Easter in Costa Rica: What to Expect When Traveling

Easter in Costa Rica is often the busiest time of year to visit the country. Despite the fact that this time of year can be a bit hectic, it is still a great time to visit for hot weather and (usually) zero rain.

If you plan on visiting Costa Rica during Easter week, 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 Week (also referred to as Semana Santa in Spanish) is a unique time in this country and everything is a bit different than normal. Let’s go through what you can expect.

What to Usually Expect During Easter in Costa Rica

easter costa rica

This year (2024) Easter is held on Sunday, March 31.

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 the country, but just remember that this time also means TONS of people traveling.

It kind of creates the perfect storm because this is also a popular time for tourists to plan their vacations. So, just expect a bit of craziness during Holy Week in Costa Rica.

Areas to Avoid During Easter in Costa Rica 

tamarindo

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.

As I already mentioned, the big beach towns (Jaco, Manuel Antonio, Tamarindo, and Playas del Coco) tend to be filled to the max with families.

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!

Closures During Easter in Costa Rica

beach easter

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 its 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 Maria’s. 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 re-enacted.

Good Friday is 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.

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 somber event.

Driving during Semana Santa in Costa Rica

san jose road

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).

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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.

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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.

Travel Tip for 2024: There is currently construction going on in Alajuela near the San Jose International Airport. Plan for lots of extra time if you are trying to get to the airport.

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.

– Book your transportation as soon as possible. Car rentals sell out every year over Easter week. We suggest booking with Adobe for the best rate and reliable service. You can get a 10% discount plus other great perks by booking here.

– 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 breathe and try to soak in the unique experience of being in Costa Rica over Easter!

FAQ: Easter in Costa Rica

What is Easter called in Costa Rica?

Easter is called “Semana Santa” in Costa Rica. The term “Semana Santa” translates to “Holy Week” in English.

What happens during Easter week in Costa Rica?

During Semana Santa, many Costa Ricans participate in religious processions, church services, and other ceremonies. It is also a time when people take a break from work and school to spend time with family.

Is Easter a good time to visit Costa Rica?

Easter is typically a great time to visit Costa Rica for hot weather and no rain. However, it is one of the most popular times of the year to travel and places book out quickly.

Conclusion

In conclusion, visiting Costa Rica during Easter offers a unique chance to experience the country’s culture and traditions. While planning your trip, keep in mind that Easter, or Semana Santa, is an important religious observance and a significant time for Costa Ricans. Plan and book things such as hotels and transportation early, and you should have a great time!

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.

You Might Also Like:

Costa Rica Travel Details: What You Need to Know

πŸš— Should I rent a car in Costa Rica?

Having a rental car will give you the most flexibility when traveling in Costa Rica. This will also allow you to take fun day trips on your own.

πŸ„πŸ½ How can I book things to do?

We find that Viator tends to have the most comprehensive selection of activities with secure booking and good cancellation policies.

🍍 I’m overwhelmed with planning. Can you help?

Of course! I suggest joining our Facebook group for specific questions and head to our Start Here Page to get started planning.

✈️ What is the best way to book a flight?

Usually, we have the best luck finding great prices with Skyscanner. Check for flights to both San Jose Airport (SJO) and Liberia Airport (LIR).

πŸ›οΈ What is the best way to book my Costa Rica hotels?

We highly suggest Booking.com for hotel bookings and typically use VRBO for Costa Rica vacation rentals.

πŸ—£οΈWhat is the main language in Costa Rica?

The main language in Costa Rica is Spanish. Most people working in tourism speak at least some English.

πŸ’° What is the currency in Costa Rica?

The currency used in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colΓ³n (CRC). However, the US dollar is widely accepted in most tourist areas

πŸ“ž What is the best way to stay connected?

An eSIM from Airalo is the easiest way to get 4G data while traveling in Costa Rica.

🌴 Is Costa Rica safe?

Generally, Costa Rica is considered safe for tourists. However, like any travel destination, it’s best to use caution and be aware of your surroundings.

πŸ›‚ Do you need a passport to go to Costa Rica?

Yes, Costa Rica is its own country. You will need a passport to visit.

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16 Comments

  1. Hi Sarah

    This article was very helpful! We are planning to come to Costa Rica from April 3, 2020 to April 12 for spring break. After reading your article, I’m a bit concerned about the travel. The plan is that we get to San Jose evening of April 3, La Fortuna April 4/5, Monteverde April 6/7 and would be driving from Monteverde to Guanacaste Tuesday, April 7. How bad should we expect the traffic to be and should we revise our plans? We are planning to fly out of LIR on April 12.

