Things to Know

Of all the provinces of Costa Rica, Guanacaste may well be the richest in unique features. This northwestern province is bordered by the Cordellera de Guanacaste and Cordellera de Tilarán mountain ranges as well as the Pacific Ocean and Nicaragua. At 10,140 km2, it is the largest of the country’s seven provinces, yet is one of the least populated. Only 250,000 people reside in the entire region.


Guanacaste, named after the national tree, is also the driest province and hottest. Rainfall here measures only 65” annually, while the temperature averages 85°F (28°C). Rainy season, which begins in May and ends in November, changes the countryside to verdant green. From December through April, the dry season, the fields of tall grasslands turn gold; some trees lose their leaves and give way to colourful flowers. This is the best time for sun-worshippers because the skies are clear blue and the papagayo winds quickly disperse what few clouds may appear.

Guanancaste offers visitors a variety of landscapes to visit, all within a few hours drive. This is just one of the reasons travellers and snowbirds choose Guanacaste has their Costa Rican destination of choice. The Nicoya peninsula is surrounded by countless beaches, some accessible by land, others only by boat. Numerous national  parks preserve a rich variety of flora and fauna for all to enjoy.

From 1570, when the first successful colonization took place, until 1787, Guanacaste was autonomous. Though it finally became part of Costa Rica in 1812, its long-standing autonomy, Pre-Columbian heritage and geographic isolation from the rest of the country, have all contributed to its cultural differences. Today, the economy of the region is based on cattle, agriculture and, increasingly, tourism. Its beef industry dates back to the colonial period. The establishment of the hacienda system here flourished due to the dryer climate, abundant Indian population and wide sweeping territory.


Location: Central America, bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean, between Nicaragua and Panama. It is not an island.

Geographic coordinates: 10 00 N, 84 00 W

Area: 51,100 sq km; land:50,660 sq km; water:440 sq km (note: includes Isla del Coco).

Border countries: North: Nicaragua (border-309 km), South: Panama (border-330 km)

Climate: tropical and subtropical; dry season (December to April); rainy season (May to November); cooler in highlands

Terrain: coastal plains separated by rugged mountains including over 100 volcanic cones, of which several are major volcanoes

Elevation extremes: lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0m; highest point: Cerro Chirripo 3,810m

Natural resources: hydropower

Land use: arable land: 4.41%; permanent crops: 5.88%; other: 89.71% (2001);

Irrigated land: 1,260 sq km (1998 est.)

Natural hazards: occasional earthquakes, hurricanes along Atlantic coast; frequent flooding of lowlands at onset of rainy season and landslides; active volcanoes

Environment - current issues: deforestation and land use change, largely a result of the clearing of land for cattle ranching and agriculture; soil erosion; coastal marine pollution; fisheries protection; solid waste management; air pollution

Environment - international agreements:

  • party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Wetlands, Whaling
  • signed, but not ratified: Marine Life Conservation

Geography - note: four volcanoes, two of them active, rise near the capital of San Jose in the center of the country; one of the volcanoes, Irazu, erupted destructively in 1963-65

Population: 3,956,507 (July 2004 est.)

Life expectancy: male: 74.07 years; female: 79.33 years (2004 est.)

Total fertility rate: 2.33 children born/woman (2004 est.)

Nationality: noun:Costa Rican(s); adjective: Costa Rican

Ethnic groups: white (including mestizo) 94%, black 3%, Amerindian 1%, Chinese 1%, other 1%

Religions: Roman Catholic 76.3%, Evangelical 13.7%, Jehovah's Witnesses 1.3%, other Protestant 0.7%, other 4.8%, none 3.2%

Languages:Spanish (official), English

Literacy: (definition: age 15 and over can read and write) total population: 96%; male: 95.9%; female: 96.1% (2003 est.)

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