A Christmas vacation in Costa Rica will be anything but a white Christmas. Costa Rica for Christmas will be green, orange, red, purple, yellow, golden, blue.
December marks the end of the rainy season that has left behind a lush-green vegetation, and now with dry afternoons the days seem longer and everybody wants to be outside enjoying the golden sun, the blue sky and the stunning sunsets that paint the horizon with incredible shades of colors orange, red, purple, yellow.
Christmas in Costa Rica is also the season for Ticos to dress up warm. The cold that starts taking over the northern hemisphere sends cool breezes southward that force the Ticos to (willingly) get out their scarfs, warm sweaters, and some years even their gloves. For those who come from northern and southern parts of the world, this will feel like comfortable spring days.
But besides the weather and the colors, there is so much happening during the end-of-year celebrations in Costa Rica. If you are considering spending this Christmas in Costa Rica, hopefully after reading this post you will be completely convinced. And remember, we are here to help you plan the best trip to Costa Rica during the holidays.
Christmas Costa Rican Traditions
The Food – Tamales
Tamales are the main dishes at every Costa Rican house for Christmas. Making tamales is a labor of love that involves the entire family. They are basically–and simplifying it a lot–corn dough with pork and vegetables on top, wrapped in cured banana leaves and boiled to perfection. Every family has their own special and secret recipe. Making and eating them at any point during the day, and sharing with others, is one of the things that makes it feel like Christmas.
For the Christmas and New Year dinner, most families slow-cook a pork leg, which is then served, sliced on a tortilla. And to accompany all of these dishes there is usually eggnog and Costa Rican style pickled vegetables called Escabeche.
Decorations – The Nativity Scene
The Nativity Scene, called “pasito” in Costa Rica, is a tradition that involves much more than placing figurines on a table. It is a place for families to come together as they design these elaborate sets, which most of the time include more than the holy figures. It should have chickens, pigs, tropical plants, colorful Christmas lights and whatever they can find. On January 6th, or later, families will have a rosary experience with friends and family that involves Christmas carols and food, marking the end of the Christmas season.
The Christmas tree is also part of the decoration, but in Costa Rica, we use cypress trees trimmed to look like pine trees.
“Baby Good” (not Santa Claus)
Even though it is – sadly – changing, in Costa Rica people will ask you “What did El Niño Dios get you for Christmas?” instead of what did Santa bring.
The Santa Claus tradition has been slowly but strongly introduced into the Ticos culture, but deep down it is still Baby Good who brings joy on Christmas morning. Not because he flew around the world in one night going down chimneys, but because he blessed the homes with wealth that allow the presents to make it to the bottom of the tree.
New Year’s Eve Costa Rican Traditions
Fireworks – Lots of fireworks!
To sell and use of fireworks in Costa Rica is legal so almost every single New Year’s Eve party will have a display to light up as the night progresses with a master display waiting to impress right after the clock marks the zero hours. After hugs and cheers are finished, a display of fireworks that can be seen from every single corner of the Central Valley.
If you are into fireworks, make sure to spend New Year’s Eve at one of the mountain lodges in the Central Valley that overlooks into the valley. It’s just an amazing show!
BBQ – All Night Long!
The celebrations for New Year’s Eve can have two settings. Some families enjoy the sit-down dinner with good food and conversation at the table, and then peacefully wait for the start of the new year.
But most homes will just make it into a big family and friends party! They will light up the grill and cook thin cuts of beef (very well cook of course), chicken, sausages, vegetables, and more. During the entire night and until the new year starts they will serve the cooked meat on a tortilla as it comes out of the grill.
There is also lots of music, dancing, laughing and drinking.
The Good Luck Charms
Costa Rica’s New Year celebrations are filled with superstitions. To tell you a few, you have to eat 12 grapes at exactly the change of year to make sure you will be prosperous every month of the new year; you must grab your luggage and run around the block right after midnight to make sure you will travel that year; and you have to find a Santa Lucía flower on January 1st and put it in your wallet so you have money all year long.
But what’s most important is that you start the year with friends and family to make sure you will foster a sense of love for the new year.
Festivals and Activities in Costa Rica for Christmas 2018
The main festivals will happen in San José, and many people travel from all parts of the Central Valley – and further – to enjoy them. While planning your trip itinerary, consider spending one or two nights in San José to be part of this crazy celebrations.
Fiestas de San José
The Municipality of San José organizes every year three major parades between Christmas and New Year. All of them start at La Sabana Park and take over Paseo Colón and the Second Avenue of capital.
