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Costa Rica’s most historic earthquakes

Wednesday afternoon, a magnitude 6.8 earthquake with an epicenter near the border with Panama rattled most of Costa Rica. No injuries or significant infrastructure damage have been reported by Costa Rican authorities, though some buildings were affected in Panama. 

In light of yesterday’s quake, we present this 2014 story on Costa Rica’s seismic history. 


Located along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” Costa Rica is a highly seismically active country. Minor temblors occur nearly every day. And occasionally, major earthquakes happen.

Monitoring all of this activity is Costa Rica’s National Seismological Network (RSN), which has released a handy list naming the country’s “most historic” (read: worst) earthquakes. The list goes all the way back to 1756 and ends with a magnitude-6.0 earthquake that occurred in 2020, with an epicenter in Jaco. To see the full list with information on each historic earthquake, visit RSN’s website here.

We delved into The Tico Times archives for some of our old photos documenting a few of the largest quakes in Costa Rican history.

Cartago – 1910

Early in Costa Rica’s history, this earthquake likely was the country’s most destructive. The city of Cartago – Costa Rica’s capital at the time – was almost completely destroyed, and more than 1,000 people were killed. The ruins of the  Santiago Apostle parish still can be seen in center of Cartago today. The 1910 earthquake was the fourth and final quake to damage the church before residents decided to leave the ruins and convert them into a park.


Limón – 1991

In the early hours of April 22, 1991, a magnitude-7.7 earthquake struck the Caribbean coasts of Costa Rica and Panama. Costa Rica’s strongest earthquake of all time killed killed 48 people and destroyed 4,452 homes.

Parrita – 2004

This magnitude-6.4 quake struck Costa Rica’s central Pacific town of Parrita at 2:07 a.m. on Nov. 20, 2004. In the next few hours, residents felt more than 500 aftershocks. Eight people were killed and 525 homes were destroyed.

Cinchona – 2009

On Jan. 8, 2009, Costa Rica’s Central Valley was rocked by a magnitude-6.2 quake, the strongest in the country’s most populous region in 157 years. The most-affected areas were the community of Cinchona, northwest of the capital, and the Poás Volcano region. More than 1,378 people were displaced.


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