Costa Rica

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Republic of Costa Rica
Republic of Costa Rica
Costa Rica flag
Costa Rica coat of arms
flag coat of arms
Motto : "¡Vivan siempre el trabajo y la paz!"
(Spanish for "Long live work and peace!" )
Official language Spanish
capital city San Jose
State and form of government presidential republic
Head of state , also head of government President Carlos Alvarado Quesada
area 51,100 km²
population 5.0 million ( 118th ) (2019; estimate)
Population density 98 inhabitants per km²
Population development + 1.0% (estimate for 2019)
gross domestic product
  • Total (nominal)
  • Total ( PPP )
  • GDP / inh. (nom.)
  • GDP / inh. (KKP)
  • $ 62 billion ( 78th )
  • $ 103 billion ( 90th )
  • 12,244 USD ( 63. )
  • 20,361 USD ( 70th )
Human Development Index 0.81 ( 62nd ) (2019)
currency Colon (CRC)
independence September 15, 1821
(from Spain )
National anthem Noble patria, tu hermosa bandera
National holiday September 15th (Independence Day)
Time zone UTC − 6
License Plate CR
ISO 3166 CR , CRI, 188
Internet TLD .cr
Phone code +506
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Costa Rica ([ ˈkostɑ ˈrikɑ ], Spanish for “rich coast”, German formerly also Kostarika ) is a state in Central America that borders Nicaragua in the north and Panama in the south . In the east it is bounded by the Caribbean and in the west by the Pacific . The country is considered to be one of the most progressive in Latin America . The army was abolished as early as 1948 in favor of promoting education and health programs, the country derives almost 100% of its electricity needs from regenerative sources and ecotourism is strongly promoted. Around 27% of the country's area is under nature protection.

In an international comparison, Costa Rica is characterized by a successful political and economic transformation. In contrast to many other countries in the region, it has been a stable democracy since the 1950s and was spared the widespread problem of social unrest, civil war and dictatorships that was widespread in Latin America in the 20th century thanks to early social policy measures . In view of the armed conflicts in neighboring countries at the time, it declared its “permanent and active unarmed neutrality ” in 1983 and is also known as “the Switzerland of Central America”.


Topographically , Costa Rica can be divided into five large areas.

  • the volcanic mountain ranges of the Cordilleras , especially the Cordillera de Talamanca
  • the Central Valley with the capital San José
  • the alluvial plains of the Caribbean coast
  • the central Pacific coast
  • the dry Guanacaste peninsula in the northwest

In the Cordilleras there are a large number of still active and also extinct volcanoes , including the Turrialba . The three most visited are the Volcán Poás (2704 meters), the Arenal (1633 meters) and the Irazú (3432 meters). The Chirripó Grande (3820 meters) is the highest mountain in the country.


Geologically, Costa Rica was shaped relatively recently. By the subduction (subduction) of the Cocos Plate under the Caribbean Plate on Central American digging a chain of formed before about 140 to 65 million years ago volcanic islands . These islands gradually connected through the elevation of the sea ​​floor , the erosion of the volcanic slopes and the alluvial deposits of the rivers. These movements continue to this day, so that there are light earthquakes almost every day.

Parallel to the Central American Rift, Costa Rica is divided into several geological units:

  • in the west and east the crust consists of raised, oceanic crust and sediments, which today can be covered by volcanic deposits.
  • In the interior of the country, deposits from volcanic chains active in the Tertiary and Quaternary periods predominate . The Guanacaste cordillera with the Rincón de la Vieja and Arenal volcanoes is part of the active volcanic chain . The central cordillera with the volcanoes Poás and Irazú is also included in these phenomena .


Due to its location between 8 ° and 11 ° north latitude, Costa Rica is in the tropics . However, the rainfall varies considerably: In San José falls in 1867 mm, in Puerto Limón on the Caribbean coast with 3518 mm almost twice as much. Two of the tropical climates can be found in Costa Rica . The distinction between the two types is caused by the mountain range running from northwest to southeast. The humid climate of the Pacific coast is characterized by two seasons : a rainy and a dry season. The rainy season in the central valley and the northwestern part of the country extends from May to November, the dry season from December to April. In the rainier south and the central Pacific coast of the country, the dry season sets in one to two months later and also ends in April. The part of the country in the central north (east of the great mountain range) lies in a climatic transition zone, in which rainfall during the dry season of the Pacific regions of Costa Rica decreases somewhat, but does not completely disappear. On the Caribbean coast there is an equatorial climate with precipitation in every season, with the months February and March as well as September and October being drier.


Tropical cloud forest
An "Arbol de Guanacaste" , the national tree of Costa Rica
Strangler fig on the Pacific coast near Cabo Blanco
Bronze head Elvira hummingbird

Costa Rica is in the neotropics . With a particularly large variety of species and biodiversity , an extremely large number of endemic species, genera and families of plants and animals as well as diverse ecosystems , Costa Rica is counted among the megadiversity countries on earth. The Pacific mountain slopes of Costa Rica, together with the Colombian Department del Chocó, contain the greatest biodiversity on earth . In addition, the country, with a land area of ​​around 51,100 square kilometers and an area of ​​589,000 square kilometers of territorial waters, is part of the biodiversity hotspot Mesoamerica due to the high risk situation .

