Indigenous Tribes of Costa Rica


By Ellen Hoel
Photos by Pam Capista

Hidden within the beautiful rain forests, amazing wild life and gorgeous beaches of Costa Rica are communities of indigenous people who are descendants of the Mayans and Indians from the Amazonian forests. They were heavily influenced by Mesoamerican tribes of Central America and cultures from northern South America. The decline of the indigenous was mostly due to diseases rather than extermination. There are almost 64,000 indigenous (1.7% of the population) living in Costa Rica. They live mostly in the remote mountain zones on reservations implemented by the Costa Rican government.

Today, there are eight indigenous tribes living on both sides of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Costa Rica. They are the Gutatuao/Malekus, Chorotega, Huetare/Quitirrisi, Cabecare, Bribri, Térraba, Guaymie, and Boruca.

boruca-dancers-ballenatales-indigenous-2Of all the indigenous tribes, the Borucans live closest to us in the Southern Pacific zone, near Costa Ballena.
To this day, the Borucas continue to be in touch with their ancestral roots – legends, dance, and crafts of wooden masks and naturally dyed woven goods. They are especially known for the “Fiesta de los Diablitos,” a 3-day annual festival that takes place from December 30 to January 2. This festival re-enacts the fight between the Boruca Indians (the devils) and the Spanish Conquistadores (the bull).


Boruca, entering the village

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