Costa Rica History
Today, Costa Rica is a stable, democratic country that has maintained a peaceful, economically sound government since 1899. Its people enjoy relative affluence and prosperity. It has earned its nickname, the Switzerland of the Americas, because of its prosperity, forward thinking, enterprising nature, and neutrality toward other governments. Its path to arriving as the gem of Central America was slow in coming, however. Little is known about Costa Rican ancient history.

Europeans discovered it during one of Christopher Columbus's expeditions to the new world in 1502. It is said that Columbus gave Costa Rica its name, meaning rich coast. He called it such when encountering the indigenous people who wore thinly carved gold jewelry about their necks. However, some believe that Fern�ndez de C�rdoba chose the name approximately 30 years later when he established a settlement in 1539.

Those who believe that Fern�ndez de C�rdoba gave it its name feel that he named it Costa Rica because of its fertile lands, splendid forests, and exotic and rare wildlife. However received, Costa Rica deserves its name. It is a land of plenty.

Truly verdant and plenteous, it was, however, not easy to subdue. Having a strong sense of pride, aboriginal people had no desire to be imprisoned in slavery. Instead, they retreated into the jungle. Spanish settlers, including officials, had to farm the land themselves. Trade was nearly impossible, as they had nothing, really, to trade, making the economy tenuous, at best.

Nevertheless, Costa Ricans persisted. Survival, hard work, and pride in themselves, principles formulated from the time of Spanish rule to the present day, bridged a sense of equality and a need for a more egalitarian government. In 1882, Costa Rica, along with the rest of Central America, seceded from Spanish rule. It was primed for Democracy in 1899. Once it found democracy, Costa Rica held onto it tenaciously and has enjoyed democracy for over one hundred years.

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Costa Rica's unique history 1456
One of Costa Rica�s earliest settlements 1476
The Origins of Tortuguero 1628
Important historical dates 17699
Costa Rica History 35591
Bernarda V�squez M�ndez, The first woman to vote in Costa Rica 9402
Archaeology in the Catie Botanical Gardens 3004
The spheres of Diqu�s 3550
Building the Jungle Train 2545
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  • Costa Rica Art and Folklore  ( 25 items )
    The towns of Santa Ana and neighboring Escazu, immediately southwest of San Jose, have long been magnets for artists. Escazu in particular is home to many contemporary artists: Christina Fournier; the brothers Jorge, Manuel, Javier, and Carlos Mena; and Dinorah Bolandi, who was awarded the nation's top cultural prize. Many of Costa Rica's new breed of artists have won international acclaim. Isidro Con Wong, from Puntarenas, is known for a style of "magic realism," with works in permanent collections in several United States and French museums. Once a poor farmer, he started painting with his fingers and achiote, a red paste made from a seed.

    The government-subsidized House of Arts helps sponsor art by offering free lessons in painting and sculpture. The Ministry of Culture sponsors art lessons and exhibits on Sundays in city parks. University art galleries, the Museo de Arte Costarricense, and the many smaller galleries scattered throughout San Jose exhibit works of all kinds. The Centro Creativo, opened in 1991 in Santa Ana, west of Escazu, offers courses and studio space for local and visiting artists.

  • Costa Rica Cultural Heritage  ( 6 items )
    A country with high standards for education, Costa Rica has not neglected its arts. Progressive in thinking, Costa Rica has opened its ways to Western culture. Art, music, theater, and dance, flourish in the main cities, with its countryside citizens catching up. One of the most promising of the arts, The National Symphony orchestra has gained worldwide attention since the 1970's. The orchestra performs in the beautiful National Theater to enthusiastic reviews.

    In addition to enjoying classical music, Costa Ricans love to dance. Many of their musical influences for dancing derive from Pre-Columbian, African, Afro-Caribbean, and other South and Central American music. Ticans like to get together often to dance either in discos or among themselves. Folk Dancing too, is well enjoyed and supported. Exciting, lively, and boisterous, in bright, frilly, costumes, folk dancers enthrall their audiences. Visitors and natives alike enjoy watching and participating in traditional dance.

