Brace yourself: The International Arts Festival (FIA) might just take over your life. Since 1989, FIA has been a major event, but this year it’s bigger than ever. Hundreds of artists are participating. Venues are scattered across the Central Valley. And the 11-day schedule is so dense with activity that looking at the program too long will make you cross-eyed.
To help you navigate this goulash of cultural happenings, we’ve put together this handy guide to the first weekend. Keep in mind, this covers only a fraction of the events taking place between Thursday and Sunday, and the moment you arrive in Alajuelita (for example) you will find yourself in a labyrinth of artists’ kiosks, food vendors, street performers, and volunteers – and that’s before you even reach the concert stage.
If you’ve never been to FIA, note that this year, events are happening in several different places at once: Alajuelita is a centralized town close to San José, and most events are taking place in the central square or at the Don Bosco Technical College (down the road). Desamparados is also nearby, and most activities are taking place at Parque La Libertad, a magnificent facility located on the eastern edge of “Desampa’.”
If you’re feeling ambitious, you can drive out to San Ignacio de Acosta, a town located about an hour’s drive from downtown San José. It’s a pastoral community that’s definitely worth a visit, and the town will host an endless tidal wave of music, theater, and even circus acts.
For a full schedule (in Spanish), visit FIA’s website. Despite its girth, the program’s pdf is remarkably easy to follow, no matter what your language level.
Note: You may have heard that Desamparados and Alajuelita have a bad reputation for poverty and petty theft. While there is some truth to this, organizers do not anticipate serious problems for cautious visitors. As always, gauge your surroundings and make sure you have dependable transportation home, especially after evening engagements.
Thursday, April 23
The festival’s opening night is always a major event, and you can expect fireworks over Alajuelita to ring in the occasion. Meanwhile, you will also find:
Compañía La Tal
Armed with surreal sets, crazy costumes, and superhuman pantomime, Compañía La Tal is the perfect group to kick off the festival. Entitled “Carilló” (Catalan for “Glockenspiel”) this multimedia clown show started in Spain in 1986 and has toured worldwide. But watch yourself: These seasoned street performers love to interact with their audience.
Show takes place in Alajuelita Park, in front of Santo Cristo Church. 9 p.m.
Film: “Por Las Plumas”
Ernesto Villalopos’ offbeat comedy features a man, the chicken he loves, and a whole lot of Tico slang. Whether you understand what’s happening or not, the audience should be roaring with laughter.
Screening takes place at the Don Bosco Technical College, Alajuelita.
Friday, April 24
Film: “The Vargas Brothers”
They might look like a bunch of normal, middle-aged guys with guitars, but The Vargas Brothers are considered “the oldest rock band in Costa Rica” and even “an urban legend.” Their story was captivating enough to warrant Juan Manuel Fernández’s 2012 documentary about their lives and career. Check it out in Desamparados on Friday evening.
Film screens in Parque La Libertad, Desamparados. 7 p.m.
Music: Santos y Zurdo
Mixing sitar, guitar, and electronica, this fusion band offers one of the most unique auditory experiences in Costa Rica. But before you join Santos y Zurdo on their psychedelic journey, you may want to warm up with an entire afternoon of music – including Erth, Los Waldners, and Argentinian band Violentango.
Concert takes place in Alajuelita Park, in front of Santo Cristo Church. 8 p.m.
Saturday, April 25
Fresh from the Caricaco Music Festival, this funk-rock-jam band has become one of the most beloved outfits in Costa Rica. We’re pretty sure that the moment Cocofunka takes the stage on Saturday night, the crowd is going to collectively lose its mind. (And dance like crazy.) But Cocofunka caps off a long afternoon of almost nonstop Costa Rican music in Alajuelita’s central park – a lineup that includes Guayabo Blü, 424, and Ojo de Buey. You can also catch international guests La Zimbabwe (Argentina) and Colectro (Colombia.)
Film: “Viaje” and “Italia 90”
You couldn’t find two more opposite films: Released just before the 2014 World Cup, biopic “Italia 90” recounts La Sele’s landmark performance in Italy in 1990. Learn how a group of working class soccer players reinvigorated the game, helping create the national team we root for today. Meanwhile, “Viaje” is a two-character drama about a pair of youths who meet at a costume party and decide to take a road trip. Quiet, subtle, and filmed in black and white, “Viaje” recently won acclaim at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Screening takes place at the Don Bosco Technical Institute, Alajuelita. “Viaje” starts at 6 p.m., “Italia 90” starts at 8 p.m.
Sunday, April 26
Music: The Blind Pigs
Costa Rica has already enjoyed two blues festivals in a single year, and this weekend the nation’s oldest blues band will do an encore in Alajuelita. If you’ve been aching for that sultry sound, Sunday is your day: The Blind Pigs will share the afternoon with Racio Azul y Los Gatos Blues, The Blue Chaman, Alberto Chaves, Calacas Blues, and finally Tico Jazz Band. Basically, if you’re in Alajuelita anytime between 1 and 7 p.m., you’re bound to hear something you love.
Concert takes place in Alajuelita Park, in front of Santo Cristo Church. 4 p.m.