Costa Rica Calendar of Events
When is the best time to visit Costa Rica?
For those who have travelled to Costa Rica, there is little doubt as to why Ticos are some of the happiest people on the planet. Besides the fact that they live in a country that boasts rainforests, volcanos, and not one but two unique coastlines, Costa Rica is best known for the “pura vida” attitude. This is certainly expressed in terms of how Ticos celebrate throughout the entire year. Cultural events in Costa Rica are popular with both locals and foreigners wanting to take away a bit more of an authentic Costa Rica experience. Culinary festivals in Costa Rica are another good way to immerse yourself into the heart of Costa Rican culture. And don’t forget the town festivals similar to a county fair which usually include live music, games, and Costa Rica's version of a bullring or rodeo. Here we have compiled a Calendar of Events in Costa Rica so you can plan your next Costa Rica vacation around the best festivals in Costa Rica!
New Year’s Celebrations: Costa Ricans ring in the New Year as most countries do with fireworks, parties, music, and dancing. For those who like to really throw it down, Playa Coco is the place to be. Party-goers line the street leading up to the beach, and don’t even think about driving anywhere on this night…there is barely enough room to get around on foot! Plan on a late dinner (around 10-11 p.m., and pork leg is commonly served), eat your 12 grapes for good luck, then party like your hair’s on fire! Feeling hung-over the next day? Grab some gallo pinto (rice and beans cooked with your choice of meat) and enjoy the pura vida that the next year brings!
Palamares Fiestas: Fireworks, parties, and drinking continue well into the New Year in the small town of Palamares. Read more about the relatively new but highly organized tradition here.
Coffee Cup: For the tennis lovers out there, the capital city of San Jose hosts a junior tennis tournament the first week of January. Check out their official website here.
Alajuelita Fiestas: Although celebrated on January 15, many believers begin their pilgrimage and celebration well before this date in order honor to the Black Christ of Esquipulas in Alajuelita. There is an Ox-cart parade and mass conducted at the top of the mountain south of San Jose (La cruz de Alajuelita) on this special day.
Santa Cruz Fiestas: Similar to the Alajuelita fiestas, you will encounter bull-fighting, traditional music and folkloric dancing in Santa Cruz, Guanacaste. Unsure of the Black Christ of Esquipulas tradition? Read more here.
San Isidro del General Fiestas: Kick off the month of February with more bullfighting, but this time combined with flower shows and rodeo competitions! Located in the southern part of San Jose province, the San Isidro Del General parties are celebrated the first week of February and are chock-full of history, culture, and music.
Mardi Gras in Esterillos: Esterillos Oeste was home to the first Mardi Gras celebration on the west coast of Costa Rica. Fun for the whole family, the day kicks off at noon with a parade, games and face-painting for the kids, food vendors and live music. The money raised during this event goes right back into the community for schools, lifeguards and other civil workers.
CENAC Summer Festival: Free story-telling, live theater, movies, and other entertainment hosted at the National Cultural Center in San Jose February 13-16. This is a fantastic cultural experience for travelers of all ages!
Los Diablitos Games: Two villages that the Boruca indigenous tribes call home, Boruca and Rey Curre, celebrate the Festival of the Ancestral Spirit. Read more about this fascinating tradition here.
Puntarenas Carnaval: During the last week of February, Costa Rica celebrates carnival in style with visitors pouring in from all over the world. Can’t make it to Rio de Janeiro this year? Take a look at what the port town of Puntarenas has to offer here.
Sun Festival: Let’s hear it for solar energy! Starting on February 25 and lasting for one week, there are sun festivals promoting solar energy all over the country. Enjoy exhibits of solar energy technology, food from sun-powered ovens, and a fire ceremony to honor the Mayan New Year.
Fiestas de Liberia: Round out the end of February with Costa Rican-style bullfights, parades, live music, and plenty of Guanacaste culture to go around in the largest city of the province, Liberia.
