Costa Rica in 1940 ? Yes. You are reading correctly Costa Rica in 1940 ! I recently had the opportunity to discover older books I had in storage and came across the “Costa Rica’s Guide” for 1940 which was actually published in October of 1939.
At the time the population of Costa Rica was 623,414 of which San Jose had 202,739 and Alajuela 130,967. The top two exports of Costa Rica were Coffee which accounted for $4.9 million dollars and Bananas which were $ 2.8 million.
On the banking front the total assets of what is today one of the largest banks in Costa Rica the Banco de Costa Rica was $10.9 million dollars and the Costa Rica currency the Colon was valued at 5.6 Colones to US$ 1. in 1939 the Balance sheet of Banco de Costa Rica fit on 1/4 of a page.
Costa Rica has always been a pioneer in the generation of electric power and and it was interesting to read in the Guide a story about how San Jose was one of the world’s pioneers in the application of electricity. According to the article the first electric street lighting system was introduced in the Cleveland exposition in 1879 and a Costa Rican that was attending the exposition came back intent on on adopting the same system in Costa Rica. Costa Rica went on to create an enviable hydroelectric system that continues to be a major source of power to this day.
The main tourism attraction in Costa Rica at the time was Irazu Volcano. At that time it was more accesible then the Poas Volacano is today. In the picture below you have “tourists” enjoying the Irazu Volcano
Those of us that live in San Jose and have to maneuver through its traffic can certainly appreciate the view in the following picture from 1939 which shows a single car on what is now one of the busiest streets in the country.
For the Tourists that visited San Jose in 1939 the most elegant hotel at the time was the Gran Hotel Costa Rica located in front of the National Theater in downtown San Jose. A standard room today will cost you about $100 a night whereas in 1939 the standard room went for $5.00. In the image on the left you can see the cost of a nights stay at some of the popular hotel and B&B known as Pensiones in the city of San Jose.
The tourism guide included “Tourist Immigration” information letting tourists know what was required for the legal entry and stay in Costa Rica. Just like it is today those tourists arriving in Costa Rica were required to show a return ticket back to their country of origin or else post a bond for the equivalent value.
The Guide described tropical Costa Rica as the ideal place for an “lover of Peace, Tranquility and Beautiful Scenery..” That was the Costa Rica of 1939.
If you want to see what Costa Rica looked like in 1947 there is an interesting travel film from that time which starts with a landing at the International Airport which was located in what is today the Sabana park. You can see the video here: