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21 Best Festivals and Celebrations in Central America

Central America is a land of culture, history, and spirituality, where you can experience the rich and colorful traditions, customs, and beliefs of the people. Each country has its well-marked and visible nowadays, and one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the culture and spirit is to attend the many festivals and celebrations in Central America.

These events are not only entertaining but also meaningful and educational. They showcase the identity, creativity, and resilience of the people, as well as their history, heritage, and values. They also offer an opportunity to interact with the locals and other travelers and to learn more about the region and its diversity.

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Best Festivals and Celebrations in Central America by Country

There are many different festivals and celebrations in Central America, and each of its countries has a unique one that can cater to different preferences, some of the best are Belize Carnival, Panama Carnival, Semana Santa, and the Festival of the Giant Kites in Guatemala.

Many of those festivals happen during the low season, which is the rainy season in most areas of Central America, so, attending these festivals and celebrations may also come with some challenges and responsibilities.

You need to plan, pick the right time to visit Central America, prepare well, and respect the rules and etiquette of the events. You also need to be aware of the season and pack accordingly.

festivals and celebrations in central america
Festivals and celebrations of Central America are some of the most appealing aspects of the region, which reflect the rich and colorful heritage.

Here are the best festivals and celebrations in Central America by country:

Belize

Belize is a small but diverse country that borders Mexico and Guatemala. It is known for its natural wonders, like the Belize Barrier Reef, the Great Blue Hole, and the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.

It is also known for its cultural diversity, as it is home to various ethnic groups, from Maya, and Garifuna to Creole, and Mestizo.

Belize has a rich and varied calendar of festivals and celebrations, which reflect its history, culture, and identity.

Some of the best festivals and celebrations in Belize are:

San Pedro Carnival – 23 Feb

This is a lively and colorful celebration that takes place in the town of San Pedro, on the island of Ambergris Caye, in February or March, depending on the date of Easter.

It is a pre-Lenten festival that involves music, dancing, parades, costumes, and competitions. One of the main attractions of the festival is the painting or “comparsas”, where people smear each other with paint, water, eggs, and flour.

The festival also features cultural and artistic performances, such as the Mestizo dance, Maya dance, and Garifuna drumming.

Lobsterfest – July 4th to July 15th

This delicious and festive celebration takes place in various locations in Belize, like San Pedro, Caye Caulker, and Placencia, in June or July, depending on the opening of the lobster season.

It is a gastronomic festival that showcases local lobster and seafood dishes, like grilled lobster, lobster ceviche, lobster pizza, and lobster thermidor.

The festival also offers live music, games, raffles, and prizes.

Independence Day – Sep 21

This is a patriotic and joyful celebration that takes place on September 21, to commemorate the independence of Belize from Britain in 1981. It is a national holiday that involves flag-raising ceremonies, speeches, parades, fireworks, and concerts.

The festival also features cultural and artistic displays, you’ll find carnival costumes, Maya dances, and Garifuna drums.

This festivity also coincides with the September Celebrations, which include other events, like the Battle of St. George’s Caye Day on September 10, and the Expo Belize Market Place on September 14 and 15.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica borders Nicaragua and Panama and is famous for its biodiversity, ecotourism, and sustainability. It boasts of having more than 5% of the world’s flora and fauna, as well as 25% of its land area protected as national parks and reserves.

It is also famous for its happiness, peace, and democracy, as it has abolished its army since 1948, and ranks high on the Human Development Index and the Happy Planet Index.

Costa Rica has vibrant and diverse festivities and celebrations, some of the best festivals and celebrations in Costa Rica are:

Palmares Fiestas – Jan 18 to 29

This is a fun and festive celebration that takes place in the town of Palmares, in the province of Alajuela, in January.

It is one of the largest and most popular festivals in Costa Rica, attracting thousands of visitors every year.

A cultural and musical festival that features concerts, rodeos, bullfights, parades, carnivals, and fireworks.

The festival also offers food, drinks, games, and rides.

