Bienvenidos! Welcome to Costa Rica!

I love take-offs and landings. Approaching San Jose, Costa Rica, one gets a bird’s eye view of the vegetation, geography, and colors of the land below. The terrain ranges from dense, green forest vegetation and farmlands to collections of islands surrounded by crystal blue waters. As I descended, I saw the capital city emerging through the trees below. I wonder what new people and places await me here.

Like many countries in South and Central America, Costa Rica’s history is influenced by Spanish conquistadors and the Age of Exploration.

Historians mark the Age of Exploration as beginning in the early fifteenth century and lasting until the seventeenth century. At this point, Europeans had explored Africa and Asia and were seeking new trade routes and partners. Spices and tea were extremely valuable, and in some cases, worth more than their weight in gold. Seeking these enormous riches was a key motivation in hunting for new routes to India and the Far East. Many explorers, including the Spanish, Dutch, French, Portuguese, and English, took to the sea in fierce competition.

Perhaps the most famous voyages are those of Christopher Columbus. Columbus was Italian, but set out on his voyages under the Spanish crown. Like many others, he was searching for a new, faster trade route to Asia by sailing west. Columbus set off from Spain for the East Indies, but landed in what are now the Bahamas. Columbus called these new islands the “West Indies” believing he had landed off the coast of India, despite never finding the Asian markets, spices, and resources that should have been there.

The colonial powers took these discoveries as an opportunity to expand their borders, sending hordes of ships to collect valuable commodities and to develop new settlements abroad. While some resources were immediately available, other crops, such as pineapple and sugar cane, were transplanted from Africa and Asia to these new tropical soils.

Costa Rica’s shores were explored during Columbus’ fourth voyage, and soon became a part of the Spanish colonies in the Americas.

The Age of Exploration significantly aided in the advancement of geographic and cultural knowledge that – quite literally – changed the very shape of the world we know today.