San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Horse parades back

From the print edition

The air is thick with dust and sounds of braying horses, shouting cowboys and sizzling meat. This coming week in Liberia, the capital of the northwestern province of Guanacaste, a tope, or horse parade, will fill the town with thousands of riders. This event is held in coordination with the Expo Liberia to celebration the annexation anniversary of Guanacaste.

This parade of riders and their mounts is no shabby affair. Bedecked in their finest, both human and horse will prance through the town before a cheering crowd. Topes represent the passion and history of ranching and cattle culture, and this ardor is especially strong in Guanacaste.

In the settlement of Central America by foreign powers, companies like the United Fruit Company imported cattle and horses to work the banana plantations. Riders would travel from their farms to the port to collect livestock. Over time, this transformed into parades known as topes. The name originated from the Spanish word topar, which means to bump. So cowboys bumped their horses and cattle across the country to the various farms where they would be put to work.

Oscar Rey, tope organizer, rider and equine trainer, said the Spanish sent small horses from southern Spain to Costa Rica because they better withstood farm labor in tropical climates. The most common horse breeds seen in today’s topes are no longer small ponies but large, powerful show horses. Some breeds that are commonly seen at topes are the Costa Rican Creole, the Iberoamerican and the Spanish Pure Breed.

“These events are about our passion for horses,” Rey said. “I love to see all the people out on the street to participate in this beauty.”

 Rey said that the Liberia tope is one of the best in the country. At minimum, he said, 1,500 horse and rider pairs will participate.

View the tope in style from the VIP Lounge in the the Fischel Pharmacy. The lounge holds 400 people and includes a DJ, bar and comfortable seating. 

“It’s a great place to watch the horses with a big group of friends and really enjoy yourself,” said José Salazar, the lounge organizer.

The lounge is open 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. for 18 and up. Entrance is ₡15,000 ($30) colones, which includes two beers and two cocktails.

The Expo Liberia tope takes place Saturday, July 28 at 1 p.m. For more info about topes in Costa Rica, visit

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