Costa Rica, a country of Central America, covers an area of 19,730 square miles. The capital is San Jos'e. Extending from northwest to southeast, Costa Rica is bounded on the north by Nicaragua, along its 185-mile northeastern coastline by the Caribbean Sea, on the southeast by Panama, and along its 630-mile southwestern coastline by the Pacific Ocean. Costa Rica has a narrow Pacific coastal region that rises abruptly into central highlands. The highlands, forming the rugged backbone of the country, descend much more gradually toward the generally wider Caribbean (Atlantic) Plain. The Pacific coast is generally lowland in character, and, like the Caribbean coast, it is lined with white sandy beaches.
The country has made use of its beautiful beaches by making them a huge tourist attraction. People from all over the world visit Costa Rica for that reason. About one-fifth of the country lies less than 400 feet above sea level. There is a continuous volcanic mountain chain (called the Cordillera Vol " a nica) stretching from the Nicaraguan border in the northwest to form the Meseta Central heartland of the country. Costa Rica played a role in the federation of Central American states from 1823 to 1838 and is a member of the Organization of Central American States. Of the states that have been partners in these two enterprises, Costa Rica is the most Spanish in character and is generally regarded as having the most stable government and economy.
In 1998, Costa Rica's population was about 3,533,000. By the year 2000, the population reached 3,673,000. There is a population of about 4,333,000 people estimated for the year 2010. The annual growth rate for Costa Rica is 2.4%. Currently it takes about 36 years for the population to double. If this trend continues, by the year 2036 there will be approximately 7,346,000 people living in Costa Rica.
That means that there will be a population density of about 350 persons per square mile. Approximately one-third of Costa Rica's population is under the age of 15. This means that in about 10 years, when the country's young people start having children, will be even more over populated. Because of their overpopulation problem, Costa Rican's will continue to be in poverty.
Costa Rica is a democratic republic. Its constitution, adopted in 1949, establishes independent legislative, executive, and judicial branches. There is a unicameral Legislative Assembly of 57 members who are elected to four-year terms by universal adult suffrage. The assembly can pass laws over presidential veto.
Executive power rests with a popularly elected president, who chooses the cabinet, and two elected vice presidents. The president serves a four-year term and may not succeed himself. The judicial system is headed by the Supreme Court of Justice, which has the power to rule on the constitutionality of legislation. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal, an independent body elected by the Supreme Court, oversees Costa Rican elections.
Primary education is free and compulsory for all Costa Rican children. It is estimated that about 90 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 11 years are enrolled in primary schools. The educational system's success at reaching such a high proportion of the young population has helped produce a literacy rate of more than 90 percent, one of the highest among Central American countries. The Meseta Central, with more than half of Costa Rica's population, is predominantly Spanish in both its manner of living and its ancestry. Roman Catholicism is the majority religion in the Meseta Central; evangelical Protestant activity is also strong, although only a small minority of the Costa Rican people are Protestants. About one-twelfth of the population is found in the Pacific Northwest.
The people there are a mixture of colonial Spanish, Indian, and black ancestry; their adherence to Roman Catholicism is often nominal. African ancestry is strongest in the eastern Caribbean lowlands. The blacks who live there are descendants of those brought from the West Indies to build railroads and raise bananas. Most speak both Spanish and a Jamaican dialect of English, and Protestantism is the most widespread religion. In the Pacific south and on the San Carlos Plain, part of the northern lowlands, language and religious preferences are mixed. Most Costa Rican diversions are cosmopolitan rather than nationalistic in nature.
The people of Costa Rica attend films with great frequency, enjoying international cinema. They listen to an extraordinary variety of music, especially from the many radio stations in the country. Residents of the Meseta Central attend the National Theatre, where the music played and the drama performed may come from any part of the world. Costa Rica has a developing market economy largely based on coffee and banana exports. Large gains in economic growth were interrupted in the mid-1970's, when plummeting coffee prices and substantial increases in oil prices resulted in a significant decline in agricultural production. Even so, agriculture accounts for approximately one-fifth of the gross domestic product (GDP) and employs more than one-fourth of the work force.
Coffee is the single largest export item; other cash crops include bananas, beef, sugar, and cocoa. Staples such as corn, beans, and rice are also widely grown. The government has distributed high-yield varieties of coffee to growers and has provided farmers of other crops with improved seeds. Poor market conditions and bad weather, however, occasionally affect production. The country's monetary unit is the Costa Rican colon..