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TEFL Training In Costa Rica | Updated: 02/20/2023

Costa Rica History Brief

Written by International TEFL Academy Costa Rica

In 1502, Christopher Columbus first visited the area and named it Costa Rica, which translates to "Rich Coast."  This name accurately accounts for the 1228 kilometers of coastline the small country has. Due to the resistant native people, disease and difficult terrain, the establishment of a permanent Spanish settlement did not take place for many years. It wouldn't be until 1561, when Spain's Juan de Cavallon leads the first successful colonizers into Costa Rica.

In 1821, Central America, as a whole, gained independencefrom Spain. At this point it wasn't clear whether Costa Rica would join independent Mexico or a confederation of Central American states.  But in 1823, Costa Rica joined the United Provinces of Central America, which also includes El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Costa Rica became fully independent in 1838.

Between 1849 and 1859, American William Walker led many independent military expeditions into Central America to try to gain control and create English-speaking colonies.  He took over Nicaragua, Costa Rica's northern neighbor, in 1856.  At the time, Costa Rica, under the leadership of Juan Rafael Mora Porras, took the lead in organizing Central American resistance against Walker.  Mora called upon the people to take up arms and march north to Nicaragua to fight. 

Now celebrated as a hero, Juan Santamaria joined the army as a drummer boy.  After routing a small group of Walker's solders at Santa Rosa, Guanacaste, the Costa Rican troops continued marching north and reached the city of Rivas, Nicaragua.  Combat was fierce and the Costa Ricans were not able to drive Walker's men out of a hostel from which they held an advantageous firing position. Tradition says, soldiers advanced toward the hostel with a torch to set it on fire. Some soldiers tried and failed, but finally Santamaria, although mortally wounded by enemy fire, succeeded and thus contributed to the Costa Rican victory at Rivas.

In 1948, the country dealt with a six-week civil war over a disputed presidential election result.  After his victory, President José Figueres Ferrer  abolished the  military. The country has been without national armed forces since. The following year, a new Costa Rican constitution gave women and people of African descent the right to vote.  

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