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad is allowed to collect royalties on any biological discoveries of medical importance.

Costa Rica and parts of Panama are home to the vulnerable Central American Squirrel Monkey. Deforestation, illegal pet-trading, and hunting are the main reasons for its threatened status.

Costa Rica is a centre of biological diversity for reptiles and amphibians, including the world's fastest running lizard, the spiny-tailed iguana ( Ctenosaura similis).


As of 2010, Costa Rica has an estimated population of 4,640,000. Whites and mestizos make up 94% of the population, while 3% are Black, or Afro-Caribbean, 1% Native American, 1% Chinese, and 1% other. The white population is primarily of Spaniard ancestry with significant numbers of Italian, German, English, Dutch, French, Irish, Portuguese, Lebanese and Polish families, as well a sizable Jewish community. The majority of the Afro-Costa Ricans are Creole English-speaking descendants of nineteenth century black Jamaican immigrant workers.

Costa Rica is unquestionably the most homogeneous of Central American nations in race as well as social class. Travelers familiar with other Central American nations will immediately notice the contrast: the vast majority of Costa Ricans look predominantly European. The 2000 census classified 94% of the population as white or mestizo and less than 3% as black or Amerindian. Native and European mixed blood far less than in other New World countries. Exceptions are Guanacaste, where almost half the population is visibly mestizo, a legacy of the more pervasive unions between Spaniards colonists and Chorotega Amerindians through several generations and Limón where the vast majority of the Afro-Costa Rican community lives.

To make up for the lack of indigenous civilizations, Costa Rica became a land of immigrants, similar to other countries such as United States, Argentina and Canada. Perhaps this is why foreign people find the country so appealing; indeed, the idea of the American dream is alive and well here. Immigrants from many nations have been made welcome over the years (between 1870 and 1920, almost 25% of Costa Rica's population growth was due to immigration). Jews are prominent in the liberal professions. There is a Quaker community of several hundred people centered on Monteverde, where they produce goudas, cheddars, and Monterico cheeses. Germans have for many generations been particularly successful as coffee farmers. Italians have gathered, among other places, in the town of San Vito, on the central Pacific coast; more recently, United Staters have added to the cultural dynamic. As far as Latin American countries go, it is a real melting pot. There is also an expatriate community of people from Germany, Netherlands, Britain, and other countries.

Costa Rica hosts many refugees, mainly from Colombia and Nicaragua. As a result of that and illegal immigration, an estimated 10-15% (400,000–600,000) of the Costa Rican population is made up of Nicaraguans. Some Nicaraguans migrate for seasonal work opportunities and then return to their country. Costa Rica took in many refugees from a range of other Latin American countries fleeing civil wars and dictatorships during the 1970s and 80s, notably from Chile and Argentina, as well as people from El Salvador who fled from guerrillas and government death squads.

According to the World Bank, about 441,000 immigrants live legally in the country, the majority of them Nicaraguans, while 127,060 Costa Ricans live abroad in the United States, Panama, Nicaragua, Spain, Mexico, Canada, Germany, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, and Guatemala.

There are also over 60,000 Native American or indigenous inhabitants, representing 1.5% of the population. Most of them live in secluded reservations, distributed among eight ethnic groups: Quitirrisí (In the Central Valley), Matambú or Chorotega (Guanacaste), Maleku (Northern Alajuela), Bribri (Southern Atlantic), Cabécar (Cordillera de Talamanca), Guaymí (Southern Costa Rica, along the Panamá border), Boruca (Southern Costa Rica) and Térraba (Southern Costa Rica).


The World Bank estimates that the life expectancy at birth for Costa Ricans at 2008 is 79 years, a figure unchanged since 2005.

Costa Rica has been cited in various journals as Central America's great health success story. It's healthcare system is ranked higher than that of the United States, despite having a fraction of it's GDP. Prior to 1940, government hospitals and charities provided most health care delivery. But since the 1941 creation of the Social Security Administration (CCSS; Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social), Costa Rica has provided universal health care to its wage earning residents, with coverage extended to dependants over time. In 1973, the CCSS took over administration of all 29 of the country's public hospitals and all health care, also launching a Rural Health Program (Programa de Salud Rural) for primary care to rural areas, later extended to primary care services nationwide. In 1993, laws were passed to enable elected health boards that represented health consumers, social security representatives, employers, and social organizations. By the year 2000, social health insurance coverage was available to 82% of the Costa Rican population. Each health committee manages an area equivalent to one of the 83 administrative cantons of Costa Rica. There is Limited use of private, for-profit services (around 14.4% of the national total health expenditure). About 7 % of GDP is allocated to the health sector, and over 70% is government funded. There are some threats to the universal health care model. In 2003 Costa Rica abstained from the Central American Free Market Agreement (CAFTA) discussions due to the US condition of opening up the insurance market including health insurance.

Primary health Care facilities in Costa Rica include health clinics with a general practitioner, nurse, clerk, pharmacist and a primary health technician, around one per two population. In 2008 there were 5 specialty national hospitals, 3 general national hospitals, 7 regional hospitals, 13 peripheral hospitals, and 10 major clinics serving as referral centers for primary care clinics, which also deliver biopsychosocial services, family and community medical services and promotion and prevention programs. Patients can choose private health care to avoid waiting lists.

