Costa Rica Wiki Facts
Costa Rica’s 7 Provinces
Costa Rica has 7 administrative provinces: Alajuela, Cartago, Guanacaste, Heredia, Limon, Puntarenas & San Jose. Each one of them has its own particularities and attractions: a unique mixture of the ‘pura vida’ culture in the scattered towns and cities, national parks abundant with wildlife and lush greenery, and indigenous people and their traditions are worthwhile exploring.
San Jose is the capital and main hub for everything related to economy and politics, and it features most of the major annual festivals and social events in Costa Rica. Although most ‘Ticos’ will complain about the congested traffic and messy streets, San José has its own allure. Strolling through ‘Avenida Central’ or visiting ‘Teatro National’ and the nearby ‘Museo National’ are a must if you choose to visit San Jose while on your vacation. However, if you want to do some shopping it’s best to visit San Jose suburbs like Escazú, which is a true shopping mecca full of options for recreational activities, as well.
Heredia province is well-known for its capital city of the same name, known as the ‘the city of flowers’. A few historical monuments give the city its own distinct character; one such notable is “El Fortín”, a circular tower constructed in 1876 that became the symbol of the city. Others include the Braulio Carrillo National Park and INBio Parque, the National Institute of Biodiversity that does scientific studies about wildlife in Costa Rica.
Cartago was the first colonial city established in Costa Rica and its first capital. There are two historical treasures of this city: the ancient ruins of Cartago—the ruins of a catholic cathedral that remained unfinished due to an earthquake in 1910; and also the “Basilica de Cartago”—the emblem of Costa Rica’s Catholic Church. You will find two of the most active volcanoes in this province: the highest active and usually cloudy Irazu Volcano, and the Turrialba Volcano which towers over the Turrialba town. This province also features some great river rafting, such as the on the famous Pacuare River.
Alajuela province is the setting for two incredible National Parks: the Arenal Volcano National Park in the north attracts tourists with its breathtaking views, hot springs and an amazing list of adventure tours on offer in the area; and the Poas Volcano National Park, known for the volcano’s gigantic crater, which is ranked as one of the biggest in the world. This province also boasts the less well-known but truly unique natural phenomena, the Rio Celeste with its milky blue river and waterfall near the Tenorio Volcano National Park.
Guanacaste province features the beautiful, white-sand beaches of Costa Rica’s northwest Pacific coast. From Conchal and Papagayo up in the north to the Nicoya Peninsula, the wonders of this province make it a “must visit” for beach lovers. In Guanacaste there are also dazzling National Parks like Rincon de la Vieja National Park and Las Baulas Marine National Park.
Puntarenas runs from the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula along the Pacific coastline all the way to the Panama border and is home to some of the most popular National Parks in Costa Rica. Manuel Antonio National Park in the Central Pacific area and the Corcovado National Park in the south are two of the many beautiful places to visit. Puntarenas is also called as the ‘Pacific Pearl’, where you can enjoy all kinds of water sports from surfing, to parasailing and paddle boarding to diving, along its countless beaches.
Limon is the province with Caribbean flavor and African spice. The remote and beautiful Tortuguero National Park, the Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge in the north and La Amistad National Park in the south are some of the places where you can truly enjoy Costa Rica’s stunning nature. Limon’s Caribbean roots are the appeal for many travelers seeking for a relaxed and easy going atmosphere.
The Capital—San Jose
The city of San Jose became the capital of Costa Rica in the year 1823, after a long period during which it had lacked proper legal administration. The city had been founded almost a century before in 1738, when a group of missionaries built a chapel to concentrate the inhabitants of the Aserrí Valley. With the help of the city of Cartago, which served as the capital of Costa Rica originally, the settlers slowly built the city of San José.
Today, the city is a modern metropolis, still considered one of the youngest Latin American capitals. The city officially has under 400 thousand inhabitants, but as the center of the Great Metropolitan Area (which comprises the cities of Heredia, Cartago and Alajuela) it is estimated that at least two million people travel to, from and across San Jose every day.
