Traveling to Costa Rica During Semana Santa

  • by Bret G. Dudl
  • 06.04.09
  • 11:42 AM UTC

Since it’s now Semana Santa, I have been looking for information for travellers to Costa Rica during this period, and I found a helpful article at written by Claire Saylor that I thought costaricaviews readers could benefit from.

Here it is:

costa rica palm

Anyone who has considered traveling to Costa Rica during March and April may have heard warnings, advice or rumors about Semana Santa here. When someone asks me if they should Visit Costa Rica during this holy time, I am tempted to give a general “No”. However, that would mean overlooking some great cultural opportunities and parties on the beach. It truly depends on your travel personality if this is a good time to come or not, so let’s take a look at the pros and cons of this religious season.

Factors to consider when deciding if this season is right for you.

1. More than one million Costa Ricans are expected to desert their homes and head to the beach during this week. Friday, Saturday and Sunday of Semana Santa are obligatory holidays, whereas public officials get an entire week off.

Optimistic View: If you are coming to the country to mingle, the beach is where its at. Play it smart and try to visit smaller beaches just outside of tourist hot spots to find decent accommodations. Best bet is to stay mobile with a rental car if you don’t have room reservations in advance.

Pessimistic View: This means many popular beach destinations will be flooded with people and hotel occupancy is at a maximum. You may end up lowering your accommodation expectations and traffic to the beach will be a nightmare. Most hotels also up their prices for Holy Week in expectation of the demand.

2. If you are relying on public transportation during your stay, there are no buses running on Good Friday of Holy Week.

Optimistic View: Be sure to travel before or after, or arrange private transportation. Tourism knows no holidays, so private transfer services will be quite busy on these days.

Pessimistic View: You may end up getting trapped somewhere you don’t want to be if you don’t plan this one in advance. The other obvious result of this is that traffic on Thursday and Saturday will be a nightmare.

3. Alcohol sales are restricted on Thursday and Friday of Holy week (from 12 a.m. Thursday morning to 11:59 p.m. Friday night). Grocery stores lock up their liquor displays and bars are closed all together.

Good News: There are many establishments that have been approved by the Costa Rican Institute of Tourism to continue the sale of liquor during these days to attend to the large amount of foreigners visiting the country during this time. You can also choose to save money by stocking up in advance, or even more by just not drinking during these days.

Bad News: With no bars to go to, many Costa Ricans spend these evenings with families, hosting special meals and reunions. If you don’t know a Costa Rican when you head down here, you may feel left out or bored.

4. Banks and most businesses will be closed on Thursday and Friday of Holy Week as all employees take time off to be with their families.

Good Planner View: Most tourist destinations accept credit cards in Costa Rica and ATMs will still be working. Your best bet is to come a few days before the weekend and stay a few days after so you have time to stock up in advance or after.

Worry-prone View: You are used to fall back plans, and despite all the planning in the world, things happen, and what do you do if you find yourself without money or other neccesities?

5. With most people heading to the beach, the streets of San Jose are generally barren during these times, and some stores may be closed for more than two days.

Optimistic View: No crowded streets means you can get around faster and enjoy the sights of San Jose all in one day. Less traffic, less exhaust fumes, and some restaurants and bars are destined to be opened.

Pessimistic View: You may not get a good feel for the culture and people of San Jose. You will also find a lot more closed doors than normal, which means you may miss out on some of the best food, cafes or tourist spots in the city.

In summary, any of the following situations suggest that Semana Santa would enhance rather than ruin your travel plans to Costa Rica:

1. If you have all your hotel and transportation reservations made in advance

2. If you are a no-hassle, flexible traveler

3. If you want to experience religious processions and other interesting once-a-year traditions

I would not recommend traveling during Semana Santa if any of the following apply:

1. You are traveling alone

2. You want low season prices

3. You haven’t done any trip planning in advance

4. You prefer metropolitan destinations

Rating 3.00 out of 5

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