Costa Rican health professionals are well-paid in the national context and have high social prestige. In 2002 there were 0.58 new general practitioner consultations and 0.33 new specialist consultations per capita and a hospital admission rate of 8.1%.

Preventative health care is also successful. In 2002, 96% of Costa Rican women used some form of contraception, and antenatal care services provided to 87% of all pregnant women. All children under one have access to well-baby clinics and the immunization coverage rate in 2002 was above 91% for all antigens.

Costa Rica has a very low malaria incidence of 48 per 100 000 in 2000 and no reported cases of measles in 2002.

Although 40% of Costa Ricans live in rural areas, in 2002, only 9.5% of the population was below the $2 per day income poverty level and only 2.0% below $1 per day (vs 22.6% and 8.2%, respectively, in Colombia and 26.3% and 9.9% in Mexico). Ninety-five percent of the population has access to drinking water. The infant mortality rate was 9 per 1000, representing a 7-times reduction over a 3-decade span.

Costa Rica does not have armed forces and this is credited with the country's very high public expenditure on health and education.

The perinatal mortality rate dropped from 12.0 per 1000 in 1972 to 5.4 per 1000 in 2001.


Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles (Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels), during 2007 pilgrimage.

Christianity is the predominant religion, and Roman Catholicism is the official state religion according to the 1949 Constitution, which at the same time guarantees freedom of religion.

According to the most recent nationwide survey of religion, conducted in 2007 by the University of Costa Rica, 70.5% of Costa Ricans are Roman Catholics, 44.9% of the population are practicing Catholics, 13.8% are Evangelical Protestants (many of them Pentecostal), 11.3% report that they do not have a religion, and 4.3% belonged to another.

Because of the recent small. but continuous immigration from Asia and the Middle East, other religions have grown, the most popular being Buddhism (because of a growing Chinese community of 40,000), and smaller numbers of Hindu, Jewish, Bahá’í, and Muslim adherents.

The Sinagoga Shaarei Zion synagogue is near La Sabana Metropolitan Park in San José. Several homes 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 (Mormons) claim more than 35,000 members and has a temple in San Jose that served as a regional worship centre for Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, and Honduras. However, they represent less than 1 percent of the population.


The primary language spoken in Costa Rica is Spanish. Some native languages are still spoken in indigenous reservations, and a Creole-English language (also known as Mekatelyu) is spoken in the Caribbean coast. Around 10.7% of Costa Rica's adult population (18 or older) also speaks English, 0.7% French, and 0.3% speaks Portuguese or German as a second language.


Costa Rican breakfast with gallo pinto.

Costa Rica was the point where the Mesoamerican and South American native cultures met. The northwest of the country, the Nicoya peninsula, was the southernmost point of Nahuatl cultural influence when the Spanish conquerors ( conquistadores) came in the sixteenth century. The central and southern portions of the country had Chibcha influences. The Atlantic coast, meanwhile, was populated with African workers during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Costa Rican cuisine is a blend of Native American, Spanish, African and many other cuisine origins. Dishes like the very traditional tamale and many other made of corn are the most representative of its indigenous inhabitants, and similar to other neighboring Mesoamerican countries. Spaniards brought many new ingredients to the country from other lands, specially spices and domestic animals. And later in the 19th century, the African flavor did its presence with influence from other Caribbean mixed flavours. This is how Costa Rican cuisine today is very varied, with every new ethnic group who had recently become part of the country's population influencing the country's cuisine.

As a result of the immigration of Spaniards, their 16th century Spanish culture and its evolution marked everyday life and culture until today, with Spanish language and the Catholic religion as primary influences.

The Department of Culture, Youth, and Sports is in charge of the promotion and coordination of cultural life. The work of the department is divided into Direction of Culture, Visual Arts, Scenic Arts, Music, Patrimony and the System of Libraries. Although the department creates many initiatives, they are constrained by lack of resources. Permanent programs, such as the National Symphony Orchestra of Costa Rica and the Youth Symphony Orchestra, are conjunctions of two areas of work: Culture and Youth.

Dance-oriented genres like soca, salsa, bachata, merengue, cumbia and Costa Rican swing are enjoyed increasingly by older rather than younger people. The guitar is popular, especially as an accompaniment to folk dances, however, the marimba was made the national instrument.

"Pura Vida" is the most recognizable phrase attached to Costa Ricans and it reflects the Costa Rican way of life. Often, people walking down the streets, or buying food at shops say hello by saying "Pura Vida" which means pure life, or good life. It can be phrased as a question or as an acknowledgement of one's presence. A recommended response to "How are you?" would be "Pura Vida"


The literacy rate in Costa Rica is 94.9%, one of the highest in the world. Elementary and high schools are found throughout the country in practically every community. Universal public education is guaranteed in the constitution. Primary education is obligatory, and both preschool and high school are free. There are only a few schools in Costa Rica that go beyond the 12th grade. Students who finish 11th grade receive a Costa Rican Bachillerato Diploma accredited by the Costa Rican Ministry of Education.

There are both state and private universities, with the public universities being regarded as the best in the country, as well as being one of the best means of social mobility, given the large proportion of the budget spent to subsidize students from poor families. The University of Costa Rica has been awarded the title "Meritorious Institution of Costa Rican Education and Culture". In recent years, many private universities and colleges have consolidated because demand for higher education exceeds places available in the public sector.

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