Puerto Limon History Facts and Timeline

(Puerto Limon, Limon, Costa Rica)

A port city on the central Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, Puerto Limon is most noted today as a tourist destination and docking station for cruise liners.

In history, Puerto Limon has forged a distinct Caribbean look and feel, with many traditional Caribbean buildings and monuments. Like many of its regional neighbours, it owes its growth to coffee and banana plantations, while in fairly recent years, a 1991 earthquake caused considerable damage in the region.

Early Days and Pirates

Christopher Columbus sailed through the area on a 'recce' in 1502, stopping off at the nearby Isla Uvita. The date, 12th October, is remembered at local carnival celebrations every year. The region was largely unexplored by the Spanish until the 1800s and was left open to pirates. They included Edward Mansvelt, who landed at nearby Portete with vice admiral Morgan in the year of 1666, on a heading for Cartago.

Founding and Railroad

The actual founding of historical Puerto Limon didn't come until the mid-1800s, under German explorer Philipp Johann Joseph Valentini, at the time when coffee production ramped up in Costa Rica. It was decided to build a railroad from the Central Plateau in order to transport the coffee into Europe faster.

Construction of the railway line commenced in 1867 with the use of former Jamaican slaves for cheap labour. The resulting link and movement of coffee affected Costa Rica dramatically, with both the capital and its surrounding areas enjoying a noticeable increase in wealth. Previous to this, the country wasn't performing very well economically.

Caribbean Settlement and Bananas

After the railroad was completed, many of the Caribbean labourers, who could speak Creole English, settled in Puerto Limon and along the east coast, imparting Caribbean culture to the natives. The swathes of banana trees that were planted along the rail route to feed the labourers soon became the number one export, after the coffee boom.

The most interesting buildings in Puerto Limon history are from this time and can be seen in the partially restored Old Quarter. It contains many intriguing and typically Caribbean-style buildings from the 1800s, including the Black Star Line Building and a Baptist church. Both the national bank and the Town Hall are also in this area, inside the harbour walls. History walking tours around the Old Quarter are popular with tourists and generally take place on an hourly basis.

Things took a turn for the worse in 1913 after disease hit the banana plantations, meaning that many of the banana farms chose to relocate to the equally fertile, but less accessible, Puntarenas province on the Pacific (west) coast. Afro-Caribbean workers were not able to travel to Puerto Limon due to visa restrictions and so staged strikes against the rich United Fruit Company. The Costa Rican government finally recognised the Afro-Caribbean people as citizens in 1948.

Marcus Mosiah Garvey

One of Puerto Limon's most intriguing inhabitants, for a time, was Marcus Mosiah Garvey, a champion of the black cause in the Caribbean, Central America and South America regions. He worked for the United Fruit Company, noted the plight of the workers there and eventually founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association.

Today, this is the capital city of the Limon province and the city's port boasts two terminals - Limon and Moin. The city continues to export bananas, as well as playing host to frequent cruise ship arrivals. Many tourists come to see the nearby Uvita Island, together with the colonial mansions and the Central Market based along the Puerto Limon Boulevard. Not far from the Central Market is the Ethno Historic Museum (Museo Ethnohistorico de Limon), which tells the history of Puerto Limon.