The festive holidays may come to end as the Christmas season and New Year’s close off the year, but that does not mean Costa Rica decides to rest. There is always something to celebrate in this country and January starts off the new year with plenty more.
However, don’t worry there is a bit of time to recover before it’s time for another two weeks of festivities in January with the Palmares Festival in Costa Rica. That’s right, two whole weeks. It is one of the biggest festivals in all of Costa Rica and it takes place in the small town of Palmares, northwest of the country’s capital of San Jose.
The Town of Palmares
This tranquil coffee town just outside of San Ramon transforms instantly with at times over one million visitors arriving ready to celebrate, keeping the festivities going with plenty of cervezas. So much so that it rivals that of Octoberfest, with the amount of beer flowing in this yearly summer festival.
It isn’t a peaceful and quiet event if you are looking for a chilled festival, however, there are plenty of chilled drinks with an abundance of Costa Rica’s favorite beers on site. It is a time to drink, listen to music, let loose, and did we mention drink. The festival is well known for its drinking but there is much more that comes along than just a beer in one’s hand.
It is a celebration of good food, amazing music, and beautiful horses. There’s dancing, late nights and after-parties, carnivals, bullfights, a horse parade, children’s festivals, and of course lots of fireworks. It is two weeks of everything imaginable in a carnival-style festival with something for everyone.
The festival starts with a parade of lanterns, lighting up the fairgrounds for the upcoming weeks, kicking off the night with minor league football and some fireworks to end the opening night with a bang. Outdoor tents are scattered everywhere with foods to savor and beer stands to help wash your palette.
Restaurants are full and the streets are alive and busy. Laughter fills the air with stand-up comics entertaining the crowds. Costa Rica’s culture is celebrated daily through art shows and exhibitions in the afternoons.
Toros a la Tica
One of Costa Rica’s favorite yet controversial traditions takes center stage throughout the Palmares Festival, the country’s version of bullfighting. Toros a la tica is one of the many popular events, probably because it is more than just a spectator event. Those that are daring and brave enough are welcome to jump on into the ring testing their fate, with no training required.
There is no organization or plan, it comes down to how fast your legs can run, dodging their force and avoiding being catapulted into the air. To those sitting on the sidelines, it becomes somewhat of a spectator sport being quite entertaining and comical to some.
As the scene unravels before your eyes, improvisados, which is their form of rodeo clowns, who are in no sense professionally trained, taunt the bulls. Joined in by people looking for some excitement, bravado, and dares evolves into what seems like a combination of a comedy and perhaps suspenseful thriller scene.
In fact, it is quite dangerous and many have been seriously injured resulting in even death throughout the years on what is their spin on bullfighting. Regardless, how it plays out, it continues to be one of the country’s popular festival traditional events, especially at the Palmares Festival.
Costa Rica’s National Health Animal Health Service, SENASA is present at the event to ensure the protection of the animals, and the bulls are not sacrificed and killed after.
As popular as their bullfights are it is the famous tope that brings the crowds in the thousands, the traditional horse parade. The horse parade is a spectacular festival just in itself. Some arrive with everything you would need for a day at the beach setting up their space along the street in time for the parade’s start. It is a time for celebration Costa Rican style.
It is several hours of gorgeous horses proudly displayed, decorated to show off their beauty, trotting through the streets as the main performance in a grand exhibition. People come from all across the country to be able to participate in the traditional horse parade, it is a chance to revel in your cowboy gear and show off your riding skills all with the support and love of others.
People happily cheer on and watch as thousands show off their cherished horses of all different breeds, some even performing stunts along the way atop their horses. It is a stunning event and a grand show that is not to be missed, the energy and the crowd celebrating the pride of the riders and their stunning horses.
Grand stages are set up for performances all through the week with daily and nightly concerts to keep the energy alive. Artists such as Alpha Blondy, Sean Paul, Afrojack, Maroon 5, and Beenie Man have performed at the Palmares Festival and every year tends to get bigger and bigger inviting artists from all over the world as well as local.
Although the performances may end, it does not mean the night does. Many go on to celebrate the night with after-parties, dancing, and drinking the night away, relishing in the spirit of the festival.
The Palmares Festival is a place where everyone comes together to simply have fun, eat good food, and be happy. It is a friendly festival, which makes sense why it’s held in Palmares, un pueblo para hacer amigos as they so often refer to it. A town to make friends, and you are sure to make many throughout your days at the Palmares Festival.