Easter in Costa Rica is a prime time to visit the country. The weather is hot and you can expect very little rain. Most kids are off of school for the week. 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.
Easter in Costa Rica – What to Usually Expect
This year (2018) Easter is held on Sunday April 1st. The week leading up to Easter Sunday (Sunday, March 25th through Saturday March 31st) is called Semana Santa (Holy Week). 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 the country are closed for the week 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.
Easter in Costa Rica – What’s Different for 2018
I think before I get into more details about what you would usually experience in Costa Rica over Easter, I need to address how 2018 might be different.
April 1st, 2018 (Easter Sunday) is the final election day to determine the next president of the country. This is a really big election because the two candidates have extremely opposing views. Both parties are encouraging people to either stay home from their usual beach trips or to get back to their houses on Saturday in order to vote at their designated polling station on Sunday.
Just to give you a little background on the election, a candidate in Costa Rica needs to win the vote by at least 40% during the first round of voting to win the election. If nobody wins by 40% in the first round, there is a second round of voting in which the two candidates with the most votes from the first round face off for round two. In the first round of voting, on February 4th 2018, there were 13 candidates. Nobody won by 40%, so we went on to the second round.
Of the two candidates remaining one is from the conservative National Restoration Party and the other candidate is from the progressive Citizens’ Action Party. A big part of the reason that there are two candidates remaining with such strongly opposing views is that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights recently ruled in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage in Costa Rica. While this was a huge triumph (in my opinion), Costa Rica is a very religious country and many people were outraged by this ruling.
The National Restoration Party is generally a really small party in Costa Rica, but because of this ruling, the candidate’s popularity increased rapidly. He has outwardly stated that he is against this ruling for legalized same-sex marriage.
The opposing candidate stated he supports gay marriage and his popularity quickly increased among younger generations.
Anyway, so now we are down to two candidates with very different views. Costa Rica could be moving forward in a very progressive direction or it could become extremely conservative. The turnout of voters for the first round of voting wasn’t the best, so both candidates are hoping to get more voters to the polls for this second round.
So, in conclusion, there may be far less Costa Ricans traveling than usual over the week of Easter, but I really have no idea if this will be true or not. I feel like this election is very important to vote in, but I’m not sure if people will be willing to cut their travels short in order to vote. I really can’t say.
Also, I have no idea how people will respond to the final outcome. I know the country is very divided in its views at the moment, so the election results could possibly result in some outrage. I would think that any rioting would be concentrated mostly in San Jose, but I really don’t know. This is our first time being in Costa Rica during an election.
OK, now that I’m done with my Costa Rican political lesson for the day, let’s get back to what you really want to talk about, sunny vacations in Costa Rica!
Easter in Costa Rica – Areas to Avoid
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. They 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!
Last year 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, avoid heading down to Panama at the beginning of the week if you want to avoid that insanity.
This year, Thomas and I are the two crazies heading up to Tamarindo on Tuesday of Semana Santa. We plan on getting out of San Jose really early in the morning to avoid any insanity, but we are hoping that by Tuesday the traffic won’t be bad because everyone will already be at the beaches. I bet Tamarindo will be nuts though! I’m kind of excited to experience this in full force, but neither of us does well with crowds. We’ll probably end hiding out somewhere. 🙂
Easter in Costa Rica – Closures
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.
Easter in Costa Rica – Events
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 Jocquin 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 any 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.
Easter in Costa Rica – Driving
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 on Friday the 24th through Sunday the 26th. In recent years they have actually closed some of the main highways heading the other direction and opened all the lanes in both directions for driving to the beach. It is really freaky to be driving down the highway in the wrong direction! 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. However, as I mentioned before, this year may be different. People may opt to head back into the city on Saturday instead so they can vote on Sunday.
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.
Easter in Costa Rica – Our Suggestions
– 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.
– It’s a bit late now, but things tend to fill up fast during this week. Book accommodations as soon as possible to guarantee you get a place. 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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