Though you shouldn’t expect the kind of colour and verve that you’ll find in fiestas in Mexico or Guatemala, Costa Rica has its fair share of lively holidays and festivals, or feriados, when all banks, post offices, museums and government offices close. In particular, don’t try to travel anywhere during Semana Santa, Holy (Easter) Week: the whole country shuts down from Holy Thursday until after Easter Monday, and buses don’t run. Likewise, the week from Christmas to New Year is invariably a time of traffic nightmares, overcrowded beach towns and suspended transport services.
Provincial holidays, such as Independence Day in Guanacaste (July 25) and the Limón carnival (the week preceding Oct 12) affect local services only, but nonetheless the shutdown is drastic: don’t bet on cashing travellers’ cheques or mailing letters if you’re in these areas at party time.
January 1 New Year’s Day. Celebrated with a big dance in San José’s Parque Central.
January Fiesta de Palmares. Two weeks of dancing, music and horse parades in the small town of Palmares.
February Puntarenas Carnival. A week of parades, music and fireworks at the end of the month.
February/March Monteverde Music Fest. National and international musicians gather in the cloudforest town for a month of song and dance.
March 19 El Día de San José (St Joseph’s Day). The patron saint of the San José Province is celebrated with fairs, parades and church services.
Ash Wednesday Countrywide processions; in Guanacaste, they’re marked by horse, cow and bull parades, with bullfights (in which the bull is not harmed) in Liberia.
Holy Week (Semana Santa) Dates vary annually, but businesses will often close for the entire week preceding Easter weekend.
April International Arts festival. San José plays host to two weeks of theatre shows, concerts, dance performances and art exhibitions.
April 11 El Día de Juan Santamaría. Public holiday to commemorate the national hero who fought at the Battle of Rivas against the American adventurer William Walker in 1856.
May 1 El Día del Trabajo (Labour Day). The president delivers her annual “state of the nation” address while everyone else heads to the beach.
May 29 Corpus Christi Day.
June 29 St Peter’s and St Paul’s Day.
July Virgin del Mar (Virgin of the Sea). Elaborately decorated boats fill the Gulf of Nicoya on the Saturday nearest to the 16th, celebrating the patron saint of Puntarenas.
July 25 El Día de Guanacaste (Guanacaste Province only). Celebrations mark the annexation of Guanacaste from Nicaragua in 1824.
August 2 El Día de La Negrita (Virgin of Los Angeles Day). Worshippers make a pilgrimage to the basilica in Cartago to venerate the miraculous Black Virgin of Los Angeles (La Negrita), the patron saint of Costa Rica.
August 15 Assumption Day and Mother’s Day.
September 15 Independence Day, with big patriotic parades celebrating Costa Rica’s independence from Spain in 1821. The highlight is a student relay race across the entire Central American isthmus, carrying a “freedom torch” from Guatemala to Cartago (the original capital of Costa Rica).
October 12 El Día de la Raza (Columbus Day; Limón Province only). Centred on the carnival, which takes place in the week prior to October 12.
November 2 All Souls’ Day. Families visit cemeteries to pay their respects to their ancestors.
Christmas Week The week before Christmas is celebrated in San José with fireworks, bullfights and funfairs.
December 25 Christmas Day. Family-oriented celebrations with trips to the beach and much consumption of apples and grapes.
December 27 San José Carnival. Huge parade with colourful floats and plenty of music.