Las Fiestas Patronales (A Costa Rica Rodeo), a Guanacaste Summer Tradition
About a month after the arrival of the summer in Costa Rica, the first of Las Fiestas begin in Guanacaste. These traveling festivals move from town to town throughout the summer and are based in Guanacaste’s rich pastoral history, featuring events like the Tope and Corridas de Toros, alongside street food, music, and dancing.
Community Celebrations at Las Fiestas
Las Fiestas originated in Guanacaste as Las Fiestas Patronales, named as such for the fact that each festival had a patron saint. Generally hosted by the church or local council of a town or region, these festivals served as both a lively event for people in the area and as a way to raise money for the community.
In time, these festivities grew and multiplied, and now many towns throughout Guanacaste host their own Fiestas throughout summer, which often feature carnival games and rides alongside street food vendors, as well as traditional events like Topes and the Corridas de Toros.
A Look at Las Fiestas
Las Fiestas typically take place in a large field next to a church or other community center, varying based on the layout of the town hosting each particular Fiesta. The festivities typically start on Thursday or Friday, run throughout the weekend with dancing, street food, treats like cotton candy and churros, and culminate on Sundays with the finales of the Corridas de Toros (a bull riding rodeo) and the Tope (a parade of horses).
One quirk of Costa Rican rodeos is crowd participation. Many festival goers of all ages race around the ring to avoid the bulls | PC: Commons
These two events, a Costa Rican rodeo and a parade of bulls and horses, draw back to Guanacaste’s pastoral history, and remain as a tradition to this day. Bull riding has existed as long as there have been bulls and riders in Guanacaste, and each night of Las Fiestas the main event is the bull riders at the Corridas de Toros, followed by dancing and celebration into the night.
The Tope de Liberia is one of the Topes that still features the herding of bulls through the street | PC: Commons
Then, on Sundays are the Topes. At the earliest versions of Las Fiestas, bulls for the rodeos had to be herded across town to the festival grounds, creating a long parade of bulls, horses, and riders that signaled the evening of the Fiestas. Families would come out onto the street and watch, offer snacks and drinks to the riders, and in the end follow the parade down to the festival grounds in the evening.
The tradition continues to this day, often with music and street performers depending on the size and town that’s hosting the Tope.
Visiting Las Fiestas
Las Fiestas take place throughout the summer in Guanacaste, and range from smaller neighborhood fiestas to grand festivals at dedicated bull riding arenas. For some of the smaller fiestas, the schedule changes year over year so that towns don’t compete with each other, but for others, like the region’s largest Las Fiestas Patronales de Santo Cristo de Esquipulas in Santa Cruz, the date is set each year (in this case January 15th).
In all, Las Fiestas is a celebration that is quintessentially Guanacaste, and worth a visit while in the region. These festivals occur almost every week during the summer in the area, so to learn more about attending while in town, reach out to Concierge to plan a trip.