Christopher Columbus first set foot on this side of his ‘Rich Coast’ as he mistakenly named Costa Rica, but the dense jungle and humidity held little interest to the conquering Spaniards, who preferred to cultivate the cooler, fertile lands of the Central Valley. This left the Caribbean Coast to continue as it had for centuries, inhabited by indigenous tribes who roamed the Talamanca Mountains.
During the nineteenth century, turtle fishermen began travelling to this coastline from the Caribbean islands to hunt turtles during their nesting season. A number of these fishermen were drawn to the lush, forested coastline and decided to expand their seasonal camps to permanent settlements. The first Caribbean immigrants bought their language, culture and religion to Limon, as well as the fruit trees and vegetables that they’d cultivated in their island homes. English schools were constructed for the education of the growing population with text books and teachers sailing in from the islands, and cricket teams travelled along the coast to play matches in their Jamaican-imported cricket whites. The Costa Rican Government paid little heed to this settlers in a remote corner of the tiny nation and the small communities flourished.
Marcus Garvey’s Negro Improvement flourished along the coastline with inhabitants raising enough funds to build the Black Star Line building that is now a national monument in the city of Limon.
Minor Keith’s railway building brought a new wave of Caribbean immigrants into the country as the coast opened up the province to the rest of Latin America, as opposed to the inhabitants’ previous reliance on sail ship supplies from Jamaica and other islands. The establishment and growth of the United Fruit Company from 1899 provided work for many more immigrants in Limon.
Between racist governmental policies and the mainly Jamaican immigrants’ reluctance to embrace Costa Rican citizenship in place of their British passports, the Caribbean communities were kept isolated to their coastline until a change in laws in 1948 gave them more freedom of movement into the capital city and beyond. The advantage of this troubled integration of the Afro-Caribbean population into the Spanish descended majority and the inaccessibility of the coastline from the Central Valley was the preservation of the culture of the communities established here.
Roads finally arrived in the 1970s and with them, electricity to bring the Caribbean coast very swiftly into the modern world, and opening up the region to an influx of hippy backpackers, missionaries and Peace Corp.
Today, many people still speak South Caribbean Creole, also known as MekItellyou, attend Methodist and Baptist Churches, cook spicy Jerk chicken and meat patties, and party to Reggae beats. The Afro-Caribbean influence remains strong but the Caribbean culture is now a unique mix of Spanish, indigenous, Chinese, and Afro-Costa Rican, and more recently, the contribution of North American and European ex-pats to the beach towns.