Basic Info on Costa Rica - History

Basic Info on Costa Rica - History

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Costa Rica’s Oldest Church: Iglesia Colonial de Orosi

Costa Rica has a strong Catholic heritage. In fact, Catholicism is the country’s official religion. About three out of four Costa Ricans identify themselves as Catholic. Catholicism runs deep in the culture and can be seen in many different aspects of everyday life. An easy way to observe this is by visiting one of the country’s many churches. In this post, we will tell you about one of the most famous, Iglesia Colonial de Orosi (Colonial Church of Orosi). This church is Costa Rica’s oldest still in use today.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica's geography reveals a history of cataclysm, with earthquakes, floods and volcanoes shaping its present-day landscape. A diversity of soaring mountains, dormant and active craters, black and white sand beaches, rushing rivers and powerful waterfalls grace Costa Rica&rsquos 19,653 square miles, an area smaller than West Virginia.

From north-to-south and east-to-west, Costa Rica never measures longer or wider than 200 miles. Though situated just 10° north of the equator, Costa Rica is much more than a hot and sunny tropical paradise. Rolling mountains and highland cloud forests contrast with 800 miles of Caribbean and Pacific shoreline, creating a country with four main geographical areas: the Tropical Lowlands (Caribbean and Pacific coasts), the Northern Central Plains, the Central Valley and the Northwest Peninsula.

Costa Rica's geography mainly consists of coastal plain vivisected by five towering mountain ranges: the Central Mountain Range (Cordillera Central), the Talamanca Mountain Range (Cordillera de Talamanca), the Tilaran Mountain Range (Cordillera de Tilaran), the Guanacaste Mountain Range (Cordillera de Guanacaste) and the Escazu Hills (Cerros de Escazu). Mount Chirripo, the highest point in Costa Rica at 12,450 feet above sea level, is located in the Talamanca Range.

In addition to plentiful mountains, Costa Rica boasts at least 60 volcanoes, five of which are active (Poas Volcano, Irazu Volcano, Arenal Volcano, Rincon de la Vieja Volcano and Turrialba Volcano). This volcanic abundance comes courtesy of two tectonic plates &ndash the Cocos Plate and the Caribbean Plate &ndash that sit beneath the country's landmass. The shifting plates have caused many serious earthquakes over the years, slowly terra-forming Costa Rica's horizon with soaring mountains and conic volcanoes.

There are 14 major river systems that originate in Costa Rica's mountains, each draining into the Caribbean Sea, the Pacific Ocean, the San Juan River or Lake Nicaragua. Two of these rivers, the Pacuare and Reventazon, produce world-famous whitewater rapids, while others, such as the Sixaola and San Juan Rivers, provide natural boundaries between Costa Rica and bordering nations.

Costa Rica is part of the Neotropic ecozone, and has both tropical and subtropical climates. The country is famous for its microclimates, which are created by the variations in weather and temperature seen through the nation. For example, the town of Monteverde can be sunny with blue skies, but the Santa Elena Cloud Forest, just a few miles up the mountain, may be cloudy and misting rain. As a general rule, the temperature drops 4° F for every 1000 feet of elevation gained.

Costa Rica, meaning "Rich Coast," owes its diversity and natural treasures to its varied geography, ecological zones, and microclimates. For the visitor, such geographical diversity equals a rich adventure through some of the world's most biodiverse ecosystems.

The Indigenous of Costa Rica

Costa Rica has been inhabited for more than 5000 years BC by indigenous people. There were many migrations from the Aztecs of Mexico, the Mayas and the Incas of Peru. The native population was small in comparison with the vast Pre-Columbian civilizations found throughout Latin America. In fact, some historians argue that the present culture of this country primarily founded upon these indigenous cultures. You see evidence of the indigenous influences in arts and crafts available throughout Costa Rica in the form of handcrafted ceramics, ornaments, and jewelry.

