Costa Rica is a small country from some points of view, but a destination which has plenty to offer the visitor. A friendly educated populace and a rich natural heritage are among the principal qualities Costa Rica has to offer. The country holds a privileged place in the world, being located in the very center of the isthmus of Central America. It is flanked to the east by the Caribbean, to the southeast by Panama and by Nicaragua to the north.
Costa Rica's total surface area is only 51,110 sq. km; but it contains a wide variety of rivers, plains, mountains, valleys, volcanoes, beaches; a diversified flora and fauna in numerous nature and wildlife reserves, and many more attractions for the tourist, including a wide range of climates.
Costa Rica is a small tropical country, situated between two oceans. These factors combine with a complex, mountainous topography, giving rise to a wide variety of habitats. These range from Tropical Dry Forest to Lowland Rainforest to Highland Paramo, with a corresponding variety of climatic conditions. In general, however, temperatures vary between 14 and 22 Celsius, in the high Central Valley and between 22 and 28 Celsius in the lowlands. Temperatures in each region remain relatively stable throughout the year, although some slight changes occur according to weather it is "Summer" (the dry season) or "Winter" (the rainy season). "Summer" usually prevails from December to April and "Winter" from May to November. These seasons are clearly defined on the Pacific side of the country but much less notable on the Caribbean side where precipitation is more evenly distributed throughout the year.
The highest regions of Costa Rica are found in the center of country and the lowlands, which are more extensive and flat, extend to Caribbean coast in the northeast. On the Pacific side, the marine shelf cuts sharply into the coast forming bays, capes, cliff faces and inlets. The Costa Rica mountain ranges form and independent group within the Central American massif. Three of these ranges run roughly from northwest to southeast with a fourth crossing them at the widest part of the country and forming a huge cross. In this Central Range lie the Central Valley (where we find the cities of San José, Alajuela and Heredia) and the Guarco Valley, in the province of Cartago. Two volcanic ranges dominate the northwest of Costa Rica. First, the Sierra Volcánica Guanacaste with its volcanoes, Orosí, Miravalles, Tenorio and Arenal, which offers a breathtaking show with its night-time eruptions, plus Rincón de la Vieja, whose volcanic activity keeps the mud in the foothills bubbling permanently. In this area, we can also visit Lake Arenal. With a surface area of about 85 sq. km, it is an ideal spot for water sports such as windsurfing, water-skiing, motor boat racing and fishing. Second, in the northwest, is the Sierra Volcánica Tilarán, formed by the hills of Abangares, Aguacate and Cedral. In the transvers chain of the Central Highlands, the volcanoes Poás, Barva, Irazú and Turrialha are the most accessible to the visitor. All of these volcanoes form an important part of our country's natural and geological heritage. Finally, to the south, are Costa Rica's highest mountains, in the non-volcanic Talamanca Range. Of these, Chirripó is the most impressive, being the highest in the country at 3,821 mts. Also, due to the type of landscape, composition of the soil and climatic conditions at the summit, its vegetation is similar to that found in bleak mountain ranges -still another facet of Costa Rica's incredible natural heritage.
The rivers of Costa Rica are of great interest to tourists, not only for their beauty but also for the opportunities they provide for adventure, sport and leisure activities. On the Caribbean side lies the Reventazón-Parismina River system, 145 km long, and the 108 km Pacuare. Both rivers are ideal for fishing and for shooting rapids. Also on the northern Caribbean slopes, we find the 96 km Colorado and the Sarapiquí, both of which are perfect for outings and sporting activities. The Pacific side boasts numerous rivers such as the Corobicí, most noted for float trips on its gentle rapids. The Corobicí and many other north Pacific rivers empty into the great Tempisque River which stretches for 135 km to the Gulf of Nicoya. The marshes, rivulets and estuaries of the Tempisque Basin provide important nesting grounds for numerous native bird species and sanctuary for many migrants.
