Edited from articles that first appeared in the original Tamarindo News.
The Spanish Conquest
Gil Gonzales Davila discovered the Nicoya Peninsula in 1522. He was the first Spaniard to visit the beautiful valley ruled by the Chorotegan Chief Diria. At the time of the conquest, the site of present-day Santa Cruz was one of the most populated areas in the region and remained large throughout the colonial period. (When the Nicoya Peninsula was annexed to Costa Rica in 1824, Santa Cruz had a bigger population than Nicoya or Liberia.)
January 1520. González presented his royal commission to the governor of Panama, authorizing him to examine the tax records of the colony of Panama and prepare the expedition for exploration of the Pacific coast of Central America. The governor, known as Pedrarias, was a cruel man who resented anyone else entering his territory. He inhibited Gonzalez's efforts to obtain seaworthy ships, supplies, and men for the expedition. Unable to acquire ships, González and his partner Niño constructed their own. They finally set sail on January 26, 1522, but were forced to land in western Panama after four days because of leaking ships. González disembarked with the main body of the army, and marched northwest along the coast. Niño, after making repairs, sailed along the coast until he reached a gulf along the Nicaraguan coast.
When Gonzales Davila and his men entered the Gulf of Nicoya, they found a sunny country of maize fields, orchards, and plaster towns, which must have seemed fabulous enough after the months of trekking through rain forest, reminiscent of Andalusia. When the Spaniards entered the town of Nicoya, the cacique not only gave Dávila gold worth 14,000 castellanos, but allowed himself and 6,000 subjects to be baptized. The Nicoyans told of an even richer town beside a great lake to the north, but warned Davila about its cacique named Nicarao. Davila pushed on to Lake Nicaragua anyway, and the feared Nicarao gave the Spaniards 15,000 castellanos worth of gold and allowed himself and 9000 subjects to be baptized. Davila gave him a silk cape, a red cap, and some costume jewelry on return, which may have caused Nicarao second thoughts. He began asking awkward questions, such as why the almighty and benevolent Christian God had made darkness and cold when warmth and light were so much nicer.
Another cacique named Diriangen then appeared, leading a procession including ten men with banners, 17 women covered with gold disks, five trumpeters, and 500 subjects carrying turkeys. Diriangen made an appointment to be baptized, but missed it, instead attacking the Spaniards with a force of 3000. Davila repelled him, but decided to retreat back to Panama with gold worth 112,525 castellanos. Thus began the legend of great wealth to be found in the land of the Chorotegas. The Spaniards called this land Mahomet´s Paradise, named for the story of heaven told them by the Moors who ruled Spain for 100s of years, until 1492, just 30 years prior to Davila’s trip to the Chorotega region.