Alajuela becomes the City of Words as the annual  Fiesta Internacional de Cuenteros (International Storytellers Festival) captures audiences, kids and adults alike with 60 “cuenteros” (storytellers) from Costa Rica and 14 other countries.

Juan Madrigal (Juan Cuentacuentos) “it was this big”. Photo Mitzi Stark / Q Costa Rica

The festival started Thursday, January 24 and goes on to February 2.

Stories will be in Spanish but a lack of the language is no barrier to enjoying the activities which are held in the Central Park, the Juan Santamaria Cultural Center across the street from the park and the municipal theater, one block south.

Stories are embellished with music, antics, gestures and audience participation which makes it fun just to watch. Getting someone from the audience to ride a stick horse or turn an imaginary jump rope or join in a song are all part of the festival.

Jose Martinez tells a story in the park. Photo Mitzi Stark / Q Costa Rica

Music, paintings and cartoon drawings are all part of the festival and each day begins with a ‘cimarrona’ band whose loud, tinny music is a traditional way of calling the people to come.

The Casa de Cultura, once the post office built in 1914 and now the office for the festival will be open for a peek inside.

Everybody claps to the song. Photo Mitzi Stark / Q Costa Rica

Story festivals may be new but storytelling goes back as far as human speech and is how history, legends, traditions got passed down. Stories became part of life to settle down the kids at bedtime or to relax with a book. Some stories, Little Red Riding Hood is an example, have become international lore. Stories are still important in the electronic age.

A street full of people listening to stories. Photo Mitzi Stark / Q Costa Rica

Juan Madrigal, known as Juan Cuentacuentos, is the man behind the festival. He began his storytelling career as the catechism teacher. By hamming up the Bible stories he kept the kids interested and, every week, more and more kids came for Bible study. He gained audiences doing programs around his native Alajuela and is now a national performer who has participated in festivals in other countries.

He organized storytelling groups in Alajuela whose weekly sessions are open to the public at the Juan Santamaria museum.


Ana Coralia and Sebastian Jara en the park. Photo Mitzi Stark / Q Costa Rica

Alajuela is about 15 kilometers from San Jose and just a short jot from the Santamaria (San Jose) international airport.


Good bus service every eight minutes from downtown San Jose helps avoid the traffic and parking.

Tickets to events are given out – free- starting 2 hours before the programs at the location.