Monteverde Music Festival: At the end of February and spilling over into March, for just $10 USD, you can catch jazz, classical and Latin music at the Bromelias Music Garden and Monteverde Institute. This event is claimed to be one of the best music festivals in Latin America, and, on top of that, all proceeds go towards music and arts programs in local schools!
Bonanza Cattle Show: Prepare yourself for the largest rodeo event in all of Costa Rica! The Bonanza Cattle Show is located next to the airport in the capital city of San Jose, and during the first week of March you can experience bullfights, horse races, and other livestock exhibitions. Don’t forget your sombrero!
Oxcart Driver’s Day: For a truly family-oriented event, check out the Oxcart Festival and Parade in San Antonio de Escazu (in the north of the San Jose province). One of the most beautiful festivals in all of Costa Rica, soak in the culture with beautifully painted oxcarts and families decked out in traditional dress.
International Arts Festival: If you are in Costa Rica on an even-numbered year (2016 will be the next one), you are in for a treat! The International Arts Festival (FIA) takes over San Jose for 2 weeks in March and April, and it is not to be missed! With shows ranging from concerts to a dance showcase to a literary conference and even circuses, this Costa Rica event also includes djs and pantomime acts. Viva el arte!
Fruit Festival: The healthiest Costa Rica event is the Orotina Fruit Festival which is held annually the third week March in the Central Pacific region. The farmers who participate in it have been carefully selected by their fruit quality and eco-friendly farming methods. The events starts off with a beauty pageant, and after the winner is crowned, there is a horse parade in town, local booths are set up, and live music can be heard everywhere. To get a sample of Costa Rica’s finest product, the Orotina Fruit Festival is the place to be!
National Orchid Show: Colors burst all over the capitol city of San Jose in another nature-loving Costa Rica event, the National Orchid Show. Staged right at the beginning rainy season in mid-March, there are over 300 species of orchids on display! Learn more about the festival here.
Farmers’ Day: San Isidro, patron saint of all farmers, is honored on this day throughout the country. The biggest event can be found in Tierra Blanco, Cartago, where farmers celebrate on March 15th having avoided a locust plague that wreaked havoc in 1877.
Saint Joseph’s Day: Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Jesus’s foster father is celebrated throughout the country on March 19th with Catholic masses, fairs, bullfights, and delicious street food to honor the patron saint of the San Jose province.
International Food Fair: Come hungry the third weekend of March! Every year Coronado boasts this Costa Rican event which celebrates food from over 30 different countries, holds an international bazaar, hosts soccer matches and car races, as well as conducts a raffle to support indigenous and low-income communities.
Holy Week: Don’t let the name fool you. While many Ticos do take the week prior to Easter very seriously in the religious sense, it is also the peak time for traveling and partying with nearly everyone being off of work. Make sure to book hotels and hostels far in advance if you find yourself in Costa Rica this time of year.
Easter: Lengthy masses are held throughout the country, and everyone takes time off to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus in this predominately Catholic country.
Juan Santamaria Day: On April 11th, Costa Ricans commemorate the death of Juan Santamaria, a drummer in the civilian army who, according to legend, died defending Costa Rica at the Nicaraguan battle defending the country against U.S. filibuster William Walker who wished to form a private slave-holding empire. You can read more about the history of this national hero and how his legacy is celebrated here.
University Week: In the last week of April you can witness an interesting Costa Rica event at the University of Costa Rica in San Jose. Take in the exhibits, concerts, parades, and parties that students enjoy attending to round out the month.
Labor Day: Do not expect to see many businesses open on this national holiday. Instead, you will see lots of outdoor picnics, sports, games, and parades with the president delivering a speech to report on happenings from the previous year. Labor Day is celebrated on May 1st.
San Isidro Labor Day: Another celebration of Labor Day, but this time for the backbone of Costa Rica: the farmers. Towns all over the country honor the Patron Saint of farmers and farm animals, San Isidro, with parties and parades.