    Audiences are entertained by theater productions, as well. Passionate about their theater, Costa Rica keeps its dramatic arts successful. Little dramas or comedies, from puppet shows to larger productions, flourish everywhere in San Jos�. It is said that per capita, Costa Rica has more theater companies than elsewhere worldwide.

    The beautiful San Jos� Museum of Art houses many unrivaled works by local artists. Newly financed and encouraged, fine art and crafts enjoy a new birth. In addition to fine arts, artisans are beginning to research their roots and are recreating crafts once lost. A discussion about Costa Rican culture is not complete without informing visitors about food and eating. Costa Ricans enjoy fine dining in many restaurants throughout the countryside. San Jos� boasts a number of elegant eateries matching any fine restaurant in the world.

    Restaurants are not all there is worth mentioning when it comes to dining. Their food stands apart. With so much ideal weather and fertile land for crops, Costa Rican produce is fresher than fresh � it is perfect! A new resident or tourist will recognize some of the fruit in supermarkets and on menus. Bananas, mangoes, cashews, pineapples, melons, and strawberries, are common in most markets.

    Other delectables native to the region such as, guayabas, tamarindo, and carambolas, might be surprising in shape, as they might have spines, or look like sea urchins, but are really fruit. Always delicious, Costa Rican fruit can be a real adventure for sight, smell, and of course, taste.

    When referencing fruit, one need identify fruits of the sea - fish. With two coasts, the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, Costa Ricans eat many varying types of wonderfully fresh fish. Fish can be bought in many markets and supermarkets and is a staple in restaurants and home cooking. Another Costa Rican staple is beef. A cattle-ranching country, their beef is excellent and less expensive than chicken and pork. In fact, beef is one of Costa Rica's exports, making its way to markets worldwide.

    A discussion about Costa Rican food and global markets would not be complete without pointing to coffee. For a long time, coffee was Costa Rica's primary export and one of its most central industries. Among the finest in the world, it continues to be a highly sought after product as it remains the choice of many. Costa Rica means rich coast. Yes, it is a rich, well-lived, modern, lifestyle. Mostly, however, it is rich in exquisite paradisiacal pleasure.

  • Costa Rican Traditions  ( 4 items )
    Costa Ricans, as people in other countries, are caught between old cultural forces and new ones that influence especially its young inhabitants. Ticos as a whole still respect conservative values, but they're starting to adopt several American cultural traits. Even then, Costa Ricans still possess a unique identity that distinguishes them from other places and even from their neighboring countries.

    Ticos are pretty homogeneous racially and culturally speaking, since only 1% of their population is considered to be Indian, and the other Black and Chinese minorities aren't very numerous. A traveler going through Latin America will notice the Ticos's relative "whiteness" when compared to the people of other places. Ticos also have a very high level of education, and the literacy rate is 96%. Thus, Costa Ricans define themselves as unique and different from their neighboring countries.

    Costa Ricans are still conservative when it comes to family issues. Even though the amount of single mother families is extremely high, family ties are still very strong even in these types of households. Traditions revolve around the family from the moment of birth to that of death. Some immensely important family traditions are: baptisms, first communions, engagement parties, weddings and funerals. These events are attended by the extended family as well as by a large quantity of friends and their family members. Also, most Costa Ricans still live at home until they are married, and leaving the household to go to college or to gain independence is still very rare.

    Traditions are also shaped by gender differences and the "machismo" system. Men and women are expected to act differently from each other, and to respect their roles. A large proportion of Costa Rican women are professionals and hold important positions in both businesses and the government, but they still retain some traits that are traditional and conservative.

    Besides traditions that revolve around the family, there are also several significant religious celebrations. The main religious events are: Easter Week or Semana Santa, Christmas Week and August second, which is the celebration of the Virgin of the Angels. Costa Rica is also different from other Latin American countries, because it practices a "lukewarm" Catholicism that causes a strange mixture of partying and religious celebration during these holidays. Also, the Indian population is so small, that religious events don't offer a mixture of Catholic and Indian practices; thus, Costa Rican processions, for example, aren't as colorful as in Mexico or Guatemala.

    Costa Rica TraditionsFor Easter Week, many people that live near the capital city of San Jose choose to go to the beach; for them, Easter is mostly a time to relax and to have a good time. However, some people choose to stay at home and to join religious celebrations that include masses and processions. Nearly everything shuts down from Thursday to Monday, which is why it's a good idea to stock up on goods before then and to avoid traveling, since some transportation services also stop completely. During the Christmas celebration and some days previous to New Years, the same phenomenon occurs.

