After spending time on some of the Pacific’s upscale beaches, venturing inland to the heart of traditional Guanacaste can be a little jarring. About 35min east of Playa Junquillal, Santa Cruz is a bastion of the region’s distinctive folk heritage and provides good access to several of the Pacific beaches as well as to Nicoya, 25km to the south at the northern edge of its namesake peninsula. Costa Rica’s oldest city and home to its oldest church, Nicoya’s role today is as the peninsula’s major travel and agricultural centre, though it also retains a strong indigenous presence.Read More
Bus travellers journeying between San José and the beach towns of Sámara and Nosara need to make connections at the country town of NICOYA, inland and northeast of the beaches. Set in a dip surrounded by low mountains, Nicoya is the peninsula’s main settlement. The town is permeated by an air of infinite stasis but is undeniably pretty, with a lovely Parque Central, cascading bougainvillea, colourful plants and the white adobe church, the Parroquis San Blas. Founded in 1644, the church has survived multiple earthquakes and has recently undergone extensive renovation. Nicoya has a considerable Chinese presence, with many of the town’s restaurants, hotels and stores owned by descendants of Chinese immigrants.
Dance and music in Guanacaste
Dance and music in Guanacaste
In their book A Year of Costa Rican Natural History, Amelia Smith Calvert and Philip Powell Calvert describe their month on Guanacaste’s fiesta circuit in 1910, starting in January in Filadelfía, a small town between Liberia and Santa Cruz, and ending in Santa Cruz. They were fascinated by the formal nature of the functions they attended, observing: “The dances were all round dances, mostly of familiar figures, waltzes and polkas, but one, called ‘el punto’ was peculiar in that the partners do not hold one another but walk side by side, turn around each other and so on.”
At Santa Cruz, “All the ladies sat in a row on one side of the room when not dancing, the men elsewhere. When a lady arrived somewhat late then the rest of the guests of the company, if seated, arose in recognition of her presence. The music was furnished by three fiddles and an accordion. The uninvited part of the community stood outside the house looking into the room through the open doors, which as usual were not separated from the street by any vestibule or passage.” The Calverts were also delighted to come across La giganta, the figure of a woman about 4m high; actually a man on stilts “with a face rather crudely moulded and painted”. What exactly La giganta represented isn’t known, but she promenaded around the streets of Santa Cruz in her finery, long white lace trailing, while her scurrying minders frantically worked to keep her from keeling over. La giganta, along with other oversized personalities, still features in nearly every large village fiesta, usually held on the local saint’s day.