Topes, Fiestas, Bulls & More – A Local Party You Don’t Want to Miss

If you’re looking for things to do in Tamarindo, we’ve got the solution for you. This weekend (September 1st), the town of Santa Rosa, just 5 miles from the beach, is going to be throwing a party–and it’s not like any party you’ve been to before. Each town in the Guanacaste province holds a weekend of “fiestas” once a year, with vendors of food and pretty much everything, dances, lots of guaro and beer, bull riding, and a real Guanacaste “arreo.” You don’t want to miss it. The Santa Rosa Tope happens once a year and over 10k horses with locals dressed up in typical clothing will meet the bulls and commence the fiesta/party!

Costa Rican Tope
Costa Rican Tope

What’s an “arreo?” The word refers to old-school cattle roundups that date back to a time when Guanacaste’s culture revolved around ranching. Very few modern-day fiestas include arreos, which makes Santa Rosa’s fiestas stand out as a favorite in the area. On Saturday morning, horseback riders of all stripes will gather in the central Plaza of Santa Rosa and prepare for the 6 mile ride to a cattle ranch in the town of Cana Fistula. This ranch, owned by the Vallejos family, carries on the tradition of hosting the arreo with cattle roping events, music, food, dancing, and plenty of alcohol in various strengths. Revelers also arrive on motorcycles, ATVs and in cars to join the real cowboys for a day of bravado and testosterone. How better to celebrate the rough-and-tumble cowboy roots of Guanacaste heritage? In the late afternoon, the raucous caravan exits the cattle ranch and rides back to continue the festivities in Santa Rosa, driving cattle, raising dust, raising cane, and drinking more beer.

Costa Rica Amateur Bullfighting
Costa Rica Amateur Bullfighting

Although Santa Rosa’s fiesta officially kicks off on Friday, by Thursday evening there will be plenty of eating drinking and dancing going on in the center of town. Bull riding competitions will be held Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. There is an entrance fee to watch the bull riding. For a small fee, you can stand close to the corral and watch, or for a few dollars more you can pay for a seat in the bleachers. Although it is technically not permitted to climb the corral fence and watch the bull riding perched on top, if you get there early enough you can squeeze in.

Costa Rican Fiestas
Costa Rican Fiestas

Many Costa Rican men and boys, emboldened by the libations, enter the bull riding ring and run around taunting the bull, trying to provoke it to chase them. If you drank too much and decided to join them, you would not be the first foolish tourist to do so. You would also not be the first one to get seriously injured, or end up lying on the ground in you underwear after the bull grabs you with his horn by your surf trunks and throws you around a little (true story). So, please–don’t. Demonstrate your bravery on the dance floor.

Costa Rica Bull Riding
Costa Rica Bull Riding

It would be a good idea to take cash (colones) to the fiesta. Established bars and cantinas may take credit cards, but the food vendors, clothing/souvenir vendors, and the beer tents will not. Wear comfortable shoes, and keep your wits about you. Small-town fiestas are not the premier place for pick-pocketing, but it all depends how much you drink and how aware you are of your surroundings. Do not ever set your bag down on the ground or hang it on the back of your chair, and just be aware of where your money, phone, etc is at all times. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Costa Rica Traditional Dance
Costa Rica Traditional Dance

What to expect? Crowds. Loud, lively music from marimbas, brass bands and loudspeakers. Lots of people dressed up in their Sunday best. Friendly drunks. Grandmas, children, dogs, and uncle Jimmy. Mountains of yummy greasy food. Traffic jams. Lots of people on horseback. Some amazing dancing. At least one guy having to get carried out of the bull ring. A hangover.


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