Forests of Costa Rica, the Bigger Picture
To be able to make sense of the forests of Costa Rica, we need to look at the country’s topography and try to paint a picture. As you can see in the map below, there is a high mountain range (with a highest altitude of almost 4000 m) running (roughly) along the middle of the country, sandwiched between both coasts.
We first encounter a wet, low and flat Caribbean coast that supports marshes and lagoons along the coastline. Further inland, we meet with a lowland tropical wet forest, followed by a transition zone of sub-montane forest. Then on the highlands, we find the mountain cloud forests around the centre of the country, covering the highest elevations.
Descending from here onto the pacific side, before we go all the way down to sea level, we encounter the slightly lower mountain range that fringes the Pacific Coast, covered by different types of coastal forests. Due to this topography, the Pacific side is less wet than the Caribbean. In some areas it also receives less precipitation, forming zones of dry forest located towards the North in Guanacaste with a wetter Osa Peninsula to the South. We also need to add to this equation the intensive volcanic activity, which also influences the local climate and vegetation around the volcanoes.
All these factors create a great variety of forests types and other habitats in a relatively small area, that supports the second-to-none rich biodiversity that Costa Rica is known for. But this is not the primary reason for Costa Rica’s great biodiversity. You can find that out on our “Costa Rica’s Wildlife, a snapshot” blog.