Identification. The country's name is attributed to Columbus's visit in 1502 and that of Gil González in 1522. "Rich Coast" (Costa Rica) was suggested by the abundant gold ornaments the Indians were wearing. By 1539, the territory had become officially known as Costa Rica. It borders with Nicaragua on the north and with Panama in the southeast, with the Atlantic Ocean on the north and east and the Pacific Ocean on the south and west. Tico culture is identified with that of the dominant Hispanic majority. There are social-class and regional variations as well as the influences of other distinctive cultural traditions of the country.
Location. The country lies 10 degrees north of the equator. The land area is 51,100 square kilometers. There is great diversity of elevations. The volcanic mountain ranges Guanacaste, Tilarán, and Central rise, in that order, from the northwest to the center. From the center to the southeast lies the higher, Talamanca range whose highest peak is Chirripó, 3,820 meters above sea level. Fifty-two percent of Costa Ricans live in the central part (3.83 percent of the country's surface), now called Central Valley (formerly Central Plateau), at elevations between 800 and 1,500 meters. At lower elevations, there are plains in the Caribbean lowlands to the north (Alajuela and Limón provinces) and the Pacific lowlands to the west (Guanacaste Province), whereas valleys characterize the south Pacific region. The main rivers are the Tempisque, the Grande de Tárcoles, the Reventazón, the San Juan, the Diquís, and the Sixaola, but smaller rivers and creeks are plentiful. Plant and animal life is diverse and abundant. The main cities are the provincial capitals: San José (also the country's capital), Heredia, Alajuela, Cartago, Liberia, Puerto Puntarenas, and Puerto Limón.
Demography. In 1991 the population was 3,087,700; it is projected to rise to 3,710,656 by the year 2000, and to 5,250,122 by the year 2025. In 1992 population density was 62.0 persons per square kilometer, and life expectancy at birth was 75 for men and 79 for women. The birthrate from 1985 to 1990 was 29.7 and general death rate was 3.9 per thousand; annual growth was 2.6 percent. The infant-mortality rate per 1,000 was 12 in 1992, and household average size 4.4. The literacy rate is 93 percent. In 1992 one out of every four Costa Rican households was classified as being below the poverty line. In genetic terms, Costa Rica has a trihybrid population. The three racial stocks from which this hybrid is derived are the Mongoloid Amerindian, the African Negroid, and the European and Near Eastern Caucasoid. The gene flow for this fusion has taken place over the course of the past 500 years. A study of genetic markers has shown that the Caucasoid component varies between 40 and 60 percent, the Negroid component varies between 10 and 20 percent, and the Amerindian component varies between 15 and 35 percent. In specific samples, the variations of these percentages are explained by regional and socioeconomic conditions.
Linguistic Affiliation. Spanish is the official language. The national dialect is non-Castillian. It uses the pronoun vos rather than tú and particular verb endings for this second-person singular form of address. There are regional and urban-rural variations. English is the foreign language most widely known.