Holidays & Festivals
Last Updated: Mar 19, 2012
Costa Ricans are known for their gregarious and fun-loving nature, and it’s contagious during the numerous fiestas, horse parades and carnivals celebrated throughout the country. These festivities provide a great opportunity to sample tasty food, make new friends, and learn the local traditions of this fascinating country.
January 1: New Year’s Day Celebrations. Fireworks light up the county on this national holiday, and street parties lure locals with music, dancing and food. In San Jose, festivities are centered around downtown and in the Zapote district. Country-wide.
Early January: Palmares Fiestas. Two weeks of concerts, bullfighting, folkloric dancing and general debauchery. Palmares.
Early January: Coffee Cup. A much-anticipated, week-long junior tennis tournament hosted at the Costa Rica Country Club. San Jose. January 2-7, 2012.
Week of January 15: Alajuelita Fiestas. An oxcart parade and parties to honor the Black Christ of Esquipulas. Alajuela.
Mid-January: Santa Cruz Fiestas. Typical music, folkloric dancing and bullfighting to honor the Black Christ of Esquipulas. Santa Cruz (Guanacaste).
Early February: San Isidro del General Fiestas. An agricultural fair with flower shows, bullfighting and traditional livestock competitions complete with prizes. San Isidro (San Jose).
Mid-February: Mardi Gras in Esterillos: A carnival with parades, street foods, music, children's games and dancing.
February 13-16: CENAC Summer Festival. Free storytelling, theater, movies and other entertainment at the National Cultural Center. San Jose.
Late February: Los Diablitos Games. Re-creation of the fight between the indigenous peoples and the Spanish. Fireworks, masks and traditional dancing help to set the scene. The indigenous tribes are represented by the diablitos, or devils, and the Spanish by a bull. Rey Curre (Boruca).
Final Week of February: Puntarenas Carnaval. A lively, seven-day celebration with food, music and beer. Puntarenas.
Final Week of February: Sun Festival. Annual celebration of the Mayan New Year (February 25), fire ceremony and a gathering to promote solar power.
Final Week of February: Liberia Fiestas. Guanacaste folklore and traditions are celebrated with music, rides and concerts. Liberia.
First Week: Bonanza Cattle Show. Bullfights, horse races, rodeos and other macho events geared toward the nation’s cowboys. San Jose.
Second Sunday: Dia de los Boyeros. Otherwise known as the Day of the Oxcart Driver, this colorful celebration features traditional parades and exquisitely-painted oxcarts on display. Escazu (San Jose).
Even-Numbered Years: International Arts Festival. A central exhibition of first-class art, performance theater and dance. San Jose and surrounds. March 15-25, 2012.
Mid-March: Fruit Festival. Honoring the country’s myriad fruits and their accompanying recipes. Taste-testing offered for many unique recipes. Orotina (Alajuela).
Mid-March: National Orchid Show. More than 300 species of orchids are displayed each year; the best win coveted first-place ribbons. San Jose.
March 19: San Jose Day. Fairs, Catholic masses, bullfights and plenty of street food mark the feast of Saint Joseph, which is celebrated throughout Costa Rica. Country-wide.
Third Weekend: International Food Fair. Proceeds benefit social causes. Coronado (San Jose).
Week Preceding Easter: Holy Week. Costa Ricans take their Holy Week seriously, but not always religiously – travel peaks during this week, and even the most humble hotels can fill up months in advance. The country’s more traditional residents celebrate with religious parades through the streets and wide-scale worship. Country-wide. April 2-8, 2012.
April 11: Juan Santamaria Day. Parades, music and dancing to honor the nation’s hero, Juan Santamaria, who helped Costa Rica defeat William Walker and the invading Filibusters. Country-wide.
Last Week: University Week. Exhibits, parades, live music and more. University of Costa Rica (San Jose).
May 1: Labor Day. Many processions, the day off from work, and a presidential speech mark this day’s celebrations. Country-wide.
May 15: San Isidro Labor Day: Celebrated countrywide in towns named San Isidro, this day honors the Patron Saint of farmers and farm animals with blessings of future crops and livestock. Fiestas and parades are common. San Isidro.
May 17: San Juan Day. A 14-mile marathon is the day’s central activity. Cartago to San Jose.
May 29: Corpus Christi Day. A religious festival that warrants a day off from work. Country-wide.
June 29: Saints Peter and Paul Day. Religious celebrations to honor the Catholic saints Paul and Peter. Country-wide.
Saturday closest to July 16: Virgin of the Sea Fiestas. Religious activities, food, music and parades mark the celebration of the patron saint. Puntarenas. July 14, 2012.