San Jose Day: The biggest marathon in all of Costa Rica takes place on May 17 every year. This cross-country race stretches 14 miles from Cartago to San Jose.
Father’s Day: If you find yourself on holiday during the third weekend of June, be sure to call your dad and wish him a Happy Father’s Day, or take him out for a delicious Costa Rican meal if he happens to be traveling with you!
Saints Peter and Paul Day: A holy day of obligation in the Latin Church, you can be sure to find plenty of masses to attend and many religious families celebrate with a special feast.
Virgin of the Seas Fiesta: Consider yourself very lucky if you are in the port town of Puntarenas on the Saturday that falls closest to July 16th (or better yet, plan to be there!). The Virgin of the Seas Fiesta are an incredible Costa Rica event that commemorate a storm that almost wiped out everyone in town in the early 1920s. Fortunately the fisherman survived, and to this day the Ticos thank the Virgin del Carmen for sparing their port town. Read more of the history here and how the Costa Ricans celebrate to this day.
Annexation of Guanacaste Day: On July 25, 1824, the province of Guanacaste said “adios” to Nicaragua and became an official part of Costa Rica. Can you really blame them? This holiday is extra exciting and a true source of cultural pride. You will find parades, street parties, folk dancing, horse shows, bull-fighting, and rodeos all infused with Ticos absolutely loving life. Try to make your way to the Nicoya Peninsula and northwest region of Guanacaste during the end of July to experience a wonderful Costa Rica event.
Virgin de Los Angeles: Also known as “La negrita” (the black virgin), the Virgin de Los Angeles is Costa Rica’s patron saint, and she was said to be found on August 2, 1635 by a native woman. The story goes that she tried to remove the image of the Virgin Mary twice, and the figurine mysteriously returned back to her original spot. The statuette now resides on a gold & jewel decorated platform at the main altar of the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles in Cartago. Pilgrims from all over the country visit her at the beginning of August, many completing the last few hundred meters on their knees. It is quite a sight to behold and very special Costa Rican event celebrated annually.
Mother’s Day: Women certainly rule the household in Costa Rica, and Mother’s Day is taken very seriously. Celebrated on August 15, Mother’s Day corresponds with the Catholic feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
San Ramon Day Parades: On August 30th, neighborhood processions carry 30 saints from the surrounding towns to the San Ramon church. With parades, music, and plenty to eat; fun is had by all ages.
Independence Day: Although Costa Rica, like the rest of Central America, never actually fought for independence from Spain, Ticos still celebrate their freedom as an independent nation on September 15. The traditional dancers, parades, and parties culminate when the flame of independence arrives from Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua in the north. Once the torch reaches Cartago, everyone national-wide paused to sing the national anthem.
International Beach Clean-Up Day: Costa Rica is known for its eco-tourism, and this modern-day celebration corresponds with that mindset. In the third week of September, locals and visitors join together to clean up beaches on both coasts of Costa Rica. Check out the efforts made in Tortuguero over the past 2 years here.
San Isidro Anniversary: To commemorate the founding of the agricultural town of San Isidro; fiestas, bullfights, and parades are to be found on October 9 every year.
Puerto Viejo/Limon Carnival: Instead of celebrating Columbus´s arrival to the New World in the traditional sense, Ticos have put a spin on the holiday and celebrate all cultures coming together for a full weekend in Puerto Viejo starting October 12. Read more about this exciting Costa Rica event that helped unite the black population of Limon with the predominately Spanish population of San Jose here.
Virgin of Pilar Day: If you find yourself in the middle of the country on October 12, check out the celebrations for the Virgin of Pilar in the former capital of Cartago. There will be costumes, parades, and parties all around!
Corn Fiesta: Yes another Costa Rica event celebrated on October 12 is the Corn Fiesta in Upala, Alajuela. The Corn Queen is crowned, and a corn-product costume parade ensues. Great fun for the entire family!
Dia de los Inocentes: Though not as widely celebrated as the Day of the Dead in Mexico, Costa Rica also pays respects to their loved ones who have passed away on November 2.
