The early history of Costa Rica is shrouded in mystery. The large, advanced cultures like the Mayans and Aztecs to the north never settled in this area, and the first known inhabitants of Costa Rica (called the pre-Columbians) left little behind in way of clues to their culture. What remains can be found in one of the few museums that stand testament to ancient Costa Rican culture, or in the strange spherical rocks found throughout the country, most notably on Cano Island.
The history of Costa Rica took its most dramatic turn in the autumn of 1502 when Christopher Columbus, sailing his final voyage to the Americas, landed just off shore the city that is now Limon. The Spanish immediately set to colonizing the land, but the Costa Ricans fought heroically, and it took over 40 years before they were forced to finally submit to slavery. But most of the settlers preferred life elsewhere in the new world, shunning Costa Rica for their colonies to the north, where the natives were considerably more subservient. Other than the establishment of the city of San Jose in 1737, Costa Rica history remained relatively quiet - the land was irrelevant to the Spanish, who made only cursory attempts to brave the region"s terrain to hunt for crops and minerals, and the Costa Ricans had been decimated by war and disease. They were merely trying to survive. The only crop that seemed worth anything to the Spanish was coffee, a burgeoning trade that meant shipping more and more back home to Europe to meet with rising demand.
But despite their enslavement, Costa Rican culture thrived. Their reputation as a peaceful people was retained in 1821, when Costa Rica was awarded their independence from Spain without bloodshed. To this day, Costa Rica is considered by many to be the most stable country in the entire region - they do not even have a national army. It was abolished in 1949. Regardless, the culture of Costa Rica is heavily influenced by the 250-year reign of the Spanish - it can be seen in the architecture, the food, and the markings in the cities. Other cultures that called the place home throughout the history of Costa Rica, such as the Nahuatl are Chibcha tribes were destroyed by the invading Spaniards, and little of their influence is left today. Spain"s greatest alteration in Costa Rican culture came in the development of the coffee trade, which continued to be Costa Rica"s most valuable export as it looked to fund its new country.
That changed when the country built its first railroad to facilitate coffee transportation. An American engineer helping build the tracks suggested creating banana plantations on the side of the tracks to help fund the endeavor. It worked perfectly, and Costa Rica history took another surprising and successful turn. The country had a second valuable resource, and in conjunction with the country"s unshakable faith in neutrality and democracy (not the easiest nor most popular stance in the volatile region), have led to Costa Rica being the most successful Central American country to date, a success that is reflected in the people"s good humor, their bustling economy, and their general ease with life.