Costa Rican Culture
Crafts

Costa Rica has many talented artists and artisans showing and/or selling their products. Traditional beautiful clay and ceramic items and woodwork as well as talented newcomers busy creating new forms, techniques and family traditions of their own. Passing the knowledge and skills to the children.

Today, perhaps, you are in Guaitil or Sarchi or Escazu, etc…You are looking in booths amazed at the formidable amounts of shapes and colors… In certain areas of the country there are enough pottery wheels to keep your head spinning. Brick kilns, clay pits, the small adobe houses that provide the finishing treatment and which are the tell tale sign of a family-owned operation.

There are many ways to acquire not only lovely specimens with which to return home. There are many people who will enjoy speaking about their craft and if your Spanish isn’t perfect, just stand there and gaze their fingers making magic, the only language needed. You will know when you get to the right place and spot which piece is yours! …And if not today? Well, perhaps you will have to come back in a couple of days once you’ve had a chance to sleep on it.

Did you know that certain woods, when cut at the appropriate times of the moon, can be left on the forest floor for up to a year and still be healthy? Some can even take root anew. This could mean the difference between your furniture being termite fodder within months or lasting you for years and years. It is said that the artist takes a block of raw material and just eliminates the unnecessary in order to liberate the end-product. Ironwood, purple heart, rosewood, satinwood, tigerwood….it is difficult to tear oneself away from beauty the various tropical woods give us. Master craftsmen chisel, etch and paint patterns and images on bowls, cups, knife hilfts perfect in symmetry. And you will, of course, notice the most colorful ox carts.  Even if you don’t want to purchase anything on this trip, you will be amazed as well as educated by the experience.

And though Costa Rica is not famous for its indigenous arts, we are not bereft of them by any means. Borucas, the art of carving masks, animals, and supernatural beings are everywhere. The quijongo, a bowed string instrument which boasts a beautifully decorated gourd.

Parties

From Guanacaste to Osa to Nicoya to Limon: Ticos love to dance! On weekends folks from all walks of life flock to the small-town dance hall, the cantina dance floor, the concert hall–every venue you might imagine. When it comes to dancing, the hypnotic Latin and rhythmic Caribbean beats of cumbia, lambada, marcado, merengue, salsa, soca, and Costa Rican swing got it goin’ on. Costa Rica is one of the southernmost “marimba culture” countries, although the African-derived marimba (xylophone) music of Costa Rica is more elusive and restrained than the more vigorous native music of Panama and Guatemala, its heartland. The guitar, too, is a popular instrument, especially as an accompaniment to folk dances such as the Punto Guanacasteco, a heel-and-toe stomping dance for couples which is the official national dance. (The dance actually only dates back to the turn of the century, when it was composed in jail by Leandro Cabalceta Brau.) Costa Rica has a strong peña tradition, introduced by Chilean and Argentinian exiles. Literally “circle of friends,” peñas are bohemian, international gatherings–usually in favored cafes–where moving songs are shared — and wine and tears flow copiously

On the Caribbean coast, the music is profoundly Afro-Caribbean in spirit and rhythm, with plentiful drums and banjos. There is also a local rhythm called sinkit, and the cuadrille (a maypole dance in which each dancer holds one of many ribbons tied to the top of a pole; as they dance the brightly colored ribbons intertwine forming a most formidable braid. And finally, the Caribbean, though, is the true domain of calypso, ska and reggae, from where stars such as Harry Belafonte and Bob Marley, as well as many others, introduced these into the mainstream world market over the years.

