Costa Rica, in all aspects, is a country of moderation. The culture, food, politics, religion and language all retain a certain conservatism that doesn't exist in other countries in the region. During festivals and holidays however, it's a slightly different story. This is a time for Ticos to relax and have fun and though things don't get as crazy as, say, Carnivale in Brazil, you can see everyone shedding some of their daily inhibitions. However, not everything gets tossed out the window during annual events. Costa Rica has strict alcohol laws that come into effect during certain religious celebrations and elections. These ley seca, or dry laws, were designed to prevent drinking on these days. Easter Week is one such holiday where the dry laws are enforced. These laws aren't as effective as some legislators might hope, since many Ticos stock up on liquor days before the holiday or election. And many pueblitos, or local pubs in small towns, will open illegally for friends and family. Perhaps Ticos really do know how to cut loose. The following are coming attractions and events in Costa Rica throughout the year.
January 1 - New Year's Day - Countrywide - This is one of the biggest national holidays with fireworks and street parties with music, dancing and food in cities and towns across the country. In San José, the Zapote district is the center of New Year's activities. No matter where you go, however, you will hear the mariachi classic El Año Viejo, in which the singer describes all the disappointments of the past year. Some of the New Year's traditions include: wearing yellow for good luck in the coming year; eating 12 grapes at midnight for 12 wishes or good luck for the coming year; eating pierna de cerdo, or leg of pork, for the main course of your New Year's meal; and walking around your house twice with a piece of luggage to invite more opportunity for travel in the coming year.
Early January - Fiesta del Palmares - Palmares - Enjoy dancing, carnivals and concerts during one of the largest festivals in Costa Rica. These two weeks in January also feature endless parades, topes or horse parades, and Tico-style bullfighting, where brash Ticos taunt a bull with a bandanna as it runs around the ring.
Mid-January - Copa del Café - San José - This is a junior tennis tournament on the International Tennis Federation circuit every year for one week at the Costa Rica Country Club featuring young players from around the world. Attendance throughout the week tops out at well over 25,000.
Mid-January - Alajuelita Fiestas, or Festival of the Black Christ - Alajuelita - The Black Christ is also called Santo Cristo de Esquipulalas, after the patron saint of the Guatemalan town where the tradition began. Thousands of people come to the church in Alajuelita, the home of the Black Christ crucifix, to pray for miracles and join the procession that ends at the large iron cross on a mountain above Alajuelita. Typically, an oxcart parade, games, concerts and carnivals take place at the same time.
Mid-January - Santa Cruz Fiestas - Guanacaste - This is another festival honoring the patron saint of Esquipulalas. The festivities include folk dancing, marimbas and a rodeo.
Late January - Guanacaste String Festival - Tamarindo - This annual eclectic music festival features local and international artists in jazz, rock, punk, folk, blues and traditional Guanacaste music.
January 31 - Jorge Debravo National Poetry Day - San José - This is the birth date of Jorge Debravo, the country's most famous poet. You can find children's poetry readings and a book fair in San José.
January through February - Festival Chunches De Mar - Montezuma - This is a month-long International Art Camp where artists from around the world create work while living on a beach on the Nicoya Peninsula, offering workshops, and exhibiting and auctioning their pieces at the Hotel Luz de Mono in Montezuma.
January through April - Monteverde Music Festival - Monteverde - International groups perform during this long festival featuring classical, jazz and folk music.
February - Festival Del Mar - Quepos - This month-long festival features fishing competitions, sports, concerts, parades and dancing in the streets.
February 5 - 15 - Mule Festival - Parrita, Puntarenas - The people of Parrita have taken what was once a bored farmers' pastime and turned it into a national festival. The mule race is the main event, with horse races, tractor rallies and agricultural exhibitions. Food and crafts are also sold at the fairgrounds. The dates for this festival change between January and February.
Mid-February - Expoferia Ganadera- Pérez Zeledón - This is one of the larger agriculture and livestock expos with cultural exhibits, a rodeo, bullfights, and concerts. It also features a cattle show and sale, and cowboy demonstrations.
Mid-February - Festival de Arte - Jacó - This art exhibition features local artists of all kinds. Crafts, movies, theater, circus arts and other visual media are a part of this beach festival.
Mid-February - San Isidro del General Fiestas - San Isidro del General - This annual festival has cattle shows, agricultural and industrial exhibits, bullfights and flower exhibitions. The streets will be filled with mariachi music and carnival games for the week.
Mid-February - La Fortuna Fair - La Fortuna - The small town of La Fortuna, near Arenal Volcano, holds their Fiesta Grandiosas every year in February. There is a tope or horse parade, bullfighting, concerts, dancing, food and an amusement park.