Envision Festival – March 4 to 11

This is a unique and alternative celebration that takes place in the town of Uvita, in the province of Puntarenas, in February.

A holistic and eco-friendly festival that promotes art, music, spirituality, and wellness. It is a festival that invites people to connect with themselves, with nature, and with others.

The festival also offers workshops, yoga, meditation, healing, and organic food.

Christmas and New Year

These are festive and joyful celebrations that take place in December and January, respectively. They are religious and family-oriented festivals that celebrate the birth of Jesus and the start of a new year.

They involve decorations, lights, nativity scenes, and gifts, it also features traditional food, like tamales, eggnog, and roast pork, as well as music, dancing, and fireworks.

The festival also includes other events, like the Festival of Lights, and the Zapote Fair.

fiestas de palmares costa rica by Mario Godínez (500s) (Flickr)
Nowadays Fiestas de Palmares in Costa Rica is one of the most welcoming festivities in Central America, you can expect a lot of tourists and crowded places.

El Salvador

El Salvador is the smallest and most densely populated country in the region, but also one of the most dynamic and resilient.

The country has a rich and turbulent history, marked by civil wars, revolutions, and migrations. It also has a diverse and vibrant culture, influenced by indigenous, Spanish, African, and American elements.

El Salvador’s festivals and festivities are vibrant and full of variety, reflecting the country’s history, culture, and identity.

Some of the best festivals and celebrations in El Salvador are:

Bolas de Fuego – Aug 31

This is a fiery and spectacular celebration that takes place in the town of Nejapa, in the department of San Salvador, on August 31.

It is a historical and religious festival that commemorates the eruption of the San Salvador volcano in 1658, which forced the inhabitants of the old town of Nejapa to relocate to its current location.

The celebration also honors the patron saint of the town, San Jeronimo. The festival involves a ritual battle between two groups of young men, who throw fireballs made of rags soaked in gasoline at each other.

The festival also features music, dancing, and food.

Festival of the Pupusa – Nov 10

This is a delicious and festive celebration that takes place in the town of Olocuilta, in the department of La Paz, on the second Sunday of November.

The Festival of the Pupusa is a gastronomic and cultural festival that showcases the national dish of El Salvador, the pupusa, which is a thick corn or rice tortilla stuffed with cheese, beans, pork, or other ingredients.

The festival also features a competition to make the largest pupusa in the world, as well as music, dancing, and crafts.

Holy Week – Mar 24 to 30

This is a solemn and sacred celebration that takes place in various locations in El Salvador, in March or April, depending on the date of Easter.

A religious and artistic festival that reenacts the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The festival involves processions, masses, prayers, and vigils.

The festival also features elaborate and beautiful carpets made of colored sawdust, flowers, and fruits, which adorn the streets where the processions pass.

pupusas el salvador
Whether you attend the Papusas Festival or not, this tortilla-stuffed dish is a must-try for anyone looking for a complete hearty meal.

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Guatemala

Guatemala is the most populous and diverse country in the region, with more than 20 ethnic groups, languages, and cultures.

It is also the cradle of the Maya civilization, which left behind impressive archaeological sites, like as Tikal, Quirigua, and El Mirador.

The country also has a rich and varied natural landscape, with volcanoes, lakes, rivers, and forests. As well as a vibrant and diverse culture that is reflected in its festivals and celebrations.

Some of the best festivals and celebrations in Guatemala are:

Day of the Dead – Nov 2

This is a festive and colorful celebration that takes place on November 1 and 2, to honor and remember the deceased.

Day of the Dead is a syncretic festival that combines the indigenous and Catholic traditions, as well as modern and popular culture.

The festival involves visiting the cemeteries, decorating the graves, offering food and drinks, and praying for the souls.

The festival also features music, dancing, and games, like flying giant kites, which symbolize the communication between the living and the dead.

Festival of the Giant Kites – Nov 1

This is a spectacular and artistic celebration that takes place in the town of Sumpango, in the department of Sacatepequez, on November 1, as part of the Day of the Dead festivities.

