If your travel plans include spending Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Costa Rica, there are some things you should be aware of. In Costa Rica and the rest of Latin America, Easter is not just Easter Sunday, April 1 this year, rather a week that is different than the normal.
Semana Santa or Easter Week starts officially on March 25. However, in Costa Rica, it is really a few days before that, when many businesses, government offices, schools, universities close and re-open ten or more days later.
In Costa Rica, Thursday and Friday of Semana Santa are legal holidays. In days past, they were also ‘dry’, days when no liquor, beer or wine could be sold. Supermarkets would empty (or block off) their areas of alcohol, liquor stores closed, police would at 12:01 am Thursday start shutting down bars by placing a seal on the liquor or on the front door. Restaurants could not serve a cold beer with the Gallo Pinto.
That has all changed. Now, local municipalities have the decision to prohibit or not. While most, especially in the tourist areas, opt to let the tap flow, some continue with the prohibition.
Though a major Catholic holiday, Semana Santa in Costa Rica is also about traditions and everyone enjoys their time off work.
Week-long celebrations include parades, religious processions, mini-festivals and time at the beach or mountain resort.
This Semana Santa is different than the others, as it also includes a presidential election, the run-off vote that will be held on April 1. This is a very important election as the two candidates, Carlos Alvarado and Fabricio Alvarado – no relation – one which will govern for the next four years, have extremely opposing views.
Things to remember for Semana Santa is that though banks, government, professional offices and businesses are closed on Thursday and Friday, many are also closed all week. If you have doctor’s appointment, for example, best to check ahead.
Due to the election, there may be fewer people traveling around the country, staying close to their polling station, the opposite could be the reality. What is important for visitors is, if your flight is on Saturday or Sunday (March 31 or April 1), allow lots of extra time if you are heading to the airport from the beaches and resorts, in particular, if your departure is from the San Jose’s Juan Santamaria international airport (SJO).
Driving in Costa Rica is definitely an adventure, Semana Santa perhaps more as you can expect greater volume of traffic and with that many drivers who, one can’t drive or are not used to driving on highways or for long periods.
Renting a car is one way to see the country, make sure you have firm reservations, this is the high season and this year car rental companies report higher than usual volume.
The same goes for public buses and private transportation. Leaving your travel arrangements to the last minute may leave you disappointed. Public buses, for example, besides the reduced service for the Easter holidays, there is greater than normal demand.
Will you be in Costa Rica during Semana Santa? Use the comments section below or post your questions and/or advice on our official Facebook page.
If you are planning to travel to Costa Rica in the near future, here are upcoming notable statutory (legal) holidays to be aware of:
- April 11 – Juan Santamaria Day
- May 1 – Labor day
- July 25 – Guanacaste Day or the annexation of Guanacaste from Nicaragua
- August 15 – Mother’s Day
- September 15 – Independence Day