The Colonists Turned to Farming to Keep Alive and Prosper
The Spanish colonists soon found that growing cacao for export to Spain would bring them badly needed income so started farms in the Matina River area near Limon where climatic conditions were ideal for that crop. Worked by Indian slaves, the colonists from Cartago began to make small fortunes as they exported their crop to Spain through Portobello in Panama and then Cartagena, Colombia. Soon, however, British pirates began to enter the river, plunder the plantations and take the entire harvests.
Having made money from cacao, the colonists decided they would be better off if they forgot about that crop and instead started growing tobacco. The time was perfect for this endeavour since there was a big demand in Spain for tobacco and Guatemala had just then reduced substantially its plantings of that crop. They chose the Puriscal area in the Occidental Central Valley for climatic reasons and for many years this cash crop produced high earnings for them until coffee growing for export began to take impetus in the early 1800s.
Both tobacco and coffee travelled to the port of Puntarenas on mule-back with only trails existing. Later, when coffee became predominant in the early 1840s, the Carretera Nacional (national road) was made to allow convoys of hundreds of oxcarts to make the trip to shipside.
Coffee Produced Wealth
According to Guillermo Echeverría Morales, the first coffee beans for seed arrived in Costa Rica in 1791 from Panama. A second version is that in 1808 governor don Tomás de Acosta introduced some seeds bought from Mosquite Indians along the Caribbean coast and gave them to wealthy families in Cartago. The first coffee plants were used as ornamentals in those families' private gardens. During March and April the plants bore beautiful white blossoms which in December became brilliant red beans.
They did so well with the first coffee beans exported to Colombia that 3 years later they started sending to Chile for re-export to England. By 1830, coffee had become the main agricultural crop and maintained that important position until the 1980s when it was overtaken by banana production. No wonder president Ricardo Jimenez, during his 3 administrations, frequently said that "the best minister of finance we can have is a good coffee harvest".