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Expat Exchange - Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica for Christmas Cheer
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Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica


Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica for Christmas Cheer

By Joshua Wood, LPC

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Summary: Plan a day trip or weekend getaway to get some holiday cheer. This article highlights the best places to visit in Costa Rica for Christmas cheer.

Costa Rica may be known for its tropical climate and lush landscapes, but during the holiday season, it transforms into a festive wonderland that can rival any winter wonderland. Expats and digital nomads looking to get into the holiday spirit will find that Costa Rica offers a unique blend of traditional Latin festivities and its own local customs. From vibrant parades to twinkling lights, here are some of the best places to visit in December to experience the joyous atmosphere.

San José's Avenida Central

The heart of Costa Rica's capital, San José, comes alive during the holiday season, especially along Avenida Central. This bustling pedestrian street is adorned with festive decorations and lights, creating a magical atmosphere for holiday shopping and strolling. The annual "Festival de la Luz" (Festival of Lights), which typically takes place in mid-December, features a parade of floats, dancers, and marching bands illuminated by thousands of lights. It's a spectacle that draws crowds from all over the country.

We Recommend: Don't miss the chance to try traditional Costa Rican Christmas treats like tamales or the sweet eggnog-like beverage called rompope, which are often sold by street vendors during the festival.

Heredia's Central Park

Heredia, known as "The City of Flowers," has a Central Park that becomes a focal point for Christmas celebrations. The park and surrounding buildings are beautifully lit, and the local government often organizes concerts and activities for families. The Christmas tree lighting ceremony is a particularly enchanting event, signaling the start of the season in early December.

We Recommend: Enjoy a warm cup of "agua dulce," a traditional sugarcane drink, while listening to live marimba music, a staple of Costa Rican cultural events.

Cartago's Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles

In Cartago, the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles is not only a religious landmark but also a hub for holiday festivities. The area around the basilica is decorated with nativity scenes and lights, and it's common to see choirs performing Christmas carols. The city often hosts a Christmas fair with crafts and food stalls, perfect for picking up unique gifts and sampling local cuisine.

We Recommend: Try the "chorreadas," which are Costa Rican corn pancakes, often served with sour cream or cheese at the fair.

Alajuela's Central Cathedral

Alajuela's Central Cathedral and the surrounding area become a beacon of holiday cheer in December. The cathedral itself is beautifully lit, and the adjacent Juan Santamaría Park often features a large, impressive nativity scene. The city hosts various Christmas activities, including concerts and a traditional parade known as "El Tope," which showcases beautifully adorned horses and riders.

We Recommend: Sample the "queque navideño," a fruitcake that is a holiday favorite among locals.

Escazú's Christmas Market

Escazú, a suburb of San José, is known for its upscale ambiance and hosts a charming Christmas market where artisans sell handmade goods, perfect for holiday gifts. The market is usually set up in the central park and is accompanied by live music and dance performances. The festive atmosphere is enhanced by the twinkling lights and decorations that adorn the park and streets.

We Recommend: Look out for the traditional Costa Rican Christmas ornaments made from coffee wood, which make for a unique and sustainable holiday decoration.

Monteverde's Santa Elena

The cloud forest region of Monteverde offers a cooler climate and a more rustic holiday experience. The small town of Santa Elena lights up with holiday cheer, and local businesses often host their own celebrations. The Quaker community, which has a significant presence in Monteverde, contributes to a peaceful and joyous holiday atmosphere, with events that reflect their traditions and the biodiversity of the area.

We Recommend: Don't miss the opportunity to take a night walk through the cloud forest, where you can experience the natural beauty of Monteverde while enjoying the crisp December air.

Tamarindo's Beachside Celebrations

For those looking to combine holiday festivities with a beach getaway, Tamarindo is the perfect destination. This popular beach town on the Pacific coast has a laid-back vibe and celebrates Christmas with a tropical twist. Hotels and restaurants often host special events, and the town's main street is decorated with festive lights and ornaments, creating a holiday atmosphere with a beach backdrop.

We Recommend: Enjoy a Christmas dinner with a view of the ocean, featuring fresh seafood and tropical fruits, for a unique holiday meal.

La Fortuna's Volcanic Christmas

La Fortuna, situated at the foot of the Arenal Volcano, offers a unique holiday experience with its natural hot springs and stunning views. The town is festively decorated, and many of the resorts and hot springs facilities host special Christmas events, including traditional Costa Rican dances and meals. The contrast of the tropical greenery with the holiday decorations makes for a memorable Christmas setting.

We Recommend: After a day of exploring, relax in one of the natural hot springs while surrounded by the festive lights and the imposing silhouette of the Arenal Volcano.

Whether you're looking for traditional holiday markets, festive parades, or a tropical Christmas on the beach, Costa Rica offers a variety of destinations to get into the holiday spirit. Each location provides a unique blend of local culture and holiday cheer, ensuring a memorable December for expats and digital nomads alike.

About the Author

Joshua Wood Joshua Wood, LPC joined Expat Exchange in 2000 and serves as one of its Co-Presidents. He is also one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. Prior to Expat Exchange, Joshua worked for NBC Cable (MSNBC and CNBC Primetime). Joshua has a BA from Syracuse and a Master's in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Mr. Wood is also a licensed counselor and psychotherapist.

Some of Joshua's articles include Pros and Cons of Living in Portugal, 10 Best Places to Live in Ireland and Pros and Cons of Living in Uruguay. Connect with Joshua on LinkedIn.


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Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica

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SJB Global is a top-rated financial advisory firm specializing in expat financial advice worldwide, offering retirement planning & tax-efficient solutions with a regressive fee model.
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