Unlike many of their Central American neighbors, present-day Costa Ricans are largely of European, rather than mestizo descent; Spain was the primary country of origin. Few of the native Indians survived European contact. The indigenous Indian population today numbers about 29,000 or 1% of the total population. Descendants of 19th century, Jamaican immigrant workers, constitute an English-speaking minority and--at 3% of the population--number about 96,000.
|Population, total (millions)||3.12||3.96||4.58||5|
|Population growth (annual %)||2.6||2||1.2||1|
|Surface area (sq. km) (thousands)||51.1||51.1||51.1||51.1|
|Population density (people per sq. km of land area)||61.1||77.6||89.6||97.9|
|Poverty headcount ratio at national poverty lines (% of population)||..||..||21.7||21.1|
|Poverty headcount ratio at $1.90 a day (2011 PPP) (% of population)||10.2||6.7||1.6||1.5|
|Income share held by lowest 20%||3.8||3.9||4.5||4.3|
|Life expectancy at birth, total (years)||76||77||79||80|
|Fertility rate, total (births per woman)||3.3||2.4||1.9||1.8|
|Adolescent fertility rate (births per 1,000 women ages 15-19)||95||75||61||53|
|Contraceptive prevalence, any methods (% of women ages 15-49)||75||80||82||78|
|Births attended by skilled health staff (% of total)||98||98||95||90|
|Mortality rate, under-5 (per 1,000 live births)||17||13||11||9|
|Prevalence of underweight, weight for age (% of children under 5)||2.5||..||1.1||..|
|Immunization, measles (% of children ages 12-23 months)||90||82||83||94|
|Primary completion rate, total (% of relevant age group)||74||88||99||99|
|School enrollment, primary (% gross)||101.3||109.1||116.9||113.3|
|School enrollment, secondary (% gross)||43||62||101||133|
|School enrollment, primary and secondary (gross), gender parity index (GPI)||1||1||1||1|
|Prevalence of HIV, total (% of population ages 15-49)||0.1||0.2||0.3||0.4|
|Forest area (sq. km) (thousands)||29.1||28.6||28.7||30|
|Terrestrial and marine protected areas (% of total territorial area)||..||..||..||3|
|Annual freshwater withdrawals, total (% of internal resources)||..||..||2.1||2.8|
|Urban population growth (annual %)||4.5||3.5||2.9||2|
|Energy use (kg of oil equivalent per capita)||538||725||1,015||..|
|CO2 emissions (metric tons per capita)||0.95||1.38||1.65||1.64|
|Electric power consumption (kWh per capita)||1,072||1,507||1,888||..|
|Net migration (thousands)||69||42||20||21|
|Personal remittances, received (current US$) (millions)||12||136||531||534|
|Foreign direct investment, net inflows (BoP, current US$) (millions)||163||723||1,907||2,764|
|Net official development assistance received (current US$) (millions)||222.5||25.5||101.1||99.4|
The intricate history of black Costa Ricans, who were only recognised as citizens in 1949
Nduta Waweru considers herself a reader who writes. Like a duck, she’s calm on the surface, but she’s always busy paddling underneath to get you the best stories in arts, culture and current affairs. Nduta has published a poetry collection called Nostalgia, is a YALI Fellow and a member of Wandata-Ke Network.
Just like in many countries in the Americas, the history of black people in Costa Rica starts off with slavery, which was abolished in the country on this day in 1824.
Most of the enslaved people arrived in the country with Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s. They were selected from specific regions of West Africa including present-day Gambia, Guinea, Benin, Ghana and Sudan, apparently because they were stronger and more affable as compared to other Africans.
Upon arrival in the country, these enslaved Africans were put in cacao farms on the Atlantic side. They were isolated from the rest of the country, with the plantation owners arriving on the farms once a year to check on their crops.
For some, pura vida can be an acquired taste.
Meaning “pure life,” pura vida is the unofficial slogan of Costa Rica, or at least the country’s collective philosophy. This laid-back attitude is one of the main characteristics that draws many expats to the country in the first place. Yet it’s also one of the ones that frustrates North Americans the most, after the honeymoon phase wears off.
