Costa Rica Brief History

Costa Rica Brief History

According to aristmarketing, Costa Rica is skillfully marketed for its investment in ecotourism with the help of the phrase “Pura Vida”, “The pure life”, which has almost become a mantra among the population. The country’s massive marketing has resulted in about one and a half million tourists coming here every year!

Few countries can exhibit a similar biodiversity in the same small area as Costa Rica. Here are paradisiacal beaches, tropical dry forests along the Pacific coast, cloud rainforests with species-rich flora and fauna, active volcanoes and warring rivers with beautiful waterfalls. Valuable ingredients in an extremely tough marketing of the country.

What the advertisement does not tell is that several of the national parks are relatively difficult to access without their own transport and that they are therefore referred to organizers who often charge properly, overpriced in my opinion, for their activities or transport. It is possible to arrange your own transports with the help of taxis, but also those at relatively high prices. When you get to the national parks, the entrance fee is also quite large.

Costa Ricans like to be friendly, honest and helpful. I also thought so at the beginning of my journey. After being threatened, beaten and robbed of everything of value in the Parque Nacional Cahuita on the Caribbean coast, threatened with beatings by a taxi driver because I did not want to pay more than we agreed, subjected to attempted theft from my backpack during the bus journey from San José to Liberia, and after talking to many travelers with similar experiences, I changed my mind.

The woman who owns the hotel in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca where I lived told me that about 60-70% of the tourists who come there are robbed, and that she herself has been robbed at least thirty times so far! Being robbed is part of everyday life, according to her.

A visit to Costa Rica offers great nature experiences, but expect that it costs and that the risk of being abused is great.

“Pura Vida in Costa Rica”?

Costa Rica history in brief

Early history

Humans lived in the rainforests of Costa Rica as early as 10,000 years ago, and the region has long served as a crossroads for Central American cultures of origin. Researchers believe that more than 400,000 people lived here about 5,000 years ago, but unfortunately knowledge of these pre-Columbian cultures is small as remnants of these lost civilizations were wiped out by heavy rains, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and the Spanish conquerors. Therefore, there are hardly any historical remains left in the country and until very recently, the Costa Ricans showed little interest in the history of their country.

From the beginning, about twenty smaller Native American groups lived here, organized in a form of small communities. These were ruled by elected leaders, cacique, who were at the top of a hierarchically structured society. In society there was a shaman, warriors, slaves and slaves. The Huetar Indians lived in the central valley, and their language was known throughout the region. In the central valley is the country’s only significant historical site, which is believed to be a ceremonial site with cobbled streets, an aqueduct and had decorations of gold.

To the east lived the naked and ferocious Caribbean Indians who ruled the land between the Caribbean and the Pacific. Due to their skill as seafarers, they had a significant trade with the South American mainland.

The Indians who lived in the northwestern part of the region had contacts with the Mesoamerican high cultures; Aztecs and Maya. They practiced the Aztec religion and engaged in making jade jewelry like the Maya people.

The three Native American groups that existed in the southwest were influenced by Andean cultures. They grew coca bushes and sweet potatoes.

An unsolved historical mystery is the strange round megaliths found in large numbers in the Diquis Valley and on the island of Isla del Cano. Some of them weigh up to 16,000 kilos!

Compared to the rest of Central America, however, Costa Rica was sparsely populated before the arrival of the Spaniards

On his fourth and final voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus was forced to seek refuge after a hurricane damaged his ship at the site of today’s Puerto Limon. While waiting for his ship to be made seaworthy again, Columbus disembarked and exchanged gifts with the kind-hearted Indians who lived here. When he returned to Spain from his adventure, he claimed to have seen more gold here in two days than he had seen in four years in the Spanish colony of Guatemala. Columbus named the stretch of coast from Honduras to Panama the rich coast – Costa Rica.

Back in Seville, Columbus made a wish to the Spanish rulers, Ferdinand and Isabella, that he become governor of the new colony.

His greatest pillar, however, Queen Isabella lay on his deathbed and King Ferdinand decided instead that Diego de Nicuesa, one of Columbus’ rivals, would be the man to lead the new colony.

Christopher Columbus never returned to Costa Rica but ended his days in shaky health and outmaneuvered by political games in 1506, though as a very wealthy man.

The Spanish conquistadors were very disappointed when they discovered that there was not as much gold in Costa Rica as they first thought and that the indigenous people were not so friendly.

The first Spanish settlement was abandoned when tropical diseases afflicted the settlers and brave Indians attacked and executed them.