The Caribbean coastline, stretching for 212 km; runs from the northeast to the southeast and can be divided into two distinct sections: Río San Juan-Limón (which extends from the border with Nicaragua to the city of Limón), and Limón-Río Sixaola (from the city of Limón to the border with Panama). The first section consists of a long stretch of coastline which separates the sea from a series of fresh water lakes, fed by numerous rivers. In this region are the famous "Canales of Tortuguero", a network of more than 100 km of navigable canals and lagoons and which are the habitat of seven species of turtles. Located at the mid-point of the Caribbean coastline of Limón, one of the country's major ports and birthplace of our Afro-Caribbean culture. Just offshore, to the south of the city, lies the island of Uvita, originally named Cariari by Christopher Columbus who stopped there on his fourth voyage to the New World.
The Pacific coast stretches over 1.200 km, from one border to the other and offers a variety of landscapes, islands, gulfs, headlands, swamps, inlets and peninsulas. From Bahía Salinas, in the north, to southern Punta Bunca, Costa Rica's Pacific coastline boasts many wide beaches which are perfect for tourists to enjoy themselves. Santa Elena, Nicoya and Osa are the main peninsulas on the Pacific side. On the northern part of the coast is the bay of Salinas (where a small archipelago called Murciélago affords ideal scuba diving) and the Santa Elena Peninsula and Culebra Bay (where the "Golfo de Papagallo" tourist complex is currently under construction). Further south the Gulf of Nicoya also has great tourist appeal. The "Salinero" and "Tempisque" ferries cross its waters to the isolated beaches of the southern part of the Nicoya Peninsula. The shoreline of the gulf forms many bays and promontories and Nicoya's waters are dotted with small islands. The largest of these are the islands of Chira and San Lucas. Others of great natural beauty are Venado, Bejuco, Caballos, Negritos and Cedros Islands. Near the city of Puntarenas (administrative center of the province, also called Puntarenas) is Puerto Caldera, the Pacific's most important port. Caldera has developed into a modern port complex for cruise ships and cargo boats. Five hundred km off the Pacific coast lies Coco Island, famous for its legend of hidden treasures. However, its main riches are very beautiful and luxuriant flora and fauna, both on land and in its surrounding waters. These natural treasures are in need of protection from visitors to the island. Finally, the south Pacific coast is divided into two major zones. To the southeast, is the Golfo Dulce. On the gulf, stands the historic city of Golfito, better known today for its duty free shopping centers. To the southwest lies the Osa Peninsula where the Osa Conservation Area protects perhaps the most extensive and richest variety of flora and fauna to be found in the country
Its coasts, lakes, natural water basins and rivers make Costa Rica a real paradise for lovers of water sports. It is a special place where one can practice fishing, fresh water sports (the country has over 80 km of navigable rivers, famous world-wide, and which are enjoyed both by kayakers and rivers rafters in search of challenging adventures and by those who wish to experience the thrill of white water for the first time), surfing (Playa Pavones is internationally famous for having the longest waves in the world), Scuba diving (given the variety and richness of the reefs and the flora and fauna along the coastline), windsurfing (practiced mainly on Lake Arenal), kayaking, boating and water-skiing.
It is for the nature lover and the conservationist, however,
that Costa Rica has become a true mecca. As of 1992 Costa Rica
is the world headquarters for the Earth Council, because of
its natural resource conservation activities. At present, the
National Parks Service is responsible for the care and conservation
of 20 natural parks, eight wildlife refuges and one area which
has been declared a national archaeological monument. At the
same time, the Forestry Service is in charge of 26 protected
areas, nine forest reserves, seven fauna sanctuaries and a national
forest. These protected areas total 1,077,308 hectares and represent
21% of the national territory, meaning that Costa Rica has a
larger percentage of its total area set aside in Parks and Preserves
than any other country in the world. The protection of Costa
Rica's natural resources has implications beyond its borders
because they encompass an incredible biodiversity, including
fauna and flora.
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