This year the first parade, called the Festival of Lights, will happen on December 15th. This is a nighttime parade with floats covered in lights, bands, and other entertainers. The bands and floats are competing for a price. People gather on the sidewalks of the (more than) two-kilometer long route of the parade, and everybody else is watching on TV.
December 26th, like every year, is the horse parade where riders from all over the country come to show their priced horses. This is a very interesting parade where Ticos act like cowboys and cowgirls with their leather boots and their cowboy hats.
And December 27th, the Carnival takes over San José, with bands and dancers from all over the country filling the capital with Latin music and bright colors.
Fiestas de Zapote
The county of Zapote is located east of downtown San José. Every year, starting December 25th and finishing the first weekend of January, they celebrate their town festivals. This is a place for everybody in the family that includes, like in any other festival in Costa Rica, carnival rides, dance tracks, lots of food stands and temporary bars.
If you want to attend the festival, you must go to the bullfight ring, where improvised bullfighters put their lives in danger by disturbing angry bulls in the ring. It is a crazy thing to watch. There are also competitions for experienced bull riders.
Where to spend Christmas in Costa Rica?
This time of the year is known as the “peak season” in Costa Rica. With the flexible school and work schedules in North America, many families, couples and small groups choose the Christmas holiday as a good one to take a vacation. Also, many Costa Ricans like to spend the week between Christmas and New Year away from home, especially at the beach, since most everybody will have that time off work and schools have been on break since early December.
In the travel market, supply is very limited and prices are at an absolute premium. In many cases, space at hotels are extremely scarce, and hotel prices can be up to two times as expensive than normal season prices for these two weeks. This is normal for this time of year in Costa Rica.
Just because this is the most popular time of year in Costa Rica, however, it doesn’t mean that your family vacation or group trip can’t be an exclusive and unique travel experience in Costa Rica. The key to the success of your trip at this time of year is flexibility and your willingness to work with a Costa Rica travel specialist.
What to avoid during a Costa Rica Christmas vacation?
There are certain places in Costa Rica that you will want to avoid during the holidays. Popular party beaches like Coco, Tamarindo, Santa Teresa and Mal País in the Guanacaste Area, Jacó and Quepos in the Central Pacific, and Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo in the south Caribbean will be definitely crowded with Ticos and foreigners.
At crowded destinations, you will have a hard time finding reasonably-priced accommodations and you will find yourself surrounded everywhere you go by people, camping tents, improvised BBQs and loud music. But then again, if you’re into that, we already listed the places to go to.
Now, you are probably looking forward to beach, ocean, and sun for your Costa Rica trip. Well, do not despair, Costa Rica’s Pacific coast is 631 miles (1016 Km) long and the Caribbean is 132 miles (212 Km) long, so you have lots to choose from!
What to look for during a Costa Rica Christmas Trip?
First and for most, work with us!
Our Costa Rica trips are designed to be exclusive and private to you and your fellow travelers. It is best to talk to us on the phone so that we can ask important and relevant questions about your desires for your trip. We don’t just tell you what we think is best before you give us your thoughts. We’re great travel planners, and we understand that each traveler has his or her own travel style. We will want to understand your travel wishes before making assumptions about the type of trip to design for your Costa Rica Christmas vacation.
At Costa Rica Escapes, we avoid the cookie-cutter style of vacation. We avoid forcing you down a path without choices. We’re not a company that is trying to sell you. In many cases, large travel organizations who offer Costa Rica holiday packages will block a clump of rooms and are instructed to sell these rooms to their clients. This is bad practice and how one ends up with a run-of-the-mill trip to Costa Rica. We do things differently at Costa Rica Escapes, especially over Christmas.
For Christmas season travelers, we prefer to get creative and use locations where you won’t be overcome with crowds. We like to include undiscovered locations that are before their time, where visitors can see do and see similar things that they would do in other, more discovered locations of the country…but with fewer crowds. To fill this bill, we use destinations like the Osa Peninsula, Tenorio/Celeste, Central Caribbean and Drake’s Bay (to name a few) in our Costa Rica itineraries.
Plan an Unforgettable Christmas/New Year in Costa Rica!
If you are looking to design a unique vacation to spend Christmas Costa Rica this holiday…you’re not too late! We’re on call, ready to help you start planning your trip. Contact using the form below for a free vacation planning consultation.
John Rabenau has been working in the eco-tourism & adventure travel industry in Costa Rica since 2002. He has worked in a variety of capacities from Outdoor Educator & Principle Guide to Itinerary Design Manager & Business Owner for numerous organizations. He has grown Costa Rica Escapes into one of the most reputable Costa Rica travel agencies since its creation in 2006, hosting more than 5,000 people with custom vacation itineraries.