Mid-February - Puntarenas Carnival - Puntarenas - This is one of the biggest and most popular festivals in the country. For 11 days, the town of Puntarenas will be echoing with pachanga music and latin beats during the endless parades. The big carnival procession is preceded by constant carnival dancers and mascaradas, or big painted masks, in the center of town. Some of the carnival events are so popular, like the crowning of the Carnival Queen, they're broadcast on national television. The carnival encompasses parades, regattas, fishing and volleyball competitions, concerts, theater performances, horse parades and fireworks.
Mid-February - Orange Expo-Fair - Ciudad Colón - This particular area of the country has quite a few orchards and orange farmers. During the expo, you can buy different citrus products, traditional food and indigenous art while enjoying folk dancing and music concerts. It's held in the old market or Campo Ferial of Ciudad Colón.
February 13-16 - CENAC Summer Festival - San José - The National Cultural Center, or CENAC, is one of the oldest buildings in the country and home to large complex of theaters, museums and government offices. During the festival, you can catch free storytelling, theater performances, movie screenings and other entertainment at the center.
Late February - Festival of the Diablitos - Boruca Indian Village of Rey Curré - This festival's main event is a centuries-old tribal dance that recreates the fight between the Indians and the Spanish during the conquest of the New World. The Indians, or diablitos, wear devil masks and the Spanish are represented by a large bull made of wood and burlap sacks. The bull is taken from house to house and each family takes turns fighting against it, as a dance. At the end of the three days festival, they kill the bull by burning it, symbolizing the Indian triumph over the Spanish. Tourists and other outsiders are welcome to attend and participate in the dancing, eat tamales and drink chicha, a local spirit.
February 25 - Sun Festival - Countrywide - This annual festival to celebrate the Mayan New Year has taken a modern twist. As a lead up to the fire ceremony to mark the new year, there are exhibitions to promote the use of solar energy, including food cooking in solar ovens and solar panel demonstrations.
Late February - Fiestas Civicas Liberia - Liberia - The fiestas start off at midnight with a loud bombetas, or fireworks show, and a band playing local music - and the party continues for 11 days. Bullfighting is the big event, with hundreds of Ticos chasing after a bull in a small ring for hours each day. You can also catch the daily tope, or horse parade, at noon each day and another special parade every morning at dawn. Known as La Diana, this early parade announces the beginning of another festival day with a loud marching band accompanying drunken dancers who have yet to go home from parties the night before.
Early March - Bonanza Cattle Show - San José - Ranchers get together every March at the Bonanza fairgrounds for bullfights, horse races, rodeos and other livestock-oriented events.
March 8 - Día del Boyero, or National Day of the Oxcart Driver - San Antonio de Escazú - This village hosts one of the most traditional celebrations in Costa Rica. Everyone in town is roused early in the morning to start preparing. At mid-morning, the procession of traditional, brilliantly-painted oxcarts begins. Clowns and dancers accompany the oxen and their drivers from the town hall to the San Antonio Church, where the priests bless the drivers and award prizes to the best carts and oxen.
Mid-March - National Orchid Show- San José - Since the orchid is Costa Rica's national flower, it's no surprise that the orchid show attracts thousands of visitors who want to catch a glimpse of over 500 local, international and hybrids on display. Growers all over the world come here to show their flowers and learn the secrets of the trade. It moves to different venues and weekends each year.
Mid-March - Fruit Festival - Orotina, Alajuela - This small town is known for its fruit- and vegetable-growing prowess. Farmers from across the country come to Orotina for the annual Fruit Festival to exhibit and sell their goods, enjoy concerts and carnival rides, and attend lectures on local farming techniques.
March 15 - Farmers' Day - Tierra Blanca, Cartago - This is a day to honor the farmers' patron saint, San Isidro, a 12th c. Spanish Farmer. While Farmer's Day is celebrated across the country, the biggest celebrations are held in Tierra Blanca, Cartago, where the farmers celebrate avoiding a locust plague in 1877.
March 19 - San José Day - All neighborhoods sharing the name San José hold a religious celebration with fairs and special masses devoted to their patron saint. Traditionally, this is a day for locals to visit Poás Volcano for picnics with their families.
Late March - International Food Fair - Coronado - This annual food fair features cuisine from 34 countries, an international bazaar, soccer matches, a car show and a raffle to raise funds for indigenous and low-income communities.
Late March - Early April - Caribbean Music Festival - Playa Chiquita, Limón - Founded in 1999, this annual festival features concerts, arts workshops and presentations that highlight the Caribbean culture of the country's east coast.
March - Carrera de la Paz - San José - Thousands of people run this half-marathon from San José's National Gymnasium to the campus of the University for Peace in Villa Colón. Spectators line the race route to see who will take home almost one million colones in prize money.