The most extraordinary and quixotic artifacts left by Costa Rica’s ancestors are the astonishing stone spheres found near Palmar Norte and Palmar Sur in Corcovado. The most prominent indigenous tribes are the Bribris, the Borucas, the Cabecares, the Huetares, the Malekus and the Chorotegas. As with most native tribes, their numbers are dwindling as their traditions and lands are usurped by modernity. Some of few remaining members of these tribes are trying to hold on to their customs and old way of life, although this is getting harder to maintain, and live in small villages in remote regions of the country.

Interested in more information about Costa Rica? Check out the My Costa Rica Travel Blog!

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Maize is consumed as tortillas, which accompany rice and beans—typically eaten three times a day with eggs, cheese, meat, or chicken and with chayote stew or salad at lunch or supper. The midday meal was once the largest, but the long lunch break has succumbed to a fondness for fast food.

Beverages include coffee, sugary fruit drinks, and soda. Alcohol consumption is high.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Salty appetizers are served at parties and at bars and restaurants. Maize tamales are prepared by hand for Christmas. Other special occasions (birthdays, graduations, marriages) may merit a roasted pig, an elaborate cake, or other sweets.

Basic Economy. Until the 1960s, Costa Rica depended on coffee and bananas for most of its export earnings. Coffee income was well distributed, which fueled a dynamic commercial sector. After the 1948 Civil War, nationalized banks channeled subsidized loans to neglected regions and new activities. In the 1960s, beef and sugar assumed greater importance, and the country began to industrialize, protected by Central American Common Market tariffs. Following a debt crisis in the early 1980s, the state reduced its role in the economy and promoted export-oriented agriculture and industries. Since the late 1990s, tourism has been the second largest source of dollars, after bananas.

Land Tenure and Property. Costa Rica has an image as an "agrarian democracy," but land distribution is highly unequal. Coffee farms are mostly

Commercial Activities. City and town residents now rely on supermarkets rather than neighborhood stores and farmers' markets. Growing consumerism has spurred construction of malls where the affluent acquire the latest fashions and gadgets and the poor come to gawk and marvel at the high prices.

Major Industries. Since the mid-1980s, Costa Rica has become a center for factories that assemble garments, electronic components, and other goods for export. Other key manufactures include baseballs, agricultural chemicals, and processed foods. The economy is increasingly integrated into global circuits of trade, production, and finance.

Trade. Coffee and bananas are the country's chief agricultural exports, along with beef, sugar, flowers, nuts, and root vegetables.

Division of Labor. The economy diversified after 1950, and new groups emerged. In 1997, agriculture accounted for 19 percent of employment and 15 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), under half of 1950 levels.


Central America is characterized rather by the biodiversity that by the homogeneity, that is the predominant characteristic of this area because of the geographic situation. In addition it presents excellent characteristics, one double climate condition: the inter-oceanic and the inter-continental one.

Structurally the region extends from Mexico in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, to the valley of Atrato in Colombia according to Dengo (1975). During this time the inter-oceanic channel of almost 3,000 kilometers separated North America from South America. For this one time, the Central America of the north was constituted by invasive and sedimentary rocks, because of the tectonic movements. At the end of this period and because of their movements it was actually formed, actually it is in the same form. When the Tertiary period finalized still exist a channel of approximately 300 km in length, which still separated the north of Nicaragua with the north of Colombia. In the south sector of Central America, during the Inferior Tertiary period and the Superior Cretaceous period, it appeared a chain of volcanic islands. In the Pliocene, three or four million years ago, the terrestrial bridge formed and consolidated. It separated the Pacific Ocean of the Atlantic Ocean and the North America with South America.

Thanks to the bridge condition, Central America allowed the animal and plant spreading as well as the migrations of human and the cultural interchange. The located mountainous systems in Guatemala, Honduras and in the north of Nicaragua, caused isolation, reason which the evolution of endemic species was favored and formed a barrier that prevented the diffusion. A clear example of this is the Pine tree which is not in the south of the Nicaraguan Lake.

