Spain has had the history of overseeing one of the largest empires in the world. Its control over a vast empire allowed it to spread its influence upon many of its holdings around the world, including its language, religion, culture and traditions.
It is due to this that bullfighting has a long tradition in Costa Rica. If you are in Costa Rica anywhere between December and April there is a good chance one is happening somewhere. However Costa Rica bullfighting is different than what you might imagine and certainly different then those held in Spain.
Lets take a look at what bullfighting is in Costa Rica and why it is celebrated at local events and at the big celebration of the Fiestas de Zapote.
What is Bullfighting in Costa Rica?
Costa Rica’s style of bull fighting, or Toros a la Tica, is very different from its Spanish or Mexican counterparts in that the aim isn’t to kill the bull. Traditional Spanish bull fighting involves a lone matador engaging in ritualized combat with a bull inside an arena.
This mostly ends in the slow, cruel death of the animal. The bull itself is usually drugged and deprived of sleep before the actual event in order to improve the odds of the matador killing it.
Costa Rica’s version is a lot more humane. The event involves a single bull being let loose within an arena filled with many participants, usually as much as 50 people. Some of these participants may even wear costumes.
Rather than to harm the bull itself, the aim of the event is for one of the bull fighters get as close to the animal as possible without being trampled or maimed. Harming the bull in any way is expressly forbidden by law, and any injuries inflicted upon the animal will incur heavy fines, or even jail time.
This version of bull fighting is less about glorifying a person’s skill against a strong animal and more about celebrating the beast’s strength. All of this while enjoying a huge adrenaline rush. In this sense, Toros a la Tica resembles the Running of the Bulls that occur annually in Pamplona more than anything else.
The difference is that there is only one bull instead of hundreds, and that the animal is released inside an arena, and not in the open streets. It has also become less of a sport for the elite to enjoy and more an entertainment for the every-day man.
Another thing that sets the Toros a la Tica different is that it’s not the matadors or the bull fighters accruing any fame during these events. It’s the bulls themselves who become famous, or infamous depending on who you ask.
Famous bulls like Malacrianza, also known as El Toro Aseino, or the Bull Assassin, and El Raton gain fame as each of their body counts piled up during their tenure.
Any death attributed to these bulls simply increases their fame. For a bull fighter, being able to survive an encounter with any of these famed bulls is an achievement of a lifetime.
Who Can Participate in Toros a la Tica?
Because of the obvious danger involved in Costa Rica’s style of bull fighting, you’ll need to persuade the organizers that you’re fit, sober and sane enough before being allowed to volunteer.
That said, if you don’t have any underlying sickness and not a minor, you can pretty much join the event. Volunteering as a bull fighter does not require any entrance fee, either.
Although not exactly a requirement, it is recommended that each volunteer, also called “Improvisados”, is medically ensured, as there is a high chance of people getting injured, or even dying, in these events.
In fact, where in other parts of the world, bull fighting is being called to be banned because of animal cruelty, in Costa Rica, people are trying to get bull fighting banned because of the danger it poses for the participants.
More than 150 people are injured every year participating in this traditional sport, and deaths are also not uncommon. Despite this, however, the popularity of bull fighting in Costa Rica has only increased in recent years.
The Motadores of Costa Rica
Another version of bull fighting that is unique to Costa Rica is also held during the Toros a la Tica, usually in between bull fighting events. In this type of bull fighting, instead of trying to dodge the bulls, a person rides a bucking animal for as long as possible, without falling off.
This event resembles the bull riding in American rodeos more than anything else. Unlike the Toros a la Tica, the participants during these bull riding events are usually more experienced at handling animals, usually cowboys and bull ranchers.
Costa Rica Bull Fighting Events
Bull fighting events may occur in Costa Rica year-round. If there’s a major festival in any big city, such as Guanacaste, then chances are, there’s a bull fighting event being held there. However, these bull fighting events tend to be small-scale, and pale in comparison to the biggest one of them all, the Fiestas de Zapote.
Fiestas de Zapote is a yearly event that celebrates Costa Rica’s bull fighting tradition. It is held in the town of Zapote, just outside of the country’s capital, San Jose. The festival itself starts in December 25, on Christmas, and ends on the first week of January, during Three Kings Day on the 6th. There are at least two bull fighting events per day for the entire week, one in the afternoon and one in the evening.
These events are usually high production and televised nationwide. It’s even a popular practice to pay a fee and have your personalized message stream at the bottom of the TV screen at such events.
If you’re planning on watching these events in the arena but aren’t planning on joining the bull fighters, the admission fee usually ranges from $12 to $50 per seat. The price itself varies depending on the location of the seats and the time of day and the date.
The busiest times are usually when the prices are highest. Other major bull fighting events in Costa Rica include the bull fighting fairs in Limon, on the east coast, and the Palmares Fair.
The Palmares Fair also happens to occur close to San Jose and is a two-week affair in January every year. Though not as big of an event as in Zapote, the fiestas in Palmares is a good way to get your bull fighting fix if you still haven’t had enough of it in Zapote.