Whilst the city has a slightly unfavorable reputation, it is still home to the country’s biggest museums and shopping centers. The largest international airport, named after national hero Juan Santamaría, is globally assumed to be in San Jose but is actually about 20-30 minutes outside the center in the city of Alajuela.
If you travel to Costa Rica I would advise you to not, as so many do, head straight out of San Jose but to take a little time to see the sights here. The city is also the country’s cultural center offering visitors and locals a variety of theaters, galleries and concert venues including the modern National Stadium which opened in 2011.
In recent years the city of San Jose has undergone something of a renaissance. There are now many excellent restaurants, cafes and bars and the city has a distinctly cosmopolitan feel. Many people from Europe, North America and Latin America have made San Jose their homes. This is reflected in the German bakeries, organic markets, Argentinean steakhouses and sports bars. Take the time to enjoy the capital of Costa Rica and search out a few of its hidden gems.
Flora & Fauna
Thousands of tourists visit Costa Rica every year to see the exotic plants and animals that can be found across this amazing country. Despite its relatively small size, Costa Rica is home to approximately 5 percent of the entire world’s biodiversity, making it an ideal destination for wildlife enthusiasts.
A commitment to conservation
Costa Rica occupies just .03 percent of the world’s surface area, but is teeming with exotic creatures, many of which are endangered. To protect these vulnerable species from extinction, the Costa Rican government takes environmental conservation very seriously. In fact, 25 percent of the country is protected land, and the 26 national parks and wildlife sanctuaries are among its most valuable—and popular—national assets.
All creatures great and small
Many experts believe that the reason for Costa Rica’s remarkable biodiversity lies in how the country was formed. Millions of years ago, activity at the junction of five tectonic plates resulted in a bridge being formed between what is now North and South America. As the land began to support life, species from the formerly separate continents started to migrate to the region now known as Central America. In addition, the country’s warm climate is ideal for many different species, including amphibians, lizards, insects and a stunning variety of marine life.
From big cats to tiny amphibians, the country is home to some of the most exotic creatures on the planet. Although more than half a million separate species can be found in Costa Rica, some are more prevalent than others. For example, approximately 10 percent of the entire world’s population of butterflies is found here, and there are more than 34,000 species of insects native to Costa Rica.
The myriad animals that inhabit the country play their own role in maintaining the delicate balance of the country’s ecosystem. Birds such as the violet sabrewing, a particularly rare species of hummingbird, perform a vital function in the rainforest by pollinating exotic flowers as they hunt for the nectar that forms much of their diet. Similarly, birds like the resplendent quetzal subsist almost entirely on a diet of fruit due to the abundance of flowering trees that can be found here, an especially rare behavior this close to the equator.
Rarities of the animal kingdom
Although Costa Rica is the ideal habitat for many exotic animals, some of these magnificent creatures are perilously close to extinction and can be found in few other places around the world.
The scarlet macaw is one such creature. These impressive birds were once found all over Central and parts of South America, but their numbers have dwindled substantially in recent years. Today, they can be seen predominantly in the Osa Peninsula and near Jaco in the Carara National Park. Seeing these rare birds is a sight to remember. Scarlet macaws mate for life and usually fly in pairs, as they are inseparable once they have bonded, so if you see one, the chances are good you’ll see two.
The jaguar, one of nature’s most efficient predators, is also facing extinction. To preserve these mighty hunters for future generations, some of Costa Rica’s national parks, including Corcovado National Park and La Amistad International Park, have embarked on conservation campaigns to protect them from poachers.
Many other endangered animals make their home in the Costa Rican jungles, and mammals like Baird’s tapir, squirrel monkeys, the cotton-top marmoset and Bang’s mountain squirrel are also very rare.
