Costa Rica Closed

Is Costa Rica closed for the holidays? This is a question one might ask if trying to do business with one of the government agencies during the end of December or the first week of January in Costa Rica.

Most of the government offices close for the week between Christmas and New Years and many take an extended vacation beginning the 18th of December and not ending until after the 3rd of January.

If you are trying to import a pet you will find that this rule applies to you and the offices that you need to be opened to facilitate your need for an import permit. While some offices will be opened on a skeleton crew they will not be issuing import permits during this time and will only resume this practice after the 3rd of January.

Pets can still leave the country but should not try to enter the country by the proper means or they risk being held by the customs officials for an unlimited period of time.


Holy Week in Costa Rica

It doesn’t seem like it has been a year since Holy week but we are coming up on it shortly.  The holiday this year will run from Saturday April the 4th until Tuesday April the 14th.  Many businesses will be closed and customs will be working on a limited staff for the first part of the week.  EVERYTHING will be closed April 9,10,11 & 12.

Buses will not run, banks will be closed, EVERYTHING will be closed.  It will be like a ghost town throughout the central valley.  Because the buses don’t run, no one that rides the bus (which is about 80% or more of the people that work in the stores, banks, businesses) can get to work.

Do NOT send a pet into Costa Rica during this 10 days.  Your pet WILL sit in Customs for the whole time and there will not be a way to get in to feed or water your pet.  This is a very serious warning.  Do NOT test the system!  You will not win this one.

Enjoy the holiday.  Many people will be at the beach this long weekend.  This is the most expensive week to go to the coast and if you did not make reservations 3 months ago, your chances of getting a hotel are very slim.

Have a wonderful vacation!


July 4th Celebration

Last year, as many of you living in Costa Rica might know, for the first time in almost 50 years, the 4th of July picnic was canceled.  This was very disappointing to all of us that meet many of our friends there each year.

Approximately 3500 expats attend this celebration each year and many plan their vacations around this event.  I know our family never misses it as many of our friends.

You must have a US passport to enter the grounds where it is held.  So only Americans or spouses of Americans are permitted to enter provided you have a US passport.

This year the fun is back on and I’m sure it will be great fun as always for everyone.  Besides all the hot dogs and beer you can consume, there are games for the little kids. There is enough cotton candy and frozen yogurt to keep the kids on a sugar high for the balance of the day.

I think the highlight each year is when the Marines come out in all of their uniforms and straight faced look to raise the flag and sing the US National Anthem.

It still brings a tear to my eye, each year, when thousands of people gather to celebrate their heritage in another country.

We are still, very much, Patriots even though we live in Costa Rica.  Don’t let the term “Ex-Patriots” fool you for a minute. Ex-pats as we are called only means that we are citizens living outside of our home country.  It in no way implies that we are no longer patriots or followers of our country as you can see each year at this fabulous event.

Hope to see you there!


Holy Week

OH!  I forgot to post earlier this week to let you know that….EVERYTHING is closed tomorrow-Sunday for Easter.  Thursday is Holy Thursday, Friday is good Friday then of course Sunday is Easter.

Those with cars will be heading for the beach.  Hotels are booked months in advance for this weekend.  Buses do not run and most business are closed.  Business pretty much stops for these 4 days since the buses are not running.

Sunday (EASTER) nothing will be open so if you have any shopping to do, get it done today or on Saturday.

Streets will be clear and you will feel as though you are in a ghost town anywhere within the Central Valley.

Very nice, very peaceful weekend and no fireworks for this holiday.  This is our favorite week of the entire year for all of the reasons stated above.



Christmas in Costa Rica

Christmas in Costa RicaAs in other parts of the world, Christmas in Costa Rica is a time for celebration and parties, sharing and reflecting. The month of December is electric with thoughts of the season, and busy with preparations for festivities, family get togethers and vacations. In late November decorations begin to appear in downtown shops, and by the second week of December everybody has lights strung, cypress wreaths hung and Christmas trees decorated. And you can be sure that here, too, stockings are carefully in place awaiting the arrival of the Baby Jesus.

The traditional Christmas tree in Costa Rica is a big evergreen branch, a small cypress tree, or dried coffee branches. The “tree” is decorated with white paint and brightly colored strips of paper. Lights and small colored balls, a variety of small figures and lace are also used to adorn the greenery. A gold star is placed on top as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem.
Christmas was first celebrated in Costa Rica in 1601 when then-Governor Don Gonzalo Vásquez de Coronado organized nationwide festivities.

A very popular Latin American tradition–the portal–is a nativity scene constructed of mosses and grass, colored sawdust, cypress twigs, black paper, silver glitter and figurines representing the birth of Jesus in the manger. Along with the traditional figures of Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, shepards, the three wise men and the ox and mule, Costa Ricans commonly add extra embellishments like dolls, little farm animals, tiny toys, fruits and berries, and lights.

