Spend Christmas in Costa Rica for an exciting and enriching experience like no festive season you’ve had before. The Central American country might be better known for its wild jungles and exotic wildlife, but the primarily Roman Catholic locals love to celebrate the religious holiday. Costa Rica has its own unique Christmas traditions and Christmas foods that you can only experience and taste if you visit in December. Here’s our six reasons why you should fly to Costa Rica for Christmas.
1. Take a beach break from winter
Swap the snow for sand and feather-down jackets for feathered carnival costumes in Costa Rica at Christmas. In December temperatures average 24-30 degrees celsius (75-86°F) across the country, making it the perfect warm weather escape during winter. Sending pictures of yourself suntanning on the beach in shorts or a swim suit (topped off with a Santa hat) is one way to make your northern hemisphere-based friends and family jealous!
2. Enjoy the festive spirit of another culture
In December and January, Costa Ricans celebrate Christmas with a whole fair of fiestas, parades, rodeos, bull runs, street parties and dance festivals. Festivities kick off with the vibrant, loud and dazzling Festival de la Luz in San Jose on the second week of December. A major parade strides from Paseo Colon to El Parque de la Democracia, with more than 1500 musicians and volunteers making the spectacle one to remember.
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3. See how Costa Ricans decorate
Costa Ricans like to decorate their houses with stunning tropical flowers at Christmas time. They make wreaths using cypress branches and decorate them with red coffee berries and colourful ribbons. And, of course, they like to dress their houses, shops and towns with plenty of sparkling festive lights too.
Most Costa Ricans also create a nativity scene, called the pasito or portal. These scenes are built by the whole family and include traditional figures – Jesus, Mary, Joseph, wise men – plus often houses and animals too. Offerings such as fresh fruits and small toys are placed in front of the nativity scene.
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4. Receive gifts from Niño Dios
In Costa Rica there is still excitement in the air for the arrival of gifts at Christmas. The difference here is that it’s usually Niño dios (Child God, meaning Jesus) or Colacho (another name for St. Nicholas) that brings presents to good boys and girls. Most families only place a baby Jesus figurine in their nativity scene on the night before Christmas. This is the time when he brings gifts to the children!
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5. Head to midnight mass followed by a feast
Everyone puts on their best clothes and heads to midnight mass on Christmas Eve. In Costa Rica, the Misa de Gallo (mass of the rooster) is followed by the main Christmas feast. Expect an extravagant spread of delicious local dishes! Traditional Costa Rican Christmas food includes chicken and pork tamales cooked in plantain leaves, roast pork with rice or mashed potato and pastries. That’s followed by tres leches cake for dessert and plenty of eggnog and rum punch to wash it down.
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6. The fun doesn’t stop on Christmas Day
On December 26 the Tope Nacional de Caballos horseback parade is one of the most important Costa Rica Christmas traditions. Here skilled horsemen from across the country head to the capital to parade their majestic horses in this national event. Wearing specially designed cowboy outfits, riders lead their horses through fancy steps to impress big crowds. Keep an eye out for hand-painted traditional oxen carts too.
The following day many towns and cities kick off Carnaval with huge colourful floats, costumed dancers, big rhythmic bands and parades. Stay in San Jose for the biggest fiesta where the parade runs along the main avenues of Avenida Segundo and Paseo Colón.
Costa Ricans celebrate Christmas until January 6 with the feast of the three kings, the day it is said the wise men greeted baby Jesus.
Have you experienced Christmas in Costa Rica or somewhere in South America? What makes you want to visit? Let us know in the comments…