Costa Rica is a Central American success story: since the late 19th century, only two brief periods of violence have marred its democratic development. Although still a largely agricultural country, it has expanded its economy to include strong technology and tourism sectors. The standard of living is relatively high. Land ownership is widespread.
Under the 1949 constitution, all citizens are guaranteed equality before the law, the right to own property, the right of petition and assembly, freedom of speech and the right of habeas corpus.
Peaceful, Costa Rica is one of the world’s more prosperous developing countries and is currently the focus of international attention for its incredible biodiversity. Historically, Costa Rica has avoided arm conflicts that have engulfed neighboring nations, and has concentrated on improving life for its citizens.
Borders: North-Nicaragua, Southeast-Panama, West-Pacific Ocean, East-Atlantic Ocean.
Area: 51,100 km2.
Administrative Division: 7 provinces, 81 counties and 463 districts.
Highest mountain: Chirripó (altitude 3820 m above sea level).
Largest crater: Poás Volcano ( one of the largest craters in the world, 1 km diameter).
Population: 4,075,863 inhabitants ( 2004).
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 76.84.
Years male: 74.26 Years female: 79.55 years (2005 est.).
Ethnic groups: white (including mestizo) 94%, black 3%, Amerindian 1%, Chinese 1%, other 1%.
Religions: Roman Catholic 76.3%, Evangelical 13.7%, Jehovah’s Witnesses 1.3%, other Protestant 0.7%, other 4.8%, none 3.2%.
Languages: Spanish (official), English.
Literacy definition: age 15 and over can read and write total.
Population: 96% male: 95.9% female: 96.1% (2003 est.).
Independence: 15 September 1821 (from Spain).
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal and compulsory.
Military branches: no regular military forces; Ministry of Public Security, Government, and Police.
Costa Rica is a tropical country which contains several distinct climatic zones. There is no winter or summer as such and most regions have a rainy season from May to November and a dry season from December to April. Annual rainfall averages 100 inches nationwide with some mountainous regions getting as much as 25 feet on exposed eastern slopes. Temperature is more a matter of elevation than location with a mean of around 72 degrees in the Central Valley, 82 degrees on the Atlantic coast and 89 degrees on the Pacific coast.
Costa Rica’s basically stable economy depends on tourism, agriculture, and electronics exports.
Poverty has been substantially reduced over the past 15 years, and a strong social safety net has been put into place. Foreign investors remain attracted by the country’s political stability and high education levels, and tourism continues to bring in foreign exchange.
Agriculture – products: coffee, pineapples, bananas, sugar, corn, rice, beans, potatoes; beef; timber.
Industries: microprocessors, food processing, textiles and clothing, construction materials, fertilizer, plastic products
The main Costa Rican dish is rice and beans which can be eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Costa Ricans enjoy a lot of meat, mostly beef, chicken, and pork. Eating fish is considered a luxury although fish marinated in lemon juice and spices is a cheap delicacy. Vegetables and fruits are also popular and cheap. Imported apples and grapes are considered a special treat.
There are restaurants in all the major towns serving a variety of cuisines. Local food can be found in small ‘sodas’. Popular restaurant dishes include: olla de carne (soup of beef, plantain, yuca, nampi and chayote), sopa negra (black beans and poached egg); and picadillo (meat and vegetable stew).
Costa Rican lesbians and gay men have made significant gains in the last fifteen years. Gay and lesbian life may now be legally protected and thriving, but the lives of lesbians and gay men remain divided between a supportive peer culture and a national culture which still condemns and vilifies them.
Its extended metropolitan area is home to nearly two-thirds of the country’s population, including the majority of lesbians and gay men, who migrate to San José from the monotony and conservatism of rural areas. Costa Rica decriminalised homosexuality between consenting adults in the 1970s. Since then, a series of legal rulings, on a judicial as well as administrative level, have turned things around for lesbians and gay men.
Supreme Court judgements over the last ten years have prohibited bar raids, supported the right of gay saunas to operate, and ensured that people living with AIDS get state-of-the-art medical treatment. But culture changes far more slowly than law, and the traditional Costa Rican Roman Catholic family is still grappling with the concept of a gay son or a lesbian daughter.
In San José, you can choose between any one of a dozen downtown bars and clubs, four saunas, an internet café, and more than a handful of gay friendly restaurants, hotels and other businesses.