Costa Rica Geography

What Costa Rica Geography will Ecotourists Encounter?

Though Costa Rica is densely covered in tropical forests, which obscure many of the smaller features at least when viewed from the air, this small but richly vital tropical paradise has a rugged geography which speaks of a dramatic volcanic past. This geography contributes to the biodiversity of this amazing section of the Neotropics, with high mountains where elfin forest gives way to cloud forest slightly further down the heights.

Costa Rica’s general geography is that of a broad isthmus between the Caribbean Ocean on the east and the Pacific Ocean on the west and southwest. This isthmus rises from mangrove swamps along the coasts to a central mountain ridge composed of mostly extinct, and several active, volcanoes. A good understanding of the topography of this leafy land will help you choose the best habitat to visit for your style of ecotourism.

One of the primary factors to remember as regards Costa Rica’s geography is that it is extremely detailed and varied. Costa Rica is not a land of uniformity – there is nearly as much diversity in land forms here as there is in plant or animal life.

What are the Coastal Areas in Costa Rica’s Geography?

Costa Rica’s geography includes coasts in both directions, facing towards the Caribbean and the Pacific. Though both of these coasts are technically “tropical lowlands” habitats, the Pacific coast is better suited to ecotourism and tourism in general. Mangroves thrive along the western rim of Costa Rica’s land, forming a maze of waterways that are inhabited by many waterfowl and are an excellent area for boat and kayaking expeditions.

The Pacific coast also features a number of pleasant beaches, many of which have had resorts and tourist retreats constructed near them. This mixed terrain offers plenty of opportunities for every kind of enjoyment, from surfing and boating to quiet contemplation and yoga on the beach with the silky swells of the Pacific extending to the remote horizon.

The eastern coast of Costa Rica is far less appealing from the point of view of ecotourism. There are only scattered stands of red mangroves, and this area does not have the same unique appeal as the western coast for this reason.

How is Costa Rica’s Geography Modified by the Interior’s Mountains?

Although coastal plains lie along both sides of Costa Rica, the interior of the country is mountainous, with a portion of the Central America Andes running through the nation from northwest to southeast. This rugged landscape, with its high peaks, long river valleys descending towards both coasts, waterfalls, and wide range of landforms, accounts for the great diversity of habitats to be found in the country.

Because of the flow of winds in tropical regions, the majority of rainfall is on the eastern side of the mountain range, where moisture from the Caribbean condenses and falls as the air is raised and cooled by flowing up the mountainsides. This is much the same phenomenon as that which, for example, produces the temperate rain forests of Oregon in the United States, though in that case the rainfall is heaviest on the west because of prevailing winds in the northern latitudes.

The eastern flanks of the mountains are thickly forested with rain forest thanks to the colossal rainfall on this side of the central cordillera. Cloud forest exists at higher altitudes, while the tops of the highest peaks are bare or nearly so.

What are the Characteristics of Western Costa Rica Geography?

The mountain range between the eastern and western coasts of Costa Rica includes some one hundred volcanoes, all but four of which are extinct. Although fire still burns in the maws of these four volcanoes, eruptions are infrequent and are not likely to pose a hazard to ecotourists.

The western slopes of the mountains are drier than the east, since they are in the “rain shadow” of the peaks. This is not to say that they are utterly parched, but dry tropical forest prevails here and offers a considerably different scene for those who visit this area. The Central Valley is the most populous area of the country and is the least attractive zone for ecotourism, but there is much more to see beyond it, since close to 90% of the country’s land area remains undeveloped.