The two coasts and the mountain regions have a variety of different microclimates , which are one of the reasons for the abundance of different ecosystems in the country. The state's proven 500,000 species are four percent of the world's accepted species. 300,000 of the total of 500,000 species are insects .

natural reserve

Climate protection , nature conservation and forest protection are seen as an important part of the state environmental policy and are consistently implemented. While loggers cleared around 80% of the rainforest in the 1970s and 1980s, today more than 50% of the land is covered with forest again. To protect the forest, Costa Rica successfully relies on ecotourism , from which both locals and environmentally conscious travelers benefit. Around 1.5 million tourists spend almost 1.5 billion dollars a year on visiting the rainforests and other ecological destinations in Costa Rica. The Camino de Costa Rica hiking trail leads across the country from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast. It was created to support ecotourism and the rural population at the same time.

Around 27% of the area of ​​Costa Rica is under nature protection. In 2012 there were 160 protected areas such as biological reserves, national parks and nature reserves.

There are 26 national parks scattered across the country with very different characteristics. In the 1969 law for the conservation of the forest, Santa Rosa was established as the first national park in the northwest of the country on the Pacific coast . At the same time, a national park administration was created, which initially did not have enough financial resources or personnel to effectively protect the park from farmers and new settlers. Thanks to the Austrian rainforest private initiative, the situation has now improved significantly.

The uninhabited Cocos Island ( Isla del Coco ) belonging to Costa Rica is 500 kilometers off the coast in the Pacific Ocean and may only be entered with special permission. She is as well as the National Park La Amistad and Guanacaste by UNESCO for World Heritage declared.

In front of Puerto Viejo ( Puerto Viejo de Talamanca ) is the Cahuita National Park with birds, snakes, lizards and butterflies. Mantled howler monkeys can be found in the treetops . Most sections of the coastal stretch towards Manzanillo are covered in dense forest. In National Wildlife Refuge Gandoca-Manzanillo plant, sea and animals are protected. Toucans , sloths and herds of monkeys with powerful prehensile tails that feed on leaves move along the route . White-shouldered capuchin monkeys are also common in this part of Costa Rica . The rare red-backed squirrel monkeys, on the other hand, can only be observed in the south-western region of Costa Rica, for example in the national parks Manuel Antonio and Corcovado . The fourth species of monkey in Costa Rica, the Geoffroy spider monkey , prefers dense forest areas and feeds on insects and small fruits.

An important basis of the state's environmental policy was the “Peace with Nature Initiative” by President Oscar Arias, with which he wanted to put a radical end to the destruction of the environment. In December 2007 the law was passed. In 2007, Arias declared that by 2021, Costa Rica's 200th birthday, the country wanted to be the first country in the world to achieve a balanced record of emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO 2 ).

In 2011, the former German President Christian Wulff described the country as an “ecological role model” during his state visit to Costa Rica.

The power of Costa Rica is backed almost exclusively from renewable sources.


Children with the national flag on Independence Day
Population pyramid Costa Rica 2016

The population is made up of 94% mestizos and whites, 3% blacks , 1% Indians , 1% Chinese and 1% others. Colloquially, the inhabitants are called Ticos and Ticas . In 2017, 8.2% of the population were migrants. The most common countries of origin were Nicaragua (290,000 people), Colombia (20,000) and El Salvador (10,000).

Among the Costa Ricans of African descent on the Atlantic coast are many descendants of immigrant workers from the West Indies , who therefore mostly speak an English Creole .

Costa Rica has the lowest proportion of purely indigenous population among the Central American states. Most of the Costa Rican Guaymí today live in seclusion and in residual groups in the Cordillera de Talamanca , which are nevertheless exposed to strong assimilation pressure.

About 60% of Costa Ricans live in cities. Two thirds of the approximately five million inhabitants of the country live in the climatically favorable highlands, the main settlement is the Valle Central , in which the important cities of San José , Heredia , Cartago and Alajuela are located. Important coastal cities are Puerto Limón ( Caribbean coast ) and Puntarenas ( Pacific coast ). Liberia is the economic center of the northwest region of Guanacaste and, besides San José, is the only other city in Costa Rica to have an international airport.

At least 25% of the population are under 25 years old. Unemployment has risen sharply since 2007. The official unemployment rate is around 8%, but it is much higher among young people. Many children and young people in the poor neighborhoods in San José are organized in criminal street gangs (so-called chapulines , " hooded wearers "). Robbery and drug trafficking play a major role. The situation has worsened with the deportation of juvenile offenders from the United States.

In a survey by the polling institute Gallup in December 2012, the people of the country are still among the happiest people on earth.

Population development

year population
1950 959,000
1960 1,333,000
1970 1,849,000
1980 2,389,000
1990 3,096,000
2000 3,925,000
2010 4,545,000
2019 5,048,000

Source: UN


The Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles basilica in Cartago

According to a 2018 survey, the population is predominantly Christian (52% Roman Catholic , 22% Protestants , including evangelical groups). The proportion of non-religious people was 17% (2013: 8.4%). 3% had other religions. The Roman Catholic denomination is the state religion of the country. The indigenous peoples - especially in remote regions - still maintain their traditional Mesoamerican religions , often syncretistically mixed with Christian elements.

see also: Roman Catholic Church in Costa Rica


The official language is Spanish with some Costa Rican quirks. English and an English-based Creole language similar to the Jamaican patois are also widespread on the Atlantic coast .

