Where to spend Christmas in Costa Rica

Christmas is Costa Rica’s most widely celebrated holiday, and the country comes alive with nativity scenes and twinkling lights during the month of December. Whether you want to spend the special day in vibrant San José or escape the festivities in the jungle or at the beach, Costa Rica is the place to be…
Colourful sunset and Christmas tree in Matapalo, Costa Rica
Christmas in Costa Rica


1. San José 

With modern high-rises sitting alongside faded 19th-century buildings, Costa Rica’s capital may seem a jumble at first. Yet visitors soon discover that it possesses a certain Tico charm. During Christmas the city is illuminated by sparkling lights, vast Christmas trees decorate lobbies and squares. A range of Christmas events are held too. There’s a parade, topes (horse shows) and manger scenes galore. Visit today by booking onto Insight Guides’ Costa Rica Eco Adventure.

In San José you’ll also be able to find excellent tamales, a popular Christmas snack. These are made with masa, a corn dough, stuffed with different fillings, then wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. The dish is of Aztec origin and is eaten throughout Central America. It is very rarely the same in any two countries. In Costa Rica, tamales are traditionally filled with tender bits of pork, rice, carrots, olives and sometimes dried plums.


2. Tortuguero National Park 

For a truly unique festive season, select the Tropical Costa Rica tour and visit a national park. Ever spent Christmas day drifting silently in a canoe through narrow waterways overhung with vine-draped trees, where you can spot caimans along the shore, iguanas sunning themselves and monkeys in the trees? Nope, thought not. 

Travel on the Tortuguero canals, up through the area north of Limón, has been likened to a trip on the African Queen, or to floating dreamily down the Amazon. It is certainly one of the most wonderfully lyrical trips to be taken anywhere in the world. As you drift lazily along, awash in the fragrance of white ginger blossoms, lavender water hyacinths and the ylang ylang flower, you’ll be so relaxed that you’ll forget it’s even Christmas.

Tortuguero National Park.Tortuguero National Park. Photo: Shutterstock

 

3. Manuel Antonio Beaches and Volcanoes 

 If your dream Christmas is one spent sunning yourself on sandy shores, look no further than Manuel Antonio – three long arcs of powdery white, backed by a jungle park bustling with birds and monkeys. The beaches are clean and wide. This is one of the few places in the country where the primary forest comes down to the water’s edge in places, sometimes allowing bathers to swim in the shade. If you want to, you can combine a beach holiday with a trip into the jungle vegetation – there are always licensed naturalist guides available; hiring one will greatly increase your chances of spotting wildlife. Enjoy the beach and the national park by choosing Insight Guides’ Beaches and Volcanoes trip.  


4. Arenal Volcano 

The picture-perfect, cone-shaped Arenal is Costa Rica's quintessential volcano. Although it is temporarily dormant on the outside, it still supplies the geo-thermal power on the inside to heat the ever-popular hot springs. Visit with Insight Guides on Costa Rica: Coast to Coast trip.

For a Christmas treat book into Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort. The volcano warms the therapeutic waters perfectly. Although the springs are often crowded with day-trippers, hotel guests can enjoy volcano views at night from quiet pools under a starry night sky. And should Christmas coincide with a full moon waxing over Arenal, that single experience will be worth the expense of staying here.

Arenal Volcano at sunrise.Arenal Volcano at sunrise. Photo: Shutterstock


5. Ostinal Wildlife Refuge 

Nothing beats the nocturnal arribadas (mass arrivals) of Olive Ridley sea turtles at this protected beach north of Nosara, and for the little ones it may make their Christmas dreams come true.

Arribadas generally occur at two- to four-week intervals between the third quarter and full moon from April to December. To join an arribada, you must join a guided tour organised by a village cooperative.

If your timings simply don’t make it possible to see an arribada, the area is still beautiful. Book into the nearby luxury Swiss-run Lagara Lodge and organise a guided nature tour of the Nosara Biological Reserve, a private nature reserve with hiking trails leading down to the mangrove-lined shores of the Nosara River.


Taking a trip to Costa Rica: how to get started

Insight Guides can help you with the planning and booking of your trip to Costa Rica. You can browse our existing trips to Costa Rica here. Alternatively, simply get in touch with us, tell us your interests and budget, and our local experts will tailor create your perfect Costa Rican itinerary to your suit your individual tastes. You can then adjust your itinerary until you are completely happy with it!


Need a little more persuasion?

5 fabulous reasons to go to Costa Rica

San José: 11 things only locals know about Costa Rica's capital city

In depth: Tico cooking and Costa Rica's unmissable dishes

How to get well-and-truly off-the-beaten-track in Costa Rica