Geography of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is bordered to the north by Nicaragua, to the north-east by the Caribbean, to the south-east by Panama, and to the west and south-west by the Pacific Ocean. Costa Rica is a varied country despite its tiny size of 51,100 square kilometers (19,729 square miles).


A series of volcanic mountain chains runs from the Nicaragua border in the northwest to the Panamanian border into the southeast, thus splitting the country in two. The highlands reach 3820 meters and changing altitudes play an important part in determining geographical and ecological variation. 

In the center of the highlands lies a plain called the meseta central, between about 1,000 and 1,500 meters high (3,280 – 4,921 ft.), which contains four of Costa Rica’s five largest cities, including the capital, San Jose. Over half of the population lives in this plain, which contains fertile volcanic soils.  Most of the mountains are volcanoes, some of which are active.

On either side of the volcanic central highlands lie coastal lowlands which differ greatly in character. 

The smooth Caribbean coastline is 212 km (131 miles) long and is characterized by year-round rainfall, mangroves, swamps and intra-coastal waterway, and sandy beaches.

The Pacific coast is much more rugged and rocky and the coastline is 1016 km (631 miles) long with numerous gulfs and peninsulas. It is bordered by tropical dry forests which receive almost no rain for several months each year, and is also bordered by mangroves, swamps and beaches.

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