Costa Rica is a nation rich in natural beauty, rainforests, volcanoes, stunning beaches, and a vast ecosystem of plants and animals. It is also a land of fascinating history and its native indigenous culture is also incredibly interesting to explore. Of the many things to do in San Jose, Costa Rica, exploring local museums to learn about the indigenous tribes of Costa Rica is highly recommended.

Long before Europeans arrived in Costa Rica and the Spanish conquest occurred from 1490, indigenous tribes resided in the lush lands of Costa Rica. Today, less than 2% of Costa Rica’s total population of 4.5 million is indigenous, and there are eight distinct tribes which are directly descended from the first Costa Ricans. Less than 6% of Costa Rican land is today designated as indigenous territory.

A Brief History of the Native Costa Ricans

Indigenous Costa Ricans have resided in the area for at least ten thousand years. These people were originally hunter-gatherers descended from the Mesoamerican tribes of Central and North America as well as the Macrochibcha tribes of the north of the South American continent. Until the arrival in Costa Rica of the Europeans and African slaves, there were half a million native Costa Ricans belonging to twenty-five tribes, each living in hierarchies under the rule of a Chief.

Upon the arrival of the Spanish, the tribes generally moved inland and into the mountainous regions in order to survive and avoid slavery and demise from smallpox. They left little evidence of their ancient civilization, with the exception of some simple ornaments, pottery, and the mysterious Diquis Spheres.

Diquis Spheres

IMAGE: The Costa Rica News

In the 1930s, workers who were clearing land in the Diquis Valley of Costa Rica discovered more than three hundred perfectly formed stone spheres. The largest of these was more than two meters (over six feet) in diameter and weighed more than sixteen tons. Apparently man-made, their origin and purpose remain a mystery and they are believed to have been left by an ancient civilization. Most of the spheres have now been relocated and are used as lawn ornaments across the nation. One of the many things to do in San Jose Costa Rica is to visit the National Museum in San Jose, where six of these spheres are located.

Today there are twenty-four indigenous territories across Costa Rica and eight major ethnic tribal groups. Their survival relies on tourism.

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