Zapote Festival – Where the Bulls have a Fighting Chance

Starting Christmas Day, the Zapote Fiesta begins, where you can ride carnival rides, mingle (very closely) with hordes of Ticos, eat a variety of highly-caloric food, drink beer, listen and dance to loud music and if you want to, risk your life in the bull ring against some very annoyed toros.

Zapote is just a little southeast of San Jose, and is a relatively short taxi ride from downtown San Jose.

Annoying the bulls is one of the big features of the fiesta, which runs until New Years Day. Unlike the bullfights in Spain, where killing of the bull is standard practice, the only deaths in Costa Rican bullfights are the ‘toreos imprivsadores,’ or improvised bullfighters. These brave or foolhardy souls, usually male but sometimes female as well, jump in the ring with a bull and taunt him, then try to avoid his charges and horns.

Should you want to try your luck, test your skill, show your bravery (or foolishness) you too can jump in the ring. Don’t worry about being alone, as there are perhaps a hundred or more people in the ring with you. It would seem fair to me if they had at least two bulls in the ring at the same time, but I’m not in charge.

Should one of the bull-teasers get injured, there is on site medical help available, ready to bandage cuts and probably set broken bones or whatever else you might imagine can happen in a situation like this. Perhaps they can sign a death certificate as well, since people do die from this ‘sport.’

Unimaginable in a country like the United States, which would certainly outlaw anything like this or at least result in so many lawsuits that the court system couldn’t possibly handle it, Costa Rica seems okay with the whole deal. I can’t speak for the Ticos, but maybe the attitude is something like ‘if you’re stupid enough to do it and die, that’s on you, amigo. Anyway, we can always make more people.”

There seem to be plenty of volunteers for the position of unpaid improvised toreador, but if you want to watch in person, they charge admission. You can, if you happen to be in Costa Rica, watch the spectacle from the comfort of your own home or hotel on Channel 6 for free. Even for the faint of heart, it’s worth spending at least a few minutes seeing what it’s all about. And if you enjoy boxing, ultimate fighting or a good NASCAR wreck, it might be just your cup of tea.

A few additional words of caution are in order. It can get reasonably chilly this time of year at night, so consider bringing a sweater. Pickpockets and other thieves will be there too, so don’t let your guard down. And finally, I would implore regular readers not to jump in the ring. We value your life and need all the readers we can get. But if you are the type that enjoys a good carnival, check out the one in Zapote.

Start the slide show below to see some photos of the carnival in Zapote.

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  1. Awesome Place. These guys are in it for the thrill I guess. Some get jacked up by the bull and some barely make it out. Fun to watch on tv also. I always root for the bull.

  2. No. Cal. Refugee says:

    I root for the bull too. I saw in AM Costa Rica today where 15 of the 'bullfighters' had to go to the hospital. Way to go, Toros!

  3. says:

    You have to enjoy the age old tradition of country people taunting livestock. At least they aren't being killed for sport.