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Costa Rica’s answer to Brown Sugar…..Tapa de Dulce!!

May 17, 2014

Most people would think that the popular Costa Rican coffee would be the obvious morning drink, but actually, the traditional breakfast drink is known as Agua Dulce (“sweet water”). Made from the “typical” local ingredient “Tapa de Dulce”, these familiar (or not so familiar) molded small cakes of firm compacted brown sugar product are very similar to the North American “brown sugar” we buy in a bag.

Also known in many Costa Rican homes simply as “Bebida”, this sugary cane liquid is extracted, boiled, evaporated and eventually poured into conical molds, which are cooled, at which time the tops are cut off making them tapas (“lids”). The traditional drink of “Agua Dulce” is made by cutting or breaking off a bit of the tapa and gently dissolving it in boiling water or hot milk. Delicious!

Known by many names throughout the world, Tapa de Dulce can also be called “Panela”, “AtadoDulce”, “Raspadura”, “Rapadura”, “Chancaca”, “Papelon”, “Piloncillo”, “Panocha”, “Empanizao”, “Melaza y Cuyo” and many many other varying names depending on the region and/or country you are in at any given moment.

Consisting completely of Sugar Cane juice, to make the ubiquitous molded Tapa disks old traditions held to using oxen or sometimes donkeys or mules to run the small rural processing “plants” better known as “Trapiches”. Not being easy to extract the sugary juice from the cane stalks, the animals were much more efficient back in those days, but alas…today it is almost completely a mechanized process being much more efficient and sanitary then using the animals. Back in the early 1900’s, Costa Rica had more than 1600 Trapiches, but today they have almost completely dissappeared, and a national cry has gone out to not let this tradition completely disappear. Costa Rica Hotels and Tour Operators have projects in the works to incorporate the Trapiche Farms in to rural tourism centers, directly sharing the experience with visitors from around the world. Unfortunately, this idea is far from fruition at this point.

Not a completely empty calorie sugar product, Panela or Tapa de Dulce differenciates itself from ordinary white sugar with measurable amounts of glucose, fructose, proteins, as well as minerals such as calcium, iron, phosphorous, and trace vitamins such as absorbic acid. It’s said to have “medicinal” properties as well, but more on that below!

When preparing a cup of delicious Agua Dulce, add a small chunk shaved off the molded Tapa de Dulce sugar block and mix with a small amount of hot water, working it until it’s the consistency of honey. Then either add hot water (“Agua Dulce”), or hot milk (“Bebida”) and enjoy! In the Atlantic region of Limón, the Agua Dulce is served cold and mixed with lemon juice and a hint of ginger. This is known as “Agua de Sapo” (Toad Water) or “Hiel” and is another refreshing way to enjoy sugar cane juice. But why stop there? Do you have a cold? Mix the Agua Dulce with lemon juice and an ounce of “Guaro” (Cane Liquor), which is said to be the best remedy in Costa Rica and sure to make your pains go away!

The country of Colombia is the leader in the Panela industry, providing an important source of employment for that country with around 350,000 people working in approximately 20,000 Trapiches or Panela Farms.

In fact, the city of Palmira, Colombia broke the world record in 2009 for the largest and heaviest Panela, with a molded sugar cake that measured 10 feet and 20 inches and weighing some 715 kilos! This required more than 70 tons of sugar cane, and 90 people working for 28 hours consecutively to complete.

So are you ready to try this tasty little treat? To buy your own Tapa de Dulce, make your way to your nearest typical “soda”, Costa Rican supermarket or the Pulpería (corner store). If you aren’t lucky enough to be in Costa Rica, you can buy Tapa de Dulce online at:


Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and owns and manages her own Luxury Vacation Rental BusinessManuel Antonio Rental Homes.



“Peach Palm”, a sorry translation for the popular Pejibaye Fruit in Costa Rica

November 12, 2013

When traveling or residing in a foreign country, experimenting with foods, fruits and the customs of the host country should be a part of your adventures. In this blog post, we are going to focus on a popular Costa Rican fruit, the “Pejibaye”. One of Costa Rica’s most readily available fruits, they can be found throughout the country’s farmer’s markets, supermarkets and street corners. It’s unique flavor, nutritional value and vivid colors, makes this fruit an interesting addition to any Costa Rican cuisine.