Lush plant life
Costa Rica’s animals can steal the spotlight from the plants and flowers that can be found here, but that doesn’t make the flora of this amazing country any less impressive.
Some varieties of plant life can grow to gargantuan proportions, such as Gunnera insignis, known more commonly as the poor man’s umbrella. This strange member of the rhubarb family can exhibit leaves up to six feet in length. These remarkable plants can be seen in many parts of Poas Volcano National Park and Braulio Carrillo National Park.
With such a diverse range of plant life, it should come as little surprise that the national flower of Costa Rica is equally impressive. The cattleya skinneri, also known as the guaria morada orchid, is characterized by its vivid purple and white flowers, and is typically found at altitudes of 4,000 feet or higher.
One of the rarest flowers in Costa Rica is the Osa pulchra, a relative of the humble coffee plant. These flowers are so rare, some horticulturalists believe there are fewer than 50 plants living in the wild, and although some specialists have attempted to grow these elusive plants in artificial environments, the Osa pulchra is native only to Costa Rica and isolated regions of Panama (1).
Costa Rica’s Holidays
Many of Costa Rica’s holidays are based on the Catholic religion. On most of these official holidays (dias feriados), banks, public offices and many businesses are closed. Here is a listing of the most important official holidays that are celebrated in Costa Rica:
- January 1st – New Year’s Day
- March 19th – St Joseph’s Day, patron saint of San Jose and San Jose province
- March or April – Easter/Semana Santa. Most businesses (except tour companies/tourist industry) shut down Thursday and Good Friday and don’t resume as usual until Saturday before Easter Sunday. You cannot buy alcohol on Thursday or Friday during this week.
- April 11th – Juan Santamaria Day celebrating the national hero, Juan Santamaria who fought against the American invader, William Walker, in 1856
- May 1st – Labor Day (Dia de los trabajadores)
- June – Father’s Day is on the third Sunday of June each year
- July 25th – Guanacaste Day which celebrates the annexation of Guanacaste from Nicaragua in 1824
- August 2nd – Virgen de los Angeles Day, the patron saint of Costa Rica
- August 15th – Mother’s Day
- September 15th – Independence day, celebrating Costa Rica’s independence from Spain in 1821
- October 12th – Columbus Day/Dia de la Raza
- November 2nd– All Souls Day
- December 8th – Day of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary
- December 25th – Christmas Day
Throughout history, the Costa Rican flag has undergone many changes. At least seven different flags, varying in color and design, were used until the year of 1848, when First Lady Pacífica Fernández—inspired by the French Revolution and the colors of the French flag—created the flag we know today.
The flag is formed by five horizontal stripes (two blue, two white and one red) and also makes use of the national ensign (coat of arms) which is left out on unofficial matters. The blue is meant to represent idealism, the white stands for peace and the red is a reminder of the blood spilled by martyrs who suffered for the country. It is also meant to symbolize the love of the Costa Rican people for their country.
Costa Rica Info Sites
Check out the list below for the best Costa Rica-related sites that you need to keep you informed and up to date with all things Tico:
- The Tico Times: http://www.ticotimes.net/
- La Nacion: http://www.nacion.com/
- Inside Costa Rica: http://insidecostarica.com/
- The Costa Rica News: http://thecostaricanews.com/
- A.M. Costa Rica: http://amcostarica.com/
- La Republica: http://www.larepublica.net/app/cms/www/index.php
- CIA World Factbook Costa Rica: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/cs.html
- UK Foreign Office Costa Rica Travel Advice: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad/travel-advice-by-country/north-central-america/costa-rica
- Lonely Planet Costa Rica Travel Guide: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/costa-rica
- Costa Rica Pages Travel Guide: http://www.costaricapages.com/
- Frommer’s Costa Rica: http://www.frommers.com/destinations/costarica/
- Costa Rica Surf Report: http://www.crsurf.com/
- Costa Rica Residents Association: http://www.arcr.net/