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Geography and Climate

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Geography

Costa Rica is a long, narrow country (only 115 km, or 70 miles, wide in some spots) that spans the Central American isthmus. Like even narrower Panama to its south and broader Nicaragua to its north, it borders both the Atlantic and Pacific. At 51,000 sq km (19,650 sq miles), it is slightly smaller than the USA's West Virginia, slightly larger than Switzerland. Costa Rica's population of about 3.5 million is concentrated in its capital's metropolitan area (San José, with nearly a million people) and a few other cities and larger towns - Alajuela to the capital's northwest, Cartago to its southeast, Limón on the Atlantic coast, Golfito on the Pacific.

The geography of Costa Rica can be summed up in a single sentence: A backbone-like central mountain range that runs the length of the country, northwest to southeast, separates eastern (Caribbean, or Atlantic) and western (Pacific) coastal lowlands. The land area is roughly evenly divided between lowland regions and middle and higher-elevation mountainous regions. The Caribbean lowlands and foothills of the interior mountains (to 500m, 1600 ft, in elevation) are wide in the north, near Nicaragua extending 120 km (75 miles) eastwards from the coast, and narrow in the south, in spots near Panama only a few km wide.

The vegetation over this entire region is (or was, before cutting) mainly tropical rainforest. Rainfall over the Caribbean lowlands is at least moderate all year (a total of 330 to 400 cm, 130 to 160 inches), with the heaviest rains occurring from November through January; the rainy season often lasts from May through early January. Temperatures are distinctly warm, daily averages ranging between 22 and 27.C (72 to 80.F); daily maximum temperatures, of course, are much higher - 30 to 3S.C (86 to 9S.F).

Parks and reserves within this area that are detailed in this book are Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge (CNWR), the lower-elevation portion of Braulio Carrillo National Park (BCNP), La Selva Biological Reserve (LSBR, which abuts BCNP), Tortuguero National Park (TONP), and Cahuita National Park (CHNP). Several of Costa Rica's major rivers flow from the mountains through the Caribbean lowlands to the ocean, including the San Carlos, Sarapiquí, and Reventazón.

The central mountainous region of the country consists of four separate ranges: from north to south, they are the Guanacaste Range (Cordillera de Guanacaste), the Tilarán Range, the Central Range, and the Talamanca Range. San José, the capital, lies in the Central Valley, at a middle elevation (1170 m, 3840 ft), between the Cordillera Central and Cordillera de Talamanca. Elevations range from 500m (1600ft) to many peaks that rise above 3000m (9800 ft); a Talamancan peak, Chirripó Grande, at 3820m (12,530 ft), is the country's highest spot.

Climate

Along the lower and mid-elevation slopes of the mountains the primary vegetation type is rainforest, some areas being wetter than others. In places, cloud forest predominates, where low-lying clouds bathe the forests most days, rendering them dark, cool, and moist. On the Caribbean side of the mountains, between 500 and 1600m (1600 and 5200 ft), moderate temperatures prevail, with daily averages usually between 16º and 22º C (61º to 72ºF); daily maximum temperatures are higher. Rainfall, often heaviest in September and October, varies from 150 to 250 cm (60 to 100 inches) per year. Temperatures are generally a bit warmer, and rainfall a bit less, at the same altitudes on the Pacific slopes.

At high elevations, above 1600m (5200 ft), average temperatures are cool (10º to 16ºC, or 8Oº to 61ºF). Parks of interest in this geographic region are Rincón de la Vieja National Park (RVNP), Arenal Volcano National Park (ARVL), Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve (MVCR), Poás Volcano National Park (PONP), Braulio Carrillo National Park (BCNP), the Las Cruces OTS station and its Wilson Botanical Garden (WlBG), and La Amistad National Park (LANP).

The Pacific lowlands can be divided into two regions: the hot and dry northern half (including the Guanacaste Plains, Tempisque River Valley and the Nicoya Peninsula), and the wetter southern half, a narrow ribbon of coastal valleys and river basins that includes the Osa Peninsula. In the North, a dry lowland climate that includes a severe 5- to 6-month-long dry season (November to April) supports tropical dry forests. Average rainfall per year over this area varies from 130 to 230 cm (50 to 90 inches; often heaviest in September and October), and daily average temperatures are in the 22º to 28ºC (72º to 82ºF) range.

Daily maximum temperatures are in the low to mid 30sºC; 90sºF. Parks in this region are Santa Rosa National Park (SRNP)and Palo Verde National Park (PVNP). The southern Pacific lowlands, from the Carara Biological Reserve (CABR)all the way to the Panamanian border, have a wet climate that supports tropical moist forests. Yearly rainfall is high, depending on location averaging between 250 and 400 cm (100 to 160 inches). In many parts, rains are most intense in October and November; between January and May there is a 2- to 4-month-Iong dry season.

Average daily temperatures also vary, depending on region and elevation, but are in the range of 21º to 27ºC (71º to 81ºF); daily maximums average about 32ºC (89ºF). Parks in the southern Pacific lowlands include CABR,Manuel Antonio National Park (MANP) and Corcovado National Park (CONP). Visitors should keep in mind that, even during rainy parts of the year, seldom does it rain all day. A typical pattern in the Caribbean lowlands, for instance, is sunny mornings but afternoon showers. Also remember that, in contrast to temperate regions, where season largely determines temperature, in tropical Costa Rica, elevation has the most important effect - the lower you are, the warmer you will be.

If you want to read about Eco-Tourism, Ecology, Behavior, Breeding and more of Costa Ricas' Fauna, we recommend to buy the Travelers' Wildlife Guide of Costa Rica by Les Beletzky (or Belesky) with beautiful illustrations by Davis Dennis. This priceless guide is our constant companion, when we travel around Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua.
To buy the complete book visit Interlink Books

The team of Discovery Travel World wishes you the best of times in our little paradise called Costa Rica.


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