They say there’s no place like home for the holidays, but have you ever considered a Costa Rica Christmas vacation? For most, Christmas is a time to spend with family, and nothing brings the family together quite like trying new experiences. Checking out a different climate, culture, and food, along with getting to learn a new skill like surfing, is the perfect recipe for bringing folks together for the holidays!
Beach holidays in Costa Rica are enjoyed year-round, but things typically start to gear up right before Christmas. A mostly Catholic country, Costa Rica celebrates Christmas in a big way – Christmas decorations, festive lights, manger scenes, and fireworks! Iguana Surf gets into the spirit too, with lights strung, decorations hung, and even surf instructors donning Santa hats. You will find the mood is very festive around town. It may be the beach, but the decor is still made up of Santa’s, stars, and snowmen!
One of the best and most popular times to visit Costa Rica is during the dry season, which is from mid-December to April. There is plenty of sunshine during this peak tourist season, making it an ideal time for exploring volcanos and lounging on beaches. Christmas and New Year’s is an ideal time to visit, as the beaches are still lush and green, being it’s at the very end of the rainy season. By April, the beach towns like Tamarindo will become drier and many of the trees will drop their leaves.
In Tamarindo, the dry season offers some of the best waves for the beginner surfer. You will find the waves generally smaller and easier to manage. With the rains gone, the water is clearer with less floating debris and fewer chances of getting hit by a floating log.
The temperature in Tamarindo during the holidays stays consistent, ranging from 22 to 32 degrees Celsius (72° to 90° F). The Papagayo Winds blow through Tamarindo in December and January, cooling down the heat. These winds are also a blessing for surfers, holding the wave up for longer periods and making it perfect for peeling! The water temperature cools down a bit in December as well, averaging 27°C (80° F).
A busy time for tourism, those looking to travel to Costa Rica for Christmas vacation will need to book their plans well in advance. Not only is this a busy time for international tourism, but local tourism as well. Costa Rican school children will be on their longest break of the year and their parents will be planning beach vacations with their Christmas bonuses, which typically amount to a full month’s salary. While busier, vacationers will find everyone in high spirits while sporting a “Pura Vida” vibe.
While Christmas tends to be a quieter, family-based event in Costa Rica, New Year’s Eve is the main event. Even those families who couldn’t be together for Christmas will definitely be getting together for New Year’s Eve. It’s the biggest party of the year, full of revelers and fireworks displays, the excitement is contagious! This is also the time of year to witness a “cimarrona”, which are typically small percussion and brass bands that play from the back of a pickup truck, blasting national music at all hours.
If you plan to be in Tamarindo on New Year’s Eve you are sure to find a party – even in the streets! The party scene in Tamarindo is attended by vacationers and Ticos (locals) alike. The bars will be open and bumping! And you won’t want to miss the fireworks display on the beach at midnight. It’s the perfect way to ring in the New Year.
With the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, it’s common to see fire dancers and other performers along Tamarindo beach at sunset. People often watch the shows from the beachfront bars or along the beach itself. There will also be beach bonfires to enjoy and lots of live music. This is a family-friendly environment, with many locals and tourists bringing their kids to watch the fun from the beach. Sunset takes place at 6 pm so there is plenty of time to watch the performers before bedtime, after all.
Christmas and New Year’s typically has a lot going on, since people in Costa Rica have time off of work and school and extra money to spend. That’s why this is the time of year when fiestas take place. Fiestas in Costa Rica is like a fair and rodeo mixed into one, with many small towns and bigger cities hosting their own event. Full of happy ticos and plenty of typical cuisines to sample in one spot, these events should not be missed during your Costa Rica beach vacation.
Christmas in Costa Rica is tamale time! And we couldn’t be more excited. Tamales in Costa Rica have a base of corn masa (dough), with rice, meat (usually pork), and vegetables wrapped in a banana leaf. Often tamales include surprise additions such as garbanzo beans and olives, depending on the region. This seasonal food should not be missed! They tend to be made only around Christmas time, due to the amount of effort involved in making the tasty treats. It is often a family effort, with mom or grandma preparing the arduous masa, and the children forming a kind of production line to help add the other ingredients. Tamales are often sold in pairs, tied together, and are referred to as a piña (pineapple).
If you want to sample a traditional Costa Rican New Year’s Eve, be sure to have a pierna de cerdo (pork roast) dinner. Another common family event during the holidays is a barbecue, often over coals or an open flame. Carne Asada is a common dish at these smoky family gatherings, which is combined with tortillas, chimichurri, and your drink of choice. You will find the Costa Rican form of eggnog and rum, called rompope, in almost every store during the holidays, for those wanting to indulge in some of their favorite holiday drinks.
On Christmas Eve, many Costa Ricans put on their best clothes and go to Midnight Mass, called the Misa de Gallo (Mass of the Rooster). Also on Christmas Eve, children leave their shoes out for Niño Dios (Baby Jesus) to fill with gifts, although this tradition has mostly been displaced by stockings and Santa Claus (called San Nicolás or Colacho).
While Christmas trees are a popular decoration in Costa Rican homes, it is not as essential as the nativity scene (pasito or portal), which is central to the traditional Christmas decor. The elaborate displays can be set up anytime but the Baby Jesus is only laid in its manger on Christmas Eve where it stays for several days and is taken down with even more fanfare. The rezo del Niño usually takes place on January 6 or 7 and includes prayers, family, and of course, food. At this time the nativity, and the Baby Jesus, can be put away for another year.
If you’re the superstitious type, get yourself a bunch of grapes to eat on New Year’s Eve, 12 to be exact, eaten at the chimes of the midnight clock. This is supposed to give you 12 months of good luck. Alternatively, eat 12 grapes and make 12 wishes for the year ahead. For the hopeful traveler, walk around the block with your suitcase at midnight to ensure a year full of travel. There are many more, but these are just a few examples of Costa Rican New Year’s Eve traditions.
A Costa Rica Christmas vacation is a great way to break away from the routine and stress of the holiday season back home. Trying something new like surfing, seeing monkeys and crocodiles in the wild, or doing yoga at the beach, is an excellent opportunity to allow yourself to unwind, and bring back that sense of excitement and wonder you had as a kid at Christmastime.
By Jennifer LaCharite