Our Central America tour (2): Costa Rica

Our first destination ….

Costa Rica means “rich coast” in Spanish and it obtained this name from Christopher Columbus who visited the area in 1502 on his fourth and final voyage to the New World. A Spanish colony for many centuries, Costa Rica became fully independent in 1838.

Costa Rica avoided the civil wars that wracked the region in the 1970s and 1980s, although it was pressured by the freedom-loving Ronald Reagan into providing facilities on the northern border for the Right-wing Contras fighting the Sandinistas in next door Nicaragua. Eventually President Oscar Arias managed to facilitate a negotiated settlement in Nicaragua which won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987.

The population is 6.5 million (of which 1 million are economic migrants from Nicaragua) and the capital is San Jose (which is only 10 degrees above the equator). Its citizens (Ticos and Ticas) are known for their laid back style, characterised by the notion of ‘Tico time’ (even slower than Mediterranean time) and the expressions ‘poco a poco’ (‘little by little’) and ‘pura vida’ (‘pure life’).

Once dubbed “the Switzerland of Central America”, Costa Rica is one of the region’s most affluent and stable countries and it has no standing army. It has the most developed welfare system in the region and its citizens enjoy one of the highest life expectancy levels in the Western Hemisphere. The main industry is now tourism and 35% of the land area is protected.

Following a landslide victory, in May 2010 the country obtained its first female president Laura Chincilla. In the simultaneous parliamentary polls, her centrist National Liberation Party failed to win a majority in Congress, but there will be a general election this Sunday when the National Liberation Party is expected to hold on to power.

Costa Rica is the only country on this holiday which one of us has visited before. In December 1991, Roger spent a few days in San Jose where he made a presentation at a conference on telecommunications before staying on to do some sightseeing. Following that visit, he wrote in his diary: “I cannot imagine being able to return.” He was wrong.


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