From the time Columbus discovered it until quite recently, Costa Rica has
been relatively unknown except to naturalists, those who had business there,
and the most ardent travelers. Certainly it was not an important tourist
destination, though in recent years, many American and European retirees have
discovered that it is a beautiful and stable country with a pleasant climate,
and one in which a moderate income buys a high standard of living. In fact,
with its strong emphasis on democracy and its well-developed social systems,
not to mention its peace-loving (Costa Rica maintains no army), educated, and
friendly populace, those who do know this country often refer to it as the
Switzerland of Central America.
What has put Costa Rica on the traveler's map in recent years is the growing
interest in eco-tourism and soft adventure travel. Twenty-seven percent of
Costa Rica is designated as national park or wildlife refuge, or is under some
other form of public or private protection. No other country in the world can
claim this accomplishment.
About the size of West Virginia, Costa Rica's topography is extremely
diverse, featuring a central spine of lush volcanic mountains sloping to
coastal plains on either side: 630 miles of rugged Pacific coastline on one
side, and 125 miles of swampy, sandy shoreline on the Caribbean side.
Thirty-two major rivers flow from these mountains to the sea. It is home to
numerous active and dormant volcanoes. And, with elevations running from sea
level to 12,000 feet, its microclimates range from semi-arid grasslands and dry
forests to steamy mangrove swamps; rain and cloud forests; verdant, eternally
spring-like valleys; and even alpine highlands.
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