Spanish and Western culture meet in bull riding during a fiesta in Liberia, which is at the heart of Costa Rica’s “Wild West” region of Guanacaste. These traditional “corrida de toros” are a central feature of fiesta in this sabanero (cowboy) country, with a fiesta almost every weekend in a different town from December through May.
Costa Rica – Fact Check

We don’t just ride bulls around here

Photo by Michael Dwyer

Costa Rica – Fact Check We don’t just ride bulls around here

The last thing you might expect to see in Costa Rica is cowboys but the sabaneros or “plainsmen” are exactly that.

Kieran Meeke
Kieran Meeke Travel Writer

Costa Rica’s cowboys trace their origins to Spanish colonialists who cleared the flat dry woodlands of Guanacaste in the north-west to start cattle haciendas. As such, their working practices ape many of the Old World ones, right down to the high-stepping Spanish horses they ride.

They are so central to Costa Rica’s history that they even have their own holiday on the second Sunday of November. That’s when you hear their call of “juipipia!” echoing around the streets as fiestas take over towns in the region. Their costume is also on show in all its finery: tall leather boots to avoid snakebites, a very long machete to clear bush and a colorful “pañuelo” (bandana) to protect from clouds of dust.

Saddles are adorned with long leather fringes that help shed tropical rains and saddle bear coiled lassos. Every cowboy has a hat, of course, in this case a “chonete” made of straw in flat-brimmed Spanish style.

That all this is not just for show can be seen in a rodeo that features bull-riding and various displays of horsemanship. These traditional “corrida de toros” are a central feature of fiesta in this sabanero country, with one almost every weekend in a different town from December through May.

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A Costa Rican cowboy – known as a sabanero, or “plainsman” – herds cattle in the province of Guanacaste where about three-quarters of the country’s cattle range. The majority of Guanacastecos once made a living from Brahma cattle in the province’s vast stretches of savanna but increasingly land is being bought up for tourism projects such as hotels and golf courses, while workers are tempted by better-paid, easier work in big hotels. The good news is that some of the ranch land is being converted back into forest. Photo by Josh Edelson / Alamy

Josh Edelson

Josh Edelson

Agency
Alamy

A Costa Rican cowboy – known as a sabanero, or “plainsman” – herds cattle in the province of Guanacaste where about three-quarters of the country’s cattle range. The majority of Guanacastecos once made a living from Brahma cattle in the province’s vast stretches of savanna but increasingly land is being bought up for tourism projects such as hotels and golf courses, while workers are tempted by better-paid, easier work in big hotels. The good news is that some of the ranch land is being converted back into forest.

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