Visitors to Costa Rica during Semana Santa (Holy Week or Easter) should expect to share their vacation with Costa Rican holiday-makers, as this is traditionally vacation week for families here. Schools and many public institutions will be closed for the whole week, while businesses unconnected to tourism close on the Thursday and Friday. You should expect a marked increase in traffic on the roads from Wednesday afternoon and especially from early on Thursday leaving the capital for the long weekend and equally congested roads on the following Sunday, as families return to San Jose and the Central Valley to re-start normality on the Monday. If you do not have to travel on these days, then don’t and if you do, be prepared to wait in lines or to move slowly in your chosen direction. Take plenty of provisions too!
If you do want to holiday at the beach – book in advance! During this time of year it is notoriously difficult to find a hotel room at short notice and extra to pay high season prices. While this may seem off-putting, many visitors enjoy their Semana Santa vacation as a chance to socialize with locals and other tourists, as the imposition of the ‘Dry Law’ sends most people back to hotels early in the evening to sup stored supplies and share tales with fellow travelers. You can expect Costa Rican families to come prepared to entertain large families; some even carry a karaoke machine to pass the time!
As residents of the capital leave in droves for the beach, many visitors take advantage of the peace and quiet to explore this part of the country. Although museums and galleries are closed during this period, hotels and restaurants will not be crowded and discounts are a possibility. Tourist attractions, such as Heredia’s InBio Parque, the Serpentarium or Zoo Ave can all be enjoyed without the usual mass of other people.
The Central Valley is the place to be for visitors who want to see traditional Easter celebrations. Many towns hold their own parades with re-enactments of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection and holy statues, gaudily decorated and brought out to the streets. The small town of San Joaquin de Flores in Heredia is well-known for its colorful and elaborate Good Friday parade which involves much of the town costumed, drawing many tourists. It is worth going if only to see the Jack-in-a-Box style Jesus on the cross which is used to show the before, during and after of the crucifixion!
Another useful piece of advice for Easter travelers is to prepare for the period of the Ley Seca (Dry Law). Costa Rica, like its neighboring Catholic countries, imposes a prohibition from midnight on the Wednesday of Holy Week until midnight on the Friday. During this period no alcohol can be legally sold, bars are closed and restaurants can only serve soft drinks with meals. If you feel inclined to still sip an Imperial on Good Friday, just make sure to have bought supplies in advance, like many Costa Ricans. Certainly drinking alcohol isn’t illegal!