    A lot of people attend religious celebrations held at churches or at homes (like rosary and prayer events that offer large quantities of food and drink), while others choose to escape their urban routines and go to the beach. Another religious celebration is the pilgrimage to the Basilica de Los Angeles in Cartago city, in honor of the Virgin of the Angels. During this holiday many people walk to the city from all parts of the country, in order to pay a "promise" to the Virgin (when she answered a prayer) or to renew their faith. This event is incredible because of its magnitude and also because some believers travel for days or even weeks in order to reach their destination and to honor the Virgin.

    Even though some Costa Ricans decide to party during religious celebrations, they still prefer to do it in the company of their family, thus maintaining cultural and family unity. Ticos are extremely friendly to foreigners, and once they've gotten to know you they'll invite you to family gatherings and celebrations. After all, hospitality is probably the most widespread tradition in Costa Rica.
  • Costa Rica Literature  ( 4 items )

    Though the government, private donors, and the leading newspaper La Nacion sponsor literature through annual prizes, only a handful of writers make a living from writing, and Costa Rican literature is often belittled as the most prosaic and anemic in Latin America. Lacking great goals and struggles, Costa Rica was never a breeding ground for the passions and dialectics which spawned the literary geniuses of Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Chile, whose works, full of satire and bawdy humor, are "clenched fists which cry out against social injustice."

    Costa Rica's early literary figures were mostly essayists and poets (Roberto Brenes Mesen and Joaquin Garcia Monge are the most noteworthy). Even the writing of the 1930's and '40s, whose universal theme was a plea for social progress, lacked the pace and verisimilitude and rich literary delights of other Latin American authors. Carlos Luis Fallas's Mamita Yunai, which depicts the plight of banana workers, is the best and best-known example of this genre. Other examples include Fallas's Gentes y Gentecillas, Joaquín Gutierrez's Puerto Limon and Federica, and Carmen Lyra's Bananos y Hombres.

    The literature of modern Costa Rica still draws largely from the local setting, and though the theme of class struggle has given way to a lighter, more novelistic approach, it still largely lacks the mystical, surrealistic, Rabelaisian excesses, the endless layers of experience and meaning, and the wisdom, subtlety, and Romanticism of the best of Brazilian, Argentinean, and Colombian literature. An outstanding exception is Julieta Pinto's El Eco de los Pasos, a striking novel about the 1948 civil war.

  • Costa Rica Music and Dance  ( 11 items )
    Costa Rica is a Central American country whose culture is a diverse mixture of African, European and native elements. Though its music has achieved little international renown, Costa Rican popular music genres include an indigenous calypso scene which is distinct from the more widely-known Trinidadian calypso sound, as well as a thriving disco audience that supports nightclubs in cities like San Jose. American and British rock and roll and pop are popular among the youth, while dance-oriented genres like soca, salsa, merengue, marcado, lambada and cumbia are also popular. Mexican music is very popular among elder people and some people in the countryside. During the middle years of the 20th century, Costa Rica was exposed to much Mexican cultural influence.

    Costa Rica's night life buzzes with live music that ranges from the traditional Latin rhythms to classical symphonies at the spectacular National Theater to pop music at the local discotheques. Like many Latin American countries, the Africa-derived, xylophone-style instrument, the marimba, is the foundation of native music in Costa Rica. On the Atlantic coast, the air is filled with the sounds of steel drums, reggae beats, and other instruments of the Caribbean

  • Costa Rica Photography  ( 7 items )
    There are great Costa Rican photographers ready to get the best shot of some corner of Costa Rica show to people who might be interested in coming to the country.

    Everything they learned are reflected in her top quality photos that show Costa Rica in all its splendor.

    Their clients include the hotel industry, travel agencies and all those who wish to get foreigners to come and visit the country. They do their best to promote the country showing Costa Rica's natural wealth at its best.

