Juan Santamaria Day in Costa Rica is celebrated as a national holiday with special events including festivals and rodeos to honor the country’s military hero. Juan Santamaria became an unlikely hero in 1854, when as a young boy from a lowly background, he managed to save his country from slavery in a simple act of courage.
He volunteered to torch the hostel of the invading forces of William Walker, a mercenary intent on making a slave republic of Central America. His asked only that his mother should be cared for in the event of his death and succeeded in burning down the headquarters of the enemy in Rivas, when other soldiers had failed. Sadly he died from his injuries, but not before carrying out his mission, which meant victory for Costa Rica.
This story of a poor young boy with such courage, and the valiant sacrifice that he made, lives on in the hearts of Costa Ricans today and resonates as part of their National identity.
Today visitors to Costa Rica can see his statue in Juan Santamaría Park in Alajuela and also before congress in San Jose. All travelers arriving in the international airport in Alajuela, just 3 km from the city, will be familiar with his name as the airport bears it in commemoration.
The days leading up to the national holiday on April 11 are celebrated with parades, concerts, dances and marching bands throughout the country, but festivities are particularly centered around the city of Alajuela. Ticos celebrate in style eating traditional foods and enjoying the special events. If you should visit at this time you will come to understand the real significance of Juan Santamaria Day.