The Spanish spoken in Costa Rica has some differences from standard Spanish.

  • No distinction between “vos” , “tú” and “usted”. This is how the moderator speaks of ¿Quién quiere ser millonario? (The Costa Rican variant of “ Who Wants to be a Millionaire? ”) Ignacio Santos in the broadcast of September 8, 2009 Candidates in childhood sometimes with “usted”, sometimes with “vos” or “tú”. According to the majority of Costa Ricans, the form "tú" is not one of the typical forms of the country. However, it is used unconsciously. The most common form of address is "usted", "vos" is mainly used in the Cartago region. Especially among young people and men, people often use the colloquial expression “mae”, which can be translated with the German “age” or “man”. Often “mae” is also used incoherently as a gap filler (like “um”). This is one of the greatest peculiarities of Costa Rican Spanish.
  • The preposition "hasta" is used in Costa Rica to denote a point in time. Usually, however, this word is used to describe a period of time. Example: “Vuelvo de Nicoya hasta el martes” instead of “Vuelvo de Nicoya el martes”. (?)
  • In addition, there are many own word creations. The most well-known Costa Rican expressions include the following: "Tico / Tica", the colloquial self-name of the Costa Ricans. This is derived from the particularly popular diminutive form -tico. “Pura vida” ( German literally “pure life”), an expression for enthusiasm, is often heard. A typical form for "cool" is "tuanis" (supposedly derived from "too nice").

Bless you

A free health system was set up in Costa Rica as early as the Second World War, along with a pension system . After 75 years of existence, the system ran into financial difficulties in the 2010s, also because of increased life expectancy. In public hospitals, therefore, long waiting times were usually to be expected. Private hospitals compete with health care in lucrative areas, but are not affordable for many due to the high costs.

In 2005 there were about 6800 doctors in Costa Rica, that is about 1.69 per 1000 inhabitants. The country spent approximately $ 689 million annually on health care services. The daily food intake per capita was about 2610 kcal. The average life expectancy in 2015 was 79.2 years, which is on average higher than in the USA . The inhabitants of the Nicoya Peninsula are even among the longest-lived in the world.

Life expectancy development in Costa Rica

period Life expectancy in
period Life expectancy in
1950-1955 56.0 1985-1990 75.1
1955-1960 58.8 1990-1995 76.1
1960-1965 62.4 1995-2000 77.0
1965-1970 65.2 2000-2005 77.8
1970-1975 67.7 2005-2010 78.4
1975-1980 70.5 2010-2015 79.2
1980-1985 73.4

Source: UN


The first university was founded in 1843, but closed again in 1888. Today's largest and most renowned university is the University of Costa Rica , followed by the Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica (UNA) in Heredia, founded in 1973 . Since the abolition of the army in 1948, Costa Rica has used a large part of the budget allocated to it for the further development of the training sector. The five public and more than 50 private universities are intended to ensure that the number of graduates in technology and science increases. Many graduates speak excellent English.

The country has a high level of education, the illiteracy rate is at 4.2 percent after Cuba (with 3%) the second lowest in Central America and one of the lowest in Latin America and in both industrialized and developing countries. There is a six-year compulsory education. Fernando Centeno Güell opened the first school for the disabled as early as 1940 .

One of the most important libraries in the country is the National Library of Costa Rica "Miguel Obregón Lizano", founded in 1888 in the center of San Jose, where all Costa Rican publications are bibliographed and daily newspapers and magazines can be viewed.


First settlement

The oldest archaeological finds that document human settlement in Costa Rica are attributed to the period between 12,000 and 8,000 BC. Until the arrival of the Spaniards in the 16th century AD, there were probably 400,000 people living in what is now the national territory.

Spanish conquest

In 1502, Christopher Columbus landed as the first European on the Atlantic coast of today's Costa Rica. The first explorations of the coastal region and inland did not take place until 1510 under Diego de Nicuesa . Between 1519 and 1523, most of what is now Costa Rica was conquered in the name of the Spanish crown. The name given by Columbus Costa Rica y Castillo de Oro (German: rich coast and golden castle) should turn out to be a dream: The country is poor in mineral raw materials and precious metals. It was not until 1560 that Costa Rica was systematically colonized; Spanish conquistadors founded Cartago in 1563 , which was the capital of Costa Rica until 1823. In the 17th century, the Spaniards consolidated their rule in Costa Rica, which, however, remained a subordinate and underdeveloped colony due to its scarcity of raw materials and insignificant strategic location.


Republic of Costa Rica (within the borders of 1850).
National Monument of Costa Rica ( Monumento Nacional de Costa Rica ) by Louis-Robert Carrier-Belleuse in the capital San José.

On September 15, 1821, Costa Rica gained independence from the former colonial power Spain . The history of Costa Rica is a success story by Central American standards. Since the late 19th century, there have been only two brief periods of violence that undermined the country's democratization .

Second Battle of Rivas , contemporary illustration 1856.

