Easter in Costa Rica is a prime time to visit the country. The weather is hot and you can expect very little rain. What could be more perfect?
If you plan on visiting Costa Rica during Easter, there are some things you should be aware of before you finalize your travel itinerary in order to make the most of your trip and not get stuck in an unwanted situation. Easter is a unique time in this country and everything is a bit different than normal.
What to Usually Expect During Easter in Costa Rica
This year (2019) Easter is held on Sunday April 21st. The week leading up to Easter Sunday is called Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Spanish. You’ll hear people all through the country talking about their plans for Semana Santa in the weeks leading up to this Holy Week.
Schools throughout Costa Rica are closed for the week before Easter and most people take the week (or at least Thursday and Friday) before Easter off of work. San Jose becomes a ghost town and everyone heads for the beaches.
It is not unusual to see the beaches absolutely filled with large family groups. People even bring tents and set up their temporary homes for the week. It is a unique thing to experience and can be a fun time to be in Costa Rica, but just remember that this time also means TONS of people traveling.
Areas to Avoid During Easter in Costa Rica
I guess I shouldn’t really say you should avoid certain areas, but you should at least be aware that visiting certain areas will bring with them a different experience than visiting during the rest of the year.
Depending on how long you plan to stay in Costa Rica, it may be best to visit places like La Fortuna, Monteverde, San Gerardo de Dota, San Jose, and Tortuguero over the Easter days. These towns will be a lot more empty than the beach towns in the country. You can then visit the beaches before or after everyone in Costa Rica goes back to work.
If you want a nice taste of the culture, head to the beaches and enjoy the unique atmosphere! It’s definitely a party!
Two years ago Thomas and I went down to Bocas del Toro, Panama a week before Easter. It seemed like everyone else had the same idea because we ended up waiting in line to enter Panama for several hours in direct sunlight. So, don’t head down to Panama at the beginning of the week if you want to avoid that insanity.
Last year, us two crazies headed up to Tamarindo on Tuesday of Semana Santa. The drive up was actually not bad at all. However, later in the week, we met up with some friends who drove up on Thursday and they said the drive took almost eight hours when usually it would take about five hours total. Also, the beach was completely full on Thursday and Friday, but we hid out at our hotel and it was fine. 🙂
Closures During Easter in Costa Rica
You can expect a lot of businesses and things like banks to be closed on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Depending on which area of the country you are in, it is best to do any shopping, banking etc. early in the week.
In the past, it was prohibited to sell alcohol from midnight on Wednesday through Good Friday. This law was changed a few years ago and it is now up to each municipality to set their own law. In popular beach areas (Jaco, Manuel Antonio, Tamarindo etc.) you will have no problem buying alcohol on these holy days. If you are staying in a smaller area it is best to buy any alcohol you may want ahead of time.
Events Over Semana Santa in Costa Rica
Most towns have some type of event on Holy Thursday, and Good Friday. Easter Sunday is actually not a big event, but some churches have joyful Resurrection processions.
On Holy Thursday you can experience the procession of the Last Supper. The procession is headed by Jesus, the apostles, and the Marias. Typically the procession is held in complete silence. It starts at a given point and will end at a church where the supper itself is reenacted.
Good Friday is definitely when you can experience the most elaborate events. A route is set up with the 14 stations of the cross along the way. These stations are usually really well designed and decorated. Church members walk the route in elaborate costumes led by Jesus, the Roman court, Roman soldiers, Jesus’s followers, and more.
You can experience these events in pretty much every town in Costa Rica, but it is of course at varying degrees. There are huge celebrations in downtown San Jose, downtown Cartago, downtown Alajuela, and apparently, the town of San Joaquin del Flores near Heredia has a big celebration as well.
If you are anywhere else in the country you will likely be able to experience this as well, the events may just be smaller. I can not find a schedule of times online, but if you just ask at your hotel they will be able to direct you to a nearby church procession.
Just remember, Costa Rica is an extremely religious country and these events are taken very seriously. Although it may be exciting to experience something so unique, these processions are actually a very somber event and involve a lot of mourning.
Driving during Semana Santa in Costa Rica
Driving in Costa Rica during the week before Easter is definitely an adventure! If you are flying into San Jose and plan to head to the beach you can expect bad traffic jams from Wednesday before Easter through Easter Sunday.
In recent years the government has actually closed some of the main highways heading into San Jose and opened all the lanes in both directions for driving in the direction of the beach. It is really freaky to be driving down the highway in the wrong direction, but it definitely helps the traffic problems!
To avoid the traffic a lot of people opt to drive in the middle of the night (yes it can really be THAT backed up).
On the other side of that, you can usually expect a lot of traffic heading back into the city on Easter Sunday. Again. the government will close the lanes heading to the beach and have all lanes open for driving back into the city.
If you plan on relying on public buses they tend to have a limited schedule over Holy Thursday and Good Friday. If possible, I would try to avoid taking public transportation during those two days.
Another thing that you need to be aware of is that the police are out in full force during these travel days. Keep to the speed limit and use the free app Waze for directions if possible.
We love Waze because people in Costa Rica are actually really good about marking on the app if there is a police officer on the route. You will then see a notification as your drive.
Also, keep an eye out if people coming from the other direction flash their lights at you. Costa Ricans are great about warning fellow drivers of upcoming police.
Occasionally you will come across a police roadblock. They usually will just want to see your license and registration. The police here will not typically bother tourists. Don’t be worried that you will be targeted by the police as a foreigner.
Our Suggestions for Easter in Costa Rica
– If you’d like to have your own Easter celebration, you can buy all your Easter meal favorites at any big grocery store in the country.
– Big supermarkets sell Easter candy, but it can be more difficult to find in the little stores throughout the country. If you want some special Easter treats it is best to bring them with you.
-If you want a more traditional experience, it is customary to eat big meals throughout the week, but no big meal occurs on Sunday like you are probably used to. During the week people eat a lot of seafood and fish.
– If you want to try a unique Easter food, you should try various desserts with chiverre. Chiverre is a pumpkin that almost looks like a watermelon which grows around Easter time. It is cooked in a pot with brown sugar to make a sweet jam-like filling. This is then used in cookies and sweet empanadas.
– Book accommodations as soon as possible to guarantee you get a place. We like Booking.com for hotels because they tend to have the best rates out there.
– Also, definitely check Airbnb. Airbnb doesn’t seem to be as popular with locals so you may have better luck finding something last minute or at a decent rate.
If you are new to Airbnb you can get $25 off your first stay using our link.
– Tico time takes on a whole new meaning during Semana Santa. In Costa Rica we say “Tico time” meaning not on a set schedule and very relaxed. Because most of the country is off during this week and spending time with their families, everything becomes even more relaxed than usual.
Just wanted to warn you because although it is a nice mindset to have during your vacation, it can be a bit frustrating if you just want to get something done. Just breath and try to soak in the unique experience of being in Costa Rica over Easter!
Are you spending Easter in Costa Rica? Let us know if you have any questions about traveling during that time. We love to hear from our readers and are always happy to help you out.
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