According to Countryaah, 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.
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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 independent.
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.