The Major Urban Areas of Costa Rica

Costa Rica does not have many large urban areas. The country is split between been 82% of its residents living in urban areas and 18% living in rural areas. The largest urban areas are the urban area of San Jose which has a population of 1,415,000 residents but contains a number of different cities. The largest is San Jose itself with a population of 300,000 and it acts as the capital of the country. This area is in Central Valley and contains a third of the total population of the country.

San Jose with the mountains in the background

San Jose city is the business centre of the country and it attracts one million people daily commuting into work from the outlying areas. The city was named after Joseph of Nazareth and is one of the safest cities in the region. The city grew as the Spanish attempted to create one centre where all of the people in the Asseri Valley would concentrate. The building of St Joseph’s chapel in 1738 was the initial move to try and start the process of urbanisation. Initially the city had problems with water but overcame this by the building of ditches. Eventually the population started to grow, and it was made the capital city in 1823. Today the city attracts many tourists as it has a great reputation for its art and architecture.

Alajuela is the next largest city with a population of 124,000 people and it only lies 9km to the north-west of San Jose. It originally grew as an agricultural city as it is surrounded by rich agricultural farming land which provides a great deal of the food that is exported. Today the city has attracted industry into its free parks, and the city benefits from the location of the country’s main international airport, the Juan Santamaria International Airport which is only 3km away.

Cartago is only 25km to the east of San Jose and prior to 1824 was the nation’s capital. The city is found at the base of the Irazu volano and the rich volcanic soils has created a strong agricultural community. The wealth of the city was first built from agricultural produce, and today it benefits from national and international companies locating in the industrial parks, that have been created in the city. Away from the central valley region a number of large urban centres are located on the coast. They originally grew as strong exports, such as coffee and bananas, needed to be sent overseas from port locations.

This is how Puntarenas on the Pacific coastline originally expanded, especially after a rail track was constructed in 1859, enabling coffee to be brought down from the highland areas. Today the population of 100,000 benefits from tourism, with the area’s beaches proving to be popular.

Dock side at Puerto Limon

The main port on the Caribbean Sea coastline is Puerto Limon which has a population of 55,000 people. This port city grew as a response to the need for coffee to be exported to England. The construction of a railway line from the port to the central valley proved to be a major engineering task as the line cut through mountainous areas and virgin rainforest vegetation.

This project which started in 1867 resulted in great amounts of trade coming to the city. It also had the side effect of producing the city’s multi-cultural population. Thousands of laborers who had come across from Jamaica, Italy and China to work on the railway line, decided to stay on after completion and the descendants of these workers now reside in Limon.

The urban areas of Costa Rica are very much controlled by the shape of the land. There are many areas in the country that are beautiful, but are simply not suitable for human occupation. This has meant that people have gravitated towards the areas that are flat and easy to build on, and this is reflected in the country’s distribution of urbanized areas.