history of costa rica

Costa Rica | History, Map, Flag, Climate, Population, & Facts

Costa Rica is a small country in Central America. It has the most stable democratic government out of all the other Central American countries. Moreover, the 1949 constitution of Costa Rica offers an independent election commission, a fair and impartial judicial system, and a unicameral legislature. The constitution gave women their right to vote and finally abolished the Costa Rican army. It also fulfilled many social, educational, and economic promises for the citizens.


Costa Rica was first encountered by the famous European explorer Christopher Columbus. On September 18, 1502, he made his final voyage across the world and discovered the land. He and his crew set the anchor offshore and were greeted by local Carib Indians.

Later, upon seeing the inhabitants wear gold bands in ears and nose, the country was named Costa Rica or Rich Coast by the Spaniard Gil Gonzalez Davila. However, the present-day archaeologists have evidence to prove that civilization existed in the region even 10,000 years back, before Columbus set his foot in Costa Rica. 

Near the West Coast, the pre-Columbian inhabitants left behind many spherical granite balls as cultural mysteries, ranging from a size of a baseball to that of a minibus. When Columbus set his foot in Costa Rica, he found four major indigenous tribes living in the region. The Caribs resided on the east coast, whereas the Chibchas, Borucas, and Diquis occupied the southwest region. 

After the Mexican War of Independence (1810-1821), Costa Rica was included in the independent Mexican Empire in 1821. Till 1813, it was a part of the Federal Republic of Central America. Costa Rica was finally able to establish a democratic government after 1869.


Costa Rica is located on the Isthmus of Panama. It’s a small republic country in Central America, sharing its coastlines with the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. It is bordered by Nicaragua in the North and Panama in the Southeast region.

Also, the country is approximately the size of Slovakia, with an area of 51,100 km². It has a narrow Pacific coastal area covered with rough mountains that cut Costa Rica from northwest to southeast. The mountain peaks are over 3,600 m in height, with the highest one being Mount Cerro Chirripo (3,820 m high). 

There are also many volcanoes in the mountain chain, one of them being Irazu, which erupted in the mid-1960s. The coastal plains of the region are low. Hence, they’re often subjected to flooding. They are also densely forested, hot, and humid.

The capital city of Costa Rica is San José, and the official language spoken in the region is Spanish.


The Costa Rican flag has five horizontal bands of different colors. It includes one wide red band in the center surrounded by two narrow white and two narrow blue bands. The red color of the flag represents the citizens’ generosity and the lives lost while defending the country, and the white color stands for wisdom, peace, and happiness. Lastly, blue represents perseverance, idealism, opportunities, and the sky.

The flag’s horizontal band design was created in 1848 after the French Second Republic and the 1848 Revolution. It was designed by Pacifica Fernandez, the wife of the former president, Jose Maria Castro Madriz.

The flag also has a coat of arms that symbolizes the isthmus between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. The coat of arms even has seven stars that stand for Costa Rica’s seven provinces.


Costa Rica’s climate remains pretty hot throughout the year, especially along the coastal regions and plains. However, the temperature is a bit milder in the plateau region. 

As the country is near the Equator, the temperature changes are low. So, the main difference you’ll get to see is during the rainy season. It rains all across the country, making it densely covered with rainforests. 

The Pacific Coast and the plateau region usually experience a rainy season from May to November and a dry one from December to April. In the rainy season, the rainfall is abundant, making it the least favorite time to visit Costa Rica. Along the eastern coasts and plains, the climate is hot and wet, meaning heavy rainfall all year round.

If you’re also planning a trip to Costa Rica, it’s best to visit during the dry season. You can even check some travel tips to Costa Rica to get an idea of the essential things you might need to carry with you on your visit.


Costa Rica’s population comprises 5 million inhabitants. In the last two decades, the population increased considerably in numbers. However, it has slowed down a lot since then. Some studies even show that the Costa Rican population might never reach 6 million people. It’s mainly due to the lowest fertility rate in the continent, with about 1.7 births per woman.

Costa Rica’s inhabitants are called Ticos or Ticas. The names come from their tendency to use several tiny suffixes while talking, especially Tico and Tica. Also, their official language is Spanish, but they have a specific accent.

The majority of the Costa Rican population lives in The Great Metropolitan Area in the country’s central part. It’s also known as the Central Valley because of its big valley surrounded by volcanic ranges.

Religion and ethnicity.

Half of Costa Rica’s inhabitants are Catholics, while the other half define themselves as non-catholic Christians.

