The inhabitants of the area before the
arrival of the Europeans in the 16th century mostly died
out due to diseases brought by the colonizers and which
the indigenous people lacked resistance to. Costa Rica
was dominated by Spanish smallholder farmers. Central
America and Mexico proclaimed independence from Spain in
1821 and 1838, Costa Rica became an independent state.
Coffee and banana cultivation eventually became the
Archaeological finds testify to settlements in
present-day Costa Rica already 10,000 years ago, but
compared to other Central America, the area was sparsely
populated before the arrival of the Spaniards. The
people who were there lived mainly as nomads and were
strongly influenced by the Mayan culture from the north.
The indigenous peoples were almost wiped out on the
arrival of Europeans. Only a few smaller groups survived
in the mountainous regions.
Comprehensive guide to and popular abbreviations of Costa Rica, covering history, economy, and social conditions.
The explorer Christofer Columbus landed on the east
coast in 1502 and named it Costa Rica (rich coast) after
rumors of great wealth. But hopes for gold and other
mineral deposits came to shame. Also, there were no
conditions for large-scale feudal plantation
agriculture, as the indigenous population was small and
the terrain difficult. Costa Rica instead became a poor
corner, far from the colonial capital of Guatemala. The
area developed into a community of Spanish smallholders,
more ethnically homogeneous and economically equal than
other parts of Latin America.
When Central America, together with Mexico, declared
independence from Spain in 1821, there were almost
70,000 inhabitants in Costa Rica. After two years as
part of the Mexican empire, the Central American states
broke out and formed a federation. It fell apart in
1838, when, among other things, Costa Rica declared
itself independent. The new republic received a first
constitution in 1848.
When an American adventurer, William Walker, made an
attempt to invade the country from the north in the
1850s, a hastily assembled peasant army forced him back.
A young man named Juan Santamaría is said to have played
a crucial role, and he eventually became the country's
official national hero (the airport in the capital San
José is named after him).
At the beginning of the republic's existence, various
factions fought for power by means of electoral fraud
and sometimes even military violence. But as early as
1889, the first democratic elections were held.
Coffee beans had been introduced from Cuba in the
early 19th century and coffee cultivation became the
first basic industry in the economy. Bananas then began
to be grown on the East Coast in the late 1870s and both
crops soon became significant export products. The newly
opened 1890 railroad between San José and Limón on the
Atlantic coast increased trade.
The economic crisis that followed the First World War
in 1917 resulted in a coup against the legally elected
president. Military rule lasted just over two years
before democracy was restored. Education initiatives led
to a well-educated, politically conscious middle class
emerging with demands for political and economic