The Physical Geography of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is located in Central America with coastlines on both the Caribbean Sea to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It is virtually in the centre of the continent sandwiched between Nicaragua to the North and Panama to the South. It has a land area of 19,714 square miles. The country is 180 miles long and at its narrowest point it is only 75 miles wide. In terms of size it is ranked the 129th largest country in the world and is similar in size to Denmark.

Cloud Forest in Costa Rica

Although the country is relatively small it has interesting landscapes. There are hills, mountains, valleys, plains, volcanoes and 800 miles of coastline. This undulating green topography makes it a beautiful country to view, although not necessarily an easy country to travel around.

Being located between 8 and 12 degrees north of the equator the climate of the country is tropical all year round. In layman’s terms it means it is hot wet and sticky. The climate can vary remarkably quickly from place to place, depending on elevation and topography leading to many micro climates in the area. There is generally a wet and a dry season. In January the average rainfall is 6.3 mm but by September it is 355mm. Through-out the year the average temperatures vary between 26 and 28 degrees Fahrenheit, so it is always hot.

The Cordillera Central Mountains run down the centre of the country, like a back bone, dividing the east coast of the country from the west coast. They are part of the five mountain ranges that dominate the Costa Rican Landscape. These mountain ranges contain many volcanos and although many lie dormant there are still six that are active. The Poas Volcano, located in the Central Mountains, last major eruption was in 1910. It has a crater of almost a mile wide and there is still activity today with geysers exploding up to 250 metres into the air.

Poas Volcano still bubbling

There are many high summits in the country, but the highest point is Cerro Chirripo in the Cordillera de Talamanca Mountain Range. It is 12,500 feet high and it is possible to view both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea on a clear day. The Central Range Mountains and the Talamanca Mountains are separated by the Central Valley. This is where 75% of the country’s population are located. The valley is a plateau with the elevation ranging between 800 and 1500 metres above sea level. It is drained by the Tarcoles River. The combination of its flood plains mixing with volcanic lava has created rich fertile soils that have supported the large numbers of population attracted to the area.

The topography of the land plus its natural climate, give Costa Rica a rich variety of ecosystems. Tropical rainforests are in abundance in the lowlands with cloud forests in the highlands. Coastal areas are dominated by mangrove forests and vast wetland areas. The beauty of the country is that despite its relatively small area it contains so many different geographical areas.