According to 21st-century genetic studies, Costa Rica’s population mainly has four ancestors- the Amerind, the European, the African, and the Asian. Further studies concluded that the Ticas are 9.2% Asian, 11.7% African, 33.5% Amerind, and 45.6% European.

In the present-day, there are about eight different indigenous tribes in Costa Rica- Bribris, Borucas, Huetares, Malekus, Cabécares, Ngäbe, Térrabas, and Chorotegas.


During the 1980s, Costa Rica’s stagnant economy led to a decline in the standard of living. However, by the 1990s, the country was back on its feet- competing with Panama and Belize for Central America’s highest GNP (Gross National Product) per capita. 

By the 21st century, the annual GNP growth rate of Costa Rica was more than the Central American average. It was even double the world average. However, the global economic crisis from 2007 to 2008 halted the country’s growing economy.

Before the global economic crisis, Costa Rica benefited from stable economic growth. However, it fell to 0.7% in 2009. By next year, the growth resumed again at more than 3%. So, if we look at the big picture, when compared to its neighboring countries, Costa Rica is neither a rich country nor a poor one.

Trades and Services

In Costa Rica, the exports trading market accounts for 40% of the country’s GDP. The agricultural exports of sugar, coffee, banana, and beef still comprise a major portion of this commodity export trade. Besides, the country has also broadened its trading game to industrial products. 

Tourism is another essential element that contributes to the country’s growing economy. Costa Rica’s rich biodiversity attracts many tourists from different places, making it one of the best destinations for ecotourism.

Also, the country’s stable politics and comparatively high education levels attract many foreign investors. It has even brought one of the largest foreign direct investments per capita in Latin America.

Natural Wonders of Costa Rica

With a never-ending range of natural wonders, Costa Rica has everything an adventure enthusiast looks for. From uneven volcanoes to black sand beaches- there’s a lot to cover when you’re on a trip to Costa Rica. Here are some of the natural wonders that make Costa Rica a popular travel destination.

Poás Volcano

With 40 volcanic eruptions since 1828, the Poás Volcano is a breathtaking active volcano. Although you might not get to see the fiery night views of the erupting volcano, it still holds its awe-striking beauty. There are even two crater lakes nearby, with the northern one being the acidic Laguna Caliente. Also, hikers often get to see howler monkeys, sloths, coatis, and anteaters in the region.

Celeste River

Part of the Tenorio Volcano National Park, the Celeste River is well-known for its unique turquoise water body. You’ll find a large waterfall and various hot water springs in the park. Moreover, the location is mainly preferred by tourists that love to trek along a water body. 

Playa Negra

Playa Negra is a black-sand beach located at the northwestern end of Cahuita. It has the Azul ecológica flag that indicates high ecological standards are always maintained for the beach. It’s also a perfect spot for swimming as it’s never too crowded.

La Leona Waterfall

Located near the Rincón de la Vieja Volcano in Curubandé, the La Leona Waterfall is a small waterfall concealed in the caves of a beautiful river. It’s another great spot for hiking alongside the turquoise water body. If you’re also planning a visit to the country, make sure to check out the guide to visit La Leona Waterfall!

Other well-known natural tourist places include Monteverde Cloud Forest, Mount Cerro Chirripó, Venado Caves, Parque Nacional Barra Honda Caverns, etc. These places are worth visiting on your trip to Costa.

6 Interesting Facts about Costa Rica

From amazing views of beaches and mountains to dense rain forests- Costa Rica makes the perfect holiday destination for nature lovers. Below are six amusing facts to make you fall in love with the country.

  • The Costa Rican currency offers a brief insight into the country’s rich biodiversity. You’ll find a different landscape and animal on every denomination, including the sloth, white-tailed deer, capuchin monkey, and blue morpho butterfly.
  • The famous beach of the Whale Bay or Bahía Ballena looks like a whale’s tail when seen from above, making it a must-visit spot!
  • Costa Rica’s rich biodiversity accounts for 5% of the world’s total biodiversity.
  • Since the 1949 constitution came in power, Costa Rica has proudly abolished their military- meaning it has no army.
  • The country has five active volcanoes, including the Rincón de la Vieja, Arenal Volcano, the Poás, the Irazú, and the Turrialba. These volcanoes offer a spectacular sight to visitors.
  • Another interesting fact about the country is that it generates nearly 99% of its total electricity from renewable energy sources like geothermal energy, biomass, hydropower, wind, and solar.