Pejibayes grow in large clusters of 50-100 fruits, with some clusters having as more than 300 fruits, weighing 25 lbs or more,

and located high upon very spiney Palm Trees that often attain heights of 65-100 ft. These Palms are the same species that produce Costa Rica’s famous Hearts of Palm, another very popular offering found throughout this country. Available in a variety of colors ranging from yellow to orange to red to green, the waxy generally orange colored skin of the Pejibaye fruit is a favorite throughout the country.

The starchy texture and potato like consistency of the Pejibaye, requires a ample amount of cooking and preparation in order to

make them eatable, and to bring them to the height of their flavor. The preferred method of preparation is to place the entire fruits into large pots of well-salted boiling water, then cooking them for anywhere from 1-2 hours to soften the fruit’s texture. Eventually, the pejibayes soften (to a certain extent), at which time you can then peel them, cut them in half, removing the large central seed, and place them on a plate in halves or quarters. At that point, the Pejibayes are most commonly served with a small dollop of mayonnaise (or sometimes dipped in butter) helping to contrast the natural dryness of the fruit, and bringing out their natural subtle sweetness. The brilliant orange fleshy color is maintained throughout the process and enhances the natural presentation.

Roadside vendors sell boiled Pejibayes at makeshift stands all across the country, as well as the weekend farmers markets offer the ready cooked fruits and raw “racimes” of the fruits weekly. Pejibayes are so popular, that even some of the most prestigious supermarkets throughout Costa Rica have the boiled fruits for sale at all hours in their vegetable sections.

The Pejibaye, Bactris gasipaes, is also referred to as the “Peach Palm”, and is thought to be indigenous to Amazonian areas of

countries like Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela and Brazil, and found in other tropical locales such as Trinidad, Panama, having been cultivated and distributed by Indians for centuries. The fruit is plentiful in a literally wild state on the Atlantic side of Costa Rica, as well as large farms that cultivate the fruit for national and international distribution can be found there. Although not as common in other areas of Central America, it is still found throughout Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala, as well as Panama since the Pejibaye fruit requires a tropical climate with the ideal average annual temperature ranging between 64°F and 75°F (18°-24°C). At low elevations with excessive rainfall, the palm will not produce viable fruits.

The biggest “pitfall” of this hearty little fruit is that an average 100 grams of Pejibaye fruit contains a hearty amount of

calories, definitely eliminating them as an option for anyone watching their weight. Nonetheless, if you find that you just cannot resist the allure of this tropical gem, the following is one of the most popular recipes to make the most of your experimentation with the ever so popular Costa Rican “Pejibaye”.
Sopa de Pejibaye Recipe (Palm Fruit Soup)

10-12 pejibayes
3 cups chicken stock
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
3 cups milk
1 onion chopped
3 cloves garlic chopped or pressed
1 red, yellow or green sweet pepper.
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Wash and boil the pejibayes in salted water until soft (about 1.5 hours). Remove from the water, and when able to handle, peel and core them. Puree the pejibayes with the chicken stock.

Sauté the onion, garlic, and pepper in the oil until the onions are soft and clear, then combine all the ingredients in a stock pot and simmer for another 10 minutes or so. Enjoy!

Author: Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and owns her own Costa Rica Vacation Rental Home Business Manuel Antonio Rental Homes.

Did you know that some of the first Chocolate Beans came from Costa Rica?

July 13, 2012

Ancient History:
The life story of Chocolate starts a little over 3000 years ago. While there are images on Mayan pottery dating back to 1000BC, most historians believe the cacao tree was first cultivated by the Olmecs, who lived in Central America, not far from Costa Rica. Research into their language has revealed the word cacao was used by this Mesoamerican civilization, dispelling the common misconception that the Mayans were the original founders of chocolate.
By 300 AD the Olmecs had vanished and the Mayan civilization was flourishing in the southern part of what is now Mexico. The Mayan civilization worshiped the sacred tree, naming it cacahuaquchtl, and believed the pods were a gift to man from the Gods. Writings that survive today describe the cacao as the gods’ food, and many drawings show cacao pods being used in rituals and ceremonies. After the demise of the Mayan civilization, the Toltecs occupied the same region; followed by the Aztecs who conquered the Toltecs in 1325. When the Aztecs discovered the cacao beans that the Toltecs worshiped and transformed into drink, they named the beans cacahuatl, meaning “sun beans”. Cacao beans were used primarily as currency and a beverage at

this time. The beans were so valuable, they were the only permitted form of payment of taxes levied by the Aztecs rulers.