In the national campaign of 1856/57 , which was directed against the US filibuster William Walker , 10% of the population were killed by the introduction of cholera from the war zone in Nicaragua after the Second Battle of Rivas . The national monument of Costa Rica in the city center of San José has been commemorating Walker's expulsion since 1895 .

From 1917 to 1919 Federico Alberto Tinoco Granados exercised a military dictatorship , which was not recognized by the United States as a legitimate government, but had the support of the United Fruit Company , which was influential in Costa Rica . Ultimately, Tinoco was forced to go into exile in France .

In February / March 1921 a long-running border conflict with Panama escalated in the so-called Guerra de Coto , in which Costa Rican troops crossed the border. Panamanian police officers - the Republic of Panama had no armed forces at the time - were then used against the invaders. After a few skirmishes, the appearance of the US battleship USS Pennsylvania as part of gunboat policy ended the conflict and restored the status quo ante .

From 1936 to 1940, the authoritarian President León Cortés held office in Costa Rica, who was said to have sympathy for National Socialism . The role of the German immigrant Max Effinger, who held the position of director for public works under Cortés, is particularly controversial. Under his successor, Rafael Calderón Guardia, the country changed course in foreign policy and was now more oriented towards the USA . In December 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor , Costa Rica became the first Central American country to enter World War II . German, Italian and Japanese citizens were now monitored and their assets placed under state control.

Costa Rica was practically spared from direct acts of war. The only exception was the sinking of the Panamanian cargo ship San Pablo on July 2, 1942 in front of the port of Puerto Limón by the German submarine U 161 . The sinking sparked outrage in Costa Rica and led to riots, which were primarily directed against the businesses of Italian and German residents and immigrants.

In 1948, violent elections and electoral fraud led to a six-week civil war with around 2,000 dead.

In 1949, following a peace treaty, a new constitution was introduced and the military abolished.

The right to vote had been limited by possession and educational qualifications throughout the nineteenth century. Women were implicitly excluded from the right to vote until 1847 and since then have been explicitly excluded. The introduction of the right to vote for women took place in 1949. The constitution of 1949 initially stipulated general active and passive suffrage for all men and women over the age of 20. On June 20, 1949, a law was introduced that defined citizenship as a set of duties and political rights that applied to all nationals over the age of 18, regardless of gender. This law was passed with a vote of 33 to 8.

In the decades that followed, Costa Rica was characterized by peace and prosperity. A comprehensive social package was put together and an exemplary education system was set up.


Political system

Costa Rica is a presidential republic. The women's suffrage was introduced 1949th The president is elected directly by the people every four years and cannot be re-elected after a legislative period. Up to the elections in February 2010, Óscar Arias Sánchez held this office, who was President of Costa Rica between 1986 and 1990. In the elections on February 7, 2010, a woman was elected head of state for the first time in the history of Costa Rica. Laura Chinchilla Miranda from the social democratic-liberal ruling party Partido Liberación Nacional (PLN) was clearly elected to the top of the country with 46.78 percent of the vote. After his opponent had withdrawn before the runoff election in the 2014 presidential election , Luis Guillermo Solís was elected as the new president on April 6, 2014 with 77.8 percent of the votes cast. Carlos Alvarado won the runoff for the presidential election on April 1, 2018 . He took office on May 8, 2018.

The unicameral parliament consists of 57 members and is elected every four years by proportional representation.

The German Foreign Office writes: "In Central America Costa Rica represents an anchor of stability, respects freedom of the press, freedom of expression and human rights."

Administrative structure


Costa Rica is also divided into six regions ( regiones ): Central, Chorotega, Pacífico Central, Brunca (also Pacífico Sur), Huetar Atlántica and Huetar Norte. In contrast to the provinces, these regions are not administrative units, but the subdivision was made for the purpose of socio-economic research. Each region comprises several cantons from different neighboring provinces. The names Chorotega, Brunca and Huetar are derived from the indigenous peoples of the same name.


Nicaragua Panama Provinz Guanacaste Provinz Puntarenas Provinz Heredia Provinz Alajuela Provinz Cartago Provinz San José Provinz Limón
Provinces of Costa Rica
Costa Rica is divided into seven provinces ( provincias ). The capital of Guanacaste is Liberia , the other six provinces are each named after their capital.
province Area in km² Population
Inhabitants per
Alajuela 9,758 1,002,900 101
Cartago 3.125 533,800 170
Guanacaste 10.141 382,800 37
Heredia 2,657 512.200 190
Limón 9,189 449,800 48
Puntarenas 11,266 480,500 43
San Jose 4,966 1,635,100 327

The provinces are in cantons ( cantones subdivided), each of which in turn in a different number districts ( distritos is split). Just like the provinces, all cantons and districts are numbered consecutively within their next higher administrative unit. There are a total of 81 cantons and 470 districts.


