Last updated on October 20th, 2019 at 01:33 pm EST
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Happy Independence Day, Costa Rica!
A touch of history
Costa Rica celebrates Día de la Independencia (Independence Day) on September 15th each year to mark Mexico’s separation from Spain in September of 1821. A few Central American countries (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica), once members of the Mexican Empire, took several more years to separate from Mexico. Though Costa Rica didn’t gain full independence until it separated from other Central American nations 1838, the nation counts its years of freedom from 1821.
How Independence Day is celebrated in Costa Rica
Today, Independence Day is celebrated in Costa Rica with joyous gatherings in town and city centers that showcase various aspects of Costa Rican culture. If you’re lucky enough to be in Costa Rica on September 15th, or September 14th when the festivities begin, here are some happenings you won’t want to miss.
September 14th torch arrival
In the days leading up to September 15th, a torch is passed through Central America from Guatemala to Costa Rica. There are usually opportunities to see the torch along its journey, including when it enters Costa Rica via Nicaragua at the border community of Penas Blancas, and when it travels the final leg to Cartago, Costa Rica.
September 14th singing of Costa Rica’s national anthem
Costa Rica’s national anthem, Noble patria, tu hermosa bandera, (“Noble homeland, your beautiful flag”) is often heard during Independence Day celebrations. Most impressive is when thousands of Ticos (Costa Ricans) all around the country sing the anthem in unison at 6:00pm on September 14th. At the same time, you can also hear the national anthem broadcast on local news and radio stations.
If you aren’t familiar with Costa Rica’s national anthem, give it a listen on YouTube. It portrays Ticos (Costa Ricans) as humble, hard working, and appreciative folk. I drew the same conclusion merely days after exploring the country for the very first time.
|Noble homeland! Your beautiful flag,
an expression of the life you give us,
under your clean blue sky,
white and pure peace rests.
In the tenacious struggle of fruitful labor
Hail, oh gentle land!
When someone pretends to tarnish your glory,
Hail, oh homeland! Your prodigal ground
|¡Noble Patria!, tu hermosa bandera,
expresion de tu vida nos da:
bajo el limpido azul de tu cielo,
blanca y pura descansa la paz.
En la lucha tenaz de fecunda labor
¡Salve, oh tierra gentil!
Cuando alguno pretenda tu gloria manchar,
¡Salve, oh Patria! tu prodigo suelo
September 14th night/light walk
One of Costa Rica’s biggest Independence Day celebrations is the evening light walk that takes place on September 14th. This event, known as the Desfile de Faroles, occurs in big cities, medium-size towns, and small communities around Costa Rica. It sees children walk through popular streets with their families holding glowing faroles (lanterns). The walk typically begins a few minutes after 6:00pm (following the singing of the national anthem; see above for more information) and usually lasts an hour. It’s common to see and hear fireworks after the walk, as some individuals choose to extend the celebration well into the night.
Years ago, when I first started traveling to Costa Rica, most children carried small paper lanterns that were either homemade or purchased at local librerías (bookstores). A parent would carefully light the candle inside, and the child would walk through the streets, happily grasping their makeshift torch. Nowadays, faroles are craft masterpieces. Some take the shape of Costa Rican figures or wildlife, and others are built as houses, oxcarts, boats, or churches. Stores that construct and sell these impressive creations dot the country. Most of these fancy faroles come with LED lights, which is a safer albeit less authentic take on an otherwise traditional event.
September 15th events in San Jose
Though Independence Day celebrations take place all around Costa Rica, no city hosts more events on September 15th than the capital city of San Jose. Since event listings change from year to year, it’s best to have a local news outlet confirm current event times and locations. If you require an outlet that reports in English, stick with the Tico Times; they regularly list things going on in and around San Jose on marked holidays.
San Jose hosts Independence Day celebrations of all kinds. There are parades, topes (horse parades), concerts, and park gatherings. Some attractions, mainly museums, offer free (or reduced) entry.
If you plan to be in San Jose on the evening of September 14th only, you can experience one of many Desfiles de Faroles (see the “September 14th night/light walk” section above for more information) that take place around the city.
September 15th parades around the country
If you’ll be in another Costa Rican city, town, or community on September 15th other than San Jose, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to take part in Independence Day festivities by catching a parade. Most cities and towns host them, usually in the morning. Popular destinations like Liberia, La Fortuna, Monteverde, Tamarindo, Puntarenas, and Quepos, for example, tend to provide the longest and most impressive shows.
Independence Day parades in Costa Rica feature a combination of the following acts:
- Local elementary and secondary schoolchildren dressed in their school attire
- Marching bands
- Other music (including sounds from marimba instruments, guitars, horns)
- Traditional güipipía shouts from spectators
- Flag bearers
- Floats (usually trucks decorated with native plants and flowers)
- Children carrying signs that state words or phrases that are synonymous with Costa Rica’s independence or local pride
- Speakers or signs that deliver bombas, four-line rhyming poems that are sometimes comical
- Traditional dance (including demonstrations of the Punto Guanacasteco, a Costa Rican folk dance)
- Traditional dress or costumes that depict important historical figures
- Topes (horse parades)
- Lazos de lujo (roping)
Plan to be in Costa Rica on September 14th or 15th? Here are some logistical points worth keeping in mind.
- If you’ll be driving around Costa Rica, watch for children in the streets on the evening of September 14th (during Desfiles de Faroles) as well as in the morning of September 15th (during Independence Day parades).
- Be aware that morning parades in city and town centers on the morning of September 15th can cause road closures and traffic delays. Consider mapping out travel routes that avoid downtown areas.
- If you plan to travel through downtown San Jose on September 14th, try to avoid Paseo Colón and Avenida 2 as the streets may be closed due to the torch’s journey to Cartago.
- Know that most banks and government offices close for the day (when September 15th falls on a weekday/workday). Most other businesses, including tourism operations, function as per normal through the holiday.
If you won’t be in Costa Rica on the 14th or 15th of September but you plan to visit earlier or later during the same month, you’ll still feel the country’s patriarchal vibe during your time here. For most of the month of September, Ticos (Costa Ricans) adorn their homes, businesses, churches, and other establishments with Costa Rican flags, banners, and other decorations (in red, white, and blue) that signify national pride. If you want to feel the love that Costa Ricans share for their nation, September (otherwise known as the Mes de la Patria or “homeland month” in English) is a great time of year to visit.
How to celebrate Costa Rica’s Independence Day from outside of Costa Rica
If you’ve been to Costa Rica before and you fell in love with the country, you probably wish you were back in the land of pura vida right now to partake in the Independence Day party. What’s the next best thing? Satisfying your craving with some good ol’ Costa Rican food. Consider learning how to make gallo pinto, tres leches cake, or flan de coco with the help of our recipe guides:
If you’d rather stick to something easy, try replicating these pancakes I whipped up for breakfast. All you need is pancake mix (or your own pancake recipe) and strawberries, shredded coconut, and blueberries to replicate the red, white, and blue lines on the Costa Rican flag. Mmm… delish!
QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Have you experienced Independence Day in Costa Rica? If so, what did you do?