Latin America: Authentically Yours

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Monte Azul Boutique Hotel in the Talamanca Mountain Range in Costa Rica.
Monte Azul Boutique Hotel in the Talamanca Mountain Range in Costa Rica.

Latin American destinations can fill the bill in new and involving experiences for adventure- and nature-loving travelers, for history and culture buffs, for beach combers and river-runners, and for families discovering new horizons together.

Many countries in this region are particularly adept at providing not only once-in-a-lifetime experiences, but making the encounters with local cultures and local people the most special of occasions. The possibilities are endless, but for starters consider this sampling of niche vacation choices that bring clients closer to the heart of the places they visit.

in costa rica

Costa Rica has no shortage of special experiences: in the rainforest, by the sea, and among the local communities of the most engaging ticos, the Costa Rican people. The destination is also masterful in mixing luxury lodgings into its adventurous and eco-friendly vacations; cultural enrichment can be harder to find, though.

However, Monte Azul Boutique Hotel, perched high on a 125-acre nature reserve in the Talamanca Mountain Range along the Chirripo River in south-central Costa Rica, seems to touch all bases. Guests are accommodated in spacious casitas, surrounded by gardens and birds galore, and furnished with queen-size or twin beds, big bathrooms, lots of original fine art, a compact designer kitchen, free WiFi, and private garden patio. Its 6-night, all-inclusive Food, Nature + Art package features a fiesta of hands-on, involving activities.

The outdoor adventurer can go ziplining, white-water rafting, spend a day at the beach, and take a guided nature tour through the Chirripo Cloudbridge cloud forest reserve with a visit to its research station.

During a cheese making workshop, food lovers visit a sustainable home dairy and learn to milk a cow before getting involved in cheese making with the family. Or they can learn about producing organic coffee at the Las Orquideas plantation and visit the local farmers market or public market in San Isidro to help Monte Azul’s chef select the ingredients for a cooking class, as well as instruction on making bocas (traditional Costa Rican tapas). Before becoming a boutique hotel, Monte Azul was established as a Center for Contemporary Art and Design, and today the art center remains part of the many guest activities including a workshop in the fun and fascinating technique of monotyping with laureate Costa Rican artist Alvaro Gomez, or learning to make paper. Also covered in the package, priced at $3,887 (including 13 percent tax), are accommodations with a welcome cheese platter and welcome wine or cocktail, all meals and house beverages, outdoor yoga lessons by day and Latin dance lessons at night, and personal concierge services.

The resort is located three hours south of San Jose via the Pan American Highway and 1.5 hours from the Quepos Airport (XQP) near Manuel Antonio National Park.

in nicaragua

As France and Italy taught travelers long ago, learning about a country’s culinary traditions, as well as taking cooking lessons, offers some of the most delicious experiences any traveler can have. In South America, Peru led the way in combining cuisine and culture, while Guatemala City and Antigua were first up in Central America. “And now it’s time to taste Nicaragua,” says Lourdes Fuentes, sales manager of Careli Tours in Managua, who worked with California-based Latin American Escapes in developing the 8-day Nicaragua’s Cuisine and Culture program, which is chock-full of essential sightseeing, as well as experiences highlighting the country’s cultural blend of indigenous, Spanish and Creole people.

In Managua—where the tour begins and home to the country’s best teaching chefs—clients spend a half-day learning the basics of Nicaragua’s multi-cultural cuisine, including lunchtime tastings, and just outside the capital, a country cook demonstrates how to make the popular local dish quesillo. During a 3-night stay in El Convento Hotel in historic Leon, the program includes extensive sightseeing in this historic university town, known for its art-filled churches and colonial architectural treasures; a visit and tasting at Flor de Cana Rum Distillery; a tour of Leon University’s botanical garden; and the final afternoon in Leon is reserved for a lesson in preparing the national drink, a white rum cocktail called macua. Three nights are also spent at Plaza Colon in charming colonial Granada, where activities include a morning market visit to buy the ingredients to prepare a lunch of Caribbean culinary specialties, as well as visits to both a cigar factory and organic farm, and a park-ranger tour of the Mombacho Volcano Reserve. Based on a MAP meal plan and top hotels, the tour cost is $2,500 pp land-only; $1,700 pp for a party of four.