Costa Rica is home to one of the oldest democracies in the Americas. The country has been noted for its friendliness and preoccupation with peace. Its policy of active neutrality has twice earned it the nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1987 this prestigious award was presented to then-president of the Republic Dr. Oscar Arias. This, the fact that over a quarter of its territory enjoys protection in the ever-growing network of national parks and reserves, its continued dedication to environmental protection, and many other reasons answer why Costa Rica has repeatedly been referred to as the Switzerland of the Americas.

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Located on the isthmus between North and South America.

Sits between 8 and 11 degrees North Latitude.

Bordered to the north by Nicaragua; to the south by Panama; to the west by the Pacific Ocean; to the east by the Caribbean Sea.

Land area of 19,730 square miles (about the size of West Virginia).

288 miles maximum length.

161 miles maximum width along northern border.

74 miles minimum width along southern border.

631 miles of Pacific coastline.

132 miles of Atlantic coastline.

Four major mountain ranges running roughly northwest to southeast, all of volcanic origin

Highest peak is Cerro Chirripó at 12,536 feet.

Over two hundred volcanoes have been identified; around a dozen are classified as active.

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Democracy similar to the United States.

Three branches of government:
-Executive- president and two vice presidents, plus advisors.
-Legislative- 57 deputies.
-Judicial- 17 magistrates on the Supreme Court; plus the lower courts.

President and deputies are elected by popular vote to a four-year term. No reelection privileges.

Magistrates are appointed by the Legislature for an eight-year term.

Elections Tribunal is an independent organization to oversee elections.

Political candidates generally belong to two major parties, the PLN and PUSC. However, there are several lesser parties active in politics and elections.

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The social security system was established in 1941 and provides services to over 80% of the population.

Approximately 10% of the national budget is used for public health matters.

There are 30 hospitals and 116 clinics (providing a total of over 7,000 beds) in a network of public and private institutions.

Life expectancy is between 72 and 77 years.

The public water system provides good quality water around all major cities.

Although most medications are available here, as a security measure you should pack sufficient quantities of any prescription drugs that you may be taking.

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The Spanish first came to Costa Rica in the 16th century, after Cristóbal Colón (Christopher Columbus) landed near Limón on the Atlantic coast in 1502.

Gained independence from Spain on September 15, 1821. The Pacto de Concordia, the first constitution, was adopted. This led to the celebration of the first elections in December of 1821.

The direct vote was established in 1913 and secret balloting began in 1925.

A declaration of absolute independence as a sovereign State was issued in 1848.

After a brief civil war in 1948, a new constitution was initiated on November 7, 1949.

The constitution of 1949, still in effect today, included the prohibition of a standing army.

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A bio-geographical land bridge between the North and South American continents.

Scientists claim that Costa Rica has, for its size, more species than any other terrestrial habitat in the world.

Twelve distinctive life zones harbor an abundant variety of floral and faunal life forms.

Over 10,000 species of higher plants (4% of the earth's total) have been identified to date.

As for fauna, consider: there are over 200 species of mammals, including six species of wild cat, 160 species of amphibians, over 200 of reptiles, 1000 of butterflies, and 850 species of birds (more birds than in the entire North American continent).

Dedication to the preservation of its natural treasure has led to the governmental protection, through the National Parks and Forestry Services, of nearly 3 million acres (25% of the national territory), in 74 protection units throughout the country.

Several dozen private preservation areas and protection zones encompass thousands of additional acres.

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These are the official State holidays in Costa Rica. Other occasions are celebrated with parties and carnivals or family get-togethers--the "festejo" that each town has to honor its patron saint; various produce fairs; arts and crafts festivals; Valentine's Day; Halloween, etc. Costa Ricans can always find a reason for a good party!

  • January 1 - New Year's Day
  • April 11 - Juan Santamaría Day
  • May 1 International Day of the Worker
  • July 25 - Anexation of Guanacaste
  • August 2 - Virgen of Los Angeles (Costa Rica's Patron)
  • August 12 - Mother's Day
  • September 15 - Independence Day
  • October 12 - Day of the Cultures (Columbus Day)
  • December 25 - Christmas
  • Easter - The week before Easter Sunday is an unofficial vacation time. Much of the country shuts down. Thursday and Friday of this week only essential services function; even many of the public bus routes cease operation.
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