A Guide to Costa Rica’s History
Costa Rica’s history stretches back thousands of years to Pre-Columbian times. Since then, this land has been inhabited by indigenous tribes, colonized by Spain, declared independence, and become the country we know and love today.
Pre-Columbian & Indigenous Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s indigenous history isn’t quite as prevalent as in many other regions in the Americas. Indigenous peoples in the region that has become Costa Rica were primarily located in small villages scattered throughout the region.
Today, you can find the following indigenous villages in Costa Rica:
Costa Rica’s Independence
Costa Rica achieved independence from Spain on September 15, 1821. Since they didn’t have anything as convenient as cell phones back then, it took Costa Ricans a while to even learn about the independence. In fact, it took the messenger a whole month to reach Costa Rica by horse.
Central America honors this today through a relay, where runners carry a torch from Guatemala to Costa Rica. The final destination of this independence torch is Cartago, Costa Rica, where runners arrive on September 14th. The main independence celebration in Costa Rica begins September 14 when families take to the streets with homemade house-shaped lanterns.
On September 15, high school marching bands entertain Costa Rica with patriotic music. They’re usually joined by dancers in traditional Costa Rican clothing. That means a white, ruffled blouse and long, layered, colorful skirts for the women and white cotton pants and a button up with a red sash belt for the men. Men add a red handkerchief at their neck, while women wear a simple choker.
Costa Rica’s Government
Costa Rica is a democratic republic with a strong history of free elections, separation of powers, and protection for human rights. Costa Rica is governed by a president, with elections every 4 years. The legislative branch is called the National Assembly and consists of 57 members. Costa Rica has been enjoying peaceful, fair elections since 1899, with only a few exceptions in 1917 and 1948.
One of the unique things about Costa Rica, at least from a United States perspective, is its strong multi-party system. Instead of a two-party system, Costa Rica’s population is consistently divided between several parties. It is not uncommon for people to create new parties, some of which actually get close to being elected.
Costa Rica Has No Army
Costa Rica abolished their army in 1948, after a 44 day civil war. This declaration was included in the new constitution, along with universal suffrage, by the new president, Jose Figueres. Since 1948, Costa Rica has not experienced war on any scale. Not having an army is a point of pride for most Costa Ricans! You can often hear Costa Rican parents expressing how happy they are to know their children will never die as soldiers in war. Indeed, Costa Rica has known peace since 1948.
Museums in Costa Rica
You can learn more about Costa Rica’s history in its rich museums.