Early April - Easter - Holy Week - Countrywide - Easter is one of the biggest holidays in Costa Rica. Most businesses close for the entire week and many people head to the beach for a vacation. Easter is peak travel season and hotels are booked months in advance. More traditional Catholics will celebrate with religious parades and lengthy masses at churches across the country.
April 11 - Juan Santamaria Day - Countrywide and Alajuela - While the entire country celebrates one of the country's national heroes, it is in Alajuela, Juan Santamaria's hometown, where the party is centered. For the entire week leading up to April 11, the anniversary of his death, there are parades, dances and concerts celebrating the folk hero.
Mid-April - (in even-numbered years) - International Arts Festival - San José - International artists in theater, dance, music, and opera perform throughout the festival while visual artists hold exhibits of their work in various locations.
Mid-April - Pilgrimage to Ujarrás - Paraíso - The ruins of Ujarrás are all that remains of the country's first church. Pilgrims carry the first image of the Virgin from Paraíso to the ruins to remember a miracle the Virgin performed in 1666, when Spanish pirates were rebuffed from the area.
April 18 - Reto Jacó Extremo - Jacó - This is a 10km running race starting in the center of Jacó. Runners race the length of the beach and back to the main road to downtown.
Last Week of April - University Week - University of Costa Rica, San José - Several events, such as concerts, exhibits and year-end parties, take place at and around the university.
May 1 - Día de los Trabajadores, or Labor Day - Countrywide - While the President gives the annual speech to the nation on this day, most people are taking well-earned day off. In Limón, the annual fiestas feature cricket matches and families enjoy picnics, games and dances.
May 15 - Día de San Isidro Labrador - Escazú and San Isidros all over Costa Rica - This holiday is to honor the patron saint of farmers and garner his good favor for animal and crops. The biggest celebrations are held in Escazú but every town named San Isidro holds street fairs with music, dancing and traditional food.
May 17 - Carrera de San Juan - Cartago to San José - To celebrate San Juan Day, over 1,500 runners participate in a grueling, cross-country foot race that takes runners 22 km from the outskirts of Cartago to San José.
May 29 - Corpus Christi Day - Countrywide - Across the country, Costa Ricans celebrate this Catholic holiday with religious celebrations, processions and a day off from work.
Third Sunday - Día de los Padres, or Father's Day - Countrywide - Like most Father's Day celebrations in North America and Europe, the day is spent with family celebrating fathers.
June 29 - Día de San Pedro y San Pablo, or Saints Peter and Paul Day - Countrywide - This religious holiday celebrates the two saints with processions and masses.
July 16 - Día de la Virgen del Mar, or Day of the Virgin of the Sea - Puntarenas - Every year on the beaches of Puntarenas and Playas del Coco, a colorful flotilla of decorated fishing boats and yachts sails by to honor the patron saint of Puntarenas. One of the boats in the group carries an image of the saint, the Virgin of Monte Carmelo. The other festivities include both the religious and secular: masses and processions mix with concerts, dances, fireworks and parades for a week of celebration.
July 25 - Day of the Annexation of Guanacaste - Countrywide - Guanacaste Day celebrates the annexation of the province from Nicaragua in 1824. While the biggest fiestas are in Liberia, everyone across the province and the country shows pride in the acquisition. There are street fairs, concerts, dancing, topes or horse parades, bullfighting, rodeos and cattle shows.
Late July - Robert August Surf & Turf - Playa Tamarindo - Annual charity golf and surfing competition featuring Robert August and Robert 'Wingnut' Weaver from the classic surf movie "Endless Summer".
July 31 - August 9, 2009 - Billabong 2009 World Surfing Games - Playa Hermosa - The International Surfing Association awarded the World Surfing Games to Playa Hermosa. Surfers from over 40 countries are expected to attend, with thousands more viewing from the beach.
Late July - Mango Festival - Alajuela - Alajuela is called the city of mangoes and celebrates its heritage with parades, music, craft fairs and lots of mango drinks.
August 2 - Virgin of Los Angeles Day- Cartago - This national holiday celebrates the country's patron saint, La Negrita, at Cartago's Los Angeles Basilica. Pilgrims from across the country come to Cartago to make their way, by foot or on their knees, to participate in a special mass at the church. This is Costa Rica's largest religious holiday.
August 15 - Día de la Madre, or Mother's Day - Countrywide - Mother's Day in Costa Rica also falls on the Feast of the Assumption, a religious holiday. It is a national holiday and families spend the day together.
August 30 - San Ramon Day - San Ramon, Alajuela - San Ramon, just an hour outside of San José, is a quaint agricultural town that holds a large annual parade of 30 saints from surrounding towns. These saints come to visit the patron saint, San Ramon, who dances through the streets during the parade and fairs.
