This week is a good time to find out. Costa Rica will celebrate its national holiday Juan Santamaria Day on April 11. On this day, Costa Rica celebrates this drummer boy in its national army who heroically gave his life in a decisive battle in 1856 that ensured Costa Rica remained a free country.
Juan Santamaria’s courage and the country’s national pride and freedom are feted with parades and events all over the country on this day, especially in Alajuela, where Santamaria lived and where the Juan Santamaria International Airport is located.
The history goes like this: Costa Rica gained independence from Spain in 1821 and became completely independent from a Central American Republic in 1838. Only 18 years later, the tiny nation was threatened by a mercenary army led by U.S. filibuster, William Walker.
When civil war broke out in Nicaragua in 1854, Walker, originally from Tennessee, took advantage of the political instability to take over the government of Nicaragua and attempt to conquer the other nations in Central America. Costa Rican president Juan Rafael Mora Porras called upon his people to form an army and fight Walker and his men. Juan Santamaría (August 29, 1831 – April 11, 1856), a poor laborer from Alajuela, joined the army as a drummer boy.
After successfully beating a small group of Walker’s soldiers at Santa Rosa, Guanacaste, the Costa Rican troops chased them north to the city of Rivas, Nicaragua, near the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border. The battle that began on April 8, 1856 is the Second Battle of Rivas. Fighting was fierce and the situation did not look good for the Costa Rican soldiers. They couldn’t flush Walker’s men out of a hostel near the town center from which they commanded an advantageous firing position.
According to historic accounts, on April 11, a soldier was asked to set the hostel on fire to drive Walker’s men out. Some tried and failed; then Santamaría volunteered. He advanced with his torch, and although he was mortally wounded by enemy fire, he succeeded in setting fire to the hostel before dying. The enemy was defeated, and April 11 became a Costa Rica national holiday to commemorate Santamaría’s death and remember the major turning point for freedom.
What happened to William Walker? He ruled Nicaragua until 1857, when he was defeated by a coalition of Central American armies. He ended up being executed by the government of Honduras in 1860.
You can visit the first original battle site of Santa Rosa in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, now protected in the Santa Rosa National Park and Guanacaste Conservation Area World Heritage site.
Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin, an award-winning hotel in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, is close to the Santa Rosa National Park and Rincon de la Vieja Volcano. The adventure park at Hacienda Guachipelin offers top Costa Rica adventure tours and an authentic Guanacaste, Costa Rica cultural experience on their working horse and cattle ranch.
Article by Shannon Farley