When Charles Lindbergh visited Costa Rica

A year after crossing the Atlantic, Lindbergh arrived in San José.

Charles Lindbergh became an international sensation in 1927 after completing his nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean. The following year, the U.S. aviator arrived in Costa Rica.

Granted, Costa Rica wasn’t Lindbergh’s sole focus. The pilot first conducted a national tour of the United States, where he was treated like royalty everywhere he went.

Done with his domestic duties, Lindbergh in late 1927 began a 9,500-mile, two-month journey from Washington D.C. to several countries across Latin America. The “Goodwill Tour” was meant to help promote aviation following Lindbergh’s world-famous Atlantic crossing.

Lindbergh arrived in Costa Rica in January 1928. An estimated 30,000 people — nearly 5% of the country’s population at the time — crowded the airfield at La Sabana to welcome the world’s most famous aviator.

At 1:42 p.m., Lindbergh landed the Spirit of St. Louis in Costa Rica. Then-President Ricardo Jiménez Oreamuno was among the high-ranking Ticos awaiting his arrival.

Over the next two days, Costa Rica hosted event after event in Lindbergh’s honor. The country organized a massive parade through San José and dedicated to him a soccer match at the National Stadium. (The 26-year-old wasn’t a fan of public spectacle and would have probably preferred to have just stayed at a hotel.)

Here’s how Lindbergh described Costa Rica in a 1928 article for National Geographic:

Now the country was getting higher. Small cultivated fields appeared and ahead were the mountains. I found a hole in the clouds and spiraled up to 7,000 feet. Crossing the mountains, I dropped down into a valley and found myself over the town of Alajuela. Fifteen miles away was the city of San José. There was such a crowd on the field that I dropped a note requesting that the people be moved back.

As I crossed the field, flying low, I could see the band in uniform playing on their instruments and the people waving their hats and flags. But the crowd was so bent on sticking close to the edge of the field that the police had to draw their sabers to hold them when I finally landed, after circling for twenty minutes.

There were many Americans living in the beautiful city of San José. Costa Rica is one of the most prosperous republics in Latin America.

I found both natives and foreigners keenly interested in flying. Air commerce must become an important factor in their progress. My own flights, so far, indicate that aviation is peculiarly adapted to transport in Central America. Here railroads and highways are still so scarce that a trip which now takes days or weeks by land could be made in a few hours by plane.

In 1914 I had seen Panama, traveling many days by steamer from New York. I wanted to see it again. As I flew, I could not help but reflect how much of time and distance have been wiped out by science and invention. Though on this flight I had covered over 4,000 miles since leaving Washington, my actual flying time had been about two days.

The country from San José to Panama is broken and wild, but there were several places where planes might land. I followed the valley of the Reventazón River and came to Almirante; then across Chiriquí Lagoon and Bocas del Toro. Striking the Atlantic coast at Mosquito Gulf, I followed the shore a few miles before striking across country toward Panama.

In the future, flights through Central America, like the one that brought me here, will make travel by air a common means of transport.

Lindbergh would briefly return to Costa Rica in 1929. He made an 80-minute layover in Puntarenas while helping to inaugurate an air mail route between the United States and the Panama Canal.

Though he was pressed for time, Lindbergh left a note expressing his cordial greetings to the Costa Rican government and endorsing Puntarenas as an ideal aviation center.

Ultimately, Lindbergh’s tours through the region proved successful: Air travel has indeed become an important mode of transport in Central America and across the world.

But these days, the only crowds at Costa Rica’s airports are the hordes of taxi drivers. And the parade? That’s just your everyday San José traffic.


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