While Costa Rican families spend a great deal of time arranging their portales just right, tradition says that families who don’t own a home must use a portal that has been received as a gift–then the holy family will help them get a house of their own. The portal is often placed under the tree (along with the presents) but may sit on a table, platform or on the floor in a corner of the living room. Wherever it is, it occupies a position of honor and is a point of pride in the home. The people put a lot of effort into making each year’s portal better than the last and the displays frequently outgrow the space under the tree or on the table and begin to monopolize a large part of the living room.
Christmas tree with portal

The figure of Baby Jesus is placed in the portal at midnight on December twenty-fourth. That’s also when the adults open their gifts. The children are told that the Baby Jesus brings their gifts while they are sleeping. Nowadays, Saint Nicholas has also become an important part of the custom and his rotund presence is everywhere.

Posadas take place during the nine days before Christmas. Originating in Spain and Mexico, the posada consists of a group of neighbors getting together at a different neighbor’s house each day to act out the pilgrimage of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. This is accompanied by singing and praying, snacks of the season, and lots of tamales.

The Misa de Gallo, Christmas Mass, takes place at midnight on December twenty-fifth. That is the night that many families enjoy their traditional Christmas dinner.
The origin of the portal is attributed to Saint Francis de Asis. It is said that in the thirteenth century, St. Francis started making belenes– representations of the birth of Christ– with figures of humans and animals.

Throughout the month of December there are parades, carnivals, parties, and religious processions in all corners of the country. The tope has been celebrated in Costa Rica since colonial times. Originally the activity when bulls were cut out of the herd to be used in the bull fights, for the past forty years it has been a formal parade of horses down the main streets of San José. Riders from across the country come to the city to show off their best mounts and formal duds. Today’s tope includes much more than stately horses and their proud riders. Other folkloric elements have been introduced such as horse-drawn carriages and the famous hand-painted oxcarts.

The tope is complemented with a grand parade complete with floats, marching bands, dancing girls and clowns. This also runs down the main streets of San José, turning the city into a sea of partying humans. For many Costa Ricans this parade is the party event of the year.

Bullfights are synonymous with the season’s festivities in Costa Rica. Popular since the colonization, they take place in the Zapote Arena every night during the festive season. The bulls are never harmed in the Tico version of the bullfights. The most popular phase of the Tico bullfight is the run when dozens of young men race into the ring en masse with the intention of frightening the bull and provoking it to attack. Although the bull is never harmed, occasionally one of the men is gored. The whole thing is a performance designed to release adrenaline, relieving the frustrations of the past year.

Thanks to the Costa Rican government every worker in the country has extra money in December to spend on gifts. The aguinaldo is a government declared Christmas bonus, given to every employee in the country by his or her employer. It is equivalent to a full month’s pay. Costa Rica was a Latin American pioneer in the establishment of this mandatory bonus. There is also a special drawing worth several million colones held during December by the National Lottery Commission. As Christmas Day approaches, much of the electricity in the air can be attributed to this Lotería Navideña.
On New Year’s Day all Tica housewives prepare for the coming year by sweeping out the house, from one end to the other, removing the past year’s bad luck and beginning anew.

Traditional seasonal foods include the tamal (corn flour dough stuffed with potatoes, vegetables and pork or chicken, then boiled in plantain leaves) (here is a recipe for Costa Rican tamales); pupusa (tortilla with cheese, corn and whatever); vigoron (cabbage, tomato, yucca and fried pork rind, served on a plantain leaf); and grilled pork, chicken and sausage. Many Costa Ricans have adopted the foreign custom of eating turkey and ham, as long as they are accompanied by the traditional Costa Rican tamal. Rompope is also in great supply. Known by North Americans as eggnog, it is generously fortified with dark rum or brandy.

The closing ceremony to the Christmas season isn’t until January sixth (traditionally the date the three wise men arrived to worship Jesus) when neighbors get together for a special prayer for the Baby Jesus. Family and friends pray the rosary and sing Christmas carols. Then food is offered and the portal disassembled and put away until next year.

Baby Jesus

Feliz Navidad, Próspero Año Nuevo, and may the Baby Jesus leave a gift for you under the Christmas tree.


Mothers Day

Today is Mothers Day in the states but it is not celebrated in Costa Rica until August 15. For us Expats, we often get 2 mothers days which is really cool.

Mothers should be honored several times a year in my opinion being a mother of 3 myself. I mean to get those special handmade cards from my adorable children is priceless and I welcome them anytime I am fortunate enough to get one.

Mothers Day on August 15 is a national holiday and Costa Rica shuts down for this day as for most other holidays here.

So if your an expat mom go for that twice a year mothers day. Really makes you feel special.


