Español | Contact Us
Information for: Prospective Students | Students | Alumni | Media & General Public | Faculty and Staff
Take a Course at UPEACE
Research & Publications
Around the World
Student & Alumni Network
About Costa Rica
* According to the IX National Census 2000, June 2000, Costa Rica
Brief History of Costa Rica
The territory that is now Costa Rica was discovered by Christopher Columbus during his final voyage to the Americas, in 1502. Nevertheless, it was only in 1522, that the conquistadors organized several expeditions to search for gold in the region, which they named Costa Rica (meaning rich coast in Spanish) in anticipation of their success. They met with fierce resistance from the indigenous groups of the area but found no gold. Costa Rica stayed poor and undeveloped for more than three centuries.
Independence and Coffee
Without demanding it, Costa Rica was given its independence from Spain on 15 September 1821, along with Spain's other Central American colonies.
Costa Rica became the first Central American country to grow coffee, early in the 14th century. In an attempt to promote economic development and increase its own revenues, the government offered free land to anyone who agreed to plant the crop. By 1829, coffee had become the country's largest export, and in the following decades production expanded rapidly.
Railways and Foreign Investment
During the 1870's, an American firm that later became the United Fruit Company received about 300,000 ha of land as partial payment for building a railroad to link the Central Valley to the Caribbean Coast to facilitate the export of goods. Coffee represented 90 % of national exports from 1850 to 1890. The Company financed the construction of the railroad with banana plantations and their exportation to the United States. Unlike coffee, banana production remained in the hands of foreign-owned companies, and for many years existed as an economic enclave with few links to Costa Rican society.
The ruling oligarchy, comprising coffee producers, bankers, individuals with commercial interests related to foreign capital, and a number of professionals, dominated Costa Rican politics. There was general agreement on the major issues, economic and political liberalism, anti-clericalism, and state promotion of the public works infrastructure and of education.
Democracy and Peace
Democracy and peace, however, has been a hallmark of Costa Rican politics. Only two brief periods of violence (1856 and 1948) have marred Costa Rica's democratic development. The US filibuster William Walker arrived in the region with the aim of conquering Central America and annex and enslave it to the United States. An army composed of artisans and rural people defeated Walker in Santa Rosa, March 1856.
The second major disturbance occurred in the 1940s. Rafael Angel Calderón Guardia, leader of a reformist faction, became president. Reforms included workers' rights to organize, minimum wages and social security, marked his presidency. Calderón founded the University of Costa Rica in 1940. To further widen his power base, Calderón allied himself with both the Catholic Church and the communist party to form a Christian Socialist group. But the opposition, made up of the powerful oligarchy of commercial interests and ruling families, who did not immediately benefit from the reforms, accused the President of ignoring the electoral process and supporting communist causes. Their anti-communist campaign gained ground with the start of the cold war, and they won the election of 1948. The government contested the results, though, and reformist José Figueres Ferrer mounted a well supported insurrection. The civil uprising lasted five weeks and over 2,000 people were killed, leaving Figueres victorious. He took over an interim government but in 1949 handed over the presidency to Otilio Ulate.
That year 1949 also marked the formation of the Costa Rican constitution, which is still in effect. The unique element of this constitution and which has had the most long-lasting impact on the nation was permanent dissolution of the armed forces. Costa Rica was the first country of modern times to make such an enlightened move in the interest of peace, democracy and the development of its people.
The tradition of peace and democracy was highlighted when President Oscar Arias (1986-1990) received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his instrumental part in bringing peace to all of Central America.
Costa Rica is home to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, whose firm purpose is to preserve the essential rights of men and women in the Americas, the Organization of American States (since 1979), and the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, which is dedicated to teaching, research and the promotion of human rights.
Living in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a small peaceful country, rich in wildlife, natural diversity and pristine sandy beaches along its Pacific and Caribbean coasts. Colossal volcanoes are part of the charm of this tropical country where you can enjoy nature within its many National Parks.
From high, dry mountains to verdant rainforests, Costa Rica is home to a wide range of ecosystems, communities of living organisms and their complex interactions with their environment. Among the most common ecosystems in the country are tropical rainforests, cloud forests, paramo, dry pacific forests and mangroves. All these ecosystems host an incredibly diverse selection of flora and fauna, each type adapted for life in a particular ecosystem.
Costa Rica is home to over 4% of the world's biodiversity and is one of the 20 most diverse countries. There are several reasons for this diversity. Costa Rica's topography ranges from the bleak, treeless paramo at 3.900 meters (13.000 feet) above sea level, to rainforests on the coasts only 80 kilometers (50 miles) away, with countless microclimates in between. Costa Rica's tropical latitude contributes to the steady year-round temperatures and abundant precipitation creates hospitable conditions for many forms of life. The privileged geographical position as a land bridge between North and South provides a location where migrating animals and plants meet.
Given Costa Rica's latitude, day length do not change drastically with the seasons. The sun rises around 5 a.m. and sets around 6 p.m. year-round. Changing altitude results in temperature differences. The Central Valley, at 1.140 meters (3,800 feet) averages 22ºC (72ºF) while at sea level, the temperature is 26ºC (80ºF), tempered by sea breezes on the coast.
Sea and Sun
There is a fascinating contrast between both coasts. The Atlantic coast is 212 kilometers long and very humid, which gives rise to its luscious vegetation where palm trees mingle with rainforests. Sandy beaches with small tides and short waves are part of the Caribbean scenery. The 1.016 kilometers of Pacific coast is more irregular. This shoreline has gulfs, peninsulas, and islands. Here Pacific Ocean tides tend to be more dramatic making for great surfing. In general, dry forests border the coastline since there is much less rain than on the Caribbean coast. In addition, if you are a lover of underwater life, you will be amazed at what you will find in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica's wilderness is sheltered within national parks, reserves, and wildlife refuges. These natural sanctuaries cover 25% of the country's territory. Ecotourism has developed as one of the major activities within the country. By Ecotourism we mean the highest tourist satisfaction, the minimal impact on the natural environment, respect for local cultures, and a sound economic benefit for the country.
Getting Around Costa Rica:
Street address system: The accepted way to give directions is using cardinal points or landmarks.
Electricity: The electrical current used in Costa Rica is 110 volts, AC.
Currency: The currency unit is the colon (₡). Major credit cards are accepted at most places of business.
Water: Water is safe to drink throughout the country. However, bottled water is available and recommended in some rural areas.
Sports: The pleasant weather permits all kind of sports. Football (soccer) is the nation's most popular sport. Besides the classical sports, Costa Rica offers a wide variety of adventure sports such as kayaking, whitewater rafting, canopy, surfing, bungee jumping and more.
Transportation: Regular bus service permits inexpensive travel throughout the country.