Juan Santamaría Day

For surfers, Costa Rica is one of the outstanding global destinations—great, consistent, manageable waves virtually every day. To get there, most of us fly through Juan Santamaría International Airport, just west of San José, but who was Juan Santamaría? Costa Rica Rick took time to fill us all in the other day.

History recounts the Filibuster War (though we commonly use filibuster today to denote prolonged speeches, historically filibuster denoted a person engaged in unauthorized warfare against a foreign country), named after U.S. filibuster William Walker, who had overthrown the government of Nicaragua and was attempting to conquer Costa Rica and other nations in Central America. Juan, then 24 years old, joined the Costa Rican army as a drummer boy in 1856. Nicknamed “el erizo,” or “the Porcupine,” for his spiked hair (very much like our very own Costa Rica Rick), Juan helped rout a small contingent of Walker’s soldiers at Santa Rosa, Guanacaste. The Costa Rican army headed north, reaching Rivas, Nicaragua.

A fierce battle followed, known as the Second Battle of Rivas. During combat, the Costa Rican army was pinned down by Walker’s troops, who had established a strategic vantage point from the upper floors of a hostel. Several soldiers advanced on the hostel and tried to set it ablaze but failed. When all looked lost, Juan volunteered, conditioning his attempt on a promise that, if he died, others would care for his mother. Juan advanced and was mortally wounded on April 11, 1856, but not before he set fire to the hostel, launching a decisive victory for Costa Rica. While there are varying historical accounts of the battle, history does show a pension request filed for his mother in 1857 and documents show its granting by the government of Costa Rica. In the years that followed, the importance of Juan Santamaría grew. Today, parks, statutes, and the primary airport in Costa Rica recognize his contributions to Costa Rica’s independence, and, each April 11, Juan Santamaría Day is celebrated nationally in Costa Rica.

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