• The Republic of Costa Rica lies on the Central American isthmus between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, consisting of a mountainous backbone – known as the Continental Divide, which rises to 3819m at the summit of Cerro Chirripó, its highest point – flanked by low-lying coastal strips. The country’s area of 51,100 square kilometres (which includes the 24 square kilometres of Isla del Coco, 535km southwest of the mainland) makes it slightly larger than the Netherlands, slightly smaller than West Virginia.
• Costa Rica’s population is largely of Spanish extraction, though there’s a substantial community of English-speaking Costa Ricans of African origin around the Caribbean coast, along with 64,000 indigenous peoples. Costa Rica is a young country: out of its population of 4.7 million, around a quarter are aged under 15; men currently enjoy a life expectancy of 77, women 82.
• The country’s main exports are coffee and bananas, though in recent years income from these products has been overtaken by that from tourism. Despite widespread poverty (around twenty percent of the population), the free and compulsory primary education system means that the country boasts a literacy rate of 96 percent, the best in Central America.
• Costa Rica’s wildlife is mindboggling: the country is home to around 250 species of mammal (including ten percent of the world’s bat population), over 400 varieties of reptile and amphibian, nearly 900 species of bird and a staggering 250,000 types of insect, including a quarter of the world’s known butterflies.
• Costa Rica is set in one of the most geologically active areas on earth. The country is home to some 112 volcanoes, though only five (including the major visitor attractions of Volcán Poás and Volcán Irazú) are considered active – Volcán Arenal, for so long the most active volcano in the country, has been in a resting phase since July 2010.
• There are around 1500 earthquakes in Costa Rica each year, although only a small proportion of these are actually felt and even fewer still are strong enough to cause significant damage – the worst incident in recent times was the earthquake that struck near Cinchona, 50km north of San José, in January 2009, when forty people were killed.
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