Costa Rica enjoys a reputation for adventure tourism, with its unique terrain, pounding surf and rain forest zip lines. However, over the past few years, Costa Rica has become home to many acclaimed international chefs, and is fast becoming a popular destination for foodies eager to experience Latin American cuisine.
If you’re contemplating a Costa Rica culinary tour, there are three “must visit” locations to include on your itinerary.
The capital city of Costa Rica, San José is the center of the country’s growing food scene, and the perfect base from which to begin your Costa Rica Culinary tour. Perhaps you will stay at the Hotel Grano and take your first meal at the Restuarante Grano de Oro, where you can enjoy such delights as tilapia with herb butter and fennel, a wide selection of wines, and crème brûlée made with organic, locally grown vanilla beans.
When you’re ready to venture farther afield, head downtown and visit the Mercado Central. This is a huge market where you can buy just about anything your heart desires, and also experience local cuisine at the various food stalls. Check out Soda Tapia and sample casados, which is a mixture of rice, meat, beans and plantains. If you’re still hungry, there’s another market just across the street, Mercado Borbón, where you can continue your Costa Rica culinary tour.
You’ll also want to visit Sabores, which is the “new kid on the block” when it comes to Cost Rican cuisine. The brand is well known locally, having begun as a culinary magazine which was later followed by a TV show devoted to cooking. Then in 2012, Centro Gastronómico Sabores was opened, where guests can learn how to make everything from cocktails to desserts under the tutelage of celebrity chefs.
The town of Manuel Antonio is located along Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, and is known mainly for wildlife and beaches. However, it’s also a culinary destination. One of the best places to stay is Arenas Del Mar, which is a beach and rain forest resort with an outstanding culinary program where you can learn how to make tortillas. El Mirador Bar & Restaurant is the resort’s signature restaurant, where you can enjoy inventive offerings like the pork tenderloin with chocolate, yucca and tamarind.
Also make sure to take in Villa Vanilla, which is an organic spice plantation. The road to Villa Vanilla is a bit bumpy, but the end result is well worth it – you’ll tour the plantation, and then sample the spices in taste sensations like chili-spiked brownies. Top off this Costa Rica culinary tour with a visit to the spice shop, where you can purchase a variety of spices to take home with you.
Costa Rica’s central highlands are just 30 minutes away from the San José airport, and are home to numerous coffee farms. In fact, Costa Rica’s most important export is Arabica coffee beans.
When visiting the central highlands, you might stay at the Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation & Inn. It’s also a popular stop on eco tours, and is located in the small town of Santa Bárbara de Heredia. Be sure to take the coffee tour through the estate, and then visit El Tigre Vestido Restaurant and Bar Búho, and enjoy a traditional casado, homemade tortillas, or perhaps tuna tartare, fresh-caught in local waters.
The real star of this Costa Rica culinary tour, though, is the 6-course coffee tasting dinner, with each course featuring the coffee bean in one form or another. Imagine roasted tomato espresso soup and chicken with coffee sauce, to name just a couple of dishes.
If you visit during the harvest season, you’ll be able to see the coffee beans being picked and roasted.
These are the three top destinations on any Cost Rica culinary tour. However, if you explore this beautiful country, you’re sure to find “hidden gems” along the way as well – culinary destinations that you’ll want to come back to on your next visit.