Costa Rica - History
While not much is known about the early inhabitants of Costa Rica, it is estimated that there were approximately twenty tribes scattered around the country. Each tribe was organised into chiefdoms with a leader and a community of shamans, warriors, workers and slaves. During Christopher Colombus’ final journey in 1502, he sailed the eastern shores of Costa Rica and widely spoke of the riches he had found there. The King of Spain commissioned Diego de Nicuesa to settle the newly claimed territory, but this did not prove to be an easy task.
The first colony that was established was short lived as Europeans encountered tropical diseases and resistance from local populations. The settlers also discovered that Costa Rica’s gold and silver was not nearly as abundant as in other countries. It wasn’t until 1560 that a successful colony was established in the interior and was named Cartago. This first colony survived with the aid of its first governor Juan Vásquez de Coronado who chose to rule with diplomacy instead of with fire arms.
While tropical illnesses had wreaked havoc on early European colonists, European diseases plagued the indigenous populations nearly wiping them out as settlements began to expand. Some smaller tribes remained, but many of the local survivors were absorbed into Spanish culture. The settlements were focussed on agriculture and the landowning elite and slave dynamic that existed in many other colonies did not develop in Costa Rica. The colony was declared independent from Spain in 1821, then briefly became part of Mexico. It wasn’t until 1838 that Costa Rica became an independent country in its own right. Costa Rica had a relatively peaceful transition into independence while several of its neighbours endured post-independence civil wars.
The 19th century witnessed two booms in Costa Rica’s economy, the first was with coffee and the second was with bananas. In other Central American countries, a narrow elite controlled the coffee trade. In Costa Rica, it was more of a partnership between high-end traders and smaller-scale growers where the traders controlled the financial side of things and the growers were responsible for production. The banana boom ended up surpassing coffee and for a time was the country’s most lucrative export.
Throughout the 20th century, Costa Rica enjoyed peace and a solid economy that grew steadily. The one exception happened in 1948 when a civil war broke out due to a disputed presidential election. Thankfully, peace was restored in less than two months but with a death toll of around 2,000 people. After the war, the people looked to José Figueres Ferrier to move forward. Under Ferrier’s 1949 constitution, the vote was extended to women, the black population, indigenous groups and Chinese minorities and a modern welfare state was established. One of most important legacies that Ferrier left behind was when he abolished the military as he believed it was a threat to democracy. José Figueres Ferrier’s revolutionary regime laid the foundation for the unique and unarmed democracy that Costa Rica is famous for.
Costa Rica has remained a peaceful and liberal country for more than one hundred years and today, the country enjoys some of the highest standards of living in Central America. One of the most biodiverse nations on the planet, Costa Rica is emerging as a leader in ecotourism and is a favourite destination amongst nature lovers.
Costa Rica Information
At Goway we believe that a well-informed traveller is a safer traveller. With this in mind, we have compiled an easy to navigate travel information section dedicated to Costa Rica.
Learn about the history and culture of Costa Rica, the must-try food and drink, and what to pack in your suitcase. Read about Costa Rica's nature and wildlife, weather and geography, along with 'Country Quickfacts' compiled by our travel experts. Our globetrotting tips, as well as our visa and health information will help ensure you're properly prepared for a safe and enjoyable trip. The only way you could possibly learn more is by embarking on your journey and discovering Costa Rica for yourself. Start exploring… book one of our Costa Rica vacations today!
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After your Costa Rica tours, why not consider another of Goway's Latin America tours. These include a large selection of other exciting countries in Central and South America. We offer Chile vacation packages and Easter Island tours, Ecuador vacation packages which include Galapagos cruises, Peru vacation packages which include Machu Picchu tours and Brazil tours including Iguassu Falls tours among many others.
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