Celebrating Juan Santamaría Day in Costa Rica

Does Juan Santamaría sound familiar? He had the national airport named after him, so if you flew into San Jose, you’ve probably already heard the name.

Town square in San Jose with Costa Rica flag Photo © Getty Images/Esdelval


Alajuela, Costa Rica.


April 11


Juan Santamaría is one of Costa Rica’s national heroes, every April 11 the country pauses to commemorate his death. The legend has it that a barefooted 19-year old Juan Santamaría fought for his country in 1856 in a battle against William Walker and his army of mercenaries. Walker had come to Central America to seize power for himself and was looking to take over Costa Rica. Walker's men fled across the border to Nicaragua and their stronghold in "Meson de Guerra" at Rivas

The story goes that Juan, a young boy from the lower class, volunteered to burn down a fort being occupied by William Walker and his troops. While running up to the fort Juan was mortally wounded but did manage to throw the torch he was caring which lit the fort a flame. This drove the solders out and eventually lead to the capture and execution of Walker.

The day of Juan Santamaría’s death is a national holiday and the days leading up to it are celebrated throughout the land with marching bands, parades, concerts, and dances. The festivities are widespread but take place especially in the city of Alajuela.

Level of Participation

4 – there will be parades, concerts and dances – get your dance on.


Stay in Alajuela for the week, while the festival is technically just on April 11 there is dancing and concerts and parades the whole week long. Try to stay with a local family so you get the real flavor of the festival and understand its true significance for Ticos (Costa Ricans).

Getting There

Alajuela is just 3km from the San Jose airport so your best bet for getting there is probably to take a taxi.

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