Attempts at new settlements along the Caribbean coast also failed. The difficult swamps, the deep jungles, the active volcanoes and earthquakes gave more of an image of hell than the paradise Columbus painted.

In 1513, however, the Spaniard Balboa succeeded in crossing Panama and reaching the Pacific Ocean. Thus, the conquistadors had found a new and much easier starting point to colonize Costa Rica.

The Spaniards now attacked Indians living on the Nicoya Peninsula. They plundered their villages, killed the Indians who resisted Spanish colonization and enslaved survivors. Outbreaks of various diseases among both Indians and Spaniards, however, delayed the Spanish settlements as well as shortages of minerals and labor. The Spaniards came to regard Costa Rica as one of the poorest and least attractive areas among their colonies.

It was not until the 1560s that a stable and permanent Spanish settlement was established inland under the leadership of Juan Vasquez de Coronado. He thought the valley at the foot of the Irazu volcano was the most beautiful place he had ever seen. de Coronado chose to negotiate with the Indians who lived here, instead of, as usual, taking their land by force. Cartago became the country’s first capital and was the base for exploring the country to the south and west down to present-day Panama.

The lack of gold and other minerals and the lack of conditions for large-scale feudal plantation agriculture, Costa Rica remained a poor Spanish colony. However, it developed into a society of Spanish smallholders, more ethnically homogeneous and economically equal than other parts of Latin America.

Some important years in Costa Rica’s history from the 19th century


When Central America along with Mexico declared independence from Spain years


there were just under 70,000 inhabitants in Costa Rica. After two years as part of the Mexican Empire, the Central American states broke away and formed a federation. It collapsed in 1830, when Costa Rica, among others, declared independence


After two years as part of the Mexican Empire, the Central American states broke away and formed a federation


The Central American Federation collapsed and Costa Rica declared independence


The new republic received a first constitution


When the American adventurer William Walker made an attempt to invade Costa Rica from the north, a hastily assembled peasant army managed to drive him back. One of the heroes of the battle became a young man named Juan Santamaria, who later became the country’s official national hero. The San José International Airport has been named after him

1870s, late

Coffee had been introduced from Cuba in the early 19th century and coffee cultivation became the first basic industry in the economy. Bananas began to be grown on the east coast in the late 1870s. The two crops were soon significant export products


The country’s first democratic elections were held


The newly opened railway between San José and Limón on the Atlantic coast significantly increased trade


The economic crisis that the country suffered after the First World War resulted in a coup against the legally elected president. Educational initiatives led to the emergence of a well-educated, politically conscious middle class with demands for political and economic reforms


Democracy is being restored in Costa Rica

the 1930s

Economic and social unrest paved the way for reforms that would lay the foundations for a welfare state

1940s, early

President Rafael Ángel Calderón Guardia introduced a social security system. He was supported by communists, trade unions and the Catholic Church


In the run-up to the election, there was unrest in the country and when the opposition won, President Calderón and his party managed to have the result annulled, which resulted in an uprising led by coffee farmer José María Figueres Ferrer. The civil war lasted just over a month but claimed the lives of 2,000 people. Under Figueres’ leadership, a junta was formed that ruled the country for a transitional period


President Calderón took over the post, which he won in 1948. The country received a new constitution which meant that the army was abolished. The right to vote came to include women and blacks, banks were nationalized and wealth tax was introduced. Politics was then characterized by regular changes of power through elections

1953 – 1958

“Don Pepe” Figueres, who founded a Social Democratic party, became the National Liberation Party (PLN). He came to dominate the country’s politics for several decades. Figueres and his PLN invested in increased state involvement in the economy and a welfare state was built, unique to the region. The conservative governments that ruled the country between the PLN’s terms of office repealed some of the reforms, but welfare policy was never seriously threatened.

1970 – 1974

Was again “Don Pepe” Figueres president


Costa Rica was hit by an economic downturn due to sharp falls in coffee and banana prices, which resulted in cuts in the public sector with protests as a result


Oscar Arias Sánchez was elected president and committed to peace in Central America, where several bloody conflicts raged


Received the Oscar Arias Sánchez Nobel Peace Prize for his peace initiatives


In the presidential election, the Conservative Christian Social Unity Party (PUSC) won with its candidate Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier, son of former president Calderón Guardia


José María Figueres Olsen won the presidential election. He is the son of the former president and father of the country “Don Pepe” Figueres


Vann Miguel Àngel Rodríguez Echeverría presidential election

Costa Rica Brief History

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