In 2016, 77.7% of the population lived in cities or urban areas. The 5 largest cities are (as of June 30, 2020):

  1. San José : 1,453,500 inhabitants
  2. Heredia : 367,900 inhabitants
  3. Cartago : 232,300 inhabitants
  4. Alajuela : 196,900 inhabitants
  5. Puntarenas : 87,500 inhabitants

Human rights

Indigenous people

Indigenous groups have been resisting the planned dam in the wooded Térraba Valley in southern Costa Rica since the 1990s . In 2006 the project was decided without their consent. The El Diquis hydropower plant will produce 680 megawatts of electricity, 90 percent of which is intended for export. For the reservoir, 2,200 hectares of forest area were converted into technical usable area, whereby the felled tropical wood also contributed to the further economic prosperity of the country. The rest of the forest in the Térraba Valley is the protected reserve of the Teribe , an indigenous group of 750 people (as of 2011). The Teribe have been settling in the area that once covered 9,000 hectares for centuries. The tribe was left with 10 percent. Non-indigenous settlers illegally settled on the remainder under Costa Rican law. The Costa Rican state let them go.


Prostitution is tolerated under Costa Rican law. In larger cities like San José, prostitutes can be found on the streets in some areas, and sex tourism, particularly by North American tourists, is common. Prostitution is tolerated in some tourist hotels. The government has been fighting child prostitution for years. The child protection organization ECPAT is trying to raise awareness of the problem with a code of conduct for employees of tourism companies, hotels, car rentals, taxi companies, ship operators and other people involved in the tourism business.


The country's press is one of the freest in the world and, ahead of Jamaica, the freest on the American continent.


After joining the TIAR Pact, President José Figueres Ferrer (1948–1949, 1953–1958, 1970–1974) had the army abolished by constitution on May 8, 1949 and invested the money released in the development of the education and health system. The police have taken over border protection tasks. However, from 1949 to 1996 there was a paramilitary police force, the Guardia Civil de Costa Rica with a strength of at times up to 8,400 men.

In 1983 President Luis Alberto Monge proclaimed the country's permanent, active and unarmed neutrality in view of the intensification of the civil wars in Central America (especially in Nicaragua ) . Independently of this, the Guardia Civil formed a special unit, the Batallon Relámpago ("Blitz Battalion") to secure the border to Nicaragua in 1985/86 due to the Contra War .

President Óscar Arias Sánchez received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his commitment to the peaceful settlement of conflicts in Central America .

Costa Rica was also called the "Switzerland of Central America" ​​because of the mountainous landscape and also because of the relative prosperity and the above-mentioned neutrality, which, in contrast to Switzerland, has so far also been expressed by the absence of an army.

On July 1, 2010, at the request of the country's President Laura Chinchilla , the Costa Rican Parliament approved the stationing of up to 46 warships and 7,000 US soldiers in Costa Rica. These are supposed to combat drug smuggling from Colombia. The opposition saw the country's national sovereignty violated by “the warlike potential” and filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court. The stationing was initially limited to a period of six months until December 31, 2010. Since then, it has been extended by six months at a time. Journalist Eva Golinger pointed out that in an official document sent by the American Embassy to the Ministry of Security in Costa Rica, the unrestricted impunity of US soldiers is made a condition of the deployment, as is the case with all foreign deployments of the It is customary for the US military: "The personnel of the United States in Costa Rica enjoy freedom of movement and the right to carry out any activity that is necessary for the fulfillment of their mission."

Since 1996, instead of the Guardia Civil, the Fuerza Pública de la República de Costa Rica has been responsible for internal security. Since 2007 there has been a special tourist police in San José (emergency number 911).

The Federal Foreign Office warns of crime, especially violent crime in San José (there especially in the vicinity of the bus stations) as well as between Jacó and Quepos, on the beaches in the province of Guanacaste on the Pacific and among others. in Cahuita and Puerto Viejo south of Limón. There are also warnings against kidnappings.

External relations

On October 7, 2007, a referendum took place in Costa Rica on a free trade agreement with the United States of America , Central America and the Dominican Republic ( Tratado de Libre Comercio con los Estados Unidos, Centroamérica y República Dominicana , TLC for short) was accepted with a narrow majority of 51.6% of the votes cast. Before the referendum on the TLC, numerous discussions took place with broad participation from the population on television and radio, but also in churches, schools, universities and in public places. The campaign for the TLC was mainly supported by the then President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Óscar Arias Sánchez and his party PLN , but also supported by intellectuals, politicians and business representatives (for example by the ex-minister of economics Alfredo Volio). The campaigns against the TLC were supported by the opposition party Partido Acción Ciudadana (PAC) and its representatives Ottón Solís and José Miguel Corrales . There were also various private initiatives against the TLC, which were summarized under the slogan “¡Mi corazón dice no!” (My heart says no!). After the referendum, there were no noteworthy riots or destruction, even though some of the debates were previously quite emotional.

Costa Rica is a member of CELAC . In May 2013, the OECD announced that accession talks with Costa Rica would begin in 2015. It joined the OECD on May 25, 2021 .


In October 2019, the legislature decided to ban plastic straws, bags and single-use plastic. Alvarado continued to prioritize the environment and signed several executive orders in November 2018, one of which exempted used electric vehicles valued at less than $ 30,000 from paying the excise tax or "selective consumption tax" when entering the country.

