Making the Most of Costa Rica’s Nature and National Independence Day

  • The Travel Word
  • 12 September 2012

On September 15, 1821, Costa Rica became a free nation. On that day, after the Spanish were dealt their final defeat in the Mexican War of Independence, officials in Guatemalan declared independence from Spain on behalf of all of Central America. Violence and civil war then became the regional norm for decades after that… except in Costa Rica, which sustained its peace. Today, September 15 is the Costa Rican national Independence Day holiday commemorating its nearly bloodless transition to self-rule.

Local kids perform and wave flags in Heredia, Costa Rica

Local kids perform and wave flags in an Independence Day parade in Heredia, Costa Rica. Photo courtesy of Flickr/Bruce Thompson

Surrounded by so much tumult, that Costa Rica has succeeded in nonviolently preserving its sovereignty is quite remarkable. So are the stable economy, world-class educational system and heavy public emphasis placed on biodiversity conservation that have flourished in such a harmonious climate. On this last subject, the progressive sensitivities of most Ticos (as Costa Ricans call themselves) has developed into a powerful commitment to environmental issues and active leadership in the sustainable tourism industry. Ticos share the belief that preserving their natural heritage is central to continuing the tradition of peaceful freedoms they celebrate on Independence Day.

With this in mind, we put several questions to local WHL Group experts and other Costa Rican tourism professionals to learn more about why and how their National Independence Day is important to them.

Question: What does the Independence Day holiday mean for Costa Rica?

The holiday is a very important date and it represents the way of life for all in Costa Rica. We are independent, we are free, we are happy.
~ Emilio Zúñiga, local Costa Rican partner of Green Path Transfers, the global network of competitively priced, eco-friendly airport transfer and ground transportation operators

The Independence Day holiday is very important for all the Costa Ricans. On this day we all celebrate the freedom that the country achieved when we stopped being part of Spain. In Costa Rica you are not going to see any military or army marching; instead, you will see on September 15th all the school boys and girls holding a very traditional parade with marching bands, drums and music. And this is because we did not have a war for independence and currently Costa Rica has no army. On this day nobody has to work or go to school, so they can go to the parade that is celebrated in almost every community.
~ Alberto Molina, local Costa Rican travel specialist

It is a time to really celebrate our sovereign republic status, and to be proud of wearing our flag’s colours, which represent the open and blue sky that protects us (blue), the peaceful country where we live (white) and a tribute to the blood spilt by our brave men who battled for independence (red). We’re thankful for our long history of peace and that the stability it provides allowed us to abolish our army and work at redirecting the funds otherwise spent on defence toward our strong public education system. It’s a special day where everybody feels pride in going out into the streets and singing along our to our anthem, remembering the positive things our society has accomplished and the ambitions it has to contribute to solving the serious problems our world faces today while continuing to try to improve our own quality of life.
~ Irene Edwards, cofounder of Greenspot, a top travel specialist for Costa Rica

Question: What does the holiday mean for you personally?

It is a day to share with your family and relatives. There are parades in every single town and it is a good opportunity to see all the school kids and high school teens wearing different uniforms and carrying flags and drums. Some even have choreographed dances prepared.
~ Emilio Zúñiga, local Costa Rican partner of Green Path Transfers

For me this is a great day to remember how blessed I am to be born in a free country, and that in Costa Rica we don’t have an army which means that neither I nor my family and friends are ever going to be soldiers.
~ Alberto Molina, local Costa Rican travel specialist

flag of Costa Rica

The colors of the Costa Rican flag are imbued with symbolism. Blue stands for the sky, opportunities, idealism and perseverance, while White stands for peace, wisdom and happiness and red for the blood spilt by martyrs in defense of the country, as well as the warmth and generosity of the people. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I have spent my entire work life convincing people that they can be independent in their minds – trying (and sometimes succeeding) to make them see a different point of view, where peace is possible, where conservation of our planet is possible… as long as we take responsibility to embrace it.

Being independent is a responsibility more than a right; it takes effort, self-control, humility and a great share of self-knowledge. We cannot be truly independent if we are not alert to all that invades us from all directions. Independence starts in the mind, and travelling is the quickest and most amazing way to be truly independent.
~ Olga Saenz, Certified Tour Guide

Question: How do you plan to celebrate Independence Day this coming September 15?

