How to Celebrate Puntarenas Carnival in Costa Rica

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All the tips for how to celebrate Puntarenas Carnival in Costa Rica. Read this for traditions, what to expect, where to stay, and how to get there.

Puntarenas Carnival feature

When you think about Carnival, Rio de Janeiro probably comes to mind. Along with shimmying dancers wearing brightly colored beads, feathers, and not much else. It’s a massive party in the streets. 

Some other famous Carnival celebrations around the world are Mardi Gras in New Orleans or the masked Carnivale in Venice.

But you might not know that the Puntarenas Carnival in Costa Rica has regularly been rated one of the best carnival celebrations outside Brazil. 

If you are looking for something unique and special to do on your travels and happen to find yourself along the Pacific Coast in spring, check out one of the best festivals in Costa Rica!

Here is some information to help you celebrate in style!

A bit about the Puntarenas Carnival

Puntarenas Carnival dancers in Costa Rica

If you are familiar with the region, you should know that Easter is a major time to celebrate in Central America. Celebrations in Costa Rica are no different. 

Carnival has been observed in Puntarenas since 1971 as a way to enjoy everything people will be giving up for Lent in the lead-up to Easter. This means that Carnival in Costa Rica will typically be held sometime between February and March. 

If you are excited about checking out this celebration, it is best to check your calendar to see when Easter and Lent fall and plan backward from there.

The Puntarenas Carnival is known locally as Carnaval de la Reina, or Carnival of the Queen. The week-long celebration is a living expression of the city of Puntarenas. The traditions during these festivities express the locals’ daily lives and showcase the city’s identity. 

What to expect during the Puntarenas Carnival

Queen of the Puntarenas Carnival in Costa Rica

The city of Puntarenas is located on the Pacific coast, and it is a port city. This is reflected in many of the festivities. 

If you are wondering how to celebrate Carnival in Costa Rica, playing volleyball and participating in the famous fish contests are must-dos! These are two of the most well-known activities and take place pretty much every single day.

You can also expect an epic parade that goes through the main street in Puntarenas called Paseo de Los Turistas. The opulent parade features comparsas, or dancers, wearing colorful costumes and giant smiling dolls with painted heads.

There are also motorcycles, men on stilts, and local bands marching along the streets while the entire audience cheers them on. Finally, the whole parade concludes with a fireworks show.

The parade typically takes place on the last Saturday of the festivities and begins near the Punta Pirata water park before heading to the Paseo. This is definitely something that cannot be missed!

Where to stay in Puntarenas

street in Puntarenas Costa Rica

Carnival is the most famous festival in Costa Rica and certainly the best Carnival in the region. Because of this, you’ll want to book early to beat the crowds!

The best place to stay is definitely in Puntarenas, the Island City. It’s ideal for a nice balance of downtown city life and relaxation next to the ocean. 

You’ll also be close to the action and in the heart of Carnival, making it the perfect place to celebrate.

Where exactly is Puntarenas, Costa Rica?

Now that you’re super-stoked to go to Puntarenas Carnival, you need to know where it is, right?

Check out this interactive map with Puntarenas and all the places mentioned in this blog. 

How to get to Puntarenas

Puntarenas Carnival dancers

Ready to start planning your trip? Here are a few routes to help you figure out the best way to get to Puntarenas.

If you’re traveling from San José:

San Jose Costa Rica street view

It is possible to take a two-hour bus from San José to Puntarenas. The bus departs the central bus station every 15 minutes. 

If you’re traveling with a group or you’d prefer to be picked up and dropped off directly at your hotel, you can organize a private minivan transfer. The minivan can hold up to four people plus luggage.

If you’re traveling from Liberia:

Immaculate Church of Concepcion de Maria located in Liberia, Costa Rica.

If you’re traveling south to Puntarenas from Liberia, there is a direct bus. It takes about three hours. There are several departure times to choose from, making this option pretty convenient!

It is also possible to organize a private minivan transfer. These are more expensive, as you are paying for a private transfer. The benefit, though, is that you can travel with your friends, set your own schedule, and get dropped off at your hotel. 

As an added bonus, private transfers only take two hours and 20 minutes, saving you over half an hour of travel time!

If you’re traveling from La Fortuna:

Arenal volcano with horses in front of it in Costa Rica

When you are ready to trade the volcano for some Carnival festivities, you can head from La Fortuna to Puntarenas.

The best part about this ride is you will be picked up and dropped off at your hotels, and it only takes three hours.

It is also possible to take a four-hour public bus ride from La Fortuna to Puntarenas. As a heads up, you will need to switch buses in San Ramón.

In the end, the Puntarenas Carnival is a great way to introduce yourself to some traditions and customs in Costa Rica. You’re bound to have a great time if you come to celebrate with the locals!

Where to go after Carnival in Puntarenas?

girl on a surf board with man helping in Costa Rica

Lucky for you, the country has glorious beaches and wildlife around every corner. Head to Santa Teresa for laid-back surfing vibes. Jaco, if you love a city on a beach. Tamarindo for a surfer’s party paradise. 

And if beaches aren’t your thing, check out all the routes Bookaway goes in Costa Rica.


When is the Puntarenas Carnival held?

It’s different every year, but sometime in February or March.

Is it safe to attend the Puntarenas Carnival?

Absolutely. Of course, as with any big festival, you’ll need to be mindful of your belongings. Crimes of opportunity do occur, so carry a theft-proof backpack to secure your wallet and phone.

What is the weather like during Puntarenas Carnival?

Feb and March are hot, with daytime averages around 94°F (34°C). It cools off a bit at night, dropping to around 79°F (26°C).

Posted January 24, 2023
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Samantha Bryant
Samantha has been wandering the globe since 2010, when she hopped on a plane for a gap year in order to wait out an age restriction for a job application. Twelve years, four continents, and countless experiences later she has decided that she is perfectly content embracing her wanderlust. Samantha works as an English and ELL teacher at an international school in South Africa, but her passion for writing has kept her busy in what spare time she can find. If she isn't working or writing, you can find Samantha exploring a new city in an off-the-beaten-path destination or relaxing on a beach somewhere.
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