Political indices

Political indices published by non-governmental organizations
Name of the index Index value Worldwide rank Interpretation aid year
Fragile States Index 40.2 out of 120 147 of 178 Stability of the country: More stable
0 = very sustainable / 120 = very alarming
Democracy index 8.16 out of 10 18 of 167 Full democracy
0 = authoritarian regime / 10 = full democracy
Freedom in the World Index 91 of 100 --- Freedom status: free
0 = not free / 100 = free
Freedom of the press ranking 8.76 out of 100 5 of 180 Good situation for freedom of the press
0 = good situation / 100 = very serious situation
Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 57 of 100 42 of 180 0 = very corrupt / 100 = very clean 2020


Banana plantation in Costa Rica
Population development x1000
Sugar plantation and factory in Costa Rica

Costa Rica's trade balance has traditionally been negative.

Although Costa Rica is still strongly characterized by agriculture , other economic sectors could also be expanded. The country's most important source of foreign exchange is now tourism , which in 2009 with 1.9 million visitors accounted for 6.6% of GDP . Ecotourism plays an important role here . the Camino de Costa Rica , which runs from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast, was created. The high-tech sector was also expanded; the second most important foreign exchange earner of the country is a chip factory of the company Intel . The share of agriculture in the gross domestic product was 8.8% in 2009 (1965 still 23.5%) while industry contributed 26% and services 61.1% to the gross domestic product. Most of the industrial operations are concentrated on the central plateau around the capital San José. The banana cultivation in vast plantations is traditionally located on the Caribbean coast to the port of Puerto Limón and more recently, on the Pacific coast to the port city of Golfito .

On October 7, 2007, Costa Rica approved the Cafta free trade agreement with the USA in a referendum. 51.6% of the voters voted yes. The turnout was around 60% of a total of 2.6 million eligible voters. The Costa Rican President Óscar Arias Sánchez emerged victorious from the vote. His hopes were that the free trade agreement would bring down state monopolies and attract investment, thereby creating jobs. The referendum was preceded by fierce controversy. Opponents of free trade argued that the country was not armed and not yet ripe for the removal of trade barriers, as this would result in the US inundating Costa Rica with goods, resulting in job losses. The approval of the referendum should also be seen as a betrayal of one's own country, as it would result in the loss of national sovereignty.

In the Global Competitiveness Index , which measures a country's competitiveness, Costa Rica ranks 47th out of 137 countries (as of 2017-2018). In the 2020 Index for Economic Freedom , Costa Rica was ranked 68th out of 180 countries listed.

Economic structure

Agriculture Industry Services
Share of GDP
as of 2014
6% 20.1% 73.9%
Share of employment
as of 2017 (estimate)
5.5% 20.6% 73.9%

Costa Rica imported goods worth US $ 16.4 billion in 2014 and exported goods worth US $ 11.1 billion at the same time, so it had a negative trade balance . The most important import goods in 2011 were raw materials (55%, especially petroleum products), consumer goods (19%) and capital goods (17%, especially electronics). The main supplier countries in 2014 were the USA with 47.4%, the People's Republic of China with 9.8%, Mexico with 6.6% and Japan with 2.7%. Germany follows in 7th place with 2.0%. The most important buyer countries for exports were the USA with 37.3%, the Netherlands with 6.1% and Panama with 5.3%. The main export products include integrated circuits, electronic devices, bananas and tropical fruits.

The unemployment rate is given as 8.1% in 2017, and underemployment is widespread. In 2006, 14% of the workforce worked in agriculture, 64% in the service sector and 22% in industry. The total number of employees is estimated at 2.23 million for 2017.

The nominal GDP in 2016 was around US $ 58.1 billion. The average GDP / capita in 2016 was US $ 11,835. This makes Costa Rica the second most prosperous country in Central America after Panama.

Key figures

All GDP values ​​are given in US dollars ( purchasing power parity ).

year 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
(purchasing power parity)
8.17 billion 10.69 billion 15.62 billion 22.92 billion 30.74 billion 41.70 billion 46.09 billion 51.19 billion 54.62 billion 54.50 billion 57.89 billion 61.63 billion 65.78 billion 68.36 billion 72.03 billion 75.41 billion 79.82 billion 83.52 billion
GDP per capita
(purchasing power parity)
3,550 4.011 5.119 6,604 8,067 9,893 10,773 11,793 12,401 12,193 12,769 13,422 14,139 14,503 15,029 15,546 16,258 16,877
GDP growth
0.8% 0.7% 3.6% 4.1% 3.8% 3.9% 7.2% 8.2% 4.7% −1.0% 5.0% 4.3% 4.8% 2.3% 3.5% 3.6% 4.5% 3.2%
(in percent)
18.1% 15.1% 19.1% 23.2% 11.0% 13.8% 11.8% 9.4% 13.4% 7.8% 5.7% 4.9% 4.5% 5.2% 4.5% 0.8% 0.0% 1.6%
Unemployment rate
(in percent)
5.9% 6.8% 4.6% 5.2% 5.2% 6.6% 6.0% 4.6% 4.9% 7.8% 7.3% 7.9% 7.8% 8.3% 9.4% 9.7% 9.3% 8.1%
Public debt
(as a percentage of GDP)
... ... ... ... 39% 37% 33% 27% 24% 26% 28% 30% 34% 36% 38% 41% 45% 49%

power supply

The electricity in Costa Rica is almost exclusively by renewable energy covered, while fossil fuels are insignificant. In 2016, 98.1% of the electricity came from renewable sources, in 2015 98.9% and 2014 94%. In 2013, hydropower plants supplied around 68% of the electricity, geothermal power plants almost 15% and wind power plants around 5%, and other renewable energies were also used on a small scale. In 2013, fossil fuels covered almost 12% of the electricity demand. Thanks to this structure, renewable energies can repeatedly supply Costa Rica with electricity on their own for months. Costa Rica's goal is to be able to completely do without fossil fuels by 2021. In September 2016, a. With the Reventazón dam, a new hydropower plant with a capacity of 305 MW went into operation, which was the largest hydropower plant in Central America when it was commissioned.

