From rainforests and wildlife-rich national parks to beautiful beaches, Costa Rica’s cup runneth over with natural wonders. Less celebrated are the cultural highs—the arts, cuisine, rural traditions, wellness, and community tourism. This was the focus of a press trip planned by the Costa Rica Tourism Board, in conjunction with this year’s 33rd annual Expotur. Following are a handful of ways we experienced colorful, homegrown Tico culture.
We start the day with coffee, and more coffee, which is Costa Rica’s most prized export. And there’s no better place to learn all about how coffee is dried, roasted and processed than by taking a Doka Estate Coffee tour. The Vargas family has owned and operated the Doka Estate farm since 1940, and our engaging tour takes us from seed to cup. Many of the highlights are special to the Doka finca: the coffee roasting plant is the country’s oldest, and the processing plant is a declared Architectural Heritage for Humanity site. The grand finale is a sampling of different Peaberry and French roasts.
We continue on for a down-on-the-farm experience at Corso Lecheria, starting with a make-your-own tortillas for a marvelous lunch of homemade everything: salads, artisan cheeses, sausages and pitchers of a not-to-miss fresh strawberry drink. Located in the vicinity of the Poas Volcano, this agri-tourism, community project—picture-perfect for children of all ages—provides a welcoming overview of farm activities, local customs and forest preservation. While touring (by tractor or on foot), we learn about cheese processing thanks to the cows we are invited to milk; observe organic strawberries cultivated in greenhouses; and take a hike in a patch of cloud forest.
Set amid 40 acres of tropical gardens and hiking trails, Xandari Resort & Spa is a welcoming hotel, with 24 spacious, boldly designed, art-filled villas. The resort looks to Mother Nature-infused wellness to renew the bodies and souls of guests through fresh and delicious farm-to-table dining; three pools; and 75-minute spa sessions in one of the Spa Village’s five private jalapas, each with an open-air jacuzzi. Less than an hour from the airport, there’s no better place to spend one, two or three nights while in Costa Rica.
Chocolate is another agricultural product close to the cultural heart of Costa Rica, and no one celebrates the role of cacao and its beloved by-product chocolate like Sibu Chocolate. We spend the sweetest hour (or two) in the Central Valley cottage cafe of Sibu owners and master chocolatiers, Julio Fernandez and George Soriano. Here, we learn about the history and techniques of chocolate-making, and sample Sibu’s elegant bonbons, truffles and chocolate bars, inspired by Central America’s unique flavors and cultural heritage. This is a must-do tour and tasting.
Today is also Expotur day, where I discover Chayote Lodge, recently opened in Costa Rica’s famed coffee region between San Jose and the Arenal Volcano country. It offers a unique combination of nature and culture— a place where the historic and traditional coffee growers’ culture blends easily with the surrounding environment. Guests stay in grand bungalows, designed to resemble the iconic recibidores (coffee receiving stations). Guest experiences incorporate visits to local markets, artisan workshops and fiestas. Another interesting lodging, the Macaw Lodge—a working model of environmentally mindful living—captures the DNA central to Costa Rica culture: sustainability. Located in the Turrubares Hills of the Central Pacific region—a hotspot for birdwatching—this eco-resort has eight rooms, whose bedding and towels are made of bamboo fiber. Here, meals are dedicated to organic, farm-to-table, dining; one of the yoga platforms sits in a sun-dappled bamboo forest; and the star bird sighting is the scarlet macaw.
Today was the time to devote to the capital, whose outstanding attractions are museums and markets. At the top of the capital’s cultural attractions are several excellent museums, introducing clients to facets of Costa Rica they won’t find elsewhere. Best known are the Gold Museum, with its spectacular 1,880-piece treasury, and the Fidel Tristan Jade Museum, housing the America’s largest jade collection. Of note is the Costa Rican Art Museum, showcasing works of the country’s most celebrated artists.
And no visit to San Jose is complete without a stop at the Mercado Central, a block-long covered market built in 1880 and made up of a warren of produce stalls, bric-a-brac counters, and cafes. The best way to get to know the market is to come hungry and plan for a roving meal, assembled as you dine-around at the sodas (small, family-run eateries). Most famous is La Sorbetera de Lolo Mora, a 116-year-old ice cream parlor that makes one flavor only—a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and vanilla.
We move today to the five-star, 82-room Studio Hotel, an art-themed property in San Jose that takes its mission seriously: displaying a large and distinguished art collection by well-known Costa Rican artists throughout the hotel, from the lobby and bar to the third floor rooftop pool and lounge area with lovely city and mountain views. For our final dinner, we are guests of San Jose’s most elegant boutique hotel, Hotel Grano de Oro, where we dine deliciously, despite the restaurant’s signature chocolate cake being sold out.