13 Popular Costa Rican Festivals and Holidays
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Costa Rica is deeply rooted in Catholicism which you’ll see reflected in many celebrations. Don’t be fooled though- ticos (Costa Ricans) love to have a good time and festivals and holidays are filled with joy.
There are awesome festivals and cultural events all year round where Costa Ricans celebrate their rich culture and history with lots of partying and dancing. These attract thousands of attendees every year, from expats, residents, and international travelers.
About Festivals in Costa Rica
From cultural celebrations dating back thousands of years to religious festivities instituted by the Spanish settlers, Costa Rican festivals are a fascinating display of the country’s rich history and culture. And as you might have guessed, these are important events for the country as a whole. Everyone gets a day off. Schools let kids stay at home. Banks, public offices, and most businesses remain closed. It’s simply a time to celebrate!
Come make merry with the ticos – take part in colorful street parties, make new friends, and taste the good food. Lose yourself in adrenaline-rushing carnival rides. Enjoy mesmerizing horse parades and bullfights, and delight in a breathtaking representation of the beautiful Costa Rican culture. The crowd here is friendly and full of life! So, next time you travel to Central America, make sure to check out some of the following captivating festivals in Costa Rica.
On the 15th day of September every year, parades, street parties, traditional dances, and firework displays are held throughout Costa Rica to celebrate the country’s independence from Spain. First, the freedom torch is brought to Cartago from Nicaragua and the national flag is raised, with the entire country participating in the singing of the national anthem.
Then the festivities begin! There are patriotic parades in every city, with children carrying homemade lanterns to symbolize the freedom torch. Some wear traditional costumes and perform typical dances (like folk dancing). There are school bands too, wearing traditional dresses and marching along with the kids.
This national holiday is pretty much a family celebration, and both young and old sit on sidewalks to watch the beautiful and vibrant processions in a peaceful family-friendly environment. There’s plenty of Costa Rican food sold along the roads too.
Dia de los faroles
The night before Independence Day is a special celebration just for kids! Leading up to the 14th of September, children create patriotic lanterns out of everything from cardboard ad flashlights to empty soda bottles and candles.
When it gets dark on the night of the 14th, lantern parades start all across the country. The lanterns represent the lantern of freedom that came down Central America from Guatemala, declaring Independence for all Costa Ricans.
Juan Santamaría Day
Celebrated every April 11, this is another important holiday for Costa Rica when the Ticos pause to honor the death of one of the most famous soldiers, Juan Santamaría, whose heroic actions helped the country win the Battle of Rivas against the American filibuster, William Walker.
The day is a public holiday celebrated nationwide with lively parades, traditional dances, marching bands, and live concerts. If you’re planning your trip around this festival, I would recommend staying in Alajuela. This city takes the festival to an entirely new level, with celebrations starting days and sometimes even an entire week before the big day.
The Easter Festival of Holy Week, aka Semana Santa, is one of the religious holidays that Costa Ricans take very seriously. Almost the whole country shuts down for an entire week to make time for religious processions, family gatherings, delicious local dishes, vigorous traditions, and everything else the ticos love. Catch a Holy Week parade and definitely don’t miss out on one of the most prominent gastronomic offerings, the chiverre squash. Other dishes that celebrate the season are tamal de masa, tamal mudo, and empanadas de chiverre.
Keep in mind, however, that those who don’t take part in the religious festivities often spend the holiday season traveling, usually to popular beaches, meaning this is also the time of the year you’ll find the most crowds at the beach. That being said, if you’re a party-hardy beachgoer, you may want to stock up before Holy Thursday, as no liquor sales are allowed between this day and Easter Sunday.
July 25 marks the day that the province of Guanacaste became part of Costa Rica. The locals will grace the day with street fiestas, flamboyant parades, carnival rides, cattle shows, bullfights, horse rides, folk dances, live music, and many other festivities to showcase the national pride and endearing history.
While the celebrations are put on throughout all the cities and towns, they’re particularly exuberant in Liberia, the capital of Guanacaste. Here, streets are filled with handicrafts and a wide array of Costa Rican traditional food such as bizcochos guanacastecos and homemade pork tamales. It’s also where you’ll find the most spectacular display of fireworks at night. There’s always a huge tope (see below) for this celebration.
Fiestas de los Diablitos
Every year, one of the most energetic Costa Rican indigenous tribes, the Boruca, comes together to celebrate the day they conquered the Spanish conquistadors, in an ebullient feast called Fiesta de los Diablitos or the Festival of the Little Devils.
During the event, the village men dress up as the ancestral spirits, with one of them donning the costume of a mock bull to represent the evil Spaniards. They then dance in high spirits around a bonfire and pretend to fight to recreate the fight between the Boruca and the conquistadors.
If you want to witness the ancient culture of the Boruca in action, this festival is celebrated in December (30th Dec – 2nd Jan) and in the first weekend of February in Boruca and Rey Curre village respectively. Come prepared to drink some homemade chicha out of hollow gourds.
This is a hallmark festival for indigenous communities in Costa Rica.
