I want to take you all to the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. Limón is the largest city on the Caribbean Coast. It is an interesting and often misunderstood place. In this city a traveler can witness an interesting ethnic mixing of Indigenous, Mestizos (mixed indigenous and Spanish), Spanish and Afro-Caribbean populations. In this post I want to share some brief history of the city and personal observations.
Much of this cultural mixing is present because of North American corporate interests. U.S.-based United Fruit Company (UFC) established itself as fundamental to Central and South American fruit production and exportation. Railroad scion Keith recruited thousands of Afro-Caribbean workers, primarily English speakers from Jamaica, when the railroad’s oppressive work conditions were rejected by a small and unwilling Costa Rican labor pool. After the construction of the railroad these English-speaking workers stayed in Costa Rica. The United Fruit Company embedded itself so deeply in Central America that Spanish speakers referred to the corporation as el pulpo or the octopus.
The majority of Costa Rica’s black population still lives along the nation’s Caribbean coast, primarily in Limón. Many of these residents continue to speak a dialect of English called patois in the home and often elderly residents will be monolingual English speakers. It would take almost 50 years from the railroad’s completion for the ethno-linguistic minority to gain full rights of citizenship in Costa Rica.
Limón is an often forgotten city for many Ticos (Costa Ricans) and the government. National services are slow to arrive here. The city has a reputation for poverty and crime. Some of this is deserved and some not so. I know of one friend whose computer was stolen on a bus in Limón. As with any place you should use caution when travelling. Limón is only a three-hour bus ride from the capital. However, the city has much to offer for a day trip from San José and/or on the way to one of the Caribbean beaches. If you go I recommend trying all the various tropical fruits, pati (meat-filled pastries) and rice and beans (often made with coconut milk).
The beaches are nice but not the best on the coast. However, a short taxi ride to playa bonita is worth the trip.