Experience Pura Vida in Costa Rica’s
Independence Day Parade


Have you ever been travelling and stumbled upon a local celebration by chance? Did your travel plans serendipitously align with a national holiday, giving you the opportunity to join the party? If you’re coming to Costa Rica, one date you should mark in your calendar is mid- September, when the Independence Day events take place. You will be regaled with a procession of colorful parades where you can gorge yourself on local delicacies then dance away to the sounds of drums and fireworks.

When is Costa Rica’s Independence Day?

To experience the best hospitality and pura vida spirit of Costa Rica, try to coincide your trip with Independence Day on 15th September. Pura vida is a multi-purpose phrase endemic to Costa Rica, meaning pure life, and can be used for many social interactions from saying “I’m great, thanks” to “Bye!”

In fact, if you want to get involved in the special events, you should turn up the day before on 14th September. The Independence Day celebrations are held over two days, and you won’t want to miss it.

What is the Independence Torch?

It is a symbolic torch of freedom that marks the liberation of many countries in Central America from Spanish rule back in 1821. Costa Rica shares its Independence Day with Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and neighboring Nicaragua.

Nowadays, the flaming torch is carried by relay runners along the Pan-American highway and consists of volunteers from local schools. Before San Jose was named the capital city of Costa Rica, Cartago held that esteemed title. It was there that a horseman, who started his iconic journey in Guatemala on 9th September, broke the news of independence from the Spanish Empire. To further pay homage to this significant part of their history, the president of Costa Rica continues to receive the torch in Cartago on 14th September, the eve of Independence Day.

The Lantern Parade

Source: the tico times

On the eve of Independence Day, there is another spectacle that has a playful take on the torch run tradition. Children arrive at dusk with homemade lanterns, cozy miniature homes and fairy light creations. Since Costa Rica is close to the equator, it gets dark at around 6pm every day of the year. The lantern parade, locally known as Desfile de Faroles, happens after dark and the procession lights up the streets with laughter and LEDs.

The Main Event


The desfiles, or street parades, bring together the Ticos and Ticas (the local and affectionate name for Costa Ricans) to celebrate together. Independence Day is a national holiday, so the main streets are closed for the carnival, and most businesses are shut so that everyone can join in with the celebrations. You’ll see traditional ritmo dancers, marching bands, and the trademark neckerchiefs and swirling skirts. Blue, red and white, the colors of the Costa Rican flag, pulse to the rhythm of drums as countless groups dance past.

What can I see in the Independence Day Parade?

During the main Independence Day Parade, you’ll notice banderas (flags) which are swept back and forth in mesmerizing figures of eight. The national flag is tri-color (red, white and blue), and depicts the three volcanoes flanked by both the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean, where naval ships fly with billowing sails in homage to their maritime trade. If you look closely, you’ll spot the golden coffee beans that continue to be an important part of the Costa Rican economy.

Hand-painted banners are held aloft to announce the next school or group to arrive. Images of emerald resplendent quetzals sit in twisting ficus trees, ripe coffee beans encircle sleepy sloths, and richly decorated ox carts are filled with cascading orchids and fronds of fern. Depending on which region you visit, you’ll see different tropical animals such jaguars, keel-billed toucans and white-faced capuchins.

What performances take place during the Independence Day Parade?

In the main procession, there are groups of baton twirlers, ribbon dancers and even special umbrella routines. Masks featuring horned devils, women who are half-horse, demon dogs and nuns are common, telling stories of traditional folklore that remain popular in Costa Rica.

Each group you will see wears a different style of custom dress, but most conform to the colors of the flag and mix up the red, white and blue in novel ways. For boys, a white cotton shirt, red or blue neckerchief and a floppy white hat is common. Girls and women wear white cotton blouses ruffled with red ribbon, and it is customary to braid the hair or wear it in a bun adorned with a bright red flower. Their skirts, or golas, can be a staggering 3kg in weight and flow half a beat behind to create rippling waves that echo the drums. During the parade, you’ll see volunteers running over to adjust the heavy silk bows that shuffle out of place the dancers move down the streets.

What to eat and drink during the Independence Day Parade

Street vendors line the pavements, selling empanadas filled with red frijoles, steaming gallo pinto and golden fried yucca. If you’re feeling hungry, opt for the generous and colorful casado with black beans, rice, red salsa, chicken or fish, with gooey sweet platanos.

Locally grown coffee, iced fresco (blended tropical fruit) or batidos (milkshakes) are served to wash down the food. Or, you could opt for the popular agua dulce which is sweetened water mixed with sugar cane. Since the parades usually start early and finish around midday, adults usually toast the day of independence with a Pilsen beer later on, or a fiery shot of the local favorite, chilli guaro. Be warned, this one can be spicy!

Who takes part in the Independence Day Parade?

Wherever you go, most of the band members, dancers and mask-makers are students from the local public and private schools in the district. Performers practice for hours a day, months in advance. Most children are even put on a revised schedule at school for around two months to allow for extra practice. It takes time to memorize the steps, swooshes and circles to the many songs of the Banda. The rehearsals are serious because this is the biggest show of the year!

Where can I see a Costa Rican Independence Day Parade?

Most of the larger towns and cities in Costa Rica will host a parade, so you can choose where to watch the parade. Despite Cartago historically being the place that received news of independence back in 1821, the new capital city of San Jose boasts the largest celebration now. In Costa Rica, each of the seven districts have their own style of dress. On the Caribbean coast near Limon, dancers may wear African turbans. In Alajuela, women wear black ribbon chokers with golden crosses hanging down, and forgo the traditional leather sandals to dance barefoot. Even if you’ve been lucky enough to revel in one place before, you can find something new elsewhere.

If you have the opportunity to take part in the Independence Day celebrations, don’t miss the chance to experience Costa Rica’s biggest party of the year!

Written and photographed by Lindsey (who is temporary staying in Costa Rica)