Costa Rica was not a promising land back in the nineteenth century when coffee -the golden bean- prompted as a means to transform the economy of the nation. Back in the 16th century, sickness, starvation and cruel tropical conditions defeated colonizing expeditions to Costa Rica. Indians were fierce fighters and, really, gold was not as abundant as Spaniards first expected when they baptized Costa Rica under the name of 'rich coast'.
Such difficulties turned Spanish attention away from southern Central America, and on to Peru and Mexico, where new conquests and gold discoveries were far more promising than Costa Rica's isolated settlements.
Since Indian labor and money were so scarce during the 16th century, crop cultivation was developed for basic subsistence only, and settlers were forced to work the land themselves. When Juan Vásquez de Coronado arrived as governor in 1562, he put his efforts into founding a major town. He drew settlers together from different regions, and in 1563 Cartago was established as the national Capital of Costa Rica.
Costa Rica waited for over 150 years for new towns to be formed: Villa Vieja in 1717 (now Heredia); Villa Nueva in 1737 (San José); Villa Hermosa in 1782 (Alajuela). Gradually, as the population grew, the region began to develop crops, such as sugar cane and tobacco, which became the basis to a sounder economy that would later embrace coffee production.