Category Archives: Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s Central Market (Mercado Central)

photo 5(35)In heading back to San Jose, my group made a stop at the Central Market, which has been a staple in the city’s day-to-day living since 1880. Known more so as Mercado Central, this block-long indoor marketplace can be bustling as a meeting spot as well as for getting lunch or groceries, a cup of coffee or a souvenir.

photo 4(54)

Open pretty much from sunup to sundown, Mercado Central contains more than 200 businesses – shops, stalls, and casual restaurants known as sodas – with some that are roughly a century younger than the market itself. As a maze of stands and corner stores, Mercado Central can get a lot of foot traffic. You walk through various alley-like ways and it’s easy to turn your head while you’re moving en route. But of course, you have to make stops in between.

photo 3(69)

Here is where I did.

photo 5(36)
Helados De Sorbetera Lolo Mora.
Since 1910, this ice cream shop has been serving their recipe for sorbetera. The yellow colored iced treat is whipped but with ingredients like nutmeg, clove, vanilla, and cinnamon.

photo 3(68)

Café Rey. Owned by the Tapia family, this fifth generation-owned restaurant has had a space in Mercado Central for just over 120 years! One dish to try is the family’s arregladas (stuffed tortillas).

photo 3(67)

Cafeteria y Cafe Central. This coffee shop is where you can buy any java from black to an espresso or even a sweet specialty drink. Plus watch grinding of, and smell the scent of roasting, Costa Rican coffee beans in large machines. You can also see what is used as a coffee pot in Costa Rica – a chorreador. This device, which is a simple wooden stand, works by pouring hot water into a white cloth that looks like a jean pocket but acts like a filter.

]photo 5(33)photo 1(64)

At Mercado Central, you can also find fruits, spices, flour, and cheeses plus even a nice bolso or floral bouquets. It’s definitely worth a visit!

A Day in Manuel Antonio National Park

Costa Rica has a number of options for viewing wildlife. One of its best known, and said to be one of its most popular attractions, is Manuel Antonio National Park. Located on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast, Manuel Antonio National Park gets thousands of visitors annually and has four lush beaches, a number of hiking trails, forests, and several inhabitants on land and in the water. It’s a pretty bio-diverse location.

If you like sloths, monkeys, lizards, iguanas, and birds, then this is the best place to see them!

If you want to visit Manuel Antonio National Park, go early. When my media group went to see the park, our guide told us that there is limited amount of daily visitors permitted in the park. You have to pay an admission fee to enter the park, and it’s open every day except Mondays. If I remember right, we got there before 9 a.m., and a line was already forming.

Another good tip from our guide was to, well, get a guide. Park guides are certified – in having been extensively educated about the park – and often can stop and point out the various wildlife that you might not see at first yourself. It’s said you can rent a guide at the park or possibly book a reservation in advance through your hotel. Of course, you can go on your own and just take in the views. And if a crows stops at a certain section, it’s a good indication they’ve spotted something.

photo 4(49)

After walking through one of the trails from the entrance, we headed down to one of the beach areas. It’s a bit of a trek down a hill, but along the route, there is a changing room/shower area. At the beach area, there are picnic tables or just random sections for putting your items down. But as a note, watch your stuff. Not just because of the obvious reasons, but there are some creatures that be curious about what you’ve got. There a few different species of monkeys here, one of them being a white-heard capuchin. My group spotted a few of them wandering around the beach area. Let them be, but note that they seemingly are curious.

photo 5(32)

In heading to the beach, I got to go into the water for a while. I’m not a strong swimmer but I had a bit of time in the water. The waves can be a bit strong — you can come across riptides —  so I just ended up letting them just me back toward the beach. There are also rocks underwater the water, too, but so watch where you step.

photo 3(64)

In heading back, we went on a different trail where we spotted other creatures like this land crab that’s a bright reddish color. This one below was pretty camera shy.

photo 3(65)

In all, Manuel Antonio National Park is worth a visit!

Villa Blanca Cloud Forest Hotel & Nature Reserve

photo 1(54)After a good first day in San Jose, Costa Rica, my group headed toward to the country’s Central Highlands region to see the Cloud Forest – and to spend the night at a property there.

The various cloud forests in Costa Rica is where there’s an abundance of bio-diversity with different species of birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and insects. It’s also a lot cooler here, but comfortably. Rain showers are the norm.

photo 2(66)

My group went to the San Ramon area for a stay at the Villa Blanca Cloud Forest Hotel & Nature Reserve. It’s an eco-minded boutique hotel that originally was owned by former Costa Rican president Rodrigo Carazo Odio and his wife, Estrella Zeledon de Carazo. Now owned by a company called Greentique Hotels, what makes this property pretty neat is that it’s surrounded by Los Angeles Private Biological Reserve, a wildlife sanctuary that guests could go on a guided walk through.

photo 2(68)

