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People and heritage of Costa Rica

As one of Central America's most distinctive countries, Costa Rica today is a marvel of natural beauty, abundant and diverse wildlife and spirited, peace-loving people. To make their nation what it is today, Costa Ricans have done much in the way of progress, which makes the history of the nation worth exploring during your visit.


Costa Ricans are, naturally, very proud of their legacy, and that shines through in the architecture of cities like the capital San Jose, as well as in the content of museums and galleries. There's also plenty of folklore to be had if you know where to look.


Life in Costa Rica

One characteristic of Costa Rica that visitors always notice is that the nation's personality as a whole is a lot different to that of other South American countries.

That's because the unique journey that Costa Rica has taken throughout history has given it plenty of time to really define its individuality.

During its time under the Spanish Empire, Costa Rica was too far from the major trade hubs to benefit from the activities of the New World and the Caribbean. The mighty reach of Spain during the 1700s was so great that places like Costa Rica effectively got lost in the cracks, yet this became a unique opportunity for the country to chart its own course. Many locals today are thankful for Costa Rica's individuality in South America as a result.

Heritage and heart

While you're in Costa Rica, you'll hear plenty of tales of times gone by from the friendly locals. Then again, you can go a step further and visit the museums that preserve the country's legacy, and there are some top choices to select from.

The largest and most comprehensive is the Costa Rican National Museum in San Jose. Not only does it house some pre-colonisation artefacts, as well as numerous pieces from right through into the industrial age, but the building itself is also converted from an old fortress. That means even the museum's exterior is a fascinating slice of history all its own.



For a glimpse into all that glitters, you can spend some time marvelling at The Gold Museum, also in San Jose. It's no secret that Spain's advances into the New World saw the great empire stunned by the gold to be found among the native civilisations, and much of that craftsmanship has been preserved right here.

Colonial pieces in gold also tell tales of bygone eras, so you can expect coinage and jewellery aplenty here, complete with expertise that takes you back to the times in which these beautiful golden artefacts were a common sight.

Peace and prosperity

Costa Rica nowadays is known for its open-mindedness, together with a great outlook on equality and laid-back living. In the 1940s the country completely disbanded its military, although a coastguard service remains active today.

The echoes of Spanish colonialism live on in the architecture of both the towns and the countryside farmhouses, while the chronicles of ancient civilisations are felt in the mysterious relics left behind from days gone by.

The most notable of ancient artefacts to be found in Costa Rica these days are what the locals call 'Las Bolas' - big stone spheres resting on plinths. They're dotted across the country, left behind by the Diquis people, and come in a range of sizes, from a few inches to nearly two metres high.

How these stone spheres came to be, why they're located where they are and what they meant to the lost civilisations of old has been forgotten to the passage of time. Although, many scientists believe they decorated the roads that led to the dwellings of tribal chieftains.

Las Bolas are a national symbol of Costa Rica, but another recognised object of heritage are Las Carretas, or the ox-carts. In the days when Costa Rica was only beginning to farm the land, those ox-carts were the only way of ferrying goods from inland to the sea for trade. Costa Ricans remember the contribution those strong beasts and their big wooden carts made to the lifestyle they enjoy today, and colourfully decorated Carretas are scattered throughout the land.

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