If you’re planning a trip to Costa Rica in July, the Dia de Guanacaste is worth marking the calendar and setting the GPS for. A big street festival commemorating the annexation of Guancaste from Nicaragua on July 25th, 1825, Dia de Guanacaste is celebrated annually all week long in Liberia, the capital of the region, and offers all the goods one could ask of a street festival, with free admission to boot.
Visitors and tourists who make the trip to the largest yet least populated province of Costa Rica are always welcomed with open arms and encouraged to join in the festivities; “the more the merrier” is the exuberant sentiment at the Dia de Guanacaste, and it’s an invitation that’s hard to resist.
While families and children will enjoy listening to the Marimba, traditional music typically played by an elderly quartet on an old xylophone, and watching costumed girls performing the Punto Guanacasteco, the region’s folkloric dance that has become the national dance, the highlights of the Dia de Guanacaste lie firmly in the region’s ranching background.
This northwestern-most region of the country shares much of its border with Nicaragua and embraces a strong frontier character, especially during celebrations. Each day of the festival, the entertainment kicks off with a tope, a parade that fills the street with decked-out sabaneros (cowboys) astride their finest steeds, showing off high-stepping staccato footwork as they clippity-clop all the way through town.
In the evenings, it’s the toro de la tica (Costa Rican bullfight) that steals the show. A mix between Pamplona’s running of the bulls, a Texas rodeo and a traditional bullfight, this truly Costa Rican event is always a wild spectacle, to put it mildly. In addition to the professional toreros who take this teasing and taunting of the bulls very seriously, anyone over 18 and sober can sign up to be a torero improvisado (improvisational bullfighter) and jump in the ring with the bulls.
Though technically tamer than its Spanish and Mexican cousins, the Costa Rican toro de la tica is not for the weak, nor the meek. Rumor has it the biggest and fiercest bulls are groomed especially for Dia de Guanacaste, and it’s not uncommon for the Red Cross to be called into the ring to remove an injured improvisado.
To sign up, look for the long line of (mostly) men near the redondel, the hexagonal stadium erected especially for the festival. If you pull some cool moves and impress the audience, without hurting yourself or any bull, you’ll likely end up on the news and become a local celebrity.
If staying sober and running for your life don’t sound like your idea of vacation, perhaps sitting in the stands surrounded by the world’s happiest people with a cold cerveza in hand sounds like an attractive alternative, especially considering the array of food that is typically served fresh on the street, like tamales, ceviche, and gallo pinto (spotted rooster; Costa Rica’s deliciously spiced beans and rice). Either way, you won’t want to miss this Dia de Guanacaste.
Liberia, Guanacaste has an international airport. It is 3 hours to Arenal Volcano, and 1 hour to the beaches of Tamarindo and Playa Hermosa.
Photo: Sophia LaMonica