It is a cultural and competitive festival that showcases the creativity and skill of the local artisans, who make and fly giant kites made of bamboo and paper, with colorful and intricate designs.

The celebration includes music, dancing, and street food.

Semana Santa – Mar 24 to 30

This is a solemn and sacred celebration that takes place in various locations in Guatemala, especially in the city of Antigua, in March or April.

Holy Week in Guatemala is a liturgical and artistic celebration reenacting Jesus Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. The religious celebration includes processions, liturgies, prayers, and vigils.

The event also includes complex and magnificent carpets made of colored sawdust, flowers, and fruits that line the streets where the processions travel.

Honduras

Honduras is a country of contrasts, with a rich and diverse natural and cultural heritage, but also a high level of poverty and violence.

The country is home to a wide range of stunning and varied natural landscapes, with mountains, valleys, plains, and coasts.

Honduras boasts a vibrant and diverse calendar of festivals and festivities that beautifully showcase the country’s rich culture, history, and identity.

Some of the best festivals and celebrations in Honduras are:

La Ceiba Carnival – May 11 or 18

This is a fun and festive celebration that takes place in the city of La Ceiba, in the department of Atlantida, in May.

One of the largest and most popular festivals in Honduras, attracting thousands of visitors every year.

It is a cultural and musical festival that features concerts, parades, and fireworks. The festival also offers food, drinks, games, and rides.

The festival culminates with the Grand Parade of Friendship, which honors the patron saint of the city, San Isidro Labrador.

Sunjam

This is a unique and alternative celebration that takes place in August on different beaches of the country.

A musical and electronic festival that features local and international DJs, who play music for 24 hours non-stop on a remote beach.

The festival is also an incredible opportunity for camping, swimming, snorkeling, and diving. It is a gathering of music lovers, who enjoy the sun, the sea, and the sound.

Feria Juniana – Jun

This is a delicious and festive celebration that takes place in the city of San Pedro Sula, in the department of Cortes, in June.

A gastronomic and cultural festival that showcases the local cuisine and products, like coffee, chocolate, cheese, and corn.

The festival also features music, dancing, and exhibitions as well as other events, like the International Fair of San Pedro Sula, which is a trade and business fair, and the Queen of the Fair contest, which is a beauty pageant.

typical dance honduras
At many of the festivals in Central America, you’ll be able to spot and enjoy a lot of typical costumes and dances with traditional music in the background.

Nicaragua

Nicaragua is the largest and least populated country in the region, with a vast and varied natural and cultural landscape as well as a diverse and rich natural heritage, with lakes, volcanoes, islands, and forests.

It’s also a melting pot of cultures, with influences from the Spanish, African, and Caribbean, which lead the country to a diverse calendar.

Some of the best festivals and celebrations in Nicaragua are:

San Sebastian Festival – Jan 18

This is a lively and colorful celebration that takes place in the city of Diriamba, in the department of Carazo, in January. It is a historical and religious festival that commemorates the patron saint of the city, San Sebastian, who is believed to have protected the city from a plague in 1885.

It also honors the indigenous and African heritage of the city, as well as the resistance against the Spanish colonization.

The festival involves music, dancing, parades, costumes, and rituals. It also features the El Gueguense, a satirical and theatrical play that mocks the Spanish authorities and their exploitation of the natives.

Poetry Festival – Feb 17 to 24

This unique and artistic celebration takes place in the city of Granada, in the department of Granada, in February. A cultural and literary festival that showcases the poetry and the poets of Nicaragua, as well as other countries.

It is a festival that invites people to enjoy, appreciate, and create poetry, as well as to exchange ideas and experiences. The festival also offers workshops, lectures, readings, and concerts.

La Griteria – Dec 7

This is a festive and noisy celebration that takes place on December 7, to honor the Immaculate Conception of Mary. A religious and popular festival that involves fireworks, music, and shouting.

