Latin America & Caribbean

Costa Rica country profile

Map of Costa Rica

Bordered by Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south, the tiny republic of Costa Rica has coastlines on the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea.

One of the most prosperous and politically stable countries in the region, Costa Rica is the only Central American state without a permanent standing army, after it was abolished in 1948.

It also enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the region, although a significant percentage of Costa Ricans - or Ticos - continue to live below the poverty line.

Known for its beaches, mountain ranges, volcanoes and varied wildlife, Costa Rica's rich biodiversity makes it a popular destination for eco-tourists. Traditionally a producer of agricultural goods such as coffee and bananas, its economy has diversified and tourism now ranks as the country's number one earner.

FACTS

Republic of Costa Rica

Capital: San Jose

  • Population 4.8 million

  • Area 51,100 sq km (19,730 sq miles)

  • Major languages Spanish (official), English

  • Major religion Christianity

  • Life expectancy 77 years (men), 82 years (women)

  • Currency Costa Rican colon

Getty Images

LEADER

President: Luis Guillermo Solis

Image copyright Getty Images

Luis Guillermo Solis was elected president in April 2014.

As candidate of the moderate Citizen Action Party (PAC), Mr Solis won the run-off election with 78% after his main rival, Johnny Arraya of the ruling National Liberation Party (PLN), withdrew after opinion polls showed he would be soundly defeated. The PLN had been beset by allegations of widespread corruption and economic mismanagement under outgoing President Laura Chinchilla.

An academic and former diplomat, during his campaign Mr Solis pledged to bring transparency and humility to the presidency. Not long after coming to power, he passed a decree banning plaques bearing his name and portraits of him being hung in government offices.

His victory ended Costa Rica's traditional two-party system, which for decades saw power traded between the social democratic PLN and the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC)

MEDIA

Image copyright Getty Images

Costa Rica enjoys a vibrant media scene, with nine major newspapers, private and public TV stations and a busy FM radio dial. Cable TV is widely available.

The country "is very proud of its reputation as having the best human rights and freedom of expression in Latin America", says Reporters Without Borders. The watchdog has hailed moves towards decriminalising media offences.

There were more than 4 million internet users - 88% of the population - by November 2015 (Internetworldstats). Access is unrestricted.

TIMELINE

Key dates in Costa Rica's history:

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Costa Rica has several active volcanoes

1502 - Christopher Colombus sights Costa Rica. Spanish colonization begins in 1522. By 1563, Spain has established the colonial capital of Cartago.

1821 - Costa Rica declares independence from Spain and joins the Mexican empire.

1823 - Costa Rica becomes a province of the Central American Federation along with El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

1838 - Costa Rica becomes a fully independent country after the disintegration of the United Provinces of Central America.

1849-59 - Juan Rafael Mora leads the fight against William Walker, an American who with an army of mercenaries, tries but fails to take control of the region.

1948 - Former president Rafael Angel Calderon loses the election by a slim margin and refuses to accept newly-elected president Otillio Ulate. A bloody 44-day civil war ensues and a temporary government led by socialist landowner Jose Figueres emerges.

1948-49 - A new constitution is adopted, which includes the dissolution of Costa Rica's armed forces.

1955 - Border skirmishes with Nicaragua are resolved through mediation by the Organization of American States (OAS).

1987 - President Oscar Arias Sanchez wins the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending civil wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua. He wins a second term in 2006.

2010 - Laura Chinchilla becomes Costa Rica's first female president.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Eco-tourism is important for Costa Rica's economy

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