Folklore

Guanacaste is the heartland of Costa Rican folkloric music and dancing. Here, incorporating instruments dating back to pre-Columbian times, such as the chirimia (oboe) and quijongo (a single-string bow with gourd resonator) popularized by the Chorotega, which are still used in traditional Chorotega dances such as the Danza del Sol and Danza de la Luna. The more familiar Cambute and Botijuela Tamborito—a blur of kaleidoscopic, frilly satin skirts accompanied by the tossing of scarves, a fanning of hats, and loud lusty shouts from the men–are usually performed on behalf of tourists rather than at native turnos (fiestas). The dances usually deal with the issues of enchanted lovers (usually legendary coffee pickers) and are mostly based on the Spanish paseo, where pretty maidens in white bodices and dazzlingly bright skirts are circled by men in white suits and cowboy hats. A number of folkloric dance troupes tour the country, or perform in venues such as the Melico Salazar and Aduana Theaters, and the National Dance Workshop, which are headquartered in San José. Of particular note is Fantasía Folklorica, a colorful highlight of the country’s folklore and history from pre-Columbian to modern times.

Vestiges of the indigenous folk dancing tradition linger (barely) elsewhere in the nation. The Borucas still perform their Danza de los Diablitos, and the Talamancas do their Danza de los Huelos. But many of the drums and flutes, (including the curious dru mugata, a beeswax flute in the ocarina family) are being replaced by guitars and accordions. Even the solemn indigenous music is basically Spanish in origin and hints at the typically slow and languid Spanish canción (lit., song) which gives full rein to the romantic, sentimental aspect of the Latin character.

Classical Music and Theatre

Costa Rica stepped onto the world stage in classical music in 1970 with the formation of the National Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Gerald Brown, a North American. The orchestra, which performs in the Teatro Nacional, often features world-renowned guest soloists and conductors. The season is from April through November, with concerts on Thursday and Friday evenings, and Saturday matinees. Many famous international artists, incuding Luciano Pavarotti, have made Costa Rica a stop for their regional performances. Just this year, Mr. Pavarotti gave a free concert in the Sabana (a large public park in San Jose). Neighbors could even sit by their open windows to be enriched by his dulcet tones.

The Monteverde Music Festival, held annually from January-February, presents a combination of classical with jazz and swing events. Held at the Hotel Fonda Vela, in Monteverde one should make reservations early, as it is one of the most renown, popular musical events that take place here.

A nation of avid theater goers, Costa Rica supports a thriving acting community. In fact, Costa Rica supposedly has more theater companies per capita than any other country in the world. The country’s early dramatic productions gained impetus and inspiration from Argentinian and Chilean playwrights, and actors who subsequently settled here at the turn of the century, pushed to establish drama as part of the standard school curriculum.

The streets of San José are festooned with tiny theaters. Comedy, drama, avant-garde, theater-in-the-round, mime, and even puppet theater attract crowds nightly, Tuesday through Sunday (as everywhere, Monday remains dark). Although predominantly in Spanish, there are some English language companies. The Little Theater Group is Costa Rica’s oldest English-speaking theatrical troupe; it performs principally in the Centro Cultural’s Eugene O’Neill Theater. And as for ticket prices, one can attend the theater here weekly for a year for the same as one would spend on a single night on Broadway. The Tico Times and Costa Rica Today offer complete listings of current productions.

Festivals, special events

The village fairs are very popular in Costa Rica and are celebrated much like a carnival. This custom began in colonial times and have since become a combination of entertainment and religion. They include mascarades, popular musical groups, moonlight festivities, dances, typical food, parades on horseback, bingo, the selection of a queen and the famous barrel races in which a hoop is thrown over a barrel by galloping horseback riders.

These festivals are an excellent introduction to life in our villages and an opportunity to see Costa Rican entertainment. We have included a calendar of events so you can visit these celebrations and become even more a part of the “tiquicia” culture.

Enjoy!

January Palmares Festival: first two weeks of January – food, carnival, parade, bingo, concerts and more.

Alajuelita Festival:
the second week of January in Alajuelita. Parades with oxcarts and a walk to the Alajuelita Cross are organized in honor of the Cristo Negro de Esquipulas.
Santa Cruz Festival:
second week of January in Guanacaste. Typical dances and marimba music are some of the activities organized in this celebration given in honor of the Cristo Negro de Esquipulas.
Full Moon Celebration:
Osa Peninsula, Cocalito Beach. Typical food, crafts and cultural activities. Call 786-6534 for information regarding the date of this celebration.