Costa Rica holidays

Costa Rica official holidays include the following days:

January 1 – New Years Day

April – Thursday and Friday of Holy Week

April 11 – Juan Santa Maria’s Day (National hero)

May 1 – Labor Day

June 29 – Saints Peter and Paul

July 25 – Annexation of the Province of Guanacaste

August 2 – Dia of Nuestra Senora del los Angeles (Costa rica’s patron saint)

August 15 – Mother’s day

September 15 – Independence Day

October 12 – Dia de la Raza (marks Colmbus’s discovery of the New World)

December 25 – Christmas day

As of May 2005, employees have more opportunities to enjoy extended weekends throughout the year.  A new bill introduced changes of the Labor Code, now requiring employers to substitute certain holidays should they fall on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.  Should that be the case, employers are required to substitute the holiday for the following Monday.

This new rule applies to the following holidays:  April 11th, July 25th, August 15th and October 12th.

Companies that are forced to work on Mondays may, in the course of the 15 days following the holiday and with the employee’s consent, substitute the referred holidays with any other day of the work week.


Semana Santa

This is Holy week in Costa Rica and many businesses are closed for the week. All are closed Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Saturday and Easter Sunday. Banks were open the beginning of the week but them along with all of the malls shut down today for the balance of the weekend. Buses aren’t running, not many taxi’s on the street and basically only the grocery stores or supermercados as they call them here are open and not all of them.

If you are trying to conduct business this week forget it, it isn’t going to happen. All of the government offices have been closed since Monday.

You can’t even ship a pet into Costa Rica this weekend because Customs is closed. If an animal flies into Costa Rica unaccompanied by the owner, it will sit in the Customs warehouse until Monday when they open back up. They don’t care if they eat or get water, it is the strangest thing to me. The owner can come in if they can talk their way in and feed and walk the dog but they can’t leave the premises until Monday.
In the states banks can only be closed for 3 days but here it seems sky is the limit. On this holiday they are closed for 4 days. At Christmas, depending on the day that Christmas falls, they can be closed up to 5 days.

90% of the population of the Central Valley has gone to the beach for the holiday. You would know this by the traffic yesterday heading out of town it was bumper to bumper for as far as you could see. There are no hotels to stay in (at the beach) as they have all been booked up since the end of February and prices are at their highest this week too.

Next week is the time to go to the beach if your going to go. Everyone will have returned from their 4-7 day holiday and the hotel prices will be cut in half.

We never go to the beach during Semana Santa for the reasons listed above. Take the kids out of school for a couple of days and take off a couple of days of work and go when there is no one there. It is kinda like Disney after Christmas break. A virtual ghost town and much more attractive and enjoyable than the madness of the crowds.

Business is back up and running on the 9th and everything will be backed up for a couple of days trying to catch up from the long holiday. But things will finally get done. I have so many irons in the fire just waiting for business to be back on that I can’t wait til Monday. Next week will be a busy week for everyone.


Empty suitcase

Christmas is just around the corner and it is time to make Christmas fudge.  We went to 8 different stores in search of semi-sweet chocolate chips and the country is apparantly sold out.  Sarettos in Escazu usually has many of the American staples that you can’t find anywhere else as well as Auto Mercado but after searching these stores…all of them…we found that there were no semi-sweet chocolate chips to be found.

For you bakers you probably already know that bittersweet chocolate is not the same as semi-sweet when it comes to making fudge, but me in my desperation to find chocolate for my kids tried it anyway.  How many ways can you say discustingly sweet.

So John is in the states this week and what is he bringing back but semi-sweet chocolate chips among other things that we can’t find here in Costa Rica.

When one of us travel to the US we always travel with at least one empty suitcase to bring back all the things that we think we can’t live without that can only be found in the states. This time with Christmas coming it is things like peppermint extract, candy canes (special flavors) and semi-sweet chocolate chips and of course Christmas presents.

Normally we travel with one large suitcase inside of another then break them all out when it comes time to make the trip back to Costa Rica.  Never fails that we are dangerously close to overload weight so the night before we travel we are weighing all of our bags to be sure we don’t go over the 75 lb limit.  Often shifting and repacking more than once to get everything evened out.

My last trip home, I had 2 large suitcases both of them loaded to the hilt but both weighed in at 70 lbs.  You must pay $25.00 per suitcase if you go over 50 lbs but that is a given for us.  I can’t imagine having a bag that only weighs 50 lbs….who can do that?  If you go over the 75 lbs you pay $100 per bag and that really stinks.  If you have a 3rd bag which we have done in desperate times the charge is $100 for that bag provided you keep it under 50 lbs.

So if your going to the states, try the one bag inside of the other to leave you more room to pack your goodies.  This has paid off more than once for us.


More on Children’s Day

The children came home today full of candy with painted faces and high on chocolate.  They had a blast at the school festivities in their honor.

This is not supposed to be anything like Christmas but I have found through the years that any excuse to buy presents for my children, I tend to go overboard. Bouncyballs, stuffed animals, hotwheels, baseballs and bats and more.

Tomorrow (the actual Children’s day) they are participating in a neighborhood party for the children.  They will have more candy, more chocolate, pinata’s and lots of fun.

This country really loves their kids and I think it’s great that they have a day, or in this case 2 days celebrating the life of the children.