To the south of Costa Rica is located the Mountain range of Talamanca, where we found oaks from North American mixed with origin South American coniferous. The combination of great variety of species from North America as well as from South America makes Central America, a privileged region for the wealth and the variety of flora and fauna, which is not found in any other part of the Western Hemisphere and which doesn’t has a territory of this same extension.

During the Freezing’s of the Pleistocene, the Straits of Bering was possibly frozen, which allowed the migrations from Asia to America. The first settlers, with a rudimentary culture were dedicating to the hunting, harvesting and fishing, extend all around the continent. Little by little they are going to develop two types of agriculture, one of them based on the tuber cultivation, like yucca, for the case of the Andean Region.
In the Mesoamerican area the crops were the corn and the beans. Thanks to this type of agriculture bloom three great civilizations in the American continent grew up: The Mayan, the Aztec in Mexico and Guatemala and the Inca in Peru.
For more than 200 million years ago, began the geologic history of our country. For this period probably the continental masses were located in a position very similar to the actual.

As a product of separation of the American, European and African plate, as a result of the consequence of the cells action in convection with the magma. The Atlantic Ocean was created, whose origin must to with an extension zone, which covers from Iceland to the Antártida.

The Orogeny process (the process of mountain building and studied as a tectonic structural event) began with volcanic activities, accompanied by sprouting oceanic ridges and submarine crests. A result from this process is an archipelago oriented towards the east, and later on it would be known as the external arc, actually represented with a worn of series away from the mountain ranges, located in the Peninsula of Nicoya, Herradura Beach, Osa’s Peninsula and in Punta Burica.

An intense volcanic activity characterized this period and due to this, the erosion processes increased in the sedimentation of these areas. About sixty million years ago, during the Inferior and Average Eocene epoch(major division of the geologic timescale and the second epoch of the Paleocene period in the Cenozoic era.), almost disappeared the totality of the external arc, emerging lots of islands known as Guanarivas.

During Oligocene, 25 million years ago, these islands disappeared in the ocean and were covered by detritus material (death matter) as a consequence of the degradation and the later sedimentation.

Due to the intense volcanism it originated the Avocado Mountain and the mountain range of Talamanca. It starts an ascent and reaches the greater altitude of the internal arc. This volcanism would give later the origin to the Central Volcanic Mountain range and to the Mountain range of Guanacaste.

Thus, the conformation of the territory that Costa Rica occupies today has lasted approximately 8 to 10 million years, because the rise of the geologic structures occurs in a rate of 10 mm per year.
The relief constitution is from the Northwest to the Southeast, with four mountainous chains: Guanacaste, Tilarán, Central Volcanic and Talamanca.

The Volcanic Mountain range of Guanacaste is formed by a row of volcanic cones. The Rincon de la Vieja and the Arenal volcano present volcanic activity. In the year 1968 the Arenal Volcano, started with a spectacular activity period, with lava emissions and ardent ash and clouds. In the south part of the Arenal Volcano was a small lake which they use to make a hydroelectric dam.

The Mountain range of Tilarán is constituted by volcanic rocks where gold seams have been found in some sectors like Abangares and Miramar.

The Central Volcanic Mountain range is formed by four volcanoes: Poás, Irazú, Barva and Turrialba. The Irazu volcano presented a great volcanic activity in the period between 1963 and 1965 at the moment it has some fumaroles, an area of thermal springs and gas vents with magma and hot igneous rocks
Poás Volcano has had volcanic activity in different moments as well as some ash eruptions. A phenomenon that is actually affecting its surroundings is the acid rain, which constantly burns the crops of vegetables, strawberries and many more.

Structurally the Mountain range of Talamanca is an anticline, usually recognized by a sequence of rock layers that are progressively older toward the center of the fold, formed by marine sediments and volcanic rocks.
It begins in the Central Valley and has a direction Northwest to Southeast.

The History of the Non-Costa Rican Army

Costa Rica News & History – Since 1948, almost 66 years ago, there has been no armed force or military regime in Costa Rica. The Constitution abolished the army, except in the case of war, in which case the United States has offered their army for assistance. After victory in the civil war that year, the Most Honourable José Figueres Ferrer, president of The Republic of Costa Rica at the time, abolished the army.