Coffee Picking Contests: Local communities throughout central Costa Rica and the mountainous region sponsor coffee picking contests throughout mid-November. This is a must-see event for coffee-lovers out there!
Oxcart Parade: On the third weekend of November, 300 brightly colored oxcarts are displayed on the streets of San Jose to celebrate the ¨boyero¨ or oxcart driver. This Costa Rican event is similar to Oxcart Driver´s Day in March, but instead of being located in San Antonio de Escazu, the traditional oxcarts are heralded in the capital city of San Jose.
Festival of Lights: Costa Rica kicks off the Christmas season with the Festival of Lights, held every second Saturday in December. San Jose comes to life with parades, street dancers, marching bands, and incredible fireworks. Check out our blog on the Festival of Lights here.
Los Negritos Fiestas: Celebrated nation-wide the week of December 8th but especially in Boruca, this Costa Rican event combines indigenous celebrations and Catholic rituals. There are impressive costumes, parades and live music in honor of the Virgin of Immaculate Conception.
Fireworks/Gunpowder Day: Also to pay respect to the Lady of Immaculate Conception on December 8th, fireworks displays and gunpowder sound through the air in the town of San Antonio de Belen, Heredia.
Little Mare Fiesta: Legend has it that a small black female horse broke up the fighting between two brothers who were smitten with the same woman. This Costa Rican event coincides with the celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and many believe this is not a coincidence as it was said virgin who allowed for the divine intervention to end the skirmish. Regardless of what you have faith in, there is an annual parade, food and dancing in the city of Nicoya on December 12.
Christmas Eve: The majority of Ticos follow the Catholic faith, and on Christmas Eve everyone dons their finest clothing and attends Midnight Mass or Misa del Gallo (Mass of the Rooster). After mass families chow down on the main Christmas feast. It consists of chicken and pork tamales wrapped in plantain leaves with plenty of eggnog and rum punch to go around. Feliz Navidad!
The Great National Horse Parade: Most Costa Rican events include a “tope”, or horse parade, but this is the granddaddy of them all! Taking place in San Jose on December 26, this is one spectacular show that equine lovers cannot miss out on! Also considered the Day of the Costa Rican Horse Rider, this festival showcases the very finest horses and riders from all over the country, with the streets of San Jose filled with cowboys and cowgirls all decked out in traditional western wear.
San Jose Carnival: Don’t leave San Jose after the “tope” of the year! The following day the streets are lined with floats, marching bands, and street dancers. The absolute best way to experience Tico culture, try to plan a Christmas vacation in this country one day.
Zapote Fiestas: Not to be confused with traditional Spanish bullfighting, Costa Rica’s version is much kinder to the animals and allows for spectators to join in on the event, which makes for hilarious fails and the occasional human injuries. For the last week of December, the finest Tico bull fighters head to the small town of Zapote just north of San Jose to display their talents. Outside of the arena there is a true carnival-like atmosphere with Ferris wheels, bumper cars, and other fair rides. Delicious Costa Rican food is sold, along with not-so-healthy churros and caramel apples. This Costa Rican event is fun for the entire family.
Los Diablitos Festival: Unlike the Los Diablitos Games which are held in Boruca and Rey Curre in February, Los Diablitos (the little devils) Festival is a four-day even from December 30 to January 2nd. Only Borcua men who have carved their own masks are permitted to participate, though women play a large role in the celebration. The fireside dances are beautiful to witness, and the Boruca Indigenous tribe continues to honor their traditions and triumph over the Spaniards every year.
So there you have it!! This is merely a highlight of annual events in Costa Rica, we advise you pick up a local visitors guide when you arrive to ensure you do not miss out on the lesser known events and happenings in your destination. Costa Ricans know how to have a good time, and now that you’re informed as to what to expect each month, you can plan your Costa Rica vacation accordingly and join in on all the excitement. Pura vida!