the area known today as Costa Rica was populated by a number
of Native American tribes such as Chorotega, Cobici, Caribe
and Boruca when the first Europeans arrived. In 1502,
Colombus reached Costa Rica on his last voyage. Although the
first contacts had been amicable, these tribes were not easy
to submit to Europeans, and it took almost 60 years before
they succeeded in establishing a more permanent European
presence. Gaspar de Espinosa, Hernán Ponce de León and Juan
de Castañeda conducted the first expeditions in coastal
areas in the period from 1560-1564, followed by Juan de
Cavallón, the priest Juan de Estrada Rabago and Juan Vázquez
de Coronado. The conquest of the country was a reality in
the second half of the 16th century.
In the Central Highlands, in 1564, the Spaniards founded
the city of Cartago, as the first permanent residence under
the command of the General of Guatemala, and which
religiously belonged to the Archbishop of Nicaragua.
The resistance of the indigenous population, for a long
time, isolated the Spanish colonizers and prevented them
from organizing, as elsewhere in the continent, a system of
encomienda - slavery of the local population.
Instead, a patriarchal system of small landowners was
established - and not a landowner's land as is known from
neighboring countries. This is perhaps the explanation that
today's Costa Rica, instead of being destroyed by civil wars
and military dictatorships, has experienced democratic
stability and, among other things, does not have a regular
army like the rest of the countries in the area.
When Mexico declared independence from Spain in 1821,
Costa Rica, along with other former Spanish colonies, were
incorporated into the Mexican Empire. In 1823, Costa Rica
helped create the Union of United Central Provinces, where
the country remained a member until the Union disintegrated
in 1840. Costa Rica was one of the regions that contributed
most to avoiding the "balkanization" of British imperialism
by the area. That is why the leader of the Central American
Unity Movement, Francisco Morazán, precisely chose Costa
Rica as the base for his military expeditions until, in
1848, the country accepted a separation that made Costa Rica
The North American William Walker - who had conquered
Nicaragua - in the mid-19th century tried to expand his
territory to the whole of Central America, but was defeated
by forces under the command of President Juan Rafael Mora.
Costa Rica experienced a material prosperity period under
General Tomás Guardia, who led the country from 1870-82.
Although personal freedom was curtailed and foreign debt
increased, his government succeeded in increasing coffee and
sugar exports and more schools were erected. The
constitution of 1871 was in effect until 1949.
The last decades of the 19th century were characterized
by a gradual reduction of the Church's influence on worldly
life. The responsibility for cemeteries became, for example.
handed over to the state and a few years later the Jesuits
were expelled from the country. In 1886, compulsory and free
tuition was introduced, while "ordinary" schools, a museum
and a national library were erected. José Joaquin Rodriguez
was elected president in 1890, after what is termed the
first free and "honest" elections in Central America.
In 1916, Nicaragua authorized the United States to use
the San Juan River, which borders Costa Rica. The San José
government protested, stressing that the country's rights
had been violated, and the complaint was brought entirely to
the Central American court that upheld Costa Rica. Nicaragua
declined to comply with the verdict and resigned from the
court, which was a major reason for the dissolution of the
court a year later.