So you've decided to spend the holidays in Costa Rica? What a great idea! In fact, we can't think of a better idea than escaping the hustle and bustle of the season to relax. You are probably planning how to spend that special time with your loved ones.
Fortunately, Costa Rica offers a multitude of amazing things to do. Here, we'll share with you our favorite ways to celebrate Christmas and New Year's in Costa Rica.
Costa Rican New Year traditions
As in all countries, Christmas in Costa Rica has become intertwined with other local customs and traditions that give it a unique character and personality. Here is what you can do in December in Costa Rica:
The arbolito of Navidad
Since there are no pine trees in Costa Rica, people use cypress trees to put up the typical Christmas tree. Artificial trees are also becoming popular in homes.
This is the name given to the "nacimientos" (nativity scenes) and it is a deeply rooted tradition, almost every home has one.
The Christmas dish par excellence in Costa Rica. The most common ones are made with masa colada and wrapped in banana leaves. Other typical foods of the season are: vigorón and rompope.
Catholic devotion is a fundamental part of Costa Rican culture. The traditional Misa del Gallo is celebrated at midnight on the 25th, after families have eaten dinner and opened their gifts. Whether in a small church or in the metropolitan cathedral, this mass is a must for celebrating Christmas in Costa Rica.
Fiestas de Zapote
In this area of eastern San José, a large bullfighting arena is set up from December 25 to the first week of January.
It celebrates "corridas a la tica", in which a bull chases dozens of "improvised" bullfighters who run for their lives. There are also rodeos and traditional bullfights, but the animals are not hurt.
Around the square are "chinamos", a kind of fairground stall with food, drinks, music and dance floors. There is also an amusement park that attracts crowds.
Tope Nacional de San José
A "tope" is a parade of horses and riders. The one in the capital always has a special flavor because it is the most spectacular and always takes place on December 26, in the middle of the Christmas season.
Riders from all over the Central Valley take part in this parade where you will also see brass bands, clowns and dancers. The event is very popular and the streets of San José become a real urban party for a few hours.
2 Christmas and December 31 meal
In Costa Rica, the Christmas corn tamal with pork, chicken and stew, wrapped in banana leaves, is considered the Christmas dish par excellence.
A popular celebration among families is the tamaleada, in which they gather to prepare this dish, while eating and drinking a variety of the season's usual preparations, culminating in the tasting of the first tamales to come out of the pot.
A 2014 survey found that Costa Ricans prepare 392 million tamales in December, 91.3 percent of the population eats tamales during this season, and 62 percent of households have a tradition of cooking them. Its consumption dates back to pre-Columbian times, as well as its association with religious themes, as it was used as an offering by the indigenous populations.
Christmas tables in Costa Rica usually feature tamales, pork leg and potato salad.
On Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, some families prepare a meal that may vary from chicken rice, chicken chickpeas or pork chops, stuffed pork loin, oven roasted chicken or turkey, but pork leg is the most popular.
The main course may be accompanied by potato and apple salad, garden salad, mashed potatoes, boiled vegetables, mashed apples, white rice with almonds or raisins, mashed sweet potatoes, and many families add a Russian salad. Apples, pears and grapes are also traditionally eaten during this holiday season.
On December 31, people also celebrate with their families and then go to the Zapote parties or go to the beach to celebrate as well.
Where to spend the new year in Costa Rica?
The best thing to do is to be on a beach and count down with strangers while watching the fireworks at midnight. Jacó, Tamarindo, Manuel Antonio or Puerto Viejo, you will find what you need to welcome the new year.
San José Costa Rica
In San Jose, check into a large hotel like the Hilton Sabana (the highest in the country and with a great view of the Sabana Park) or the Marriott in Belen for your dinner and a dress up party or you can go to the Zapote festivities, and ride the rides in this famous popular fair. The fireworks start at midnight.
In the jungle!
Several lodges and hotels offer New Year's Eve dinners and parties. Head to Monteverde to the Fonda Vela or El Establo hotels to enjoy the nature and lodge atmosphere.
In an unusual ecolodge
For an unusual night, you can choose El Mirador located in Tajo Alto and its bubble, with a breathtaking view of the jungle from your bed. To live this incredible experience, you must make sure to book this room.
On an island
You will be able to visit Isla Tortuga and take an organized catamaran tour to this island and welcome the new year in this tropical island. A change of scenery guaranteed and unique memories that will make all your friends jealous once you get home!
At the foot of a volcano
Why not stay at the foot of one of Costa Rica's volcanoes for New Year's Eve: Volcano Irazu, Poas, Rincon de la Vieja or Arenal, you have the choice! In La Fortuna you will easily find hotels offering New Year's Eve activities. Very original as a new year, but a little spice is always nice!