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A Guide to the Best Festivals in Costa Rica

Article by GVI


Posted: April 2, 2023

Known for its lush rainforests and beautiful beaches, Costa Rica has a rich and vibrant culture that is celebrated throughout the year in various festivals and events.

The Rich Culture of Costa Rica

Located between Nicaragua and Panama, Costa Rica is a land of stunning natural beauty and a diverse population that includes indigenous tribes, Spanish descendants, Afro-Caribbean communities and more. The fusion of these different cultures has resulted in a unique and vibrant identity that is proudly showcased in the country’s many festivals and celebrations.

The locals, often referred to as Ticos, are renowned for their warm hospitality and pura vida (pure life) attitude. This laid-back approach to life is an essential component of Costa Rican culture and is apparent in the joyous atmosphere that permeates every event and festival throughout the year.

Traditional Costa Rican Customs and Practices

One of the most enduring and distinct aspects of Costa Rican culture is the strong emphasis on traditional customs and practices. Those attending the country’s festivals will often witness various forms of traditional dance, including the Punto Guanacasteco and Tambito, accompanied by the marimba, a wooden xylophone-like instrument that is a true symbol of Costa Rican music.

Many of the festivals also feature ‘mascaradas,’ where participants don large, colourful masks representing characters from folklore and parade through the streets in vibrant and energetic performances. Traditional Costa Rican clothing is also commonly seen during festivals, with men wearing white cotton shirts and pants adorned with colourful embroidery, and women dressed in brightly coloured dresses with intricate floral patterns.

The Vibrant Costa Rican Festival Calendar

Throughout the year, Costa Rica plays host to a vast array of festivals, each with its own unique customs, activities, and traditions. The following list highlights some of the most popular and significant events, arranged by the month of occurrence.

January: Palmares Fiestas

The small town of Palmares comes alive each January with two weeks of festivities and celebrations. The Palmares Fiestas feature parades, live music, traditional dances, and plenty of delicious Costa Rican food. One of the event’s major attractions is the bullfighting event, where brave Ticos enter the ring with a bull, not to harm or kill it, but to entertain the crowd with their daring feats of agility and skill.

February: Puntarenas Carnival

Taking place in the coastal city of Puntarenas, the Puntarenas Carnival is an annual celebration featuring vibrant parades, concerts, beauty pageants and sporting events. The week-long festivities culminate with a massive fireworks display that lights up the night sky over the Gulf of Nicoya.

March: National Orchid Show

Held annually in the city of San José, the National Orchid Show is a stunning display of Costa Rica’s diverse and beautiful orchid species. Visitors to the event can admire the vibrant and fragrant flowers, attend workshops, and even purchase their own orchids to take home.

Wild orchids growing in the dark Costa Rican jungle.

April: Juan Santamaria Day

Each April, Costa Rica commemorates the national hero Juan Santamaria with a day of lively parades and cultural events. Santamaria played a crucial role in defending the nation against the invading American filibuster William Walker in the mid-19th century, and his heroic actions are remembered with great pride and respect.

May: Labour Day Celebrations

Labour Day, known locally as ‘Día Internacional del Trabajo,’ is a national holiday in Costa Rica, celebrated on the first of May. The day features various events, including speeches by politicians and labour leaders, parades, and gatherings in parks and other public spaces.

June: Saint Peter and Saint Paul Day

On June 29, Costa Ricans celebrate the feast day of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, two of the most important figures in Christian history. The celebrations include processions through the streets, religious services, and the preparation of traditional dishes to share with friends and family.

July: Guanacaste Day

Each year on July 25, Costa Ricans commemorate the annexation of the province of Guanacaste from Nicaragua in 1824. Guanacaste Day is celebrated with traditional music, dances, parades, and the ever-popular ‘mascaradas.’

August: Virgin of Los Angeles Day

As the patron saint of Costa Rica, the Virgin of Los Angeles is honoured with a national holiday on August 2. The Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels in Cartago is the centre of the celebrations, with thousands of pilgrims from across the country descending on the city to attend religious services and pay their respects.

September: Independence Day

Costa Rica’s Independence Day, celebrated on September 15, marks the nation’s break from Spanish rule in 1821. The day is filled with patriotic festivities, including parades, concerts and fireworks displays throughout the country.

October: Limon Carnival

Each October, the Caribbean port city of Limón hosts a week-long carnival to celebrate its Afro-Caribbean heritage. Expect vibrant parades featuring traditional Calypso music, dance performances and an abundance of mouthwatering Caribbean cuisine.

November: Coffee Harvest Festival

Costa Rica is famous for its high-quality coffee, and the Coffee Harvest Festival is the perfect way to celebrate this essential crop. Held in the small town of Frailes, the festival includes coffee tasting, live music, traditional dancing and various other cultural activities.

December: Christmas Festivities and New Year’s Eve

As a predominantly Catholic country, Costa Rica celebrates Christmas with traditional religious services and family gatherings. Decorations, such as colourful lights and nativity scenes, adorn homes and streets across the country. New Year’s Eve is marked with lively street parties, firework displays, and the exciting Fiesta de la Luz – a parade of illuminated floats through the capital city of San José.

Costa Rica’s vibrant festival calendar offers a unique insight into the nation’s rich cultural heritage and allows visitors the opportunity to experience its customs and traditions first hand. From joyful religious celebrations to lively regional events, these festivals provide a window into the heart and soul of Costa Rican society and its pura vida spirit.

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