In the dissolution of the National Army, President Figueres declared that he considered the presence of the police force to be sufficient for the security of the country. He further expressed hope for the future health of the nation and that the years to come without the military would be even stronger than before. There was now the establishment of a consciousness of peace in the absence of the military force.

As a symbolic expression marking the end of Costa Rica’s military regime, Figueres demolished part of a wall with a mallet in a ceremony at the barracks of Bellavista (now the National Museum) in the presence of students, members of the diplomatic corps and other nationals.

This symbolised the beginning of a new era in which other areas, including education, would be a priority for the Government.

The abolition of the military was added to the Constitution in 1949 and as such the military no longer formed part of the national budget. The funds and resources previously set for this entity were therefore now put towards the development of education, culture and health.

The headquarters for the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the University of Peace for the United Nations are based in Costa Rica, due to the fact that there is the absence of an army.

Although Costa Rica does not have standing armed forces, it has entrusted bodies to help maintain law, internal security and foreign peacekeeping. It has subscribed to the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR for its Spanish acronym), a defence agreement which covers America and 300 miles from its coast.

According to the treaty, “any armed attack by any state against an American state will be considered as an attack against all the American states, and as a consequence, all the engaged parties promise to help to face the attack in exercising the imminent right of individual or collective legitimate defence”.

Costa Rica signed the treaty in 1947 and this was one of the reasons for disbanding its army in 1948 after considering the foresight of the treaty as sufficient guarantee to ensure its national defence. The country had put its trust in this international institution and its mechanisms of defence.

Costa Rica has intervened militarily in other countries by being a part of the occupying forces of the Dominican Republic in 1965 and 1966. It was also a part of the multinational force that invaded Iraq (through diplomatic, not military, support in this instance).

Every year on December 1, Costa Ricans celebrate this historic event which was indeed a milestone for civil life in the search for peace and democracy. We feel a tremendous amount of pride that our country no longer has an army as a permanent institution of the state and so honour this in tradition.

The most honourable ex-president of The Republic of Costa Rica and 1987 Nobel Peace Prize winner for his work towards the signing of the Esquipulas Peace Agreement, Oscar Arias Sánchez, in 1985 declared December 1 as Army Abolition Day (Día de la Abolición del Ejército). Many other countries also applaud Costa Rica for this commendable feat.


Tanishia Ellis Hayles is Chargé d´affaires of the Embassy of Costa Rica in Kingston.

Where is Costa Rica?

Costa Rica is a small country located in Central America. It is positioned in the Northern and Western hemispheres of the Earth. Costa Rica is bordered by Nicaragua to the north by the Caribbean Sea to the northeast, by Panama to the southeast and by the Pacific Ocean to the southwest.

Costa Rica Bordering Countries: Panama, Nicaragua.

Regional Maps: Map of North America

What exactly is the problem?

Costa Rica’s debt crisis has been mounting for decades. Spending far outstrips the country’s income and little has been done to address the issue prior to President Carlos Alvarado Quesada’s current administration.

“Costa Rica has had, unlike most other Central American countries, social spending that pursues rights, such as social protections, education, and health,” said Lourdes Molina, a senior economist at the Central American Institute for Fiscal Studies.

“That is a good thing because the state ensures people’s rights, but Costa Rica has gone around two decades without any fiscal reform,” she told Al Jazeera.

Thousands of public employees march during a strike against government’s economic measures in San Jose, Costa Rica, in April 2016 [File: Juan Carlos Ulate/Reuters] In 2021, about 42 percent of the country’s $19bn national budget will go to debt and interest payments, the minister of finance told legislators last year. Unlike most countries in the region, much of Costa Rica’s debt is internal, with its own banking sector, which ends up costing more than foreign or multilateral bonds.

Taxes bring in only 13 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), largely due to tax evasion and exemptions. Of the seven countries in Central America, only Guatemala and Panama bring in fewer relative taxes, said Molina.

