Costa Rica is a small (19,714 square miles) mountainous republic in Central America. Its area is slightly larger than that of Vermont and New Hampshire combined. It is located between the Caribbean Sea on the east and the Pacific Ocean on the south and west. The country is bordered by Nicaragua on the north, and Panama to the east. Most of Costa Rica is rugged highlands, ranging from 3000 to 6000 feet above sea level. There is a chain of rugged mountain ranges (called the cordilleras) that extend though the entire central part of the country, running from the northwest to the southeast. A few of the highest peaks in this chain are active volcanoes. The highest peak located in Costa Rica is Chirripo Grande, which is 12,530 feet high. The cordilleras divide the country into three land regions - the Central Highlands, the Caribbean Lowlands, and the Pacific Coastal Strip. The climate of this country ranges from temperate in the interior highlands to tropical in the coastal planes. Some of the average annual temperatures are from 89 degrees farinhight in the coastal regions to 62 degrees in the inland. During April or May to December, it rains an average of 100 inches.
There are rich volcanic agricultural soils in the Meseta Central (Central Plateau) and the river valleys in Costa Rica. Abundant waterpower is one of the main sources for electricity. Close to one-third of the whole land mass is covered by forest. In the forests, there are cedar, balsa, mahogany, and ebony trees growing in great numbers, although deforestation is becoming a problem. There are over one thousand species of orchids found in Costa Rica alone. Another abundant resource is wildlife, which includes the jaguar, deer, monkeys, the puma, and hundreds of species of birds.
Many of the Spanish colonists who settled in Costa Rica married native Indians. Their descendants of mixed Spanish and Indian ancestry are called mestizos. Mestizos and whites make up more than 97 percent of the population. The approximate population is 3,264,776, with a population density of around 166 people per square mile. Two small minority groups compose the rest of the population - about 10,000 Indians, who live in isolated communities in the highlands and along the coasts; and 70,000 blacks, who live along the Caribbean. The blacks' ancestors came to Costa Rica from the island of Jamaica in the late 1800's to build railroads and to work on the banana plantations.
Around a half of the population is considered rural, living on farms or in rural towns; the other half of the population live in cities. Many farmers reside in adobe cottages with traditional thick, white stucco walls and red or pink tile roofs. Those people who reside in the cities usually live in row houses, which all look alike and are attached to one another in a row. Many of these homes are decorated with plants and flowers. The most wealthy families own spacious ranch-style homes that are usually surrounded by gardens. About three-fourths of the entire population of this country live on a fertile plateau in the mountains of central Costa Rica. San Jose, the capital and largest city, lies in this region. Spanish is the official language, but English is also spoken by many educated people. The state religion is Roman Catholicism, but the freedom of worship is guaranteed by the constitution.
Out of all places in Latin America, Costa Rica has one of the highest rates of literacy, which is about 93 percent (a higher percentage than in any other Central American country). Primary and secondary education are free. Costa Rican law makes it compulsory to attend school between the ages of 6 and 13. Students who graduate may attend secondary school, and then enter a university. One of the best universities in this country is the University of Costa Rica, which is near the capital city of San Jose. It has an annual enrollment of about 28,200.
Costa Rica has been strongly influenced by Spanish traditions. They have also adopted the Roman Catholic cultural pattern of Spain, with emphasis on the family and the church. About 90 percent of the people belong to the Roman Catholic Church. The people of Costa Rica enjoy spending