Costa Rica

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 General Information

Waterfall, San Vicente,San Carlos, Costa Rica
Waterfall, San Vicente,San Carlos, Costa Rica


The Republic of Costa Rica is in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua to the north, Panama to the southeast, the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Caribbean Sea to the east, and Ecuador to the south of Cocos Island. It has a population of around 4.9 million, of whom nearly a quarter live in the metropolitan area of the capital and largest city, San Jose. It has a land area of 19,560 sq mi (50,660 sq km).

Costa Rica has three main topographic regions. The central highlands, extending from northwest to southeast, reach elevations of more than 3,660 m south of San José; the highest point in the country is Chirripó Grande (3,810 m. Four volcanoes, two of them active, rise near the capital city; one of these volcanoes, Irazú (3,432 m), erupted destructively between 1963 and 1965. Nestled in the highlands is the Meseta Central, with an elevation of 900–1,200 m, covering some 2,000 sq km of fairly level, fertile terrain. Half of the population, the centres of culture and government, four of the six main cities, and the bulk of the coffee industry are found on the plateau.

 The Atlantic coastal plain, on the Caribbean side of the highlands, comprises about 30% of Costa Rica's territory and is low, swampy, hot, excessively rainy, and heavily forested. The Pacific slope, some 40% of the country's area, resembles the Caribbean lowlands, but to the northwest is a dry area producing cattle and grain. Fifteen small rivers drain Costa Rica.

 Costa Rica has two seasons: the wet season, from May to November, and the dry season, from December to April.

 The capital is San Jose and the total population of Costa Rica is 4.938 million (2014, World Bank).


For more information see:


 Current Issues and Challenges in Wastewater Management

Oxidation Lagoon, Costa Rica
Oxidation Lagoon, Costa Rica


 (Sources: “Regional Sectoral Overview of Wastewater Management in the Wider Caribbean Region. Situational Analysis” prepared by UNEP-CEP/RCU in 2010;Management of Excreta and Wastewater, Current Situation and Prospects in Costa Rica”, developed in the Central Forum and Dominican Republic Water Supply and Sanitation (FOCARD-APS) of the Central American Integration System (SICA) with the support of the Swiss Cooperation, 2013.)

  •  There has been significant progress made by Costa Rica in increasing access to water for human consumption and improved sanitation. In 2007, 99 per cent of the urban population and 96 per cent of the rural population had access to an improved source of water, while 82 per cent of the national population had access to safe drinking water. Approximately 98 per cent of the urban and rural population had access to a source of improved sanitation. The results achieved place Costa Rica among the most advanced countries in the Latin American and Caribbean region (UNHRC, 2009).
  • However, there are serious disparities existing in some provinces and districts of Costa Rica with regard to access to safe drinking water and sanitation. An estimated 18 per cent of the population still does not have access to potable water owing to lack of maintenance of existing infrastructures, inefficient management and operation of aqueducts, and the absence of programmes to monitor water quality. Regarding sanitation, coverage at the national level reaches 99.38% of the population (4, 275,041 people). Sanitary sewerage services cover 25.56% (1, 099,518 people) and 73.82% (3,175,523 people) have tanks, septic tank and latrines. Only 0.39% of the population (167,767 people) have no coverage and the type of management carried out by 0.23% of the population (9,894 people) is unknown. Indigenous peoples and persons belonging to other marginalized and vulnerable groups, including persons living in poverty, Afro-descendants and migrant workers, often have limited or no access to potable water and adequate sanitation (UNHRC, 2009).
  •  For many years the Government placed greater emphasis upon expanding the coverage of water supply while the development of wastewater infrastructure received little attention. Large investments are now being made to improve sanitation in the country.
  • The main problems faced by the water and sanitation sector in Costa Rica are: an outdated centralized sector model and inadequate sector policy framework; lack of leadership and accountability for sector development; unsatisfactory performance of service providers and low quality of provided services; large backlog in sanitation infrastructure; high investment needs in the sector; low tariffs and poor cost recovery; and lengthy and inefficient procurement procedures.
  • Costa Rica has a population of over 4 million inhabitants, of which about 72 percent are located in urban areas. Although Costa Rica has seen increases in sanitation coverage countrywide within the last decade, there are shortcomings in the quality of service. Wastewater disposal services are provided by in situ solutions such as septic tanks or latrines. According to estimations from the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados (AyA) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), only 34.1% of treatment systems in urban areas are operational.

    Water sampling for analysis, Rio Virilla,Costa Rica
    Water sampling for analysis, Rio Virilla,Costa Rica
  •  It is estimated that of the population with sewerage service, only 13% (142,937 people) have waste and wastewater treatment; while 87% (956,380 people) have sewerage service without a treatment system. Of the population with sewage disposal (1.179.528 people), only 15.19% of the wastewater generated is collected and treated. The rest (84.81%) is simply collected in sewer systems and discharged in bodies of water. Wastewater received through sewer systems and treated hardly represents 4.16 % of the total waste and wastewater at the national level. 
  • Approximately 98.98 percent of the urban population of about 2.83 million were either connected to public sewerage or had individual septic tanks in 2011. However, in reality, sewerage network coverage is low, reaching only 21 Rural coverage is lower with about 96.45 percent having sanitation services mostly through the use of septic tanks.
  •  The untreated wastewater is mainly found in the greater metropolitan area of the capital San Jose, in the Grande Tarcoles and Reventazon water basins. Costa Rica has only five operating wastewater treatment plants, which serve one-third of the population. The San Isidro treatment plant, in Choluteca municipality, has collapsed while Limón province has a sea outfall pipe.


LBS Status

The Government of the Republic of Costa Rica signed the LBS Protocol on 6 October 1999 but has not yet acceded to the Protocol.  

Key Documents

Coming soon.



More Resources

Coming soon.



What is the CReW?

The CReW is a four-year project that began in 2011. It is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and implemented by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Our Location

Project Coordinating Group

Caribbean Regional Fund for Wastewater Management
c/o Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)
40 - 46 Knutsford Boulevard
Kingston 5
Jamaica, W.I.

Phone: +(876) 764-0815


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