For the The Nomad America Guide to Costa Ricas Top 5 Festivals let’s start with one of the least well known but definitely one of the craziest parties on the Costa Rican calendar. Google the word “syncretism” and you’ll find it described as the act of combining opposing religious beliefs to form a new system. It came in handy for the Roman Catholics during their campaign to convert the pagan polytheists of Europe. It came in equally handy for the Spanish when they were attempting to convince Native Central Americans of the existence of their one true God. Upon realizing that the humble crocodile was revered among Chorotega Mesoamericans as a magical and sacred creature they came up with the bright idea of combining the two deities (theirs was Jesus) and thus what was traditionally a sacred celebration of the death and ressurection of Christ (Easter) became a festival style tribute featuring the sacrificing of a crocodile. 500 years later in the town of Ortega this tradition has evolved into arguably what is one of the worlds most wierd and wonderful fiestas – Lagarteada. Every year, around Easter time, male residents (lagarteros) get together on the banks of the nearby river Tempisque and bravely prepare to wade into the river and hand catch the biggest, baddest crocodile they can find. When their mission is accomplished they tie the beast up and proudly carry it on their shoulders through the town square. Here it is released into a large pool of water and throughout the weekend locals drink, dance and pay homage to their croco-christ. Formerly, on Easter Sunday, the crocodile was sacrificed for it’s meat, skin and especially its fat, which is considered to have healing properties, but nowadays it’s returned to the river the next day and released. The whole process is supervised by Ministry of Environment and requires that the animal is well housed, comes to no harm and is released undamaged back to it’s natural environment. This festival is truly one for the diary!
Where: Santa Cruz – Guanacaste
Las Fiestas de Zapote – Zapote Festivals
Zapote – Once a year, this small town that north of Downtown San Jose (but part of the Urban Sprawl) explodes into the national consciousness when up to a million party people swarm the area to witness the super bowl equivalent of Costa Ricas national sport – bull riding! Colossal bulls, tough riders, enough booze to float a battleship, and some spectacular wipe-outs all combine to make one of the best true party atmospheres in Central America. In keeping with machismo Costa Rica tradition, the bullring welcomes thrill-seeking improvosados brave enough (or drunk enough) to step into the arena and try their hand at outrunning 2,000 pounds of furious bull while trying not to spill their cervezas. If watching the modern, real life equivalent of Mad Max’s Thunderdome sounds a bit too raw then rest assured that the Zapote festivals caters to all comers and features everything from fairground rides to delicious local food and cultural activities. The Zapote festival takes place from the 25th of December through to New Year’s Eve and is the perfect escape for visitors looking for something a bit more adrenal than mince pies and roast dinner.
Where: Zapote – North of San Jose
When: Between Xmas and New Year
In 1502, as part of Christopher Columbus’ murder, theft, and enslavement tour of Central and South America he decided to drop anchor at Isla Uvita – a small island just off Puerto Limon on the east coast of Costa Rica. Unfortunately, the local indigenous tribes swiftly concluded that the Spanish foreign policy of being torn from their peaceful lifestyles and put to work enriching the conquistadors wasn’t for them. And so the newly arrived colonialists were forced to import black slaves to plant cocoa trees and work the land. Half a century later a community that took root in an environment of hardship and misery has evolved into a thriving, unique, treasure trove of Caribbean culture, and nowhere is this culture better showcased than during the annual Limon Carnival. This week long party, which typically takes place in October, has become famous for delivering colorful, vibrant spectacles and activities for visitors of all ages. Along with incredible Caribbean food and great music, the festival offers visitors the chance to see a huge variety of costumes and floats that parade through town and seem to grow more elaborate every year. The Limon carnival is truly a unique way to experience a celebration of the rich diversity of Costa Rica and all of its peoples in one of the many multi day festivals. For camping head a bit further south towards Cahuita, Puerto Viejo or Manzanillo – check out some of the camping spots on our campsite map.
When: Weekend of October 12th
The great festivals around the world, from Glastonbury to Burning Man all have one thing in common: they started out when a group of friends got together for a backyard boogie which later evolved into an annual event now attended by hundreds of thousands. Trade the backyard for the Dominical Jungle, and the hundreds of thousands for a mere 3-4000 and you have the Envision Festival. Envision Festival took root in 2011 on a small piece of land in the tropical Bohemia of Dominical. “That was a good idea” thought the organizers. “Maybe we should do it again?”. ‘Do it again’ they did, and after test driving a few locations they finally settled on the national wildlife refuge of Rancho La Merced. The festival takes place where the beach meets the jungle and is designed to promote a space in which party goers can unplug, feel great, and immerse themselves in a range of holistic modalities such as yoga, art, perma-culture, drumming, and of course, dancing – lots and lots of dancing! With four music stages Envision festival is the perfect place to get down with people from all walks of life, from all over the globe and shake it to the tunes of some of the planets most cutting edge artists. Drop out, tune in, cover yourself in glitter, and tap into your inner shaman. Oh, and, don’t forget to drench yourself in organic mosquito repellent.
When: February 23-26th
Fiestas de los Diablitos
Previously in this article, we mentioned the response by native indigenous Costa Rican tribes to the idea of conquistador enslavement, that response being to politely extend their middle finger and say “thanks, but no thanks”. The Fiestas de los Diablitos, which translates to ‘festivals of the little Devils’ is an annual 3 day celebration by the indigenous Brunka tribe. At the end of every year the villagers of Boruca and Rey Curre pay homage to the ancestral spirits of the individuals who told the Spanish in no uncertain terms to shove the whole “servitude” thing where the sun don’t shine. The event showcases the ‘dance of the diablitos’ where native village males wear masks representing their forefathers, and do battle with the one villager wearing a bull mask to represent the Spanish invaders. The celebration lasts for three days, and although it occasionally appears that the bull may win, on the third day the diablitos deliver the death blow and send the Spanish packing. All of this takes place in a party atmosphere around a large fire, fueled by the local corn moonshine known as chicha. Although outsiders are welcomed as spectators only the tribes people are permitted to partake in the theatrics.
Where: Reserva Indígena Boruca, Talamanca mountains, Puntarenas province
When: End of December – Beginning of January