February Festival of the Sun:
the last week of the month. This celebration promotes solar energy. There is an
exhibit of solar energy articles, cooking with solar ovens and on February 25, there is a Fire Ceremony to celebrate the Mayan New Year.
Puntarenas Carnival:
the last week of the month. Fun under the sun during the entire week!
Monteverde Music Festival:
the best musicians in the country play in this remote cloud forest village.
Liberia Festival:
the last week of the month. The best folklore of Guanacaste, concerts, parades, etc.
March Ox Cart Day:
the second Sunday, in San Antonio, Escazu. Colorful parade of oxcarts. The local priest blesses the animals and the crops.
Caribbean Music Festival:
on Chiquita beach in Limon. During March-April.
Peregrinación” to Ujarrás:
in the middle of the month. Religious processions from the Cartago ruins
to the Ujarrás church.
April Holy Week:
in March or April. Religious processions of the crucifixation. All businesses close
from Thursday to Sunday.
Internation Art Festival: from the 5-21 in San José. Theater, dances, concert, exhibits.
Juan Santamaria Day:
April 11th. The national hero is remembered with parades, concerts and dances, especially in Alajuela, where Juan Santamaria was born.
Local Craft Fair:
last week of April and the first week of May in San Jose.
May San Isidro Labrador Day:
April 15th. All of the villages that are named after San Isidro, the patron saint of farmers, celebrate with carnivals and parades. Animals and crops receive blessings.
June Fathers Day: Third Sunday of June.
July The Virgin of the Sea:
the Saturday closest to July 16th. Decorated fishing boats and yachts greet the patron saint of Puntarenas. Parades, dances, fireworks, and more.
Annexation of Guanacaste:
July 25th. A celebration of the decision made in 1824 for Guanacaste to remain
part of Costa Rica and not Nicaragua. Carnivals in Liberia, folkloric dances, parades, concerts, bull fights, etc.
August The Virgin of Los Angeles:
August 2nd. The Patron Saint of Costa Rica is honored with a national
“peregrinación” to the Cartago Basilica. A celebration of the miracles of the “Negrita.”
Mothers Day:
August 15th. National holiday.
San Ramon Day:
August 30th. A parade to the San Ramon church with the patron saints of the different districts. Dances in the streets, parades and lots of fun.
Afro-Costa Rican Cultural Week:
conferences on Afro-Costa Rican culture, discussions and exhibits of black culture.
September Independence Day:
September 15th. Relay race throughout all of Central America. Students carry a freedom torch from Guatemala to Costa Rica. Children participate in parades with lanterns. School bands participate in parades also.
October Limon Carnival:
Second week of October in the city of Limon. A full week of dancing in the street, parades and Caribbean music.
Corn Festival:
October 13th in Upala. Parades with outfits made out of corn.
Culture Day:
October 12th. The Spanish conquist is celebrated with with indigenous protest marches.
November All Saints Day:
November 2nd. This is a day to celebrate the dead. Families visit cementaries to
remember their loved ones.
December Festival of the Negritos:
the week of December 8 in the indigenous village of Boruca. Indigenous rituals are combined with Catholicism and the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception is honored with costumes, drums, flute music and dances.
Festival of the Yegüita:
the week of December 12. The Virgin of Guadalupe is honored with processions, concerts, fireworks and typical food.
Christmas Celebrations:
Nativity scenes are put up in homes and businesses. Cookies, eggnog, chicha (a liquer made from corn), tamales, apples and grapes. Children begin singing Christmas carols on December 15.
Popular Festivals:
from December 25-31. In Zapote, in the south part of San Jose, an amusement
park is set up with a bull corral, typical music, food and fireworks.
Parade:
December 26th – in San José. A parade on horseback celebrates all of the horseback parades throughout the year.
Carnival:
December 27. In San José. A large carnival with colorful carousels and music.
Festival of the Devils:
December 31 – January 2. The Boruca indians of Rey Curré perform a
fight/dance between the indians (devils) and the Spaniards (bulls) to the sounds of drums and flute music.

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