This concept of slowing down to enjoy life, letting things just roll off your back, and relaxing your expectations is a great outlook to adopt. It’s likely one of the reasons Costa Ricans are among the healthiest and happiest cultures in the world.
Side effects of a pura vida overdose
Living and doing business in a pura vida culture can involve things like not receiving your mail for unexplained reasons, waiting days for your power to be restored after a minor outage, or even having a string of multiple repairmen fail to show up to fix your roof.
One big contributor to the pura vida frustration is the phrase “mañana,” which you probably thought meant “tomorrow.” It doesn’t. At least, not usually. It could mean Friday, next Tuesday, the beginning of October, or even never. However, the one thing it does always mean is “not today.”
The same relaxed approach to getting things done applies to most services and government operations as well. Most infrastructure is poorly maintained. The roads are in poor condition. Street signs and building numbers rarely exist. And buses are somewhat unreliable since they change their routes depending on road conditions, especially during the rainy season.
The steps you were told you needed to take last month to get your visa or a building permit may be completely different than the response you get when you go back to the same office with that first set of paperwork completed.
It’s even worse than your worst experience at the DMV. Processes that should take weeks can take years, and that can be incredibly frustrating to someone who’s accustomed to much more consistent and systematic ways of doing things.
Your best bet? If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. If you go into the process knowing what to expect, you can be better prepared to roll with the punches, remain patient and calm, and just keep moving the ball forward at every opportunity.
Losing your temper and blowing up at the underpaid, overworked immigration employee or customer service representative will get you nowhere. A deep breath, a polite “gracias,” and a smile can work wonders.
Pre-Columbian Costa Rica (12,000BC to 1500AD)
According to popular belief, when Columbus and subsequent Spanish Conquistadores first arrived on Costa Rican shores they were met by a diminutive indigenous population of only around 25,000 people. Due to a lack of precious metals or stone, and no substantial indigenous workforce to exploit, these Spanish settlers were forced to till the land alone, becoming independent subsistence farmers rather than feudal lords or latifundistas, as in other parts of Central and South America, and thus there developed a “rural, classless democracy of peace-loving, white farmers who greatly valued freedom and family.” 2.
Until very recently this served as the generally accepted version of colonial history, becoming part of a 'national ideology', the unifying myth of the nation, what historian Theodore Creedman has described as 'leyenda blanca' or white legend 3. Over the last few years archeological discoveries and research have led historians and sociologists to discredit and rewrite this 'myth', suggesting that it not only underplays the cruel treatment and exploitation of indigenous peoples, but also ignores the diverse cultural influences within the region, 'over-exaggerating the whiteness of Costa Ricans' and denying existing class differentiation and unequal division of wealth and power. 4
It is now thought that on the eve of conquest, in 1502, there were actually as many as 400,000-500,000 people living in the area that is Costa Rica, dispersed throughout the region in distinct cultural groups that show influences from both Mesoamerican and South American civilizations.
Archeologists have found evidence of hundreds of residential sites and thousands of artifacts that attest to the movement, migration and interaction of peoples throughout the surrounding areas and to important agricultural, social and stylistic divisions that correspond to these ethnic and cultural differences.
There is little evidence to indicate when exactly the region was first inhabited.
It is estimated that large waves of primitive people first reached the North American Continent between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago, probably migrating from Asia, particularly Mongolia and Siberia to settle in the North West. Gradually, over many thousands of years, these people traveled southwards, eventually reaching Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost tip of Argentina, adapting to the varied climates and environments they encountered.
Evidence of occupation in Costa Rica dates back to about 12,000BC. Remnants of rudimentary tools, particularly spearheads, attest to the influence of both North American and South American civilizations in the region, suggesting that early settlers arrived not only from the North but also from Andean America, revealing the intermingling of the two distinct cultures even at this early stage.