    Thanks for your advice!
    Karmen

    1. Hi Karmen, You should actually be alright. If possible, start your drive to La Fortuna early on the 4th. Most locals won’t hit the road until at least 10am. Most people will be heading to the beach and not La Fortuna. The first half of the drive could be a bit hectic but once you turn to start heading up towards La Fortuna it should be alright.
      From La Fortuna to Monteverde should be completely fine.
      You might hit traffic from Monteverde once you get on the main highway up to Guanacaste, but they have been doing road work there to widen the road. If it is completed by April things will move a lot faster.
      You never know here. Sometimes you can get stuck behind a big truck and things can take a while. Other times, the drives can be very fast.
      Once in Guanacaste, just be aware that the beaches might be pretty full especially on the 9th and 10th.
      Let me know if you need any other tips!

  2. Chad Jettner says:

    Hi Sarah!

    We have visited the Nosara area during April and June. We are planning on returning for spring break in 2020 – it happens to be during Holy Week. Wondering if you would give us your opinion on traveling. We would fly into San Jose on April 3 and likely fly out on Saturday, April 11 (Easter weekend). We usually arrange transport via our VRBO owner. Both times we travelled during the night to return to San Jose – easy drive. Do you think we would have problems getting to Nosara Friday, April 3 and/or returning on the 10th/11th?

    Thanks in advance for any help!!

    1. Hi Chad!
      You should actually be completely fine because on the day you are leaving Costa Rica is when all the locals will be heading to the beach. In other words, you will probably have no traffic heading back into the city but will see major backups heading the other direction. Perfect for you! πŸ™‚

      Let me know if you have any other questions!

  3. Dominique A. says:

    Your article was very helpful! thank you so much for writing it. I don’t know if you can answer this question or not but, you mention that La Fortuna and Monteverde are good places to visit during this time. We are planning on going to that area the Wednesday of Holy week through Easter Sunday and avoiding the beaches until after Easter. With this week being so important in Costa Rica, are guides/outfitters still working to do white water rafting or zip lining and different tours? Or do all the tourism and adventure companies close down for that weekend? We don’t want to go to these less busy places and find out that there is nothing open for us to do? Any advice?

    1. Hi Dominique! Everything should be open as usual. The only day that some things might be closed is on Good Friday. I’d suggest just contacting the zip lining or rafting company ahead of time to see if they’ll be open on that day. Let me know if you have any other questions as you plan out your trip. I’m happy to help! πŸ™‚

  4. Your article is great and very informative! So glad I stumbled upon it.

    I’m curious, if they close major highways TO the beaches, will they close major highways that travel AWAY from the beaches on the Sunday?

    We land in CR on Good Friday and I have planned our trip to be in the interior at Miravalles Volcano for the weekend and we will be leaving to head to the coast (Playa Avellanas) on Easter Sunday (April 21st, 2019). Will they close the major highways that Sunday for people heading back to the cities?

    Thanks in advance and Pura Vida!

    1. Hi Jennie!
      You should be fine. Just plan for extra travel time. The roads could be really full!
      Let me know if you have any other questions as you plan your trip!

  5. Hallo, =)
    we are from Germany and have a question about our future trip to Costa Rica next year during semana santa. Unfortunately we have no other possibility than staying there during vacation time because I’m a teacher.
    We are a little bit afraid about the fact, that a lot of sights and national parks are really crowded or even closed? Or is it in spite of everything possible to visit a national park?
    Does this only apply to Jueves Santo and Viernes Santo or also to the other days of the week?
    What would you recommend how we should spend our time during semana santa?
    Thank you for your help!

    Best regards

    Tine & Nils

    1. Hi Nils! The busiest days are from Good Friday until Easter Sunday. For those three days, I would try to avoid the beach towns (because those are the most crowded places). Instead, I suggest using those three days to go to someplace like Monteverde or La Fortuna (more inland). Besides those three days, you should be fine with visiting national parks and enjoying the beaches. They will be a bit crowded, but if you book your hotel and stuff ahead of time, you’ll be fine! Also, if you can avoid it, don’t plan any long drives on the Thursday before Easter or on Easter Sunday. The Thursday is when most of the country heads to the beaches and on Sunday everyone heads back towards San Jose. Let me know if you have any other questions as you and Tine plan your trip. We’re happy to help! And my husband Thomas is especially happy to help any fellow Germans πŸ˜‰

  6. Very interesting! Thanks for the minilesson on Costa Rica politics. We will be arriving for our 1 week stay starting tomorrow!! ?

    1. You’ll have a great time! Just a warning, the weather has been hot hot hot lately! Let us know if you have any last minute questions for your trip. πŸ˜‰

  7. This is such great info, we will be there over Easter! Esp. helpful to know about driving and what places may be closed on Thursday etc.! THANK YOU SO MUCH!