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We had a marvelous time ...

Travel, Vacation and Adventure Guide to Costa Rica

Ticos know how to put on a party – big time. If you are lucky enough to share a holiday or fiesta with the local people, it will add a whole new dimension to your vacation.

we had a marvelous time at a Mother’s Day celebration in the small park opposite the metal school building in San José. We were surrounded by friendly smiling families. Ladies danced in colorful native costumes, food vendors sold myriad tempting treats, and the children rode ponies and competed in games (when they weren’t being chased by the fantastic payasos, gigantic papier-mâché clown heads). It offered us the chance to be part of the local culture. We had a great time. Some festival dates vary each year. Check with the Tourist Board (Plaza de Cultura, 506/223-1733) for exact details.

January 1 – New Year’s Day. First two weeks – Fiesta de Palmares in Palmares, a quiet village 56 km/35 miles west of San José. Carnival rides, bullfighting, music and folk dancing. Week of Jan. 15th – Fiestas de Alajuelitas. Oxcart parade to an iron cross overlooking town, honoring the Black Christ of Esquipulas. Also, Fiestas de Santa Cruz in Guanacaste, with marimba music, folk dancing and more.

First week – San Isidro de General Fair has livestock shows, industrial fairs, bull teasing and an agricultural and flower exhibition. Last week – Sun Festival is an annual gathering for a fire ceremony to celebrate the Maya New Year on Feb. 25th. Look for info in San José. Same week is the Puntarenas Carnival, offering a week of fun in the sun in a working town that knows how to party.

2nd Sunday – Día del Boyero (Oxcart Driver’s Day), San Antonio de Escazú. A parade of colorful oxcarts, along with competitions and animal blessings. 2nd week – International Arts Festival throughout towns in the Central Valley. One of the best of its kind. Most cultural events take place in San José (check dates at March 16-26 – Fruit Festival, Orotina. Fruits and vegetables from all across the country are exhibited and sold. Rides, food, lectures and concerts. Mid-month – Pilgrimage. A religious procession beginning in Cartago and ending in Ujarrás at the ruins of the first church in Costa Rica. March 19th – Saint Joseph’s Day. St. Joe’s namesake neighborhoods celebrate with special masses and fairs. People from San José picnic at Poás Volcano. March or April – Holy Week. Religious processions depict crucifixion. Holy Week is especially popular in San José, Cartago and Heredia. Easter Sunday features a joyous procession of Resurrection. Popular, but many city dwellers head for the beach for a long weekend.

April 11th – Juan Santamaría Day commemorates Costa Rica’s national hero of battle with William Walker (see page 228). Celebrations all week, with parades, bands and dances. Especially big in Alajuela. Last week in April – University Week. Concerts, exhibitions and parades at the University of Costa Rica in San Pedro. Last week of April through first week of May, Artisan’s Fair. San José hosts a popular craft fair.

May 1st – Labor Day. The President gives his annual State of the Nation address and Congress elects new leaders. There are many marches. City of Puerto Limón celebrates with picnics, dances and cricket matches. May 15th – San Isidro Labrador’s Day. Namesake towns honor the Patron Saint of farmers and farm animals. There are parades and fairs, and a priest blesses crops and animals. May 17th – Carrera de San Juan is a big cross-country race challenging runners over a tough 22.5-km/14-mile course. May 29th – Corpus Christi Day. Religious celebration and national holiday.

Third Sunday – Father’s Day. Dad’s special day. Ask him for more money. June 29th – St. Peter and St. Paul Day. Popular religious celebrations for namesake towns.

Saturday closest to July 16th –Virgin of the Sea. In salute to Puntarenas’ Patron Saint, Virgin of Mt. Carmel, there is a regatta of decorated fishing boats and yachts in the Gulf of Nicoya. Parades, sports events, firework displays and religious masses are held. July 25th – Guanacaste Day. Celebrates Guanacaste’s 1824 decision to become a province of Costa Rica (instead of Nicaragua). Liberia holds fiestas, parades, folk dances, bullfight and concerts.

August 1 & 2nd – Virgin of Los Angeles Day. Honors Costa Rica’s Patron Saint, La Negrita, with a nationwide pilgrimage to Cartago. Worshippers crawl on their knees in a procession. Also that day is Our Lady of Angels in Pardos, near Cartago, where figures topped by huge papier-mâché heads, called payasos, reenact a battle between the Moors and the Spanish. August 15th – Mother’s Day, a national holiday. Mothers are treated to special meals, candy and flowers. Call home. August 30th – San Ramóns Day. Neighboring towns parade 30 saints through the streets to the San Ramón church.

September 15th – Independence Day. All of Central America celebrates their mutual Independence Day. In Costa Rica, student runners carry a “Freedom Torch” from Guatemala to Cartago, timed to arrive at precisely 6 pmon the 14th, when everyone in the country stops and sings the national anthem. Parades on the 15th.

Early to mid-October – Carnaval in Puerto Limón. Mardi Grasstyle parades, floats and dancing in the streets. This town knows how to party. October 12th – Dia de la del Pilar. The San José district of Tres Rios celebrates its Patron Saint. October 12th – Fiesta del Maíz. Corn is the focus in Upala with parades and costumes made entirely of corn husks, grains and silks.

November 2nd – All Soul’s Day. Day of the Dead, which begins on the 1st, is observed by family visits to graveyards to leave flowers for departed loved ones. End of November – Oxcart Parade down the Paseo de Colon, San José. Begun in 1997 to honor the oxcart heritage. Entries come from all over the country.

All month – The Lights Festival in San José features homes and businesses decorated with lights. Parades, concerts and nightly firework displays. Week of the 8th – Fiesta de los Negritos. Indian rituals combine with Catholic concepts to honor the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception. Costumes, drums, flute music and dance in the indigenous village of Boruca. Week of 12th – Fiesta de la Yegúitta (Little Mare) in Nicoya. Virgin of Guadalupe is honored with ancient Indian rituals and special foods, processions, fireworks and concerts. Mid-December – Posada season begins. Carolers go from house to house (many collecting for religious donations) and Tico friends, coworkers and families get together in homes and restaurants for long joyful meals. Mid-December to end of month – Festejos Populares (Popular Festivals). South San José fairgrounds at Zapote put on the country’s largest and most unusual year-end bash with rides, food, bull teasing, music and fireworks. As many as 200 people cram into the bullring and a bull is released into the crowd. Reminiscent of the “Running of the Bulls” in Pamplona, Spain, except there is no place to run. If Hemingway were still alive, he’d be dying to go. December 25th – Christmas Day. Traditional dinner includes tamales, corn meal pastry stuffed with meat and wrapped and cooked in corn husks or banana leaves. Christmas Eve mass is the Mass of the Rooster, Misa del Gallo. December 26th – Tope, the daddy of all horse parades, downtown December 27th – Carnival. A huge parade with floats and music takes place in downtown San José. December 31st - January 2nd – Fiesta de los Diablitos. Indians of the southern Boruca region near Golfito enact a fight/dance between Indians, diablitos, and Spaniards. Indians dress in burlap sacks with elaborately painted masks; the Spaniards are two athletic young men in a bull costume. Village flute and drum music.

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