These first inhabitants of Costa Rica were nomadic hunter-gatherers, moving in small bands across a land dominated by tropical forest, hunting animals for the most part now extinct, as well as fishing and gathering fruit, nuts, grains and eggs, moving as food supplies became scarce or exhausted.
As these early peoples began to gain knowledge of plant species, to explore their potential uses in food consumption, medicines, fibers and construction materials, and to gradually select species for cultivation, a rudimentary form of agriculture was established. This in turn laid the foundations for a more sedentary existence, with more permanent settlements. The transition into agricultural production happened primarily between 4000 and 1000BC, with evidence of permanent settlements found in the area from about 2500BC onwards.
As experience and expertise, and consequentially, food supplies, increased, so populations grew, settlements became more complex and sophisticated and agriculture intensified. At this point the existence of an important social and agricultural divide, reflecting ethnic differences became evident, marking the region as the approximate boundary between Mesoamerica and Andean America.
Tribes living in the northwestern and central areas of the region showed Mesoamerican influence, growing grains, particularly maize and beans, crops typical of the semi-arid zones of Mexico, while contact with South America was evident among the semi-nomadic tribes of the southern Pacific and Caribbean, where slash and burn cultivation of yucca and other tubers, and pejibaye, a kind of palm nut, all common to South American regions was prevalent. The chewing of coca leaves, an Andean custom was also common.
Tools and instruments of labor developed according to these agricultural advances and geographical and ethnic differences. In the drier areas of Guanacaste and Nicoya ceramic vessels for storing water and grains have been found, along with elaborately carved metates - stones for grinding corn- all showing stylistic influences originating from Mesoamerican cultures, while artifacts found in the Caribbean regions show workmanship and decorative styles similar to those of the Andean cultures.
The technique of ceramic modeling itself is thought to have originated in Colombia or Venezuela and traveled up into Central and North America, again reinforcing the idea that Pre-Columbian peoples across the continents did not live in isolation but had regular contact and exchange through trade, migration and conquest.
Population growth and the increasing complexity of settlements allowed for a diversification of production into crafts as artisans began to fashion objects beyond those necessary for survival. In recent decades archeologists have found thousands of intricately worked artifacts throughout the country jewelry, decorative ceramics, elaborately carved stone and jade figures, gold and silver work and woven textiles again show marked stylistic and technical differences corresponding to cultural movement and exchange. The use of materials not sourced in Costa Rica confirmed the existence of huge mercantile circuits throughout the region Guatemala was probably the principal source of jade, while gold and silver are thought to have been imported from South America.
Facts About Costa Rica’s People and Culture
What Are People from Costa Rica Called?
Costa Ricans are called Ticos and Ticas. Why? Because Costa Ricans tend to use a lot of diminutive suffixes when they talk, in particularly, they use “tico” and “tica.” For example, when they want to say a little bit, they would say “poquitico” instead of “poquito” as they would say in most other Spanish speaking countries.
How Many People Are in Costa Rica?
Costa Rica has a population of 5 million inhabitants. This number grew considerably in the past two decades. Still, it has slowed down, and studies suggest Costa Rica might never reach a population of 6 million. Currently, Costa Rica’s fertility is the lowest in the continent, with only 1.7 births per woman, only surpassed by Canada.
Where Do Most People Live in Costa Rica?
Half of the Costa Rican population lives in what is called The Great Metropolitan Area, located in the central part of the country. This area is also called the Central Valley because it is a big valley surrounded by volcanic mountain ranges.
What Language Do People Speak in Costa Rica?
The official language in Costa Rica is Spanish, and basically, the entire population speaks it. There isn’t a Spanish dialect that is spoken in the country. Still, there is a particular accent on the way Ticas and Ticos speak. However, the Costa Rican way of speaking Spanish is considered one of the clearest along with Colombians.
A small percentage of the Costa Rican population on the Caribbean Coast also speak Patois or Mekatelyu, which is a kind of English Creole similar to the Jamaican Creole.
Also, there are still some indigenous populations that keep their native languages, specifically the Bribri, Ngöbe, Cabecar, Buglere, and Maleku.
