Jumping bull in Guanacaste
Jumping bull in Guanacaste>

In a splendid tradition, Costa Rica celebrates bull fighting as "Toros a la Tica". To be honest, I'm scared of bulls. I can match up against bull frogs, but the giant beasts with horns could crush me like a bug - or an amphibian! However, humans find great fascination in everything in and around the arena. Lucky for them, Costa Rica packs a awe-inspiring bullfighting - a tradition that few visitors realize this country has.

Unlike the Spanish form, Costa Rican bullfighting does not aim to kill the bull, but only to dodge it. In this way, it resembles Pamplona's Running of the Bulls more than a classic corrida. Instead of happening on the streets with hundreds of a bulls at a time, however, there's only one bull in the ring arena. I prefer this humane variation, personally. It is like a game of evasion where participants enter the ring only to run from the animal. I guess you could say the event's name is a bit misleading, but the event itself is still plenty exhilarating for adrenaline buffs.

Bull parties in Zapote, San Jose
Bull parties in Zapote, San Jose

The largest fairs in Costa Rica offer bullfighting. While smaller fairgrounds typically don't have a permanent bullring, or plaza de toros as we say in Spanish, the most well-known fairgrounds, such as Fiestas de Zapote, have one that lasts the entire year.

Throughout the land, breeders bring around 330 of their best bulls to challenge men and women in the ring. No bulls are injured in this style of bullfighting, but we can't say the same for people. As you'd imagine, there are lots of risks involved with being around these dangerous animals. If you decide to do it, be sure you're plenty cautious. Besides alerting all five senses, you'll need to be in good physical condition, have health insurance and a government ID, then wait in line to enter the bullring.

Bullfighting takes place all across the country, for example Guanacaste, but no event is grander than the Fiestas de Zapote.

Bull in truck from Guanacaste
Bull in truck from Guanacaste

Fiestas de Zapote

Around New Years, the southeastern San Jose neighborhood of Zapote hosts the largest bullfight in Costa Rica. In the ring, more than 100 mostly young men, some women and certainly no frogs face off against one bull, or "toro". As the bovine beast springs from the orange gates, contestants run in every direction. I don't think I could hop that fast! The braver bullfighters approach the animal as it switches between charging and stomping his hooves on the ground. The whole stadium is filled with excitement.

Outside, Zapote hosts a celebratory festival that features carnival rides, including short roller coasters and bumper cars. The festival also offers games, bars and an assortment of delicious foods.

Beautiful
Beautiful black bull at the Plaza, San Jose

Montadores

I've watched several "fights" in my day, but the most thrilling bull I've ever laid my red eyes on was the Malacrianza, a bulk of a bovine. Without a doubt, he is the most revered and feared bull in the country. He was part of another type of "bullfighting," which is similar to what I've heard as an American rodeo. An ordinary festival of this kind features at least 10 bulls each night. Instead of matadores, there are montadores, people who ride the bulls. They don't make much money, but they do earn glory and bragging rights. These riders climb in a small bin on top of the bull and once they yell "Puerta!" the gate swings open and they try to ride the bull as long as they can.

Amazing rodeo with bulls in Guanacaste
Amazing rodeo with bulls in Guanacaste

Some of the country's other fairs are in Limon on the Caribbean coast and Palmares, which is a short drive from San Jose. The Palmares Fair usually occurs in January each year, running for two weeks.

Bull arena in Zapote
Bull arena in Zapote