On 12th October, Costa Ricans flock to the streets of Puerto Limon, dancing and performing in their elaborate and brightly-colored costumes to celebrate the biggest street festival in the country, the Limon Carnaval, which was put in place to honor and recognize the various ethnicities living in the Country.
The week-long celebration is loaded with vibrant parades and floats, Caribbean rhythms, and lots of dancing, setting a lively atmosphere both for the Ticos and foreigners. There are plenty of local foods and delicacies too, including “rice and beans,” Caribbean chicken and cajeta for sweets lovers.
Virgin of the Sea
If you book your vacation around the Saturday closest to the 16th of July, make sure to spend a day or two at Puntarenas and take part in one of the most enthralling Catholic religious festivals, the Virgin of the Sea.
The celebration features a fascinating display of beautifully decorated yachts and fishing boats sailing around the harbor to pay homage to the Virgin of Mt. Carmel, the Patron Saint of Puntarenas.
Indulge in colorful sports events, traditional dances, special masses and parades, live concerts, and fireworks. And of course, don’t leave without trying the local dishes – the street food in Puntarenas is on point! I recommend the vigoron!
The first of May is traditionally celebrated as the day of the worker, or the día del trabajador. Expect everything from banks to shops to schools to be closed.
This holiday is pretty non-descript, and not really full of cultural activities like some of the other festivals on this list. Most Costa Ricans celebrate by spending time with friends and loved ones in their homes, at the beach, or along the rivers. Travelers by bus should check the schedule though- often busses are not running on this day, and many taxi drivers take the day off as well.
San Ramón Day
This is on the list because I just love San Ramón and I think this is one of the most captivating religious festivals in Costa Rica. Named for Saint Raymond, whose feast day is August 31, the Central Valley town of San Ramon shows up for weeks in advance to prepare for the religious festival.
A way for the local church to make money, traditional ranchos (food stalls) are set up outside the church, and women donate their time to make some of the best traditional food around. Think estofado, olla carne, arroz con pollo, tortillas con queso, churros, arroz cantones and more. Local priests circulate among the crowds giving blessings and joking around.
On August 31, the town shuts down for the entrada de santos, a parade of saints from every district. Each suburb of San Ramon dresses up its patron saint for the parade into the town square- and Saint Raymond is the last one in as the patron. It´s super fun to see for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
Dia del Boyero
The second Sunday of March means a huge display of Costa Rican color, art, and tradition. Celebrated in the town of Cañas, Guanacaste, families from all over the country bring out their colorfully painted traditional carts for the biggest oxcart parade of the year.
A boyero is an ox cart driver, and painted ox carts are one of the symbols of Costa Rican culture and patrimony. Traditionally, ox carts were the main transportation for goods such as coffee and bananas. Boyeros would drive their carts for days on end between the Central Valley and the port of Puntarenas in order to keep the country´s economy thriving. The ox cart parade is a dying tradition, so if you can see it, I highly recommend it.
Día de los enmascarados
Don’t call it Halloween in Costa Rica, as Halloween is not traditionally celebrated in the way it is in other parts of the world. On October 31, the masks come out though, and Costa Ricans celebrate the time before All Saint’s Day with whimsical face masks and dancing.
The celebration is aimed at kids, who are taunted by adults in masks dancing and singing to live music. It’s a lot of fun for everyone!
Virgen de los Ángeles Day
In 1824 the Virgen of the Angels was declared the patron saint of Costa Rica, and her feast day is celebrated in Cartago each year on August 2nd.
Starting weeks in advance, you can find pilgrims walking from as far as Liberia to pay their respects and homage to “la negrita” in Cartago.
Upon arrival, it is common to see people on their knees as they enter the basilica. Every year there is also a competition to make the dress for the virgen so that she can be the best dressed possible for when her devout followers arrive.
If you are in Costa Rican in late July and early August, you’ll see people walking along the side of the highways making their annual pilgrimage to the church, so make sure to take care when driving at high speeds, especially as you arrive in San Jose.
A tope is a horseback riding parade, and they happen all over the country on different dates. If you are lucky enough to catch one, stop and enjoy!
Ranchers and farmers from across the country bring their best horses to the town center and parade them in front of the church. Thousands of people flock to downtown to watch the parade.
These parades get raucous fast, with local liquor stores bursting at the seams, and everyone stepping out in their best outfits. It’s not uncommon for a pretty girl to be asked to ride along with a potential suitor, as this was traditionally a courting ritual as well as a festival.
Fiestas de Palmares
The sleepy town of Palmares in the Central Valley wakes up for two weeks in January to kick off the longest party of the year. Thousands descend on the town for all-night dancing, live music, and lots and lots of drinking.
By day you’ll find food stalls of traditional food, and in the early evening, there are bull riding and bullfight contests. (In Costa Rica, revelers taunt the bull in a “fight” before the bull is put back in his pen and taken home.) Nighttime means partying- dancing, dancing, and more dancing. Es un despiche total.
Welcome! I’m Christa, a former high school teacher married to a handsome Costa Rican and mother of two bilingual daughters. I love all things Spanish and bi-cultural, (especially travel and food!) and you’ll find my observations on life here. Thanks for stopping by
Great article, thanks for sharing useful content. Regards, David
Thank you David! Pura vida! ~Christa