I live in San Jose right now, so I think I will go and visit my parents in my hometown of Liberia. I will see the parades in the morning, have lunch with the family and return to San Jose on Sunday.
~ Emilio Zúñiga, local Costa Rican partner of Green Path Transfers

My plan is to attend the parade on the 15th in the old capital of Costa Rica, Cartago, but on the 14th I will also go to the centre of Cartago to see all the kids carrying the traditional faroles lanterns. The children make the faroles at school and decorate them, according to the traditional colours of the Costa Rican flag, in blue, white and red. The faroles take all kinds of forms and colours and at night in the parade they turn them on with candles.
~ Alberto Molina, local Costa Rican travel specialist

The day before, on the evening of September 14th, proud Costa Ricans gather together to sing the national anthem and light traditional candle lanterns. In Cartago, the country’s original capital, east of San José, President Laura Chinchilla will receive a torch carried all the way from Guatemala as a symbol of the spreading of the good news of independence throughout Central America. The next morning will be marked by marching bands and children in school uniforms and traditional dress parades in the streets of every major city, carrying flags and singing patriotic songs. We will have a typical party called turno with typical food and some games that our grandparents use to play, like BINGO, TROMPO and others.
~ Sylvia Suarez Gonzalez, Sustainable Travel Consultant at GRINN (Green Innovations)

Question: Costa Rica is often cited for its strong commitment and leadership in protecting the environment. In what ways is this important to ensure a peaceful and prosperous future and how does your travel business work to support this goal?

In Costa Rica we have a strong program of protected areas and national parks – almost 25% of our territory is protected. [My company has] a strong policy of sustainability and, when it comes to national parks and protected areas, only visiting them in small groups to avoid disturbing the wildlife. We also explain to visitors how to behave in these areas – for example, to be quiet, not to feed animals, leave everything the way we found it and never leave garbage in the park. The tourists that we send to these places are contributing to the place because the visitor must pay an entrance fee. The money is invested in all the national parks of the country.
~ Alberto Molina, local Costa Rican travel specialist

I think protecting the environment is essential for Costa Rica and its tourism industry. If Costa Rica didn’t protect it, tourism would decline significantly. Besides having the best education in comparison to other Central America countries, the environment is the main asset for Costa Rica. Our business is an investment business in the field of green investments, e.g. reforestation. I’d say that supporting and motivating reforestation is our contribution.
~ Tobias Schnellbächer, writer at Tierralinda, a blog about everything regarding investing and living in Costa Rica

With sites like are Arenal, Costa Rica has become a world-renowned destination for sustainable ecotourism

With famous natural attractions like Arenal Volcano (pictured above), Costa Rica has become a world-renowned destination for sustainable ecotourism. Photo courtesy of Laurel Angrist

Costa Rica is indeed known worldwide for its commitment to preserving its natural resources through policy, having said aside a sizeable percentage of its land in national parks and other natural reserves. In practice preserving natural areas is an ongoing challenge, but Costa Rica has dedicated significant resources to doing so and preserving the precious biodiversity that resides within our country’s borders. By maintaining a healthy environment that contains natural wonders – which thankfully many travellers from around the world are interested in experiencing first-hand – we ensure the environmental health of Costa Rica as a travel destination. A healthy destination provides opportunities for a cross-section of local people to participate in the tourism industry in a sustainable manner. With tourism being the largest industry in Costa Rica, the economic benefits local people receive contributes to the wellbeing of the entire country and its peaceful political stability.
~ Irene Edwards, cofounder of Greenspot

Question: What is Pura Vida and what are the best ways for travellers headed to Costa Rica experience it?

Pura Vida is the most common phrase in Costa Rica. Locals use it almost for everything – to say hello, thanks, also to say that they are feeling alright and to express the beauty of life. Literally it means “pure life,” but it also means full of life and in general Pura Vida is what Costa Rica is all about. For travellers to experience it, they have to be involved with the local population, to taste the local food, to have the Costa Rican drinks and to learn the culture and traditions of the country. This is how travellers will experience the real Pura Vida.
~ Alberto Molina, local Costa Rican travel specialist

Pura Vida (‘Pure Life’) expresses so much. But just as life in its purest state is itself a mystery, it is impossible to define it. It is this Force that moves all of what’s in the Universe. It is intense and unlimited. It is a realm where emotions matter more than certainties, life more than rules. Life, Pure Life propels us to freedom, to unpredictability. We cease to judge and we are free to play. Over all, Pure Life is a realm where we live in our purest and most free state of mind. I am not sure that all Costa Ricans realise this, but we certainly live it! The best way to experience it is to let yourself be taken by it – and enjoy the ride.
~ Olga Saenz, Certified Tour Guide

Pura Vida is a way of life. It is Costa Rica’s motto and it means that everything is cool. And if you me and everyone else are fine, the whole country is fine! The best way to experience what Pura Vida means by travelling in Costa Rica is by visiting our beaches and national parks, but most important, by sharing with the locals.
~ Emilio Zúñiga, local Costa Rican partner of Green Path Transfers

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WHL Group is the largest local-travel company in the world, a global network of companies that help travellers find unique ways to experience a destination through local tourism professionals. WHL Group companies empower local partners who have practice in experiential and mindful travel and a local's knack for identifying, explaining and sustaining the distinctive qualities of a place. Visit the WHL Group website.
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Central America, Costa Rica, festivals & events, interview, local knowledge, North America, personal experience,

One Response to “Making the Most of Costa Rica’s Nature and National Independence Day”

  1. Jesse says:

    I usually like their traditional parade and other street shows during their independence ceremony. It brings out some good memory of my hometown in America.

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