How Many People Speak English in Costa Rica?
Official numbers say that close to 11% of the Costa Rican population speaks a second language, and 92% of them speak English. But one thing that Ticas and Ticos will always do is try to communicate, so even if they do not speak English, they will try to talk to be friendly to foreigners.
How Do People Dress in Costa Rica?
The Costa Rican folkloric women’s attire consists of a colorful, long, and wavy skirt with a shoulderless blouse that has shirred fabric around the chest. Traditional men’s attire is pants (black, jeans or white) with a white shirt, a kerchief around the neck, a white brimmed hat called chonete, and a big and colorful belt, usually red. Both men and women wear leather sandals.
But that kind of outfit only represents the Spaniard influence on Costa Rica’s culture. Nowadays, you will mostly see it at folkloric festivals, school events, or touristic destinations. There, people dress in traditional clothing to represent Costa Rica and to perform traditional dances to Costa Rican music.
Today Ticos dress like in any westernized country, including the use of jeans, sneakers, and t-shirts for both women and men. Maybe the most impressive thing you will see about Costa Rican’s way of clothing would be that no matter how hot it is, they can still manage to wear jeans and look fresh.
How Do People Get Around in Costa Rica?
Public transportation is excellent in Costa Rica there is virtually no place in the country that cannot be reached via public transport. However, getting around using public transportation can be slow. Public transportation refers only to buses, taxis and other kinds of private services, like Uber, personal cars and motorcycles, as well as a few train lines inside the Central Valley that are also a popular means of transportation.
That is why there are more than 230 cars per 1000 inhabitants in Costa Rica, making the country third in Latinamerica on vehicular density.
What Do People Eat in Costa Rica?
Costa Rican food staples are rice, beans, and vegetables.
For breakfast, besides the nice warm cup of coffee, Ticos, and Ticas like to eat the famous gallo pinto, or spotted rooster, which is rice and beans mixed. The pinto comes accompanied by white bread, eggs, plantains, and/or sour cream.
For lunch and dinner, it is very common to eat a casado, or “married”. The casado is a big meal composed of rice, beans, a piece of meat (chicken, fish, pork, or beef), salad, and sweet plantain. It also comes with something called picadillo, which consists of chopped and mixed vegetables like potatoes, green plantains, or squash.
A very important meal for Costa Ricans is the Cafecito hour. Around 3 pm Ticos and Ticas gather to drink a cup of coffee accompanied by white bread or other types of sweet or savory pastries.
If there is a special celebration, like a birthday, first communion, anniversary, etc., Costa Ricans tend to prepare a dish called arroz con pollo. The name of the dish translates to rice with chicken, and it usually comes accompanied by refried beans and a salad. There are many other traditional dishes in Costa Rican culture. Two well known are tamales, a traditional dish prepared around Christmas time, and spaghetti squash empanadas, a traditional pastry for Easter.
What Do People Do for Fun in Costa Rica?
Just like in most Latino countries and cultures, Costa Ricans love to spend time with family and friends, and almost every activity they undertake includes lots of them.
When it comes to sports, Costa Ricans love soccer, and they are committed supporters and followers of the National Team.
What About Religion in Costa Rica?
Around half of the Costa Rican populations define themselves as Catholics, and another quarter of the population says to be non-catholic Christians.
What Are the Different Ethnic Groups and Cultures That Make Costa Rica’s Culture?
Recent studies by the University of Costa Rica revealed that the genetics of the 21st century Costa Ricans are mainly composed of four ancestries: the European, the African, the Amerindian, and the Asian. The studies concluded that Costa Ricans are 45.6% European, 33.5% Amerindians, 11.7% African, and 9.2% Asian.
Today, there are eight different indigenous groups in Costa Rica. Those indigenous groups are called Cabécares, Bribris, Ngäbe, Térrabas, Borucas, Huetares, Malekus, and Chorotegas. There are also indigenous migratory populations such as the Miskitos of Nicaragua and Ngäbes of Panama who work in agricultural production in different areas of the country. Costa Ricans, who identify themselves as part of these indigenous groups, represent 2.2% of the total Costa Rican population, live in 24 territories, and speak in 6 indigenous languages.
