You opened up your atlas to the Americas page and you see a small country bound by Nicaragua to north and Panama to the south. Which country could it be? You have discovered Costa Rica, an exciting destination located in the Central American Isthmus bordered by the North Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east. Famous for its green landscapes, fascinating flora and fauna and perfect weather, Costa Rica is an ideal place to visit on your next vacation.
Although Costa Rica may be considered a little nation, there are lots of things to do and interesting places to visit. Surrounded by lush natural beauty and home to 5% of the world’s biodiversity, Costa Rica has so much to offer to the traveler who does prior investigation.
Where is Costa Rica? Did you know that Costa Rica lies near the equator? The country is located between latitudes 8° and 12°N, and longitudes 82° and 86°W, contributing to its year-round tropical climate. Costa Rica compromises 19,653 square miles of total land and 277 square miles of territorial waters, making it about the size of Switzerland and West Virginia.
Costa Rica is one of the few countries in the world that boasts an Atlantic Coast and a Pacific Coast. Although the distance between the two coasts is little, there are vast differences between them. Three volcanic mountain regions separate these coastal plains: the Cordillera Central, the Cordillera de Guanacaste de Talamanca. The highest point in the country is Cerro Chirripó at 12,350 feet (3,819 meters). The highest volcano is the Irazú Volcano (11,275 ft or 3,431 m) and the largest lake is Lake Arenal. Forming part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, Costa Rica divided down the center by a chain of 14 volcanos, 6 of which have reported activity in the past years.
Politically-speaking, this area between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans is divided into 7 provinces: San Jose, Heredia, Alajuela, Cartago, Guanacaste, Puntarenas, and Limon. The Greater Metropolitan Area is made up of the San Jose, Heredia, Alajuela, and Cartago provinces which are home to Costa Rica’s major cities. The majority of the beaches can be found in Puntarenas, Guanacaste and Limon. This is fascinating country also has several islands: Cocos Island that lays 300 miles off the coast from Puntarenas and the largest island of the country, Calero Island which 58.5 square miles (151.6 square kilometers) long.
Costa Rica may be small, but it has a lot to offer. We have divided the country into 9 regions for learning and travel purposes. Each of these regions is different; each of them has hidden treasures and individual characteristics. Read on to learn about these fascinating regions:
The pristine province of Limón runs from the northern Nicaraguan border to the southern border with Panama. Here you will find the towns of Puerto Limón, the capital city with its Afro-American roots, and Puerto Viejo, the best surfing spot on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast. This region has everything from miles of pristine, white-sand beaches, such as the beach town of Manzanillo to towering mountains. There are also a variety of national parks and reserves, such as Tortuguero National Park and Cahuita National Park.
The mountainous region of the Central Highlands extends from the northwest town of Tilaran to the southeast Turrialba Volcano. Coffee plantations, fields and lush forests abound in this region, providing some of the most awe-inspiring views and landscapes in the world. Here you will find the stunning Monteverde Reserve with its world-famous cloud forests, the stunning La Paz and Bajos del Toro waterfall and the small towns of San Ramón and Vara Blanca.
This small strip of land runs along the Pacific Coast from Manuel Antonio National Park to the coasts of Jaco. This region is renowned for surfing spots and famous beach towns. Here you will find the vibrant city of Puntarenas, the fascinating Manuel Antonio National Park with its beaches and diverse flora and fauna and Playa Bejuco, a small town where you can try traditional Costa Rican fare. Surfers will love the laid-back vibe of the town of Jaco and nearby Playa Hermosa, a fun spot for all levels.
Also known as the Greater Metropolitan Area, the Central Valley is compromised of the San Jose, Heredia, Alajuela, and Cartago provinces. The majority of Costa Rica’s population is concentrated in this region. Here you can find the capital of the country, San Jose with its museums and historic attractions, Cartago, a gorgeous city home to the Irazú volcano and the charming town of Heredia. Visitors can shop and try excellent cuisine in Escazú, an affluent area of San Jose or visit the town of Naranjo surrounded by green hills.
A popular region for domestic and international tourism, Guanacaste is located in the northwestern part of the country with its stunning white-sanded beaches and striking landscapes. Here you will find the Liberia International Airport less than 30 miles away from the laidback tourist hub of Tamarindo, Papagayo Gulf famous for its elegant resorts and the untouched beaches of Bahia Salinas. The incredible Tenorio and Miravalles volcanos and the fascinating Rincon de la Vieja National Park are also not to be missed.
The Nicoya Peninsula stretches south, from the beaches of Guanacaste to the northern section of the Central Pacific Region. Here you will find a variety of national parks, such as Cabo Blanco, Barra Honda, Marino Las Baullas and Vida Silvestre Curu. Surfers will fall in love with the constant break at Santa Teresa & Mal Pais. Beach lovers should not miss the aquamarine waters of Samara, the chic beach town of Nosara, the calm surf at Tambor and the bohemian vibes at Montezuma.
Situated just below the border with Nicaragua, this region of plains that is located between the Pacific and Caribbean coasts is famous for its volcanoes and hot springs. Here you will find the famous Arenal Volcano and the friendly town of La Fortuna with a wide selection of outdoor activities. Nature lovers should visit Boca Tapada, home to the Great Green Macaw and the remote Cano Negro National Park. Adventure seekers will love Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui with rivers perfect for white-water rafting.
The rugged South Central Region of Costa Rica is famous for its striking views and frontier-like ambiance. Full of unexplored areas, this region is perfect for nature lovers and adventurers alike. Here you will find the highest peak in Costa Rica, Cerro Chirripo and the town of San Isidro de El General. Hikers will enjoy San Gerardo de Dota with the steep Talamanca Mountain Range as a backdrop, while travelers wishing to visit a rural town will love Santa Maria de Dota with its stunning landscapes and excellent coffee.
This isolated region is home to a prehistoric rainforest and is known for its wet and humid climate. It is home to Osa Peninsula, with its uninhabited beaches. Here you will find the stunning Corcovado National Park and Drake Bay, ideal for backpackers and nature lovers. Surfers will enjoy Cabo Matapolo with its beaches for beginners and experts and popular surf town of Dominical. Adventure-minded visitors should stay at Carate, a great launching point for various national parks.
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More questions about Costa Rica? Here is a list of common frequently-asked questions that can help you:
What does Costa Rica Pura Vida mean?
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What Time Is It In Costa Rica?
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How many volcanoes are there in Costa Rica?
What is the Costa Rica climate like?
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What to do in Costa Rica?
What are the best beaches in Costa Rica?