For centuries the ancestors of the present-day Bribri and Cabecar peoples have populated the south caribbean region of Costa Rica . Up until the XVII century the indigenous people that occupied the Talamancan Valley extended to the coasts of Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo. During this period, the frequent raids by sea of Zambos and Mosquitos, who sought to capture slaves and loot, motivated these indigenous people to move back up to the mountains and abandon the coasts.
At the beginning of the 19 th century, the first Afro-Caribbean colonizers, turtle fisherman from coastal Nicaragua and Panama (then part of Colombia) settled along these coasts and founded the majority of communities known today as: Old Harbor (Puerto Viejo), Cocles River, Little Bay (Playa Chiquita), Grape Point (Punta Uva), Manzanillo, and Monkey Point (Punta Mona) and Gandoken. Unlike their indigenous predecessors that practiced an itinerant agriculture, these new settlers established perennial plantations such as coconut and cacao, that many years later would become the principal economic activity of the region. The cacao farm not only became the basis of the economy of the region, but also, as with coconut palms, gradually incorporated themselves into the typical landscape of the southern Caribbean coast. Sustenance fishing and small scale commerce with neighbors were also prevalent.
Attracted by the agricultural activity of the Afro-Caribbeans, indigenous Cabecars coming from Alto Coen, and Bribris from Alto Lari, arrived to the South Caribbean at the beginning of the last century. For many years they shared their lives and established good relations with the Afro-Caribbeans without losing contact with their families in the Talamancan highlands.
Some Creole settlers from the Costa Rican central valley were transported to Talamanca as early as 1876, in response to the political state of agricultural colonization, or to mining projects, such as the legendary mines of Tisingal, or to work on the railroad, but these efforts soon failed. Jamaicans and some other British West Indians were contracted to work on the United Fruit railroad and some stayed on to farm the southern coast.
Since the second half of the past century, the Southern Caribbean region has become more populated. First, due to larger scale business activities in the bordering areas (banana plantations, logging, exploration of coal and petroleum), which brought to the region other groups (Costa Rican nationals, Panamanians, Asians, Europeans and North Americans).
During the past two to three decades, the extension of roads and communications infrastructure facilitated a new wave of settlers. Land purchases were accelerated due to factors such as: a) the failing of the traditional and non-mechanized cacao farms caused by a drop in international prices accompanied by a devastating monillia blight; b) Afro-Caribbean inhabitants' uncertainties of the implications of the declaration of the Refuge as a national protected area; c) the mistaken incorporation of a large quantity of coastal Afro-Caribbean ancestral property into the legal boundaries of Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve; d) the general development of the national tourism industry which "discovers" and makes the region attractive for Costa Ricans, as well as for foreigners, many of whom buy land and invest in local commercial and recreational businesses.
After the initial real estate sales, the lands appreciated in value. The change in property ownership brought opportunities for work; the increase of the new population expanded the business demands, small-scale lumber extraction, construction, shops, commerce, transportation, and real estate sales flourished. Tourism adds other opportunities at every level: hotels, cabins, grocery and hardware stores, craft shops, a diversity of restaurants, small service businesses that rent horses, bicycles, boats, taxis, tour guides etc. These are only some of the spontaneous opportunities of this new alternative development model.
This area stands out for the beauty of its paradisiacal beaches, coral reefs, and tropical forests vibrant with life. Its extraordinary biodiversity comprises ecosystems of great importance, which in their entirety constitute the habitats for diverse endemic species in danger of extinction. The south caribbean region is inmersed in important protected areas, such as: being included within the UNESCO World Heritage site La Amistad Bi-national park, The Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, the Cahuita National Park, the Hitoy-Cerere Biological Reserve and the indigenous territories, Bribri of Talamanca, the Cabecar of Talamanca, the Telire and Tayni Indigenous Reservations, place the Refuge within the Talamanca-Caribe Biological Corridor as well as the Meosamerican Ecological Corridor. These corridors enable populations of various species of flora and fauna not to be isolated from their greater habitats. This region is of great importance for tourists and nature lovers and also for researchers and scientists in general, who together with the local people and businesses make up a diverse human population.
Today the coastal area is characterized as being more developed touristically; residents include a veritable cultural kaleidoscope where Latin Americans, Europeans and North Americans live together and intermix with the rich Afro-Caribbean and Bribri cultures. Hotels, cottages, cabins, camping areas, and restaurants for various tastes and budgets are available. A wide array of tourist recreational services are offered including: the rental of horses, motorbikes, bicycles and kayaks; guided visits to the rainforests, the canopy, butterfly gardens, iguana nurseries, botanical gardens, as well as diving and snorkeling safaris to the reefs, and boat trips for sport fishing and dolphin watching.
Having had very little communication with the rest of the
country until only 20 years ago, and practically unknown to
the majority of Costa Ricans until merely a decade ago, the
south caribbean coast constitutes a culturally and ethnically
protected zone and is also one of the most naturally rich and
beautiful. Diverse phenomena of local, national and international
origin, recently "discover" this place, catalyzing the community
to timidly promote a campaign that establishes eco-tourism
as the basis for their development to and sustain the local
The predominant Afro-Caribbean and indigenous cultural roots, historically harmonious with nature, contribute a positive influence upon the attitude of the majority of newcomers, both nationals and foreigners who have settled here. The active community organizations, particularly accompanied by the work of environmental and conservation non-governmental organizations and enterprises, are quick to raise concerns and doubts about what negative impacts the opening up of this region for development could imply for the rich and exclusive human values and upon this invaluable biodiversity.
According to the Map of Average Annual Precipitation of Costa Rica, the south caribbean coast presents the least precipitation of the Atlantic Slope of the country with a range of 2.000 to 2.500 mm distributed over the course of a year. This region benefits from a microclimate that includes the area down to Bocas del Toro, in Panama, whose most outstanding characteristics are night rains with ample hours of sun during the day. There are two periods of low precipitation during the month of May and in September - October, with the rainiest periods in July - August and late November - early December. The mean annual temperature fluctuates between 22º and 27º C, with a considerable similar decline during the nights produced by the cool currents that come down from the neighboring mountains to the south.