Palmares Fiestas is one of the most highly anticipated cultural celebrations in Costa Rica

Concert at Fiesta de Palmares 2012 (courtesy of
Concert at Fiesta de Palmares 2012 (courtesy of

Is there anything better than traveling to a foreign country during the time of a festival or celebration that immerses you completely into the local culture? Well, no not really.

If you happen to be traveling to or in Costa Rica in January, you have the exciting opportunity to take part in the Palmares Fiestas – and it isn’t something you want to miss.

When & Where the Palmares Fiesta Happens

As if Christmas and New Year’s weren’t exciting enough, Costa Ricans aren’t quite ready to stop celebrating once the ball drops

The Palmares Fiestas takes place during a period of two weeks in January, in Palmares.

This small town is located in between Alajuela and San Ramon, and has built a reputation on throwing one of the most exciting and anticipated celebrations each year. Attendees will be treated to concerts, stand-up comedy, a carnival, sporting events, fireworks, bullfighting, food and drinks, and the tope (or horse parade).

The History of Palmares Fiestas

You would never know it by its popularity, but the Palmares Fiestas is only a few years old. Even in that short time, this celebration has become one of the biggest in Costa Rica, seeing more than a million people in attendance.

It has been said that Palmares Fiestas is second only to Oktoberfest in the amount of beer that is served; so you can imagine that the festival also has a reputation for being a little rowdy. A couple of drinks, a crowd full of both Ticos and international visitors, and bullfighting – how can you say no to all of that?

The event takes place on festival grounds, with stages, stadiums, and audience stands constructed for all of the scheduled activities.

The event is free to attend - though some activities may require the purchase of tickets - and employs security to keep all the attendees safe.

The festival has a reputation for after-hours parties, held in tents that were constructed just for the event, where happy people spend the night drinking, dancing and having the time of their lives.

Main Events of Palmares Fiestas

To kick the festival off each year, the organizers arrange a soccer game and a lantern parade, which lights the festival grounds. The lantern lighting is known as the parade of lanterns, and the soccer game is a minor league tournament.

The Palmares Fiestas is known for filling the air with the sounds of Costa Rica’s most popular musicians. The festival usually books between three and five bands to play outdoor concerts throughout the schedule of events, mostly on the weekends. Sundays are the big ticket days, with a traditional of booking international superstar acts to perform.

Music isn’t the only thing that fills the air – there is also a ton of laughter. The festival hires comedians to perform stand-up comedy to entertain the festival-goers. Grab a beer and settle in for some solid entertainment.

One of the biggest highlights of the festival is the bullfighting. This isn’t your average bullfighting either – this is a public event. That doesn’t just mean that the public can attend, it means that the public can participate. This is Torosa la Tica, and it attracts a large audience that want to try their hand at this local tradition. Yes, that is right, anyone and everyone that is brave enough to try bullfighting can try bullfighting. Some professional bull fighters are brought in, but mostly this event is meant to be a comical, improvised man vs bull standoff.

The crown jewel of the Palmares Fiestas, though, is the tope, or horse parade. This event is part of the opening celebrations, taking place in the first days. During the parade, the locals ride their best and brightest horses. There are literally thousands participants trotting in this parade. Keep a look out for showoffs too, like riders that stand and dance on their horses.

Bring your cowboy hat if you have it; but if not you can still plan to hang out with all the attendees and have some great food and drinks. Once the parade is over, stick around for the impromptu bars…made in the event tents, of course.

What festival would be complete without a carnival, fireworks, and of course plenty of food and drinks? All of these things are part of the Palmares Fiestas schedule of events too!

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