If you’re lucky enough to be volunteering abroad in Costa Rica this January you won’t want to miss out on one of the biggest celebrations in the national events calendar - Palmares Festival attracts around a million people, or a fifth of the country’s population, with its carnival atmosphere and promise of a good time to be had by all.

Scheduled to take place in 2016 between January 13th and 25th, Palmares is a colorful celebration of culture, comprising music, dance, activities and, of course, great Costa Rican cuisine. Held in the small town of Palmares, the festivities are within easy reach of our volunteer base in San Ramon – Palmares is easily accessible via a ten-minute bus ride from downtown San Ramon.

Let’s learn a little more about Palmares Festival and what you can expect to see and do if you pay a visit – here are our top picks for getting involved with the celebrations in 2016.

Horse parade – El Tope

One of the most popular parts of Palmares Festival is the horse parade. In fact, there are many events during the festival that center on horses; within the rural area many people own equines and there are numerous farms and ranches from which festivalgoers bring their horses and proudly show them during the course of the celebrations. Also known as the tope, the horse parade follows a route through the town, with thousands of festivalgoers dressed in their tack and cowboy apparel showing off their riding skills in what is one of Costa Rica’s most famous horse parades.


Costa Rica’s biggest and best musical acts perform at Palmares every year on the large stage erected as part of the celebrations. Concerts are usually performed at the weekend and Sunday is known as the best day to see big bands, including internationally-acclaimed musicians, so book your ticket well in advance! In 2014, international superstar Sean Paul closed the festivities – this year, world-renowned reggae singer Alpha Blondy will be bring his unique style of music to Palmares in what is sure to be a memorable performance on January 17th.


A key cultural element of the Palmares Festival is bullfighting and thousands of people attend to watch the action unfold. Unlike traditional bullfighting, the events at Palmares are open to public participation; although professional bullfighters are on hand, members of the public are welcome to try their hand at the sport. The events are not for the faint of heart however as the associated risks are significant! The events also differ from traditional Spanish bullfighting in that the animals are not killed as part of the festivities, which makes displays more family-friendly than their Mediterranean counterparts.

Stand-up comedy

Every year, Palmares plays host to a number of stand-up comedians, who delight audiences with their wit and humorous tales. Usually taking place over an evening, a series of comedy routines are performed by some of Costa Rica’s best-loved comedians as part of the Festival del Humor. Last year saw a collection of male and female comedians perform, including Costa Rican favorite La Maravilla – who will take to the stage for 2016?

Flavor fusions

In true Costa Rican style, no event would be complete without plenty of fine food and drink, and the Palmares Festival is no exception. There are food stalls around every corner, selling a combination of traditional Costa Rican classics and more modern fast food flavors. Expect to tuck in to tasty festival fare, including chicken wings and curly fries, grilled meats and chicharones, chilera and pinchos. For a sweet treat, you’ll be able to feast on shredded mango with a range of toppings, candy apples, churros and traditional pastries, among many other dishes.

The best of the rest

It’s impossible to cover every element of the festival in a single post and there’s no better way to experience Palmares than firsthand, so if you’ll be in Costa Rica during January this is a truly an unmissable event. There are so many things to experience; here’s a roundup of the extra elements you won’t want to miss:• The festivities often kick off with a minor league soccer match and a lantern parade, which sees the festival ground lit up to mark the beginning of the event:

  • Enjoy a refreshing cocktail or a few beers – the festival is almost on a par with Germany’s Oktoberfest in terms of how much beer is consumed at the two-week event!
  • Adrenalin junkies can get their fill of fun at the amusement park, where you’ll find a variety of rides and fairground activities
  • The most vibrant time is when the carnival takes place – expect lots of dancing, singing and colorful costumes
  • Every day at the festival concludes with an amazing display of fireworks, so stay to the end if you want to see the day out with a bang


Palmares Festival is one of Costa Rica’s biggest and best celebrations, and every effort is made to ensure the celebrations are more memorable than the last, despite the festival’s closeness to major events like Thanksgiving and Christmas. With thousands of people flocking to the coffee town every January, you can be sure of the festival’s undisputed status as up there with the most important parties in the Costa Rican calendar.

If you’re volunteering in Costa Rica during January, this an event worth attending not only for the lively and fun atmosphere, but also for the enriching cultural elements, which you’re unlikely to experience anywhere else. If you’re thinking of volunteering in Costa Rica, download our program brochure to find out more about how your visit will become the trip of a lifetime, even if you can’t make it this January. Check back to our blog again to find out more about the events set to take place in Costa Rica this year and start planning your adventure abroad!

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