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HomeTopicsArts and CultureThe Festive Atmosphere of Semana Santa at Costa Rican Beaches

The Festive Atmosphere of Semana Santa at Costa Rican Beaches

The first reaction from every friend or family member that I’ve taken to the beach in Guanacaste has been, “There’s nobody here!” Where I come from in the US the beaches are busy places. You’d better arrive early and claim your patch of sand before the crowd arrives. What is a straight path from your beach blanket to the waves in the morning, transforms to a zig-zaggy route around sunbathers, beach toys, and umbrellas by early afternoon.

The tropical beaches of Guanacaste on the other hand, are often wonderfully abandoned. Most times of the year real estate on the beach is wide open, to be split between you and a few other folks whose silhouettes you see relaxing under a distant palm. That is, unless you want to go to the beach during Semana Santa.

Semana Santa is Holy Week in Costa Rica, the week leading up to Easter Sunday. Just about every Tico in Ticolandia has some or all of the week off from work. For many, that means it’s time to go the beach. In Guanacaste, the swell begins slowly the weekend leading up to Semana Santa. The folks who had the extra time and really planned ahead begin to trickle into the area. Cabinas and hotels begin to fill with those who need a place to rent. For lucky ones who have relatives that live near the beach, why rent a place when you can pop a tent in the backyard?

Things really get rolling Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. There’s more traffic on the roads than you’re used to, the beaches are more full than normal, and there are fewer parking spaces available at the grocery store.

You’d better prepare yourself because, Boom!, Thursday through Sunday it’s really Semana Santa. Everybody who has a plan to visit the beach has arrived. The roads are packed. The parking lots of stores are full. The grocery store is picked over. And there’s a full-on party at the beach.

I’m going to admit to stink-facing Semana Santa in the past. It is firmly placed in the depths of dry season and the whole week is brutally hot. The usually sparsely traveled backroads and wonderfully empty beaches are packed with cars and people. For me, it brings out the grumpy old man that I’m surely destined to become in the near future. In years past, I’ve packed up the family and found a place to stay inland where the crush of people is a little less.

This year, with no budget for travel and both the wife and kids free the entire week on vacation, we decided to lean into it. We strategically timed trips to the grocery store for times when most people are at the beach, drive around as little as possible, and visit our local beaches early in the morning before most people get there.

Maybe I should push down my grumpy old man tendencies because the result has been fantastic. The beaches are indeed full, but they’re full of extended families dragging huge amounts of beach gear to a good spot where they all pack under an umbrella and enjoy each other’s company.

There are kids running all over the place, laughing and playing, there are friends and relatives chatting, relaxing, eating, and drinking together in beach chairs, there are even beach services that usually don’t exist. Ride a horse. Rent a tent. Buy a Churchill (an insanely sweet snow cone that my kids love) from the guy pushing the snow cone cart up and down the beach. 

It’s really a family-friendly, we’re all on vacation, festive atmosphere. So my new advice is push down any grumpy old man tendencies you may harbor, go with the flow and party with the rest of the country during Semana Santa.

About the Author

Vincent Losasso, founder of Guanacaste Wildlife Monitoring, is a biologist who works with camera traps throughout Costa Rica. Learn more about his projects on facebook or instagram. You can also email him at:

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