An Overview of Property Rights in Costa Rica

If you’re staying in Costa Rica for an extended time period and will be investing in real estate, it’s important to investigate. As a foreigner, you have the same property rights as a Costa Rican, and the same system which protects citizens will protect you. In Costa Rica there is no requirement for citizenship or even residency to own land. The reason for this open door policy is economic this is one way in which Costa Rica brings in foreign investors and strengthens the economy and real estate market. There are very few restrictions on land ownership in Costa Rica before you purchase land, however, you should learn the circumstances in which you could feasibly lose some or all of your property rights.

Maritime Zoning in Costa Rica

While beachfronts in Costa Rica are public property, they can sometimes be purchased (this is not the case in some countries, like Mexico). The rules governing the ownership, sale and usage of beachfront property are laid out in the 1977 Maritime Zoning Law (Ley sobre la Zona Marítimo-Terrestre – Ley Número 6043). The rules regarding beaches are pretty specific, so you’ll need to have a thorough understanding of them if you’re thinking of purchasing a property that borders the beach.

Specifically, the beaches themselves are public property and nothing can be built on them. This includes the strip of land spanning 200 meters from the water (measure using the high-tide line, not the low-tide line). It is illegal to build any structure inside the 50 meters which are closest to the high-tide line. Building within the rest of the 200 meter span is highly restricted. This area is known as the Martime Zone, or Zona Marítima. The 200-meter strip extends over 1,500 kilometers along the east and west coasts of the country. While a third of it is open to development (under the restrictions we’re discussing), the rest is park land which is protected from development under national law.

You can only build here if your construction is somehow related to a project which already exists (housing or tourism) or if the property in question was titled to the 50-meter mark and not the 200-meter mark prior to the enactment of the law in 1997. In these cases, it is possible to lease the land from 50 meters on from the municipality. The municipality in turn is controlled by the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT). The majority of the land which can legally be developed along the two coastlines has already been claimed—only small percentage is still open for building.

There are two different types of beach properties in Costa Rica. If the property was acquired prior to 1977, it’s known as a titled property. In 1977, the Maritime Zoning Law was enacted, though it was not applied retrospectively to old titled properties, which were grandfathered in under the previous regulations. These properties can be transferred freely, whereas properties acquired after 1977 are known as untitled properties. By contrast, you can only obtain an untitled property through a special type of long-term government lease known as a concession. A concession lasts five to twenty years, and it is usually renewed without a problem, but this is at the government’s discretion.

Not only can the government decide not to renew your concession, but it also may choose to transfer your concession to another lessee. There is actually no history of this happening in Costa Rica, but it’s important you know the government’s rights. Costa Rica’s landscape is also transforming rapidly. Within the past decade there has been a lot of buildup, and it wouldn’t be unexpected for the government to decide your concession would be more valuable for the country as a whole if it was given to a commercial developer. A luxury hotel on the beachfront would bring more money into the country than your private residence, for example. If the government were to take the land they leased to you, they would have to reimburse you for the value of any property which you’ve constructed there.

The bottom line here is that a concession is not the same thing as ownership—you can only lease the land in the Maritime Zone, and only under the restrictions which are set by the law. If you are a foreigner with a corporation which holds a Maritime Zone concession, you cannot own more than 49 percent of that corporation and hold onto your concession. If you become a resident for five years, however, that rule goes away.

Squatter’s Rights in Costa Rica

In Costa Rica, unregistered land can be distributed to landless people by dint of squatter’s rights. It’s useful to know this in the case that you own land, since the land could transfer in part or in full to squatters under certain circumstances—namely that you own the land but you haven’t developed it at all. As long as you build something somewhere on your land, it is considered to be in use, and therefore safe from squatters. The alternative is to contract security to patrol your property on a regular basis to look for squatters.