The main building on the property is where the hotel reservations desk and restaurant can be found. There’s also a gift shop, game room, lobby bar, lounge areas on the ground floor and on the second level, and even a movie theater. Outside this building, guests can opt to stay at one of a number of casitas (garden villas) that are small cottages equipped high-speed internet access and feature nice touches like a wood-burning fireplace.

photo 3(57)
photo 4(42)
The property has a sustainable farm that provides ingredients for the restaurant. In the greenhouse, you can find eggplants, lettuce and herbs that will end up on someone’s dinner plate. There’s also a working dairy farm where guests can learn how to milk “celebrity cows” in residence. There’s Lady Gaga and Brittany Spears, since their names were chosen by hotel guests.

photo 4(44)

Farming aside, you’ll also find a chapel on the property that was an anniversary gift from the president to his wife. We were told that the chapel is pretty popular for holding weddings. By taking a look at the ceiling, we found out why. The ceiling is covered with various hand-painted pictures of symbols of Costa Rica and other countries in Central America.

photo 1(56)

One really neat building here is the Jose Miguel Alfaro Research Station, where researchers from the University of Costa Rica monitor what’s happening in the adjacent nature reserve. You can go inside the station. Here you’ll see dioramas of various insects and watch a video from a monitor that records nighttime creatures.

photo 2(70)

As for visiting the reserve, there are daytime and nocturnal guided walks where the hotel guides can lead you on a path and stop to point out any inhabitants along the way. My group did a nocturnal walk and we were able to see walking sticks, a viper (very far up in the tree), and different frogs. And we really lucked out by seeing the famous red-eyed tree frog!

photo 1(57)

Back at Villa Blanca’s main building, we had our meals inside the restaurant, with locally sourced ingredients incorporated into every dish: coffee, plantains, and pineapple, among others. Very good and very tasty. Overall, the stay was very relaxing, and even as the rain greeted us, it was a good sign.

Discovering Costa Rica’s Culinary Scene

photo 5(26)Costa Rica is often recognized for its beaches and wildlife but its culinary side is getting more attention through a new gastronomic program. Recently I went on an assignment through Visit Costa Rica tourism board to learn more about a new national gastronomic program that promotes more use of native Costa Rican ingredients and dishes – as often done with home cooking – for sustainable, healthful and economical benefits.

Of course to see this program in action we went to places that reflected good examples.

Feria Verde

Our start was in San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital, with a visit to Feria Verde, or translated as The Green Fair. Founded by the Organic Lovers Association (AAMOR), a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable living within Costa Rica, Feria Verde is an eco-minded farmer’s market happening on Saturdays mornings in the neighborhood of Aranjuez.

photo 1(50)

photo 2(63) photo 1(48) photo 4(39)

My group went to Feria Verde Aranjuez, which is about five years old now. It’s held at a place called Polideportivo Aranjuez, in the morning hours, and on our day we walked along a pathway is lined with booths manned by restaurants, organic farms, and other various local producers offering fruits and veggies, breads, sauces, and even coffee.

photo 3(52)
photo 1(51)

Other edibles available for purchase included locally made cheeses, hot and mild sauces and even popsicles. And we were able to get some breakfast too. From one vendor, we ordered “un gallo ranchero,” an egg, cheese, and tomato sauce medley on a corn tortilla. We also had coffee from Taza Amarilla, an organic coffee farm that has a regular spot at Feria Verde Aranjuez.

Chateau 1525

photo 1(52)

Another place that we went to on our first full day is Chateau 1525, a culinary school and restaurant inside a former mansion dating back to the 1930s. During lunch hour, the school’s students put on a five-course culinary presentation that gave us a taste of tradition and a side of interpretation. We were given a history lesson too on the food staples in the Costa Rican diet and the Spanish, African, and indigenous influences reflected in these dishes.

photo 3(54)  photo 1(53) photo 5(27)

photo 2(65)

For example, “Vuelve a la Vida” can be compared to ceviche (raw fish treated with a lime or lemon juice) but a dish is made of different types of seafood that are diced and then given some lemon juice. Stew also has its place in Costa Rican traditions and a regional one called “Olla de Carne,” a strong beef and root vegetable concoction that can make for a nice remedy when someone is sick – like chicken soup.

photo 4(41)

Rice and beans are also essentials in Costa Rica and a typical dish is called Gallo Pinto and it can come with chicken or fish. For dessert, the student chefs whipped up different treats that are featured at town festivals, which are called turnos. We had sorbetera (a vanilla based ice cream with spices), churros, and sugared apples, among other goodies.

We ended our day with dinner at Tintos y Blancos, a family-owned restaurant in San Diego that focuses on Mediterranean cuisine. Its innovate decor is built around wine, with a look that resembles a wine cellar. There are nearly 500 wines in stock – with many also available for purchase – that compliment every meal. Origins extend to France, Italy, Chile and Argentina – the latter a nod to the owners’ heritage. Overall, it was a filling first day.

Editor’s Note: I was invited by Visit Costa Rica to learn more about its culinary offerings, but all opinions are my own.