Subduction of hotspot-thickened seafloor profoundly affects convergent margin tectonics, strongly affecting upper plate structure, volcanism, and landscape evolution. In southern Central America, low-angle subduction of the Cocos Ridge and seamount domain largely controls landscape evolution in the volcanic arc. Field mapping, stratigraphic correlation, and 40Ar/39Ar geochronology for late Cenozoic volcanic rocks of central Costa Rica provide new insights into the geomorphic response of volcanic arc landscapes to changes in subduction parameters (slab thickness, roughness, dip). Late Neogene volcanism was focused primarily along the now-extinct Cordillera de Aguacate. Quaternary migration of the magmatic front shifted volcanism northeastward to the Caribbean slope, creating a new topographic divide and forming the Valle Central basin. Stream capture across the paleo–Aguacate divide led to drainage reversal toward the Pacific slope and deep incision of reorganized fluvial networks. Pleistocene caldera activity generated silicic ash flows that buried the Valle Central and descended the Tárcoles gorge to the Orotina debris fan at the coast. Growth of the modern Cordillera Central accentuated relief along the new divide, establishing the Valle Central as a Pacific slope drainage basin. Arc migration, relocation of the Pacific-Caribbean drainage divide, and formation of the Valle Central basin resulted from slab shallowing as irregular, hotspot-thickened crust entered the subduction zone. The geomorphic evolution of volcanic arc landscapes is thus highly sensitive to changes in subducting plate character.