The early history of Costa Rica is characterized by the indigenous Mesoamerican and Andean cultures who inhabited the region, including the Bribri and Boruca tribes. The Spanish were the first Europeans to arrive in Costa Rica, first visiting in the early 1500s. The Spanish explorers took interest in the gold they saw in the jewelry of the natives.
The first Spanish colony was established at Villa Bruselas in Costa Rica in 1524. The colony became part of the Captaincy General of Guatemala, as well as part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain as the Spanish expanded their empire across the region. The Costa Rica region was mostly autonomous within the colony and somewhat ignored by the Spanish colonists, causing it to become a very poor colony. Without a large native population to serve as a labor force, the colonial development was stunted and remained rural.
After the Mexican War of Independence, Costa Rica and the other Central American colonies of Spain became independent from Spain in 1821 as New Spain. Without support from the Spanish crown, the territory became the Mexican Empire, ruled by Emperor Agustin de Iturbide. However, the empire was short lived, ending with the overthrow of the emperor in a 1823 revolt. The Central American territories separated from Mexico and formed the United Provinces of Central America. Costa Rica remained part of the union until 1838, though it was a very loose organization and Costa Rica withdrew, becoming independent. Costa Rica's coffee production began to take off soon after independence, followed by banana production a while later.
Since independence, Costa Rica has struggled with violence, including a two-year period of military rule under General Federico Tinoco Granados, and again in 1948, with the deadly Costa Rican Civil War. Since the new government came to power at the end of the war, the government and elections have been peaceful.
Costa Rica borders Nicaragua and Panama.
Costa Rica is situated on the isthmus of Central America, the narrow strip of land that stretches between the North and South American continents. Costa Rica has coastline along both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. In addition to the isthmus territory, Costa Rica includes Calero Island and Cocos Island off the coasts.
The terrain of Costa Rica includes coastal plains and a mountainous interior, with Cordillera Central and Cordillera de Talamanca as the main ranges. The country's highest point is located atop Cerro Chirripo, which stands 3,819 meters (12,530 feet) above sea level. Costa Rica's rich soils that have made the country an agricultural leader for its coffee and banana production stem from the country's volcanic origins, including its Irazu Volcano.
There are many rivers traversing Costa Rica, including the San Juan River along the Nicaraguan border, Rio Colorado, Frio River, Reventazon River, and Pacuare River.
Points of Interest
The capital, San Jose, is a great destination to experience Costa Rica's bustling city scene, with sites including several museums, historic architecture displaying the various periods in Costa Rica's past, and markets to explore the local culture, from artists stalls to freshly prepared foods. The city also boasts an exciting nightlife.
A popular eco-tourism destination, Costa Rica has plenty of undisturbed nature, an impressive variety of species, and about one-quarter of the country's territory is dedicated to conservation areas. National parks in Costa Rica include Chirripo National Park, Cahuita, Corcovado, Manuel Antonion, and Rincon de la Vieja Volcano National Parks. Other natural destinations include Arenal Volcano and the Monteverde and Santa Elena Cloud Forest.
The main international airport in Costa Rica is Juan Santamaria Airport outside of the capital, San Jose, which offers service to cities across the Americas and Europe. Other international airports include Daniel Oduber Quiros International in Guanacaste province and Tobias Bolanos International Airport also in San Jose, offering primarily domestic and regional transport. Traveling to Costa Rica by car is possible from both the north and south, however, the main road on this route is dangerous outside of major cities.
However, an alternate route is available along the coast that is in much better condition. In general, roads in Costa Rica are often unpaved and damaged, with narrow lanes and fast driving traffic. Long-distance bus routes are available into Costa Rica from all nearby countries, which can be a great option for road travel around Central America. The cost is fairly low and the buses run frequently, though they do take considerable time.
Within cities, there are also public buses that serve most tourist attractions for quite cheap. Boat is yet another option for travel to and around Costa Rica, with cruises and ferries available between Nicaragua and Costa Rica and Panama and Costa Rica. Cruises are significantly more expensive, but trips last several days and often pass through the Panama Canal. Though railways were closed for many years, their use has recently been revived from San Jose to a few destinations. Within cities, taxis are a great option for convenience at a low cost.
Last Updated : March 14, 2014