If undeveloped land is squatted in for more than one year without the owner or the owner’s representatives intervening in some way, the legal rights to the land begin to transfer to the squatters. After a year elapses, the squatters still don’t have the right to stay on the land if you tell them to leave, but you do have to pay them for their investment in it. If the squatters are left alone for a decade, the ownership of the land legally transfers to them. Technically this isn’t the case if the squatters know you own the land and knowingly invade your property, but if they truly believe it is unregistered land, it can theoretically become theirs. This is why if you must take responsibility for your land, even if you’re away for a long time and don’t have any development there. If you don’t take care of it, it may no longer be yours.

Environmental Protection Laws

Around three quarters of Costa Rica’s land is set aside in the form of National Parks and other nature preserves. While this was not the case historically, the country has become a global leader where preservation is concerned, and takes extra steps to protect plant and animal life on land and in the sea. There are over thirty environmental laws which protect the environment in Costa Rica and most likely will have an impact on your life at some point if you’re staying in the country. Here are the environmental agencies you should be aware of.

MINEAT: The Ministerio del Ambiente, Energía, y Telecomunicaciones, or Ministry of Environment, Energy, and Telecommunications. This agency regulates mining, the lumber industry, well drilling, and more.

SETENA: The Secretaria Técnica National Ambiental, or National Technical Environmental Secretariat. This agency is in charge of matters relating to development, including real estate and commercial building. SETENA’s role is to evaluate whether real estate or commercial growth is impinging on the local ecologies. SETENA must review development plans and approve or deny them in order for developers to proceed with their work. The agency has a bad name among developers since it slows down their work tremendously it can take up to two years for SETENA to complete a study. These efforts toward environmental protection are part of what makes Costa Rica a beautiful place to live or work, however.

Rental Laws

In Costa Rica, you are welcome to rent out your property to another person, but you should be aware of their rights first. La Ley General de Arrendamientos Urbanos y Suburbanos Ley 7527 is the law which relegates rental situations and outlines the rights of renters. This law regulates residential property rental rights and not rental contracts relating to commercial or agricultural properties. This law does not apply to short-term vacation rental contracts, so long as the establishments which are doing the renting are registered with the Costa Rican Tourism Board as hotels or bed and breakfast establishments.

Rental rights are more favorable to landlords now than they were in past years. It’s a good idea to talk to an attorney before you decide to rent out a property, and make sure you always get an English translation of all rental contracts before you sign them. Here are some of the laws that will pertain to you.

A rental agreement can be written or oral, but it’s best to get your contracts in writing so that they are easier to reference and use as evidence, if necessary. Likewise, you should keep thorough records, including receipts of all payments. Mention the term of the contract explicitly, or it will be assumed to be three years in court. You cannot specify a shorter time period for a stay—all rent contracts in Costa Rica are considered valid for three years, no matter what, unless the property is damaged or the rent isn’t paid. Renters must be notified if their contracts aren’t going to be renewed at least three months in advance, otherwise the contract renews itself automatically. Rent must always be paid within seven days of the due date, otherwise you are free to evict. You should always make out contracts in Spanish.

As a landlord, you’re allowed to increase rent charged in colones by 15 percent each year, higher if the inflation over that period warrants it. A government body called the Junta Directiva del Banco Hipotecario de la Vivienda regulates the additional percentage which you may be able to tack on. Rent raises must never exceed the rate of inflation, and rent charged in dollars or any other foreign currency cannot not be raised during the term of a contract. The security deposit must be equal to or less than one month’s rent.

Another right you have as a landlord is to inspect your property on a monthly basis or whenever circumstances require that you do. The renter or a representative must be present for you to do so. If the renter (or you) makes improvements to the property, those improvements remain with the property after the contract ends. Renters must report damage to property to owners right away. If an owner fails to respond in a timely fashion and repair the property, the renter may deduct the cost of the repairs from their rent and fix the property themselves.

If a property is transferred while a renter is occupying it, that renter’s contract also transfers along with the property. The new owner may only evict the renter if the owner or a family member will be using the property as a primary residence. Otherwise the renter may stay through the contract’s duration.