Costa Rica’s Mountain Ranges

But first, some background on Costa Rica. It’s located in Central America, south of the Tropic of Cancer, and is roughly 600 miles north of the Equator. The capital, San José, is at 10° N and 84° W.

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Map from WorldAtlas.com

The country of Costa Rica is home to the lowest part of the majestic Sierra Madre mountains, which stretch up to Mexico. They were formed volcanically at the intersection of five tectonic plates where Central America is today. The Coco’s plate subducted underneath the Caribbean plate, which created an arc of volcanic islands. After years of volcanic activity, these filled out with land and became the isthmus that is now Central America.

Volcanic peaks of Guanacaste mountains. Photo from plate-tectonics.narod.ru

Volcanic peaks of Guanacaste mountains. Photo from plate-tectonics.narod.ru

Although the volcanic mountain formation dates back 65 million years ago, the land bridge is only about 3 million years old. The section of this volcanic belt that lies in Costa Rica is separated into four individual mountain ranges. These are the Guanacaste Mountains, Costa Rica’s northernmost mountain range; the Tilaran Mountains and the Central Mountains, both located in the midsection of the country; and the Talamanca Mountains in the southeast.

Veragua Rainforest in Talamanca Mountains. Photo from veraguarainforest.com

Veragua Rainforest in Talamanca Mountains. Photo from veraguarainforest.com

Costa Rica’s highest peak is called Cerro Chirripo, located in the northern Talamanca Mountains. Cerro Chirripo stands 12,500 feet tall.  This peak is worth mentioning in my opinion because it’s not only the highest point in Costa Rica, but it is also the highest point in over a thousand miles between Guatemala’s volcanoes and the Andes Mountains in South America.

Photo from www.summitpost.org

View from the summit of Cerro Chirripo. Photo from http://www.summitpost.org

The Sierra Madre mountains still show tons of volcanic activity today due to the ever-shifting tectonic plates and subduction occurring below Central America. There are over 200 volcanic formations in Costa Rica, but only 5 of those are currently considered active ones. They are the Turrialba, Poás (which erupted in February), Rincón de la Vieja, Arenal, and Irazú.

Sierra Madre mountain range and volcanic chain date back up to 65 million years ago. Photo from http://plate-tectonic.narod.ru

Sierra Madre mountain range and volcanic chain date back up to 65 million years ago. Photo from http://plate-tectonic.narod.ru

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