What Are Some Costa Rica’s Traditions and Festivities That You Should Know?
Depending on where you are in Costa Rica, you will find and celebrate different festivities. But there are a few that gather the country in unison celebration.
One of them is the Pilgrimage to the Virgin of Los Angeles, or in Spanish Romería de la Virgen de Los Ángeles. Every August 2nd, during the Romeria, Catholics from all over Costa Rica walk from their towns to the Cathedral de Los Angeles, located in the central canton of Cartago province. Many Costa Ricans undertake an arduous trip over many kilometers through Costa Rica’s mountainous roads.
Another reason that unites Costa Ricans is their pride for their independent and peaceful country.
Every September, Costa Ricans celebrate their independence from Spain, which occurred in 1821. On September 14th at night, Ticos and Ticas have the festival of lanterns to remember those who pressure Central America’s 19th Century leaders to sign the Act of Independence.
Independence Day is September 15th. On this day, you will find parades in every center of town where school children dance to the rhythm of drum bands as they march their town’s main streets.
Early History of Costa Rica
Someone once wrote, “Happy is the people with a dull history.” The early development of Costa Rica fits that description. Not only is the pre-Columbian history of what is now Latin America largely shrouded in mystery, little is known of the cultures of indigenous peoples during the conquest except for the Aztecs, Mayas and Incas. In fact, it is not absolutely certain that Christopher Columbus really touched Costa Rica briefly during his fourth voyage to the New World in 1502 and the bay he named “Cariari” has not been definitely identified. What little that is known of the early residents is that they refined gold and crafted exquisite artifacts in that metal, in jade and in pottery. But even that record is sketchy, partly due to the raiding of huaqueros (grave robbers and illegal exploiters of ancient artifacts) who have long carried on the defiling of sites that could have helped piece together a coherent record. (The U.S.-born artist and Costa Rican resident Ruth Fendell told of visiting a Colombian businessman’s palatial home in the 1950s and seeing glass display cases full of fine pre-Columbian artifacts from Costa Rica, so common was the black market.)
It is said that Spanish explorer Gonzalez Davila named the country “Rich Coast” because of the quantity of gold ornaments worn by the natives. Yes, there is gold to be found in such places as the Osa Peninsula but not in grand quantities that warrant more than small mining operations and some speculate that native Costa Ricans may have traded for most of what they worked. Likewise, there is little or no jade here so the ornaments archaeologists find were certainly mined elsewhere. But concrete proof of trade and contact with other Central American cultures has been hard for archaeologists to confirm. Unlike Francisco Pizzaro and Hernán Cortez, the Spanish came to this country not as conquerors but mostly as settlers—and poor ones, at that. Even Juan Vasques de Coronado who came as governor in 1562 had to work his own land since the Indians in the Central Valley area of Cartago, where he established his capital, had fled into the remote, rugged Talamanca Mountains to escape European diseases. This factor accounts for the beginnings of a tradition emphasizing hard work as the path to success.
In the 20th century, the nation developed a strong middle class with no obscenely wealthy oligarchy ruling it. One still hears the myth that the reason this country did not develop like Peru or Ecuador is that there were few indigenous people, so avoiding the mestizo mixing of the gene pool. This is rubbish. As President Jimenez, a realist, once said, “Cut a Costa Rican and part of the blood he bleeds is Indian.” What really happened was that the poor male Spanish immigrants, lacking the funds to send back to Spain for their brides, intermarried with the native women (those who had not died of European epidemics), a typically Costa Rican solution. Thus, the Spanish did not exterminate the indigenous people but absorbed them. (This is not a whitewash of the Spanish in Costa Rica—there was a search for gold and atrocities connected with it. But genocide just is not part of the story.) Lacking hoards of gold to loot and slave-cultivated cash crops of great demand in Europe, the few Europeans who immigrated were farmers, not Spanish aristocrats. And the country benefited from a benign neglect of the motherland, the colonial capital at Guatemala being far away.