At the United Nations climate summit in 2009, the government decided to go climate neutral by 2021, i.e. H. To no longer allow fossil fuels in road traffic and thus to decarbonise a large part of the traffic . For this, the 200th anniversary of independence from Spain by President Carlos Alvarado was set as the target year. At the end of February 2019, the President extended the time to achieve this ambitious goal by setting the year 2050 in a national decarbonization plan as the target year for complete climate neutrality.


Costa Rica is the second largest banana exporter in the world. In terms of banana production, Costa Rica is only 7th worldwide with 2.7 million tons, behind India with 15.1 million tons, Ecuador with 7.56 million tons, Brazil with 5.5 million tons, and China with 5th , 2 million tons, the Philippines with 4.5 million tons and Indonesia with 3.6 million tons (the figures refer to the production in 2001).

In addition to bananas , pineapples have become an important export item in recent years . At the expense of the environment and smallholder agriculture, the most important international fruit manufacturers, including Chiquita , Dole and Del Monte , have opened up new areas over the past few decades and made Costa Rica the world's leading pineapple exporter. Most of the more than 27,000 people working in pineapple cultivation have no trade union protection and work in dire health conditions. However, pineapple plantations are increasingly being loosened up by forests so that the animals living there keep the pests of the crops short ( biological pest control ).

Another export product is coffee , which is mainly grown in the Central Valley. Until the late 1980s, coffee was the most important export product. Other agricultural products that are exported are papaya , melons , macadamia nuts and ornamental plants. The economic importance of cattle breeding and sugar cane continues to decline.

Digital economy

Digital products and services already account for 24 percent of total national exports. More than half of the Costa Rican Internet companies have locations in several countries in Latin America, the USA, Canada and, in some cases, already in Europe, Asia and Africa. In the areas of mobile and web development, there are a large number of small and medium-sized Internet companies that have settled in the San José area and develop apps for smartphones and tablets as outsourcing providers for various industries. Digital animation services in 2D / 3D or e-learning providers have been used as established service providers for a long time by companies such as Coca-Cola, Walt Disney, car companies and others due to their excellent quality and manageable prices.

State budget

The state budget in 2016 comprised expenditures equivalent to the equivalent of 11.310 billion US dollars , which was offset by income equivalent to 8.115 billion US dollars. This results in a budget deficit of 5.5% of GDP .
The national debt in 2017 was $ 26.7 billion, or 48.9% of GDP.

In 2006 the share of government expenditure (as a percentage of GDP) was in the following areas:

Rail transport


The first railway line ran in Cape Gauge (1067 mm) from San José to the Atlantic, from Alajuela to San José and later on to Cartago . From the other direction the railway ran from Limón to Matina, but then the money ran out. The missing intermediate section could only be built decades later, and the line to Limón could not be opened until December 1890.

The first formal railway company was the Costa Rica Railway Co. Ltd. Further railway lines were built by the United Fruit Company, now Chiquita Brands International , in the banana-growing area on the Atlantic to transport the fruit. Later the Northern Railway of Costa Rica followed, which took over the routes of the Costa Rica Railway. The route from the Pacific to San José, the Ferrocarril al Pacífico, was opened in July 1910, after overcoming numerous structural difficulties, also with a gauge of 1067 mm (Cape gauge). Each of these lines has its own terminus in San José, Estación al Atlántico and Estación al Pacífico. The tram mentioned below runs between these two stations as a kind of tram.

In 1930 it was decided to electrify the Pacific route, the electrification was carried out by the German company AEG. The route is very winding and has a length of 130 kilometers. Single-phase alternating current of 15 kV, 20 Hertz was chosen as the first railway in a tropical country and therefore did not require a substation.

In 1977 all existing railway lines were combined under the state railway FECOSA (Ferrocarriles de Costa Rica). In 1980, the 106-kilometer-long Atlantic routes for transporting bananas from Rio Frio to Siquirres and Puerto Limón were electrified. The state railway, then known as FECOSA, which had taken over these routes, had operated the routes with diesel locomotives until then . Since the load was extraordinarily high at over a million tons per year, it was decided to fundamentally renew and electrify the line. In 1985 the FECOSA was replaced by the new state railway INCOFER (Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles). All non-electric railway lines are now operated with diesel traction, initially steam locomotives were used on all routes .

The route between Cartago and Turrialba was destroyed by heavy landslides in 1988 and the railway network was thus divided into two parts. A strong earthquake then damaged the routes along the Atlantic coast in 1991, but they were repaired within two weeks. However, the Atlantic banana transport line was no longer competitive earlier due to the exhaustion of the banana fields and the high electricity tariffs. The bananas are transported in the evening, when the tariffs are highest, and the electricity companies could not be persuaded to make concessions.

