Costa Rica is located on the Central American isthmus, 10° North of the equator and 84° West of the Prime Meridian. It borders both the Caribbean Sea (to the east) and the North Pacific Ocean (to the west), with a total of 1,290km of coastline (212km on the Caribbean coast and 1016km on the Pacific).
Costa Rica also borders Nicaragua to the north (309km of border) and Panama to the south-southeast (639km of border). In total, Costa Rica comprises 51,100 kmē of which 50,610 kmē is land and 440 kmē is water, making it slightly smaller than the U.S. state of West Virginia and about half the size of Ireland.
The highest point in the country is Cerro Chirripo, with 3,810 m (approximately 12,515 feet), the second highest peak in Central America, after Volcan Tajumulco in Guatemala. The highest volcano in the country is the Irazu Volcano (3,431 m or 11,257 feet).
Costa Rica also comprises several islands. Cocos Island stands out because of its distance from continental landmass (24 kmē, 500 km from Puntarenas coast), but Chira Island is the biggest island of the country (52 kmē).The largest lake in Costa Rica is Lake Arenal.
The country is highly recognized and praised for its national park system: a developed and progressive system which stresses on ecotourism. Costa Rica protects over 25% of its national territory within national parks.
Costa Rica is a democratic republic with a strong system of constitutional checks and balances. Executive responsibilities are vested in a president, who is the country's center of power. There also are two vice presidents and a 15-member cabinet that includes one of the vice presidents. The president and 57 Legislative Assembly deputies are elected for 4-year terms. A constitutional amendment approved in 1969 limited presidents and deputies to one term, although a deputy may run again for an Assembly seat after sitting out a term.
An amendment to the constitution to allow second presidential terms was proposed and also the constitutionality of the prohibition against a second presidential term has been challenged in the courts. In April 2003 the prohibition was officially recognized, in a highly polemic resolution, as anti-constitutional allowing Oscar Arias (Nobel Peace Prize, 1987) to run for President a second time in the upcoming 2006 elections. Arias is promoter of free trade and supports the free trade agreement with the United States which is the source of a great controversy that might develop in protests around the country in the upcoming months. Costa Rica uses a form of proportional representation to elect its national legislative body.
Governors appointed by the president head the country's seven provinces, but they exercise little power. There are no provincial legislatures. Autonomous state agencies enjoy considerable operational independence; they include the telecommunications and electrical power monopoly, the nationalized commercial banks, the state insurance monopoly, and the social security agency. Costa Rica has no military by constitution and maintains only domestic police and security forces for internal security.