If there’s one defining symbol of Costa Rican culture, it has to be the oxcart (ok, apart from football jerseys, coffee and cerveza Imperial, that is).
The importance of the oxcart, or carreta, dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. The elaborate, hand-painted carts were first used as a means to transport coffee beans.
While coffee is now Costa Rica’s sixth largest export to the tune of $362 million annually, the crop is actually not native to the country; the Arabica coffee plant was introduced in the 1700s. The fertile soil, high altitude and cool climate of Costa Rica’s Central Valley, made it the ideal environment for the crop to flourish.
In 1829 coffee became one of Costa Rica’s top exports, surpassing tobacco, sugar and cacao. The capital city of San Jose boomed as wealthy coffee barons and traders made the city their base in the Central Valley.
With no railroad built until 1890, coffee producers were faced with the challenge of transporting beans from the Central Valley over steep and winding mountains to the port of Puntarenas on the Pacific Coast. Ticos solved this challenge with the use of oxcarts.