Other reasons were the high personnel costs (over-manning), and so the transports were switched to trucks . As a result, operations were discontinued in 1995.

Current condition

Various routes in the Central Valley have been reactivated in recent years. Discarded Apolo trains from Spain run on most of them. While around 1.7 million passengers were carried on the routes served in 2016, the number fell in 2017, although the additional Heredia - Alajuela route was activated. In 2017, only 1.4 million passengers were transported. This is attributed to the failure of various railcars due to accidents. A weekend passenger train should still exist, this is organized by America Travel and runs from the capital San José down to the Pacific to Caldera . From there you can continue to Puntarenas by bus . This one pair of trains only runs on Sundays and carries the day trippers from the San José metropolitan area to the Pacific, which is still a popular family outing for which the railroad is irreplaceable. This trip takes around four hours in total, going to the Pacific in the morning and back to San José in the evening. These trips must be booked in advance. In addition, some important routes for freight traffic were reactivated in the central part of the country .

While there were no secured level crossings in the first few years after the reactivation of the train routes in the Central Valley, many important crossings have been provided with barriers since the end of 2018.




National Theater

Costa Rica has a diverse musical culture from traditional indigenous music to Caribbean music and Latin American music in general to worldwide currents and styles. In addition to the international charts, Latin American dance music - from salsa to reggaeton - but also other styles and groups from Latin America have a major influence. At the same time there is a rich culture of active musicians and numerous private and public groups of musicians (e.g. university orchestras). Typical elements of traditional music include singing, marimba and guitar , among others .

  • Gandhi - a rock band
  • Malpais
  • Manuel Monestel and the Cantoamérica group - representatives of Caribbean music

Examples of traditional music

  • La Guaria Morada - celebrates the national flower, a purple orchid
  • Ticas Lindas
  • Soy Tico - a patriotic song called I'm a Costa Rican


The main ingredients of Costa Rican cuisine include rice, beans and often plantains . These basic ingredients are processed into a wide variety of dishes. The Caribbean coastal regions are tempted by tasty, exotic dishes which, among other things, get their finesse from being prepared with coconut milk. In San José in particular, many fast food chains such as McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Burger King and Taco Bell have established themselves in recent years.

The typical breakfast and also the national dish of Costa Rica is gallo pinto : a dish made of fried rice with black beans and onions. Fried or scrambled eggs as well as tortillas and sour cream are often served with this. At lunchtime, so-called casados are usually eaten, which are also based on rice and beans. This is served with plantains and meat, chicken or fish, as well as a little salad and steamed vegetables. In the numerous small sodas you can get lunch dishes at a reasonable price.

Also tamales are regarded as typical of Costa Rica. Costa Ricans traditionally prepare these filled corn bags, wrapped in banana leaves and then cooked, for Christmas, but now also like to prepare them during the year. They are often eaten for breakfast, often with salsa italiana . Fresh fruit or desserts such as cakes, pies or chocolate are often served for dessert.

In addition to water, lemonades and coffee, the most popular drinks are soft drinks such as batidos (drinks made from fresh fruits with water, milk, yoghurt or ice) and pipa (coconut water drunk directly from the coconut) Sugar is used, even if the fruits in the batidos are high in fructose. In the case of alcoholic beverages, beer and schnapps consumption dominate, wine is seldom drunk. The most popular types of beer are the Costa Rican beers Imperial , Pilsen and Bavaria .



The football has a high status in Costa Rica. The Costa Rican national soccer team has so far qualified for five soccer world championships. When they first participated in Italy in 1990 , the team reached the round of 16 in their preliminary group as second behind Brazil , where they were eliminated by Czechoslovakia . Twelve years later, at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan , the team was eliminated in the preliminary round, and also in Germany in 2006 , when the Costa Ricans played the opening game with the German team in Munich and lost it 2: 4. At their next participation in 2014 in Brazil , the selection managed to qualify for the second round again, as in 1990 , through victories over the favored teams from Uruguay and Italy, and for the first time also for the quarter-finals there through a win after a penalty shoot-out against Greece . There they were eliminated on penalties against the Netherlands .

On the continental level, the national team won the then CONCACAF Nations Cup (today CONCACAF Gold Cup ) three times , a competition between initially exclusively Central American national teams, in which teams from North America now also take part. At times, specially invited teams from other parts of the world also played there.

Some of the Costa Rican internationals also made it into top European leagues. Outstanding here is Keylor Navas , who won the UEFA Champions League three times and the FIFA Club World Cup three times in Real Madrid's goal .

The national soccer league Primera División de Costa Rica is dominated by two clubs, one from the Deportivo Saprissa from the capital San José and the other from the club LD Alajuelense from Alajuela. Clubs from Costa Rica have also won continental club competitions several times.

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: Costa Rica  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Costa Rica  - Album with Pictures, Videos and Audio Files
Wikimedia Atlas: Costa Rica  - geographical and historical maps
Wikivoyage: Costa Rica  Travel Guide

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Coordinates: 10 °  N , 84 °  W