A Brief History of Costa Rica

By Tim Lambert

Early Costa Rica

At the beginning of the 16th century, the indigenous people of Costa Rica were divided into tribes of farmers. They had created a sophisticated society. However, on 18 September 1502, Christopher Columbus sighted Costa Rica. In the mid 16th century the Spanish gradually conquered Costa Rica.

However, it lacked gold. Its population was small and it was far less important than the other Spanish colonies. Furthermore, the indigenous population was devastated by European diseases to which they had no resistance.

The first Spanish town was Cartago, which was founded in 1562. However, for centuries, Costa Rica remained poor and unimportant with few towns.

In 1821 Central America broke away from Spain and became independent although independence meant little to most people in Costa Rica. Juan Mora Fernandez became the first head of state in 1824.

At first, Costa Rica was part of a federation with other Central American states. However, it soon broke up and Costa Rica formally became a separate state in 1838.

Modern Costa Rica

Meanwhile in the early 19th century coffee was grown in Costa Rica and a class of coffee barons grew up. Coffee brought new wealth to the country.

In 1889 the first democratic elections were held in Costa Rica. The early 20th century was generally peaceful in Costa Rica.

However, in 1948 a short civil war was fought following a contested election. About 2,000 people died in the fighting. However, peace soon returned and in 1949 a new constitution was published. The army in Costa Rica was abolished.

In the late 20th century Costa Rica gradually developed and in 1987 President Oscar Arias Sanchez was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. n Costa Rica in the 21st Century

In 2010 Laura Chinchilla was elected the first woman president of Costa Rica.

Today Costa Rica is a relatively prosperous country with a well-developed welfare system. Tourism is a growing industry. Bananas, coffee, sugar, and beef are still important exports. However, industry in Costa Rica is developing rapidly. There is every reason to be optimistic about the future of Costa Rica. In 2020 the population of Costa Rica was 5 million.

Last revised 2023