Costa Rica Overview

History

Back in the 16th century, when the Spanish explorers arrived in what today is called Costa Rica, all they found was a region scarcely populated by several poorly organized tribes. The indigenous people lived in quite autonomous groups and were probably not more that 200,000 in total.

Since the indigenous communities had very little power when the Spanish arrived, the Spanish settlers has had a great influence over the country's history. Directly related to this phenomenon is the fact that when the Spanish arrived, they brought with them many diseases that killed the few native people that existed.

The area was named Costa Rica (the rich coast) by Columbus when he arrived. The natives he encountered were all so friendly and wore lots of gold. In the 1560's colonization was taking place. The first colonial settlement in Costa Rica was Cartago. It was situated in the central highlands because of its rich and fertile soil, and not along the coast as with many other colonial settlements.

In the 18th century, residents started to expand out of Cartago, and began to create new settlements such as Heredia, San Jose, and Alajuela. In 1723 the volcano Irazu erupted and destroyed much of the original Cartago, but fortunately the survivors were able to rebuild the town from what was left by the that natural disaster.

In 1808 Costa Rica was able to find its wealth in the production of coffee. This new industry allow for massive expansion economically, geographically, and culturally. The new sense of national pride developed from the capacity to create their own economy. This pride eventually led to their own independence from the Spanish crown in 1821. The coffee industry after the independence allowed for the creation of a class structure, and played an important part in developing the political structure of the country during this period.

In 1856, this new found independence was soon threatened by the American William Walker, who's motif was to extend the glory of slavery and form a confederacy of South American states. While making his way south, he dreamed of making the five Central American countries a federated state with himself as emperor. He gathered an army of Nicaraguan slaves and headed south to Costa Rica. The president at the time, Juan Rafael Mora, was able to quickly organize an army of less than 10,000, and fight off the pretentious US military officer. Costa Rica still celebrates its peasant army's victory. The battlefield - La Casona, in Santa Rosa National Park - is now a museum.

Today Costa Rica takes great pride in the fact that it is one of the richest Latin American countries and it displays this by establishing great protection for their natural environment and welcoming people from all over the world to take part in its pride.

Culture

Costa Rica is a country of amazing biodiversity. Its wildlife, natural attractions and reputation for conservation attracts nature lovers from all over the world. Governmental initiatives have made efforts to preserve the country's image as an ecotourism destination, making Costa Rica one of the best places to experience the tropics naturally and with minimal impact. As much as 27% of the land is designated to National Parks, forest reserves and Indian Reservations.

The cultural activity in Costa Rica has only begun to flourish in the last 100 years, due to a historical European influence erasing most of the indigenous culture. This leads to the country being noted more for its natural beauty and friendly people than for its culture.

Nestled in between Nicaragua and Panama in Central America, Costa Rica borders both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. A series of volcanic mountain chains runs from the Nicaraguan border in the north-west to the Panamanian border in the south-east. This splits the country in two and leaves a high-altitude plain in the center, with coastal lowlands on both sides. The diverse coastal topography offers a multitude of outdoor activities for everyone, such as bird-watching, deep-sea fishing and wind surfing.

San Jose: The capital at first sight offers an energetic atmosphere with narrow streets, noisy vendors and tooting drivers. However below this surface you will find a more civilized city with quiet places to eat, drink and meet and multiple museums displaying everything from paintings and precious stones to colonization memories and archeological findings.

RELIGION, LANGUAGE AND FOOD

In principle over 90% of the Costa Rica population is of Roman Catholic faith. Most church attendance takes place at christenings, funerals and marriages. The Caribbean coast population, consisting mostly of black people, tend to be Protestant, and there are of course a few other beliefs in San José, including a small Jewish community.

Spanish is the main language throughout Costa Rica. On the Caribbean coast many people speak a lively dialect of English, known as Creole. Bribri is one of few Indian languages still spoken in remote areas. It is estimated to be understood by about 10,000 people. English is understood in most tourist destinations.

Costa Rican cuisine is not so much spicy and hot as it is tasty. Most dishes are centered around beef, chicken and fish/seafood dishes, served with rice or beans and fresh fruit as supplements or desert. If eaten as a snack, make sure the fruit is washed well.