Costa Rica's major Pacific port on the Gulf of Nicoya provides visitors with the opportunity for trips into Costa Rica's interior, renowned for its unspoiled nature and beautiful scenery.
Costa Rica boasts a privileged location between two oceans at the southern end of Central America. It was discovered by Columbus in September of 1502 during his last voyage. Unfounded rumors of vast gold treasures led to the name of Costa Rica (Rich Coast). Spaniards from northern Spain settled mainly in the Central Valley. Independence from Spain was declared in 1821.
To supplement farming income, the government looked for a product that could be exported and taxed for revenue. It was found in coffee, introduced from Panama in 1791 with two bags of seeds. Costa Rica was the first Central American country to cultivate coffee in the rich volcanic soil of the Central Valley. Free land was offered to coffee growers, resulting in a peasant land-owning class. In 1825, small quantities of coffee were carried on mule-back to the ports to be exported. By 1846, the transport was carried out in oxcarts. A few years later there was a substantial flow to overseas markets; this increased with the opening of a railway from San Jose to Puerto Limon on the Atlantic coast and the old port of Puntarenas on the Pacific. The country's economy is still based on coffee,as well as bananas, sugar and cocoa.
Costa Rica is Central America's most stable democracy. In 1949, the army was abolished, replaced by a very efficient-looking khaki-clad Civil Guard. The literacy rate is high; Ticos, as locals are popularly called, are known for their friendly and outgoing attitude.
The capital, San Jose, lies in the Central Valley at an altitude of 3,450 feet, about a 2-2.5-hour drive from Puntarenas. Its population is estimated at over one million. Most of the colonial buildings were destroyed by earthquakes; the modern replacements are not very inspiring. The most attractive buildings include the National Theater in the heart of the city and the Metropolitan Cathedral. The general sights can easily be viewed during a quick orientation drive. The real attraction lies in the countryside, which boasts sceneries of mountain ranges, lush valleys and quaint villages. Compared to the heat and humidity of the coastal area, the Central Valley is known for its pleasant, spring-like climate for most of the year.