History of Latin America’s Costa Rica

In a region marred by persistent political and social instability, Costa Rica shines like a beacon of positivity and hope. Unique in so many ways, the Latin American country with no army, no wars and no political instability since its avant-garde constitution was drawn up in 1949, is one of the oldest democracies in the Americas and one of the most peaceful and safe travel destination in the entire Latin American continent.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s beautiful beaches. One of them is Manu El Antonio Beach. Photo credit: n/a

Over a quarter of Costa Rica falls under the protection of the national parks and services administration and as you explore the country’s astonishing highlights, you’ll discover a healthy tourist infrastructure and a supremely warm and welcoming people. Rewarding, hassle-free and stunning to say the least, this distinctive country is most revered as an eco-tourism and adventure seeker’s playground, as well as one of the most biodiverse nations on earth. Land ownership is widespread and the standard of living, especially when compared to some of its neighbours, is impressive. Costa Rica is home to one of the world’s Blue Zones – areas of the world where life expectancy is at its highest – and this has been contributed to the country’s relaxed and peaceful nature, the existence of nuclear families and social inclusion and a wholesome diet based on fresh, locally-grown produce.

Early history

Human settlement dates back almost 12,000 years in this luscious and fertile lands and although the country boasts a complex and rich pre-Columbian history, not much is known of the main native tribes who lived here before the Spanish arrived. Even within its own inhabitants, general knowledge about the group of people collectively known as Chibchan, is lacking. Chibchan language culture developed with influences of the native tribes of neighbouring lands, showcasing traits of both Central and South American ancestry. By the time the Spanish arrived, an estimated 20,000 people inhabited the area of the present-day borders. Over the next century, most of them were wiped out, mostly by diseases brought in by Europeans. This, combined with eth fact that Costa Rican ancient cultures didn’t boast major architectural highlights, like the pyramids in the north and gargantuan citadels in the south, much of its ancient history has been left to archaeologists to uncover, decipher, and display.

The volcano of Costa Rica; the Arenal Volcano. A must see! Photo credit: Shutterstock

Arrival of the Spanish

Costa Rica was the last country in the New World to be discovered by Christopher Columbus. Making landfall here in 1502 on his fourth and final journey to the Americans, the Italian explorer, flying under Spanish imperial flag, faced many adverse conditions. Columbus lasted merely two years here, before he returned to Spain, eventually passing of congenital heart failure in 1504.

Meanwhile, back in present-day Costa Rica, the Spanish army faced some of the harshest conditions they had ever encountered in the Americas. Fierce opposition from native tribes and a harsh and inhospitable tropical climate proved to be some of the biggest challenges faced by the conquering Europeans and it would be almost 60 years before a permanent settlement could be established. United with the Captaincy of Guatemala, the country would become a Spanish colony for the next three centuries, until the Central American wave of independence swept through the region in the early 1800s. Named the Rich Costa by the Spanish, who considered it brimming with rich minerals to exploit, Costa Rica turned out to be – rather thankfully – devoid of mining possibilities. Instead, the fertile land turned out to be ideal for farming and of the many Spanish settlers who crossed the ocean to get here – no doubt enticed by the name of the newfound land – instead settled into an arduous farming life.

During your travel you should visit the Celeste Watterfall. Look how beautiful it is. Photo credit: n/a

When Guatemala gained independence from Spain, it took some time for the news to reach Costa Rica and its farming settlers, who were by them mostly in the Central Valley area, where the capital of San Jose now stands. Isolated and somewhat remote, Costa Rica was left largely unaffected by the civil wars of independence that surrounded them, until its own de-facto independence was granted in September 1821. Fun fact: so remote was the largest settlement in the country that news of their own independence didn’t reach the inhabitants until one month later.

By 1831, Spain had finally recognized Costa Rica’s independence and its incredible transition to a fully-fledged democracy was swift and relatively peaceful, in stark contrast with many of its neighbours. After a short-lived stint of civil war, Costa Rica’s modern constitution was drawn up in 1949, which also brought up the disbandment of its national army. In return for a promise of protection in case of strive, Costa Rica set up an economic partnership with the United States, which is now its main export partner.

Spot a colourful Tucan in Costa Rica. Phot credit: n/a

Present day Costa Rica

With a fervent passion for democracy, equality, freedom and peace, Costa Rica is a land rich in cultural heritage and natural attractions. Five active volcanoes, among 200 distinctive volcanic formations, have created a luscious environment, comprising high-altitude cloud forests, jungles, verdant plains and over 1,300km of pristine coastline which it showcases both on the Pacific and Caribbean sides. The main industry in the country is export (67th in the world rankings) of tropical produce primarily as well as a host of medical equipment. Costa Rica has managed to build a niche-market for itself as a medical tourism destination, offering top-notch services and treatments at only a fraction of the cost in the US, Europe and Australia. Tourism, in general, plays a big role in the country’s economy and has been on a steady increase for years. For North Americans, in particular, Costa Rica is the most popular travel destination, after Mexico. Costa Rica is one of only 23 countries in the world with no active army, elected its first female president in 2010, boasts a very high literacy rate, one of the best healthcare systems in the region and is touted as one of the greatest success stories to ever emerge from Central America.

All of these incredible stats and figures translate to what is often dubbed ‘one of the happiest countries on earth’.

Topical fruit on a local market. Try some! Photo credit: Shutterstock

As far as its recent historical events are concerned, Costa Rica has been more than a little remarkable. Miraculously, it managed to avoid the wave of political dissent which swept through the continent throughout the 70s and 80s. The country’s single-minded strive to build a ‘paradise of nature’ has kept efforts focused on what the government and the people, deem to be the most important aspects.

Costa Rica – for wildlife and wilderness lovers

Home to over 5% of the world’s biodiversity but only taking up 0.3% of its entire surface, Costa Rica boasts more than 34,000 different insects, 10% of the world’s butterfly species and, overall, more than half a million varieties of wildlife, including jaguars, pumas, caimans, sloths, scarlet macaws, ocelots and more monkeys than you could ever chase, with your camera, in a lifetime. A discerning SCUBA diver’s paradise, the country is home to the world-renowned Cocos Island and truly spectacular snorkel spots.

For exceptional and comprehensive tours of Costa Rica to experience the startling natural beauty, colourful culture and enticing history, check out our Costa Rica tours and contact us for tailor-made itin

Author: Laura Pattara

“Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 15 years. She’s tour-guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and has completed a 6-year motorbike trip from Europe to Australia. What ticks her fancy most? Animal encounters in remote wilderness, authentic experiences off the beaten trail and spectacular Autumn colours in Patagonia.”

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