One of the early documents still preserved here is of a 18th century Costa Rican governor who complained that his farm work demanded so much of his time that he was unable to tend properly to colonial administrative duties. Evidently, the budget for Costa Rica was not a high priority in the Guatemalan colonial capital. Is it any wonder Costa Ricans developed differently from other Latin American nations, with no rich exploiters of the peon or rigid caste system? In fact, while many other Latin countries achieved liberation from Spain only after much bloodshed, Costa Rica was handed her independence without a fight—in fact, they were literally free before they knew it, when word finally trickled down from Guatemala in 1821. They languished briefly under a confederation based in the old colonial capital of Guatemala before opting for full independence.
For two centuries, the economy remained one of barter, with the result of little export to allow an influx of foreign exchange. The first real cash crop was coffee with the first shipload leaving the Pacific port of Puntarenas in 1820. Bananas followed as the Caribbean province of Limon received the attentions of the United Fruit Company and, later, other foreign operators. With the banana plantings also came imported black workers from the Caribbean islands, making up an English-speaking conclave basically ignored by the rest of the country. Others came to work on Minor Keith’s Atlantic railway, the first connection between the Caribbean coast and the more densely populated Central Valley where the capital, San Jose, had been created. (From the 1930s to the 1948 civil blacks were prohibited to ride the railway they had built into the capital, a segregation policy that liberal Costa Rica would like to forget ever existed.)
In a country with a basically peaceful history, the standout is the defeat by a hastily organized army, no more than a militia, of William Walker, a Tennessee-born. soldier of fortune who dreamed of subjugating the region into a united pro-slavery country ruled by white English-speakers, while his own country careened toward the Civil War. This is a fascinating story, including such figures as Wall Street tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, but the critical part for Costa Rica was the Battle of Rivas (April, 1856) in southern Nicaragua, where Costa Rican forces defeated Walker and set him on the downward slope that ended before a firing squad in Honduras in 1860. The country’s only war hero, Juan Santamaría, is remembered from the fight in Rivas.
Although indigenous tribes have lived in what is now known as Costa Rica for thousands of years, the country’s pre-Columbian period was perhaps one of the most formative. Evidence of the country’s rich blend of cultures and history is everywhere in Costa Rica, from the priceless relics housed in the museums of San Jose to the dialects of the tribes that still inhabit much of the country.
A defining period
Costa Rica’s pre-Columbian period can be defined as the timespan from when man first inhabited the area to the early 16th century, when renowned explorer Christopher Columbus first came ashore near what is now Puerto Limon, and the subsequent arrival of the first Spanish settlers. Archeological evidence suggests that indigenous tribes inhabited Costa Rica as long ago as 7,000 B.C., and for thousands of years afterward, life was simple. The land was abundant, making agriculture and hunting particularly important to the early tribes. It is thought that as many as 25 separate indigenous groups once lived in Costa Rica, each with their own cultural traditions, customs and belief systems.
When Columbus and the Spanish first arrived in the early 1500s, the culture of these groups had diversified, with many distinct artistic styles emerging from the traditions of the tribes. The arrival of the Spanish settlers brought with it cultural influences from Europe, many of which are still evident today, particularly in the architecture of San Jose. The gradual colonization of Costa Rica also shaped the region politically. The increasing numbers of Spanish settlers complicated matters such as land ownership and provincial borders, which had traditionally been the sovereignty of tribal chiefs known as “caciques,” who wielded their people’s fears of shamanism and other supernatural phenomena to command great power.
As the tribes of Costa Rica developed, so too did their artistic and cultural output. Each tribe had a distinct style of craftsmanship, evidenced by the stunning variety of pottery, statuary and other cultural items. Stonemasonry, goldsmithing and metalworking also became much more sophisticated in the years leading up to the arrival of the Spanish in the early 16th century.
