Many venture to Costa Rica to soak in the sun, zip line through tropical rain forests, or simply relax in a spa or seaside resort as a much-needed getaway from the 9 – 5 grind but Costa Rica nightlife entertainment options are as diverse as the animal species found in the jungle, and at times, can be just as wild. Whether you’re a family of four looking for a bit of adventure, or a single traveler with a taste for spicy Latin nightlife, you will find yourself presented with a wide range of options in this tropical paradise.
A great option for any traveler, and a must-see when visiting this beautiful country, are the “topes” (pronounced to-pay). These are elaborate horse shows and parades that are at the heart of Costa Rican culture. These extremely photogenic affairs are found everywhere from the capital city of San Jose to the tiniest communities throughout the countryside. Since the time when Spain once ruled, horses have held a special place in the hearts of Ticos (Costa Ricans) and are a major part of the history of Costa Rican culture. After centuries of carful breeding, Costa Ricans proudly have a majestic saddle horse that is highly regarded throughout the region for its strength, beauty, and unique gait. They are expertly trained to do high-stepped dancing, choreographed beautifully with both horse and riders adorning incredibly colorful, traditional, elaborate garb. These festivities often last over days, and the drinking can rival Oktoberfest in some of the larger gatherings. In fact, Fiesta Palmares with includes a tope, live music, carnival rides and more is ranked the 3rd largest festival for beer consumption in the world. However, these events remain very family friendly and are a great event to add to any traveler’s agenda when in Costa Rica.
For those not so faint of heart, Costa Rica does host bull fighting as well. Do not, however, be prepared for what you may have seen on television. The handsome, elegant Spanish matador surrounded by adoring fans in a lavish stadium is but a fantasy compared to reality here in Costa Rica. A temporary rondel (bull ring) erected at many major fairs is often makeshift at best. The bull is not harmed in Costa Rican bull fights, but the same can certainly not be said for the bull fighters. Several young and perhaps not too intellectually driven men jump into the ring and taunt the bull by pulling its tail, practicing their most recent Bruce Lee imitations, or simply running about like chickens just let out of the coop.
For those that are concerned with animal rights, you’ll be happy to know that in every event the bull absolutely wins. This is a long-standing Costa Rican tradition and is fun to watch live or on TV and best of all the kids love it too!
Parades are popular and frequent in Costa Rica. With perfect weather year round, and a country brimming with proud people, regular street parades are as common a cause for traffic jams as anything. If you’re in the San Jose area during November and December, you’ll be treated to the Boyeros. These are beautiful, hand-painted oxcarts that date back centuries. The elaborately painted wagons pulled by enormous ox are a symbol of a simpler time in Costa Rica when transporting coffee and goods to market was best done in these simple, yet effective carts. Additionally, this time of year Costa Rica holds the Festival de Luz. This is an annual event in Sabana and Paseo Colon (West San Jose) every December and attracts 1,000,000 plus spectators. This massive parade is by far the biggest in the country and simply has to be on the to-do list for your visit if you are lucky enough to be here at that magical time.
The spirit of the December season(end of the rainy season), mixed with Christmas vacation on the horizon, aguinaldos being paid (Christmas bonuses), and families spending time together makes the Festival de Luz a source of pride and joy for both Costa Ricans and foreign visitors alike. For those looking for a bit more of the nightlife, Costa Rica rivals the best of Latin America. San Jose and surrounding area host a plethora of bars, night clubs, casinos, dance clubs, and watering holes to satiate the most die-hard partier. It is always wise to know where you’re going, ride in taxis where possible, and travel in groups. San Jose can be a great city for a ‘night on the town’, but also a dangerous place for those not savvy to the neighborhoods. San Jose can go from upscale to ghetto in a few short blocks.
After having a couple cocktails in you things can go badly, quickly. This is a word of caution best issued to anyone in any city, any night, and any country. So if “Chepe” (slang for San Jose) is your style, do a bit of homework. Places like Puerto Viejo, Quepos, Jaco, and Tamarindo also do have a healthy nightlife. But if you’re looking for things to get wild, San Jose is definitely your first, and best, option.
Anyone taking a trip to Latin America and conjuring up images of entertainment options in their minds will no doubt think of dancing. Tango, Salsa, Merengue, and every style you can imagine can be found here. Costa Ricans, like most Latinos, are serious about their dancing. It can be said that living in Costa Rica is a contact sport as the people are very comfortable with touching each other. The dance floor is this very quality – times ten. When the bass starts thumping, the percussion accents every imaginable subdivision of a solid, hypnotic beat, and the guitars strum a layer on top of this aural celebration like whip cream on a sundae, Costa Ricans hit, and own, the floor. If you don’t know how to dance, and want to have a great time in Costa Rica, learn. There are loads of dance schools here where you can enroll for a half-day, crash course and hit the club that night. It’s a great way to engorge yourself immediately in the culture, and burn off a few calories from the gallo pinto you had for lunch along the way. Music’s loud, the drinks are cold, and the timid are always welcome. Prepare to sweat.
These and numerable options await every traveler or expatriate from the bold to the shy. If Costa Rica nightlife means you ride in the next tope, retire to your casita for the evening, or have always wanted to be the next Tarzan in the concrete jungle of dance bars and clubs in San Jose, Costa Rica waits with open arms.