First, let us begin by mentioning some of Costa Rica's most vital statistics. The area of Costa Rica is 50,895 square kilometers and is populated by some three million people. The capital of this small country is San Jose, which has a population of 300,000 people. The currency is the colon, in which one U.S. dollar equals about 215 colons. Costa Rica's official language is Spanish; and more than 90 percent of Costa Ricans are Roman Catholic (www.greenarrow.com).
Costa Rica enjoys a spring-like weather all year round. The average temperature in the Central Valley is 72 degrees Fahrenheit, and the temperature near the coasts ranges from 70 degrees to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of the abundance of microclimates, there are more than 12 ecosystems in Costa Rica. These have produced one of the widest varieties of fauna and flora in the whole world.
Costa Rica borders to the North with Nicaragua, to the South with Panama, and the East and West with the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean respectively. The Caribbean coast is 255 kilometers long, while the Pacific coast is 1,103 kilometers long (www.westnet.html). Along with the beautiful beaches, lined with white and black sand, the country is divided by a backbone of volcanoes and mountains. Costa Rica has four distinct mountain ranges -- Guanacaste and Tilar in the North, Central and Talamanca in the South. There are also about 7 active volcanoes plus 12 or more that are dormant or extinct. Earth tremors and small earthquakes are felt in the country from time to time. San Jose and a few neighboring cities lie in the middle of the Meseta Central or Central Valley. Almost two-thirds of the nation's population live in this small, fertile valley (www.greenarrow.com).
Now that you know what Costa Rica entails, let us move on to how it became this beautiful tourist country. Costa Rica was rediscovered by Christopher Columbus in 1502, on his fourth trip to the Americas. The Indians who lived there told stories about deposits of gold and other precious metals supposedly mined in the region. The Spanish explorers were impressed by this information, by the abundant vegetation, and by the gold jewelry adornments worn by the natives. As a result, Columbus named this land Costa Rica, or Rich Coast (www.westnet.html). The explorers, however, found that the area had little mineral wealth. Despite this finding, many of the Spaniards stayed to become farmers in the Central Highlands. In 1564, Governor Juan Vasquez de Coronado founded the first permanent settlement at Cartago. Many of the Spanish tried to enslave the Indians, but most of the tribes fought strongly to stay free.
From Columbus' time until the 18th century, Costa Rica's colonization was passed over due to disease and hostile Indians. However, by the late part of the 18th century, the settlements had been colonized and exports of wheat and tobacco were making economic conditions better. All of Central America remained under Spanish rule through 1821. The next year, Central America joined the Mexican Empire. In 1823, the Central American states withdrew from Mexico and formed the United Provinces of Central America. When the Union began to fall apart, Costa Rica soon declared its independence in 1838 (www.westnet.html).
The next important era began with the election of Dr. Rafael Angel Calderon Guardia in 1940. Some of his policies included land reform, a guaranteed minimum wage, and progressive taxation. Unfortunately, when Calderon's United Social Christian Party refused to step down after losing the 1948 election, a civil war erupted. The anti-Caldron forces were led by Jose Maria (Don Pepe) Figueres Ferrer. Don Pepe won the war with the support of the Guatemalan and Cuban governments. This war lasted 40 days and cost 2,000 lives. After winning the war, he became the head of the Founding Junta of the Second Republic of Costa Rica. Don Pepe made many reforms which included banning the Communist Party, giving women the right to vote, granting full citizenship to blacks, abolishing the armed forces, establishing a term limit for presidents, and nationalizing the banks and insurance companies. His deeds set the scene for the social and economic progress that would earn Costa Rica the reputation of a peaceful and stable island of democracy in one to the world's most politically unstable, and often war torn regions. Don Pepe, who died in 1990, is considered a national hero (www.greenarrow.com).
Costa Rica has been nominated 12 times for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1986 Oscar Arias Sanchez was elected president on the platform of peace. His steadfast efforts to end the civil wars in this region were rewarded when the five Central American presidents signed his peace plan in Guatamala City in 1987, which in turn, earned him the Nobel Peace Prize (www.westnet.html).
In 1989 Costa Rica celebrated its 100th anniversary as a democratic republic. The army was abolished in 1948 by means of a new Constitution promoted by Don Pepe. Under the 1949 constitution, all citizens are guaranteed equality before the law, the right to own property, and the right to petition and assembly. Because of these freedoms, Costa Rica is now considered one of the most developed nations in the region (www.greenwarrow.com).
There are many reasons why Costa Rica has a status of being the most advanced ecotourism destination in Latin America. First of all, Costa Rica has acquired the reputation as a stable, relatively prosperous, and a safe country for visitors. Secondly, the country possesses an unusually high environmental diversity in spite of its small size. This is a result of its location between North and South America and its extreme range of elevation. Finally, Costa Rica has established an extensive system of public and private protected areas representing most of its diversity. Approximately one-fifth of Costa Rica's land receives protection from deforestation (Croall, 170).
Foreign tourism had grown most rapidly in the 1970's, when growth averaged 11.2 percent annually. Presently, tourism in Costa Rica is the largest source of income, followed by the banana and coffee industry (Croall, 25). For many years, Costa Rica has been known for peace and democracy, a high level of education and health care, and stable pleasant weather (Croall, 26). Because of these key elements, tourism will continue to flourish and dominate in Costa Rica.