On Friday, the people of Costa Rica’s northwestern province of Guanacaste will dust off their cowboy boots and head out for a traditional Tico celebration at the annual Annexation of the Partido de Nicoya Festival. Held every July 25, this year’s festival commemorates the 190th anniversary of when the Partido de Nicoya, today known as Guanacaste, became a part of Costa Rica in 1824. Before you head out for bullfights and meat on a stick here is what you should know about the festival.
1. The festival does not commemorate a battle
The Annexation Festival is not a celebration of a violent takeover, but rather the commemoration of the peaceful joining of an autonomous canton to the Costa Rican nation.
In 1812, Spain divided what is now Central America into separate territories. One of these territories was the Partido de Nicoya, which was the territory between La Flor River and Lake Nicaragua to the northeast, and the Gulf of Nicoya, Tempisque River and Salto River to the south. When Central America declared independence from Spain in 1821, the region began to reconstitute itself into new countries.
The Partido de Nicoya remained independent, but maintained a friendly relationship with Costa Rica. Costa Rica later invited the Partido de Nicoya to join the country by sending an invitation to the territory’s leader, Cupertino Briceño. On July 25, 1824, the annexation became official.
2. Guanacaste culture is all about the sabaneros
Before Guanacaste beaches became renowned travel destinations, the region was known for its farms and ranches. Still today, the iconic Guanacaste cowboy — or sabanero — has a huge influence on local culture.
Cowboy hats and blue jeans are the requisite attire for a Guanacaste celebration, and Tico-style bullfights — where the bull is not killed but ridden and then taunted by a giant crowd — are a fixture in the region.
It’s also not uncommon to see Ticos celebrating on horseback. Don’t be surprised to roll up to a local taberna and find a bunch of cowboys parked out front on their horses, living it up.
3. Protests are often part of the celebrations, but not this year
Despite the vacation resorts that have cropped up along Guanacaste’s beaches, poverty, access to clean drinking water, bad roads and infrastructure and other social issues remain problems in the region. As a result, Guanacastecos have begun taking advantage of the media attention and customary presidential visit of the Annexation Festival to protest.
Last year, approximately 500 protesters marched in Nicoya demanding everything from improved health care to better road infrastructure. Most significantly, demonstrators asked the government to address the region’s problems with high levels of arsenic in the drinking water.
This year, representatives from the Guanacaste Forum — the largest group at last year’s protests — say they have no plans for large-scale demonstrations. President Luis Guillermo Solís met with members of the forum this week to address their concerns prior to annexation day.
4. Nicaragua’s President Ortega likes to threaten to ‘reclaim’ Guanacaste
Last August, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega asserted that his country could sue Costa Rica in the International Court of Justice at The Hague to “reclaim” the province of Guanacaste.
“Costa Rica did not win that territory in an international court, but rather by force, with arms,” Ortega said at a military ceremony. “Nicaragua has been ousted from its territory by expansionist policies of nations such as Costa Rica,” he added.
Ortega’s statements severely damaged the already tenuous relations between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, spurring a passionate outcry from Costa Rica’s leaders. Then-President of the Legislative Assembly Fernando Mendoza, a lawmaker for the ruling National Liberation Party from Cañas, Guancaste, told the crowd last year that they would defend their sovereignty with kicks and punches.
“We Guanacastecans defend the province’s sovereignty every day, no matter the time, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; we defend our sovereignty!” he cried.
5. The party is countrywide
Guanacastecos already started partying earlier this week, but Friday there will be annexation events throughout the entire country. Government offices will close for the national holiday and so will many businesses. Schools across Costa Rica will host cultural events in the morning, with children dressed in traditional Guanacaste sabanero outfits for dance performances. Almost every town will have their own celebrations, but the following are a few of the larger events where you can get into the sabanero spirit.
Liberia: Guanacaste’s capital hosts celebrations all week long for the Annexation Festival with Expo Liberia. Along with carnival rides and food, the town will have a traditional tope — a giant horse parade — at 1 p.m. and a Tico-style bullfight at 7 p.m. on Friday. The festival will continue through the weekend, finishing on Sunday with a bullfight at 7 p.m.
Nicoya: One of Costa Rica’s oldest settlements, Nicoya serves as the epicenter for Annexation Day celebrations. Performances kick off at 8 a.m. in the town’s main park, and at 10 a.m. President Solís will deliver a speech. The rest of the day is filled with folkloric dance performances, a tope, an orchestra concert and finally a parade at 6 p.m.
Playa Flamingo: The northern Pacific beach town of Playa Flamingo will host the Sabor de Guanacaste Friday with a buffet of typical Guanacaste food as well as dancing, artist workshops and a parade. The festival runs from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. on Friday.
Museum of Costa Rican Art: The art museum in western San José’s La Sabana Park will offer a traditional Guanacaste dance performance at 11 a.m.
National Museum: The National Museum in the Plaza de la Democracia, in downtown San José, will feature folkloric music performances from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.