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Costa Rica Geography: A Land of Contrasts

Costa Rica geography reflects one of the basic facts about the country as a whole: it is a land of contrasts. Costa Rica is a country of beautiful beaches in the east and west, of rugged isolated beauty in the Southwest, of lush rolling rainforest throughout the interior and of towering volcanoes rising out from the jungle.

In order to understand these seemingly contradictory geographical features, however, it is important to know exactly where Costa Rica is in relation to the rest of the world. To begin with, Costa Rica is located in Central America to the south of Nicaragua and to the north of Panama. In the east, it borders the Caribbean Sea. In the west, it faces the North Pacific Ocean.

Within these boundaries, Costa Rica rises from Sea Level on both coasts to its highest peak, Cerro Chirripo, which is 3,810 meters above sea level. Along the way, Costa Rica presents a dizzying array of ecological diversity that has made it a world-wide destination for eco-tourism of all types. No wonder I extended my three-month visit to a stay of one year, eh?

Costa Rica Geography: Facts and Figures

In total, Costa Rica geography covers 51,110 square kilometers. Of these, 50,660 are over land with an additional 440 being over water. To put this into perspective, Costa Rica is slightly smaller than the state of West Virginia.

Of these 50,660 square kilometers, 1,080 are irrigated. In total, 4.4 percent of Costa Rica is classified as "arable" and 5.87 percent supports permanent crops of one kind or another. The other 89.73 percent of the country is classified as "other". This would include the majority of the rainforests of the interior, the mountainous volcanoes and the lovely beaches on the coasts.

The arable land is used to grow a variety of fruits, such as bananas and pineapples, as well as coffee, ornamental plants and sugar. Costa Rica also exports beef and timber. These agricultural products represent an important part of the Costa Rican economy.

The basic make-up of Costa Rica geography is coastal plains on both coasts that are broken up by rugged mountains, which run through the interior of the country. These mountains include over 100 volcanoes. Of these, four are located close to the capital, San Jose, and one, Irazu, exploded between 1963-65. Some of the most popular volcanoes to visit are Arenal, Poas, and Rincon de la Vieja.

Costa Rica borders Nicaragua for 309 kilometers and Panama for 330 kilometers. Combining both coasts, Costa Rica boasts a shoreline of 1,290 kilometers. This provides plenty of prime beach front property both in and away from the major cities and towns.

Costa Rica's climate is tropical and subtropical, but it is usually much cooler in higher elevations. Primarily, it has two seasons. The dry season runs from December until April and the rainy season runs from May to November.

Costa Rica is subjected to occasional earthquakes, hurricanes along its Caribbean Coast, flooding in the lowlands, landslides and, of course, occasional volcanic eruptions. However, Costa Rica is very accustomed to its natural disasters and well prepared for them when they do occur.

Utilizing Costa Rica Geography: Planning Trips

In order to accurately plan and make the most out of any potential trip, it is important that you know the basics of Costa Rica geography and where some of the major cities and resorts are located in respect to this geography.

The capital, San Jose, is located near the middle of the country within its own province. Despite being in the middle of the country, and located near some very impressive peaks, San Jose itself is located in what is known as the Central Valley.

Other interior cities of note include Liberia in the north, Cartago, which is also located in the Central Valley, and San Isidro in the South. Other points of interest are the volcano, Arenal, in the north and the cloud forests of Monteverde, which is located almost equidistantly between Liberia and San Jose. The areas around Arenal and Monteverde are some of the most gorgeous countryside I've seen.

On the Caribbean Coast, the major city is Puerto Limon, which is almost directly east of San Jose. This is important to note as many of the major luxury resorts are located to the south of this city.

The Pacific Coast is primarily divided into three regions: the Northern Pacific Coast, the Central Pacific Coast and the Southern Pacific Coast. The Northern Pacific Coast includes the Nicoya Peninsula and the city of Tamarindo. The Central Pacific Coast is primarily the area north and south of the city of Jaco. Finally, The Southern Pacific Coast includes the Osa Peninsula and the city of Golfito.

Now that you know where Costa Rica is, there is nothing to stop you from planning a trip today. Come and relax on one of Costa Rica's glorious beaches. Head inland and explore one of it many volcanoes. Step off the beaten path and hike through Costa Rica's diverse rainforests. The geography of Costa Rica offers up a bit of everything and makes for a fantastic overall experience.

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