The festival also features the tradition of visiting the altars of the Virgin Mary in different houses, churches, and streets, and shouting “Who causes so much joy?” and answering “The conception of Mary”.

typical dance nicaragua festival
Traditional dresses are not the only thing in those celebrations, you’ll spot a lot of people in costumes representing several different aspects of the country’s history.

Panama

Panama is a strategic and influential country, as it connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans through the Panama Canal, which is one of the most important and impressive engineering feats in the world.

It is also a diverse and cosmopolitan country, with a mix of cultures, races, and religions. It has a varied and beautiful natural landscape, with coasts, islands, mountains, and forests.

Some of the best festivals and celebrations in Panama are:

Carnival – Feb 10

This is a fun and festive celebration that takes place in various locations in Panama, especially in the city of Panama, in February or March.

It is a pre-Lenten festival that involves music, dancing, parades, costumes, and competitions. One of the main attractions of the festival is the water or “mojadera”, where people spray each other with water guns, hoses, and buckets.

The festival also features the coronation of the carnival queen, who leads the festivities and represents the city.

Festival of the Black Christ – Oct 21

This is a solemn and sacred celebration that takes place in the town of Portobelo, in the province of Colon, on October 21. It is a historical and religious festival that venerates the image of a black Christ.

It is believed to have miraculous powers and to have saved the town from pirates, plagues, and earthquakes.

The festival involves processions, masses, prayers, and vows. The festival also features the tradition of walking barefoot or on knees to the church of the Black Christ, as a sign of devotion and gratitude.

Flower and Coffee Festival (Feria de Boquete) – Jan 21

In January, this lovely and scented festivity takes place in the town of Boquete, Chiriqui province, a cultural and agricultural event that celebrates local flowers and coffee, two of the town’s primary products and attractions.

The event also includes music, dance, and exhibitions as well as additional activities, such as the Orchid exposition, a botanical and artistic exposition, and the Coffee Cupping Contest, a tasting and judging competition.

Tip for celebrating without issues

These events are not only fun, but also meaningful and educational since they showcase the diversity, creativity, and resilience of the people, as well as their history, heritage, and values.

It offers a unique opportunity to interact with the locals and other travelers, and to learn more about the region and its diversity.

Some recommendations before you go:

  • Check the dates and locations of these festivals and celebrations, and make an itinerary.
  • Be respectful, responsible, and prepared, as these events also come with some challenges and responsibilities.

  • Plan, prepare well, and respect the rules and etiquette of the events.
  • Be aware of the potential risks and dangers, and take the necessary precautions to ensure your safety and well-being.

  • Booking your accommodation and transportation in advance
  • Learning some basic Spanish and phrases

  • Be open-minded and curious, try new foods and drinks, participate in activities and games, and make friends with the locals and other travelers
  • Having fun and enjoying the moment.
holy week guatemala
Semana Santa or Holy Week in Central America is by far one of the most popular and interesting festivities of the region, and a good way to immerse in the culture.

FAQ

What are some of the essential items to pack for these festivals and celebrations?

Some of the essential items to pack for these festivals and celebrations are:

What are some of the main types of festivals and celebrations in Central America?

Some of the main types of festivals and celebrations in Central America are religious, historical, cultural, and artistic ones, which reflect the different aspects and expressions of the region.

What are some of the significance and symbolism of the festivals and celebrations in Central America?

Some of the significance and symbolism of the festivals and celebrations in Central America are the faith, history, and identity of the region, which represent the values, beliefs, and aspirations of the people.

Where can I find more information and resources about these festivals and celebrations?

You can find more information and resources about these festivals and celebrations by visiting the official websites and social media pages of the events and the tourism boards, reading blogs and articles from reputable sources and travelers, watching videos and documentaries on YouTube and Netflix, listening to podcasts and radio shows, and reading books and guides.

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Tips

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Places

For more travel ideas to add to your bucket list, check out the best places to visit in Central America.

Food

Central America has a huge variety of food, check out the guide to the top 10 dishes in Central America.

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Last Updated on January 24, 2024

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