  • Costa Rica Museums  ( 13 items )
    Most of the Costa Rica museums are mentioned in our walking tour at the beginning of this chapter or in the Creative Arts section. The Children's Museum is mentioned in the "Traveling with Kids" section in Chapter Three. A living museum is the Pueblo Antiguo, a theme park of Costa Rican history and cultural traditions at the Parque Nacional de Diversiones in La Uruca, two kilometers west of the Hospital M�xico. The park re-creates the city at the turn of the 20th century, as well as a rural tocan and a coastal village.

    Professional actors take you finto the past in the Viviendas Costarricenses tour (weekends from 10 a.m.), in which they trace the roots of Costa Rican traditions and democracy in ara entertaining one-hour presentation. Friday and Saturday nights from 6:30 to 9 p.m. you can enjoy a typical dinner and folkloric show, Noches Costarricenses, with a historical view of Costa Rican dance and music. Wheelchairs and baby strollers are available at the entrante. Kids will enjoy the amusement park are the same property. Proceeds from Pueblo Antiguo fund the local children's hospital.
  • Costa Rica Building and Architecture  ( 10 items )
    Costa Rica Architecture have their own style, unique to this part of the world. Like all countries, they play with space and volume to design and create built elements where individuals can interact, live, work or admire. They design and create the plans based on the needs, area and type of terrain where the structure is to be built. Costa Rica architecture is very complex, especially because of weather and the fact this country is located in a volcanic region; constructions are meant to last many years in spite of heavy rainstorms and sporadic earthquakes.
  • Costa Rica Food and Cuisine  ( 27 items )
    Costa Rican food is a fusion cuisine. It combines elements of culinary traditions from Africa, Italy, France, China, and Spain, flavored by traditional grains (rice, corn, and beans), roots (cassava, taro roots, sweet potatoes), spices (coriander, garlic, annatto, saffron, parsley, oregano, thyme, nutmeg, salt, and pepper), oils (olive oil, vegetable oil, and lard), sauces (Lizano, Soy, and Worcestershire), fresh fruit, and vegetables. The food is mild to slightly seasoned.

    In San Jose, many fine restaurants serve the gamut of international cuisines at reasonable prices. And though culinary excellence in general declines with distance from the capital city, a growing number of hoteliers and gourmet chefs are opening restaurants worthy of note in even the most secluded backwaters. Take the Caribbean coast, for example, where the local cuisine reflects its Jamaican heritage with mouthwatering specialties such as ackee and codfish (ackee is a small, pink-skinned fruit tasting like scrambled eggs), johnnycakes, curried goat, curried shrimp, and pepper pot soup, with its subtle, lingering flame.

    The most common dishes that reflect the rural culture and are served in typical food restaurants are Gallo Pinto (Spotted Rooster) and Casados (Married.) Gallo Pinto consists of rice and beans seasoned with coriander, onions and Worcestershire sauce usually served for breakfast with scramble or fried eggs and a cup of Agua Dulce (pure sugar cane diluted in hot water) or coffee. Casado consists of white rice, black or red beans served with pork, steak, or chicken, a small portion of cabbage/lettuce & tomato salad, and fried plantains. All is served in one dish for lunch or dinner with a refreshment or coffee.

  • Costa Rica Beverages  ( 2 items )
    Frescos, refrescos, and jugos naturales are favorite drinks in Costa Rica. They are usually made with fresh fruit and milk or water. Among the more common fruits used are mangoes, papayas, blackberries (mora), and pineapples (pi�a). You'll also come across maracuya and carambola. Some of the more unusual frescos are horchata (made with rice flour and a lot of cinnamon) and chan (made with the seed of a plant found mostly in Guanacaste definitely an acquired taste).

    The former is wonderful; the latter requires an open mind (it's reputed to be good for the digestive system).Order un fresco con leche sin hielo (a fresco with milk but without ice) if you are trying to avoid untreated water. If you're a coffee drinker, you might be disappointed here. Most of the best coffee has traditionally been targeted for export, and Ticos tend to prefer theirs weak and sugary. The better hotels and restaurants are starting to cater to gringo and European tastes and are serving up better blends. If you want black coffee, ask for cafe negro; if you want it with milk, order cafe con leche.

    If you want to try something different for your morning beverage, ask for agua dulce, a warm drink made from melted sugar cane and served either with milk or lemon, or straight.

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