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The population of Costa Rica is around 3.8 million, and over 300,00 live in San Jose. The small fertile valley of Meseta Central (Central Valley) holds around two-thirds of the population who reside in the cities of San Jose, Alajuela and Heredia and the surrounding small towns and settlements. The official language is Spanish and more than 76% are Catholic.
Unlike the nations to its north and south, the Costa Rican civilization did not develop until after colonisation in 1562. Prior to that it’s indigenous population were hunters and gatherers, with few fixed settlements. Agricultural development was slow, however by the late 18th century exports of wheat and tobacco allowed conditions in the colony to improve. Whilst Central America gained independence from the Spanish in September 1821, Costa Rica did not find out until a month later! Following a brief civil war, Costa Rica joined the confederation of Central American States, rather than the newly independent Mexico. Unlike other Central American nations, Costa Rica has largely enjoyed a stable political system based on a democratic republic government. The economy depends on tourism, agriculture (coffee, bananas, tobacco) and electronics exports.
Costa Rica is just 240 kilometres (150 miles) wide, from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean, and 400 kilometres (250 miles) long from Nicaragua to the Panama border. The country is divided by a series of mountains and volcanoes, with the Pacific coastal plain being a lot narrower than the Caribbean side where San Jose is situated. Within its borders are more than a dozen volcanoes, dry savannas, tropical dry and lush rain forests, cool cloud forests, several mountain ranges, countless streams and rivers and over 1,200 kilometres (755 miles) of coastline stretched along two oceans.
There are four major mountain ranges; Guanacaste and Tilaran in the north, and Central and Talamanca in the South. Within these mountain ranges are a series of active, dormant and extinct volcanoes. The highest peak is Mt Chirripo (3797m). Nearly a quarter of Costa Rica’s territory is within national parks, biological reserves, wildlife refuges and other protected areas. The nation’s twelve distinct ecological zones are home to an vast array of flora and fauna which includes four percent of all known species on Earth. 850 species of birds, 600 species of butterflies, 1,200 species of orchids and 237 species of mammals, (including three-toed sloths, giant anteaters, coatimundis, peccaries and four species of monkeys) are found in Costa Rica.