History of Costa Rica

Archaeological evidence indicates that groups related to Colombian, Nicaraguan, and Panamanian indigenous populations settled here more than 10,000 years ago. They cultivated corn in the drier lowlands and valleys, and propagated cacao (chocolate), pejibaye (a palm fruit) and likely many other edible forest crops, as well as hunted wildlife. An extensive trade network with indigenous groups outside the region is believed to have existed using dugout canoes along the pacific coast and continued on by foot into the interior. Individual indigenous communities belonged to chiefdoms that extended over large areas and lasted until after the arrival of the Spanish. Today, the indigenous population, split between eight ethnic groups, numbers near 65,000 inhabitants and accounts for almost 2% of the Costa Rican population.

Lacking rich reserves of gold and large indigenous urban centers that could be readily exploited, Costa Rica generally failed to attract the armies of conquistadors. The Spanish who settled here were of a more humble sort and largely became poor subsistence farmers. They lived on small farms or in simple rural communities and were practically isolated from the rest of the world. This changed in the 19th century when affluent Europeans developed a taste for coffee. It was soon discovered that Costa Rica’s mountain climate and rich soils of volcanic origin, were ideal for growing high-quality coffee. This very important crop transformed our economy in the 19th century.

By the 1830’s, coffee brought international trade, and later prosperity, to the nation. In the late 1800’s a railway was built to replace coffee transport by slow-moving oxcarts. Lacking enough residents for a sufficient workforce, Chinese, Jamaicans of African descent, and Italians were hired to build the railways.

Many later settled in the country. In the early 20th century, coffee-growing attracted German, French, and other Europeans to come to live in Costa Rica and establish their own plantations. Finally, North Americans have settled in Costa Rica in recent years attracted by its warm climate, lower cost of living for retirees, diverse businesses, and its biological wealth, among other reasons.

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