San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
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Mule Festival kicks off in Parrita

If you’ve never heard of the Festival Nacional de la Mulas, the idea of one might seem humorous. A mule festival? Is that a joke? Who would dedicate 11 days to a bunch of asses?

In the central Pacific town of Parrita, locals look forward to the festival all year long. In a canton filled with ranches and palm oil plantations, the festival celebrates all things agriculture, which is the region’s primary industry. This year’s festivities began Thursday and continue through Feb. 16.

The mule component is only one part of the Festival de la Mulas. There are mule races, which have riders galloping around a large corral as audiences cheer. Those races occur on the festival’s final day. But festival-goers also are drawn to the tope, or horse parade, which marches down Parrita’s main street next Saturday, Feb. 15.

“The festival was born more than 15 years ago, with the initial interest to amuse farmers on Sundays,” reads a history on the festival’s Facebook page. “When they saw its appeal, they decided to organize and to raise funds for various charities.”

The purpose of the festival is to “disseminate the culture and customs of the municipality’s inhabitants.” The celebration at the Parrita fairground also will include tractor shows, carnival rides and cook-offs of local cuisines.

A couple of workers estimated that three to five thousand people a day would take part in the festivities. A bartender named Vicki viewed the tope the centerpiece of the activities. “People fill the town,” she said. “They come from all over the country to see it.”

While the festival only became official in 2002, it has become a major boon for the region. During most of the year, Parrita is a shy little place with one small commercial district with less than 13,000 residents. You can cross the town center on foot in about 10 minutes. Most travelers blow through Parrita on their way to Manuel Antonio. But each year, the Mule Festival turns the turn into a major hub of activity – a time to celebrate Parrita’s livestock and farming culture. The mules themselves are mascots more than anything, and their images are painted everywhere, even on trash cans.

“This is my first year working at the festival,” said Alexander, another service worker. “But I have attended every year. Everybody in Parrita comes out. It’s just really nice.”


Robert Isenberg/The Tico Times

Contact Robert Isenberg at

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