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Costa Rica

colorful birds, highest standard of living, Christopher Columbus, Computer chips, cloud forests

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Costa Rica, country in southern Central America, between Nicaragua and Panama. It has coasts along the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Costa Rica, which means “rich coast” in Spanish, was named by Christopher Columbus and his explorers, who expected to find gold here. Their hopes were misplaced, and Costa Rica became one of Spain’s poorest colonies. The situation began to improve after Costa Rica gained independence in 1821. Today, the country is known for having the highest standard of living in Central America as well as the highest literacy rate and longest lifespan. Costa Rica has had a stable democracy since the late 1800s.

More people are of Spanish descent in Costa Rica than anywhere else in Central America. Most of the Native American inhabitants died off or fled after Spanish settlers arrived. Today, the country has small mestizo (mixed Spanish and Native American) and black populations.

Most of Costa Rica’s people live in the interior highlands rather than along the coasts. The country’s capital, San Jose, and other large cities are in the central highlands. The most fertile farmland is also here.

For years Costa Rica was known for its two principal crops: coffee and bananas. Although these crops remain important, Costa Rica’s economy today depends more on industry and tourism than on agriculture. Computer chips are among the products manufactured in the country. Beaches, “cloud forests” high in the mountains, and national parks filled with colorful birds, butterflies, and plants attract many tourists to Costa Rica each year.


For younger readers

Collard, Sneed B., III. Monteverde: Science and Scientists in a Costa Rican Cloud Forest. Franklin Watts, 1997. For readers in grades 7 and up.

Foley, Erin. Costa Rica. Benchmark, 1997. For readers in grades 4 to 7.

Morrison, Marion. Costa Rica. Children's Press, 1998. For middle school readers.

Costa Rica

Beletsky, Les. Costa Rica: The Ecotraveller's Wildlife Guide. Academic, 1998. A richly illustrated guide to Costa Rica's natural wonders.

Honey, Martha. Hostile Acts: U.S. Policy in Costa Rica in the 1980s. University Press of Florida, 1994. A definitive study of the effects of the Contra war in Costa Rica.

Paige, Jeffery M. Coffee and Power: Revolution and the Rise of Democracy in Central America. Harvard University Press, 1997. The coffee elites and political influence in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.

Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw. Children Save the Rain Forest. Cobblehill, 1996. Explains the importance of Costa Rica's rainforest, including its natural structure and its plant and animal life; for younger readers.

Seligson, Mitchell A. Peasants of Costa Rica and the Development of Agrarian Capitalism. University of Wisconsin Press, 1980. How Costa Rica's peasantry survived capitalism.


Woodward, Ralph Lee, Jr., A.B., M.A., Ph.D. Professor of History, Tulane University. Author of Central America, A Nation Divided and other books.

Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2009. © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation.

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