July 25: Annexation of Guanacaste Day. Costa Ricans celebrate the day that Guanacaste province chose their nation over neighboring Nicaragua in 1824. The biggest celebrations – bullfighting, parades and plenty of drinking – are centered in Liberia, Guanacaste’s capital city. Country-wide.
Late July: Mango Fiestas. Alajuela is called the City of Mangos, and every July, the town celebrates its heritage with crafts, parades, music and plenty of mango refreshments. Alajuela.
August 2: Virgin of Los Angeles Day. Costa Rica’s largest religious holiday – pilgrims march on foot or on their knees towards Cartago’s Los Angeles Basilica to pay honor to La Negrita, Costa Rica’s black Virgin. Country-wide.
August 30: San Ramon Day. Parades, dancing and music help celebrate the arrival of 30 patron saints of nearby towns, come to honor San Ramon’s own patron saint. San Ramon (Alajuela).
September 15: Independence Day. Parties and festivals throughout the country. Traveling south from Guatemala, the flame of independence arrives in Cartago on this day. Country-wide.
Third Week: International Beach Clean-Up Day. A more modern celebration, this day joins locals and visitors together to keep Costa Rica beautiful. Beach towns.
October 9: San Isidro Anniversary. A celebration to commemorate this important agricultural town. San Isidro (San Jose).
Early to Mid-October: Puerto Viejo Carnaval. Seven days of Caribbean parties, complete with dancers, parades, live music and Mardi Gras-style decadence. Puerto Viejo.
October 12: Dia de la Raza (Columbus Day). A celebration of Columbus’ discovery of the New World, and the many cultural influences that helped form modern-day Latin America. Country-wide.
October 12:Virgin of Pilar Day. Costumed dancing to honor the patron saint of Tres Rios. Tres Rios (Cartago).
October 12: Limon Carnaval. A popular festivity that celebrates with loud Caribbean rhythms, rum and dancing. Limon.
October 12: Corn Fiesta. Very traditional parties to honor the corn crop, including a Corn Queen crowning and a corn-product costume parade. Upala (Alajuela).
November 2: All Soul’s Day. Costa Rica’s version of Mexico’s famous Day of the Dead has people paying their respects to lost loved ones. Country-wide.
Mid-November: Coffee Picking Contest. Music and dancing to accompany the contest. Central Valley.
Late November: Oxcart Parade. Similar to March’s Oxcart Driver Day, this celebration honors Costa Rica’s oxcart and agricultural traditions. San Jose.
First Week: Lights Fiesta. Fireworks displays and live concerts start this month-long Christmas celebration of lights, lights and even more lights. San Jose.
Early December: Christmas Celebrations. Decorations have been up for months, but Costa Ricans really begin to celebrate in early December. This is the best time to begin making tamales – each family has its own recipe. The long preparation process produces one-of-a-kind treats that are distributed as gifts to friends and neighbors. Country-wide.
Week of December 8: Los Negritos Fiestas. A festive combination of traditional indigenous celebrations and Catholic rituals, this day honors the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception. Boruca. December 5-11, 2011.
December 8: Fireworks Day. Fireworks help to honor the Lady of the Immaculate Conception. San Antonio de Belen (Heredia).
December 12: La Yeguita Fiesta. A parade to celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe, and its accompanying dancing, food and fireworks. Nicoya (Guanacaste).
December 15: Beginning of Caroling Season. Christmas carolers begin to sing door-to-door, often to raise money for local charities. Country-wide.
December 24: Traditionally, families attend a large mass on Christmas Eve and eat their holiday dinner at midnight. Presents are usually opened on December 24th. Country-wide.
December 26: El Tope Nacional. Annual national horse parade that strolls through the center of San Jose, where the well-trained animals perform amazing footwork. San Jose.
December 27: San Jose Carnival. A huge carnival with large floats, live music and a very happy atmosphere. San Jose.
Late December: Zapote Fiestas. The Zapote Fairgrounds transform from tranquil farmers' market to a free-for-all party, offering amusement park rides, fair and street food, inflatable megabars, bullfighting and plenty of libations. San Jose.
December 30-January 2: Los Diablitos Festival. Fireside reenactment of Spanish-indigenous battles, using mood music and traditional masks. Boruca.
Official Costa Rica Holidays:
- January 1st: New Year's Day
- March/April: Easter Week
- April 11: Juan Santamaria Day
- May 1st: Labor Day
- July 25: Annexation of Guanacaste Day
- Aug 2: Patron Saint Day
- Aug. 15: Mother's Day
- Sept. 15: Independence Day
- Nov. 2: All Soul's Day
- Dec. 25: Christmas Day