Celebrating Dia de los Muertos in Costa Rica
Dia de los Muertos (or Day of the Dead) is one of the one of the most popular cultural festivals held in Latin America. Most foreigners primarily associate the unique fiesta with Mexico, because this is where it originated, yet the festival holds spiritual and religious importance throughout the region. Costa Rica is no exception.
Since 2008, Dia de los Muertos has been inscribed in UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
So how did this unique, colorful and mysterious festival start and what is it all about? More importantly, how is Dia de los Muertos celebrated in Costa Rica?
Read on to find out!
What is Dia de los Muertos?
The festival has several names, both in English and Spanish. It is also known as Dia de Todos Almas (All Souls’ Day) and Dia de Todos Santos, or All Saints’ Day. The festival honors all those who have passed and ceremonies commemorate not just loved ones but Saints, as well.
Dia de los Muertos originated in Mesoamerica over 3,000 years ago and has undergone various transformations. Before the Spanish landed on the continent, indigenous Latin American cultures commemorated their ancestors for an entire month. Once converted to Christianity in the 1500s, however, locals combined their ancient ritual with the Christian celebration of All Saints, held on the 1st November.
This created a new combined festival, what we now know as Dia de los Muertos, tipically held on November 1 and 2.
Why two days? Because the first day is dedicated to children who have passed away and, the second, to adults.
How is Dia de los Muertos Celebrated in Costa Rica?
A few countries, like Mexico, consider this the single most significant day on the cultural calendar and celebrations there are usually grander than you’d experience in Costa Rica. Rather than take on a more typical, Christian-slanted view of the day (which is to say events are mournful in nature) Latin Americans take to celebrating the lives of the departed instead. Instead of focusing on the sadness of their passing, they celebrate their past existence. This is why All Souls’ Day in the region is a much more joyous and colorful event than its (original) European counterpart.
In Costa Rica, the festivities are more subdued than in Mexico, and held over one day only (November 2). Altars are created in homes in reverence to the dead, and families spend the day visiting and decorating the graves of their loved ones in local cemeteries. In recent years, Costa Rica has been holding an increasing number of festivities, reflecting the growing popularity of Dia de los Muertos.
If you happen to be in San Jose on the 2nd November, stop by the Calvary Central Cemetery and partake in the yearly Dia de los Muertos festivities, which typically include music, dance, food, arts and crafts strolls, as well as fun activities for children. Keep your eyes peeled on the cemetery’s Facebook page for upcoming events.
If you are in town on the last week in October, you can also visit the San Jose Museum of Art, which has been holding Dia de los Muertos celebrations for over 20 years.
Although Costa Rica does not hold parades and lavish celebrations for Dia de los Muertos just yet, the country boasts a sizeable Mexican expat population when compared with other Latin American countries. This has meant that events have been getting increasingly more elaborate here too, especially in the San Jose suburb of Barrio Chino (Chinatown).
The Mexican Institute of Costa Rica also holds various events to mark Dia de los Muertos in the capital – visit their Facebook page to keep up to date if traveling to Costa Rica at this time.
Is Costa Rica worth visiting in November?
While it’s fair to say you might not want to make a specific trip to Costa Rica solely for Dia de los Muertos celebrations, this is actually a great month to visit the country. Particularly as there are several cultural events that take place throughout the month.
Weather wise, November can be a bit of a hit-and-miss, since this is the last month of Green Season. It may not rain as frequently as in October, but roads can get waterlogged. This is something to consider if you wish to travel around the country and visit several regions during your stay. The upside of a November visit is that the weather improves dramatically as the month wears on, prices are still low and masses of tourists blissfully absent.
Book your Costa Rica adventure itinerary for the last week of the month, or first two weeks in December, and your chances of dry skies and outstanding runs on whitewater rivers can be very good indeed. If you’re lucky, the dry season might kick off early and then you’ll be among the first adventure-seekers out there, soaking up the splendors of the wilderness and feeling like you have the whole place to yourself!
As always, at Costa Rica Rios, we are here to advice and recommend the best time of year to visit our gorgeous country, depending on your itinerary and wishes. Dia de los Muertos festivities or not, you’ll always find an abundance of amazing cultural and outdoor experiences in this nature lover’s paradise. Our group adventure tours kick off in December, but we’d be more than happy to plan a bespoke itinerary for you and your travel buddies.
Want to enjoy a unique, tailor-made Costa Rica vacation in November? Here are some insider travel tips you’ll appreciate:
- This is the calm before the tourist-storm of December, a month when prices are still low but weather is improving daily. A fabulous option is to plan a longer vacation, so if you suffer a full-day washout, you’ll have plenty of time to make up for it.
- Since you should expect some dodgy weather, capitalize on off-season discounts by upgrading your accommodation choices. A rained-out afternoon spent in a stunning eco-lodge, immersed in wilderness, is heaven on earth!
Temps are lower than in the heart of dry season, when they can get seriously oppressive. Stay near the beach and, when the sun comes out, you’ll enjoy a simply perfect sunbathing day, sans the heatstroke!
- Thanksgiving weekend is HUGE business in Costa Rica, because US visitors adore the country. Avoid traveling to Costa Rica during this weekend, book your accommodation well in advance or simply ensure you’re on a wilderness adventure package tour so you’ll be away from the most famous (and crowded) sites.
- Opt for activities that aren’t as weather-dependent. Soaking in hot thermal springs, enjoying wellness treatment in a spa, taking cooking classes and visiting coffee farms are wonderful things to do, no matter the weather.
- Don’t miss the waterfalls! The best time of year to soak up the splendor of the country’s many waterfalls, November is when they are at their best, and fullest.
And last but not least…
We are the Costa Rica travel experts, the ones who can best advice you on where you should go and all the marvelous things you can do once you get there.
Contact us today!