Each tribe is believed to have specialized in a different aspect of producing not only cultural artifacts, but weapons and agricultural tools. The Chibcha and Diquis tribes, for example, were noted for the quality of their goldsmithing, in addition to their highly refined weaving and textile skills. Some archeologists believe the Chibcha and Diquis were also responsible for the mysterious stone spheres—huge, perfectly spherical boulders that can still be seen today in the Nicoya Peninsula and the Isla del Cano. Some of these large stones measure almost 7 feet in diameter and weigh up to 15 tons.
The Corobicís and Nahuatl tribes were also among Costa Rica’s most prolific craftsman. These groups inhabited the valleys of Costa Rica’s central highlands, and this area is home to some of the most important archeological sites in Central America. Most notable are the ruins of their former settlements in Guayabo, approximately 40 miles east of San Jose. Here, dozens of buildings have been unearthed by archeologists and anthropologists seeking to understand more about these fascinating tribes in addition, evidence of sophisticated water systems such as aqueducts has been discovered at these sites.
Today, many of Costa Rica’s indigenous tribes live on. Several of these groups still inhabit their ancestral lands. The Matambú, who came to Costa Rica around 500 A.D., can be found in Guanacaste. The Bribri people still make their home in Limon, while the Cabécar, Costa Rica’s largest indigenous tribe, dwell in the mountains surrounding Cerro Chirripo, and have retained much of their culture and ancestral heritage.
All that glitters
Although the arrival of the Spanish heralded a new era in Costa Rican history, evidence of how tribal groups gradually adopted a more modern form of trading has been found all over the country. The Museo del Oro Precolombino, or Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, is one of San Jose’s most popular attractions, and here, visitors can marvel at historical artifacts—some of which are more than 1,500 years old—from this fascinating period.
Religious artifacts such as carved idols have been discovered at several archeological sites across the country, some of which date back as far as 500 A.D. In addition to items of great spiritual significance, statues, sacrificial weaponry and even ornate decorative clothing accessories have been unearthed in the past century.
While the artifacts housed in this museum are certainly impressive, the process of extracting and working with the gold itself is also noteworthy. Costa Rican tribes worked with alluvial gold, which was obtained by sifting through river silt and the sands of coastal areas with wooden trays. Once the gold had been gathered, it was pressed into geometric shapes before being decorated in a technique known as repoussé, which involved pressing on the back of the piece with a dull tool to create a raised relief design on the item’s front.
Few people realize just how intricate and fascinating Costa Rica’s history is, particularly the Pre-Columbian period. With so many cultural influences to explore and such a rich history to discover, Costa Rica is much more than just a tropical paradise.
Costa Rica — History and Culture
Costa Ricans speak Spanish and are largely Catholic as a result of their colonization in the 1500s. However, there were a variety of pre-existing Native American groups before the arrival of Europeans, and many traditions, recipes, artistic and musical styles have been retained over time to create a blended culture that is a rich and interesting mix of influences.
Costa Rica was first populated by various indigenous tribes who were absorbed into the Spanish colonial society in the 1500s. During this time, the country was a largely autonomous province of the Captaincy General of Guatemala under the Viceroyalty of New Spain (Mexico).
Trade restrictions and a lack of exploitable mineral or indigenous human resources made Costa Rica one of the poorer, more isolated, and under-populated regions of the Spanish Empire, where settlers largely had to work their own land. For these reasons, Costa Rica was largely ignored by the Spainish and left to develop their own rural democracy without oppressed indigenous classes.
When the Spanish were defeated in the Mexican War of Independence in 1821, Guatemalan authorities claimed independence for all of Central America, including Costa Rica, who had joined the First Mexican Empire that later collapsed in 1823 to be replaced by the Federal Republic of America in 1839. Costa Rica, a largely overlooked province, remained untouched by the various civil wars of the time.
