History of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is one of the most stable, prosperous and progressive countries in Latin America.

History of Costa Rica


We know that Costa Rica was inhabited by humans for tens of thousands of years before the Spanish arrived – but we don’t know very much about those civilisations as very  little evidence remains.  There are no complex structures such as those found in other countries, there seems to have been no central organisation point.  However archaeological digs have unearthed some very old pathways and artefacts.  The most famous being the numerous spherical stones, Las Bolas, discovered in the south.   They vary in size but some weigh several tonnes.  Many have been relocated but in June 2014 the ‘Pre-Columbian Chiefdom Settlements with stone spheres’ were added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.


Costa Rica was sparsely inhabited by indigenous people when Christopher Columbus came ashore in 1502.  It was a tough place to settle for the Spanish.   With fewer easily accessible resources than Mexico and Peru,  it didn’t receive as much attention and influence from Spain as some of the other colonies.  Unfortunately during this time many of the indigenous people were wiped out by diseases such as smallpox.


In 1821, when Mexico rebelled against Spain, the rest of Central America, including Costa Rica, followed in their footsteps.  Two years later there was a split in Costa Rica sparking a civil war as some areas wanted to become part of Mexico.  This splinter group was defeated and sovereignty was established.

There was another takeover bid from an American named William Walker who wanted to annex the whole of Central America.  First he tried Mexico, then Panama, then Costa Rica.  He was unsuccessful.  After being defeated in Costa Rica he moved on to try his luck in Honduras – here is where his luck ran out and he was captured and executed.


In 1948 a brief civil war erupted after the incumbent leader Dr Rafael Angel Calderon and his party refused to relinquish power after being defeated in the presidential election.  He was defeated by Jose Maria Figueres Ferrer in the short-lived war.  As a confident gesture that Costa Rica was a passive nation the Costa Rican Army was then disbanded and there has not been one since.


Under Ferrer’s leadership huge reforms were made in civil rights.  Women and minorities were given the vote, banks were nationalised and presidential term limits were established.  Ferrer’s legacy cemented Costa Rica’s liberal democratic values that we see today.  There is a solid education foundation and Costa Rica’s literacy rate sits just above 96%.


In 1987 the President, Oscar Arias Sanchez was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in ending the Nicaraguan civil war.  He was able to get all of the Central American presidents to sign up to his peace plan.


Costa Rica is considered a very safe, peaceful and progressive country.   It is currently aiming to become the world’s first carbon neutral country by 2025. Tourism has grown substantially in recent years and is a major contributor to Costa Rica’s economy along with agriculture, particularly bananas and coffee.

This all adds up to ‘Pura Vida’ for Costa Rica.