Mid-August - Cultural Afrocostarricense Week - San José - This week celebrates Afro-Costa Rican and Caribbean culture with lectures, discussions and culture exhibits in San José.
September 15 - Independence Day - Countrywide - Across Central America, countries celebrate their independence from Spain on September 15. In Costa Rica, the celebrations start the day before, when a torch bearer running from Nicaragua to Panama arrives in Cartago. This torch run symbolizes how the region discovered that Spain had relinquished its claims on their lands. When the torch arrives at exactly 6 p.m., the entire country stops and sings the national anthem. After the anthem, the parade of faroles, or lanterns, begins and children perform traditional dances before the fireworks start. Another parade begins the next morning along streets festooned with flags and decorations. Concerts, parades and fiestas continue throughout the day.
October 9 - Founding Day - San Isidro del General - This is a week of local festivities including fiestas, dances and parades, celebrating the founding of San Isidro del General, an important agricultural town and the southern hub city of Costa Rica.
October 12 - Día de la Raza, or Columbus Day - Countrywide - This is a nationwide celebration of Columbus' discovery of the New World and the resulting cultural influence on Central America.
October 12 - Limón Carnival - Limón - The Caribbean port town abandons daily routine for a week of carnival celebrations starting on Columbus Day. There are parties with dancers, parades with spectacular floats and performers with a sense of decadence.
October 12 - Virgen del Pilar Day - Tres Rios - This fair in Tres Rios celebrates its patron saint with fair and parades with elaborate, colorful costumes made entirely of corn husks, grain, and silks.
October 12 - Fiesta del Maiz, or Corn Festival - Upala, Alajuela - This festival holds very traditional parties to celebrate the corn crop, a major economic driver for this region. There is Corn Queen pageant, a corn-product parade and costumes made entirely of corn husks, silks and grain.
November 2 - Día de los Muertos, or All Souls' Day - Countrywide - This day is observed across the country with pilgrimages to graveyards to place flowers on family members' graves.
November 11 - 14, 2009 - La Ruta de los Conquistadores - Cross-country - For almost 20 years, Costa Rican and international mountain bikers race from the country's Pacific coast, through the Central Valley, to the Caribbean coast. While Ticos typically take the trophy, more international elite riders are recognizing La Ruta as a challenge.
November 12 - 15 - Montezuma International Film Festival - Montezuma - All film genres are shown at various venues around Montezuma, along with art exhibits and live music. Beach parties, street parties and screening parties are all part of the festival as well.
Mid-November - Coffee Festival - Central Valley - Celebrating one of Costa Rica's main exports, this festival features music, dancing and coffee picking contests.
Late November - El Desfile de Carretas, or Oxcart Parade - San José - This is the second of two large oxcart parades each year. It's similar to Oxcart Driver Day in March, honoring the oxcart and agricultural traditions.
December 8 - Fiesta de Los Negritos - Boruca - Boruca Indians honor their patron saint, the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, with ancient ritual dance combined with Catholic celebrations. The dancers wear extravagant costumes and dance, taunting a wooden bull, to traditional drum and flute music.
December 8 - Día de la Pólvora, or Gunpowder Day - Countrywide - Fireworks are the hallmark of this nationwide festival honoring the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception. The best fireworks are to be seen in San Antonio de Belén, Heredia and Jesús María de San Mateo, Alajuela.
Early December - Portales - Countrywide - Across the country, people set up their individual portales, or nativity scenes with prizes going to the best scenes in town. The portales stay up until December 22.
December 12 - Fiesta de la Yeguita - Nicoya - Villagers parades down the streets, carrying an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Dancers, accompanied by drum and flute music, carry a doll and a hoop with a horse's face, La Yeguita, or little mare. Other festivities include bullfights, concerts, fireworks and special foods.
December 15 - Las Posadas - Countrywide - A strong Christmas tradition brought by the Spanish, Las Posadas, re-enacts Mary and Joseph trying to find a place to stay in Bethlehem. Neighborhood families come together every night for the nine nights before Christmas to carol through the streets, banging pots and pans, and yelling at the host's house for a posada, or place to stay. The predetermined hosts let the revelers inside where they pray the rosary and then enjoy food and drinks. A different family hosts each night.
December 24 - Misa en Gallo - Countrywide - Literally translated, misa en gallo means Mass of the Rooster. This is the midnight celebration at Catholic churches across the country, which many locals will attend after having their traditional Christmas dinner.
December 26 - El Tope Caballos- San José - This tope is the biggest horse parade in the country but there's much more than just horses and costumed riders. Horse-drawn carriages and the famous hand-painted oxcarts are just one part of the parade. There are floats, marching bands, dancers and clowns partying down the main streets of San José.