Costa Rica formally withdrew from the defunct republic in 1838 and declared independence. Coffee plantations were established in the early 19th century, with the first shipments to Europe made in 1843, heralding the start of their first major export industry. Coffee remained the number one source of income for the next century, prompting the development of transportation infrastructure. Immigrants who worked on the railway, completed in 1890, settled in Costa Rica, some with land grants which were used to produce bananas in quantities to rival coffee as the main export. This allowed foreign fruit companies to gain a large role in the nation’s economy.
General Federico Tinoco Granados took power in 1917 with an unpopular and violent military dictatorship. He was overthrown in 1919, prompting a decline in the size, wealth and power of Costa Rica’s military. An armed uprising led by Jose Figueres Ferrer in 1948 followed a disputed presidential election. The successful rebels formed a government junta which abolished the army and supervised the democratically elected assembly’s drafting of a new constitution. In 1949, the junta handed power to the new government and 13 peaceful and transparent elections have taken place since.
Costa Rica is situated at what was once the crossroads between Mesoamerican and South American cultures, on a landmass ranging from lowland coasts to jungle and mountains. The Spanish colonized the country in the 16th century, imposing the Spanish language and Catholic religion on the people. The festivals and practices of the indigenous tribes had synergies with the religious calendar, which means that, while the major holidays and events are still Christian, many elements and rituals date back to much earlier times.
The Costa Rican culture is an interesting blend of Native American, Spanish and, since the 17th and 18th centuries, African influences, as the Atlantic coast was populated by workers during that period. The resulting national identity is colorful, sincere, and multifaceted, with a delicious cuisine and an affinity for music and dance.
People and Culture of Costa Rica
The people of Costa Rica are welcoming and friendly. The Costa Rican culture is vibrant and highly influenced by mainly Roman Catholic Religion like the rest of Latin America. Spanish is the dominant language even though English is widely spoken along the Caribbean Coast and among the younger population.
Costa Ricans in general are friendly, warm-hearted, fun-loving, helpful, and laid back. The Costa Rican people are adoringly referred to as "Ticos," a name they have created for themselves. This laid back attitude can be a shock to many foreigners who are used to punctuality.
Costa Rica has two coasts and with that, two cultures on the Pacific Ocean and Central Highlands the Ticos (Costa Ricans) share a unique and welcoming latin culture and on the Atlantic Ocean, especially in and around Limon, it is an English-speaking Jamaican influenced African-Caribbean culture.
Catholicism is Costa Rica's official religion, but there are several other religious groups such as Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal, Baptist, and other Protestants that have significant membership in Costa Rica. Most people consider themselves Roman Catholic, however the ties to religion are generally looser than other Latin American countries.
Languages of Costa Rica
Costa Ricans often speak Spanish. The Caribbean coast has mostly native English speaking population, whose accent is strongly influenced by Jamaica spoken "Patua" which is a blend of several languages. Learning the language and specific dialect of any foreign country is by far the single most important investment you can make especially if you plan to live there for significant periods of time. This can help to avoid misunderstandings and other negative situations.
The Central American colonies promptly declared themselves independent of Mexico. Costa Rica became a province of the Central American Federation along with Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador. The federation did not levy taxes or support an army, and Guatemala soon attempted to dominate the fledgling group, angering the other member provinces. Moreover, constant conflict among its members plagued the federation, and it ceased to be an effective governing body. In 1838 the federation gave its members permission to form independent nations, and that same year Costa Rica withdrew to become a sovereign country.
In 1948 the country’s former president, Rafael Angel Calderon, ran for president once again and lost by a slim margin. Unwilling to accept defeat, he refused to hand over the office to the newly elected president, Otillio Ulate, and a two-month-long civil war ensued. Following the war, Jose Figueres emerged as leader of a temporary government, and in 1949, a new constitution was formed. In an attempt to prevent civil war from breaking out again, the constitution dissolved Costa Rica’s armed forces.
Lorraine Newberry graduated from the University of Michigan and worked in the field of technical writing for several years before turning to freelance writing. Since then she has written for print publications and websites like Go World Travel and Collector's Quest, as well as her own website, Traveling Latin America.