Head to Costa Rica on vacation at any time of year, and you’ll be excused for thinking all Ticos do is celebrate one cultural event or another. Well, it’s true! This most eclectic, deeply religious and traditionalist culture celebrates innumerable festivals throughout the year. While many are small, subdued affairs, there are a few which are celebrated with gusto, and usually include an amazing array of parades, music, concerts, cultural events and food…lots and lots of delicious food!
So if the amazing wilderness, excellent adrenaline activities and endless stretches of pristine beaches are still not enough to entice you to Costa Rica…how about planning a trip to include one of the country’s best festivals?
Following are just a few of the country’s very best fiestas.
Limon Carnival, Limon, mid-October
Costa Rica’s answer to Rio’s Carnival may be smaller than its Brazilian counterpart but it is by no means any less vibrant, proving that size really doesn’t matter at all. This two-week long amazing celebration of the country’s Afro-Caribbean culture is held in the Caribbean coastal town of Limon and includes outlandish parades, fantastic open-air concerts and plenty of music playing and dancing on the streets.
A mouth-watering array of great local food will be on offer from stands on every corner of the city, making it an ideal festival for foodie lovers too. Technically speaking, the festival is supposed to be a commemoration of Columbus’ landing on the pristine shores of the country, yet nowadays it is simply known as the best party of the year. When in Limon, take some time to visit the stunning Veragua Rainforest Park, home of fantastic zip-lining courses, adventure park and a revered wildlife research centre.
Fiestas Zapotes, San Jose – from December 25th
Costa Rica’s most famous ‘bullfighting’ spectacle is a fun-filled show of machismo, where the only ones who ever get hurt are the brave Ticos; those few foolish enough to get close to the bulls and slap them! But this cultural festival, often dubbed the ‘fiesta of the people’ is a lot more than just bull-teasing.
For two whole weeks, the San Jose suburb of Zapote comes alive with a plethora of carousels, parties, food markets, dancing and lots of kid’s fun rides. Tickets can be bought on the day for specific attractions held in the Zapote Stadium. As this coincides with the holiday season, it is one of the busiest and most popular festivals held in San Jose. Great for families during the daytime, and ideal for party lovers after dark. A simply brilliant way to celebrate the end of the year in Costa Rica!
Fiestas de Palmares, Palmares- January
You could consider this Palmares fiesta as a hybrid between the two, above mentioned festivals. Along with the simulated bullfights, you’ll also have fun admiring colorful parades through the streets of Palmares in the Alajuela Province of central Costa Rica.
A myriad of sporting events, nightly fireworks displays and daily concerts keep the city alive for two whole weeks in January. Copious amount of delectable food and icy cold beer also do a great job in keeping crowds happy and replenished. If you’re visiting Costa Rica after the New Year, and wish to get your new year off to a cracking start, then there’s no better place to visit than Palmares. The first few days of this fiesta overlap with the last few from Zapote’s epic party, so if you time it just right you can experience two of the country’s best festivals in one swift go.
Oxcart Parade, San Jose- November
One of the country’s longest running festivals, the oxcart parade pays homage to the most traditional Costa Rican mode of transport that has ever existed. These very unique carts are so embedded in the local culture, that UNESCO has included the Costa Rica oxcart in its Intangible World Heritage list.
The Spaniards were the first to introduce oxcarts to the country, yet Ticos made various adaptations over the centuries, which include the abundance of colorful decoration of the carts and the oxen themselves. Visit the capital on the second Sunday in November and you can be privy to an incredible exhibition: hundreds of decorated, ox pulled carts parading through the streets of the city, having arrived from all surrounding provinces. If you can’t make it to San Jose on this day, but are intrigued by Tico’s love of la carreta, then include a visit to the Alajuela provincial town of Sarchi, a place renowned as the birthplace of the Costa Rican oxcart. Here you’ll find hundreds of workshops, factories and shops, all displaying the most beautiful carts you’ll ever see anywhere. The town is home to the world’s largest painted cart, which was specifically built to induct the town into the Guinness World Records book.