Both the Aztecs and the Mayans concocted a foamy drink with the cacao, and spiced it with chili, allspice, honey or vanilla. The beverage was enjoyed mostly by the elite upper class as it was an expensive luxury. In 1502, cacao beans were first discovered by a European – Christopher Columbus. He was offered cacao beans in trade for goods of his own. His confusion over these “almonds” being used as currency led the chief of Guanja to prepare xocolatl for him, which he apparently found bitter and distasteful. While he did not initially realize the beans were edible, he did report that they were being used as a form of currency, and returned to Spain with some beans. When he presented his find to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, they were not pleased with the cocoa drink either, and thus Spain did not pursue the import of cacao beans for several decades.

Journey to Europe
In 1528 Cortes returned to Spain, bringing with him cacao beans and necessary equipment to produce Xoclatl for Charles V. Initial reactions to the dark, bitter

liquid were once again not positive, but with the addition of sugar cane and some spices such as cinnamon or vanilla, the drink began to gain acceptance with the royals and nobles. Adding to the development, the Spaniards created a tool called a molinillo which made whipping the chocolate in to the frothy beverage much easier increasing its popularity.

For the next 80 years Spain controlled the import of all cacao beans, and they began to cultivate them in other areas near the equator such as Costa Rica, Trinidad, Haiti, Mexico, Java and the Caribbean. Because growing and processing beans was very profitable for the Spanish colonists, they were careful to protect their knowledge of working with cacao. The processing of the beans was performed by Spanish monks in the colonies until 1580 when the first chocolate processing plant was set up in Spain.

Chocolate Becomes Vogue Throughout Europe
In the early 1600’s, chocolate began spreading across Europe, first to Holland then to Italy, Germany, Great Briton, France and Switzerland. As a result these empires began cultivating and producing chocolate in their own colonies. During this period in history, cocoa was known as a clerical fasting beverage, because the Catholic Church permitted consumption of cocoa during lent as a nutritional substitute. It was still believed to have medicinal and restorative properties, as well as to be an aphrodisiac.

Evolutionary Changes
The 1700s brought the evolution of chocolate processing with the invention of the steam engine, which made possible the grinding of the cocoa beans by machines. This allowed large quantities of beans to be processed with relatively little labor, causing a decrease in the price. Within 30 years the price of cocoa dropped so significantly that cocoa was available to nearly everyone.

Nearly 100 years later, the cocoa press was invented by the Dutch chemist Coenraad Van Houten. The press allowed for even more economical prices on cocoa. It squeezed out cocoa butter, leaving the cocoa powder, which made cocoa both more consistent and less expensive to produce.
Chocolate was produced in the American colonies as early as 1765, when the first chocolate factory was built. Dr. James & John Hannon who joined together for one of the earliest machine-based chocolate manufacturing businesses. Using an old grist mill, they ground cacao beans into chocolate liquor and pressed the paste into cakes to be used for drinking chocolate. Their company was originally known as Hannon’s Best Chocolate. When Hannon was lost at sea during a cacao-buying voyage to the West Indies, the company was renamed the Baker Company (Baker’s Chocolate) and remained in the Baker family until it was bought out by General Foods in 1927.

Making things Easier to Eat
In 1847 the first solid chocolate bar was created. It was made by combining some of the melted cocoa butter with cocoa powder and sugar, creating a paste that could be pressed into a mold. The chocolate bar was so popular that people soon began to think of eating chocolate as much as drinking it.
In 1876, Daniel Peter of Switzerland was attempting to devise a way of adding milk to chocolate, but couldn’t create a mixture that would combine smoothly. At the same time, Henri Nestlé was working on a concentrated infant food formula, which required him to find a way to treat milk so that it would not spoil while in storage. He invented powdered milk, which turned out to be the perfect milk form for Peter’s purposes; the low water content made it possible to mix it with the chocolate into a bar that did not spoil. By 1879, the two men had joined to form Nestle.

In 1879, Rudolphe Lindt invented a process called “conching,” which drastically improved the texture of chocolate by making it more blendable early in the processing. This machine was made of a shell-shaped granite bed, and had rollers that moved back and forth grinding the chocolate liquor, sugar and (if used) milk into a paste that was the smoothest ever created. Soon, conching was adopted as a standard part of the chocolate-making process. Originally, the friction of the rollers heated the paste as they ground it, which served as preliminary roasting. Because of the importance of the roasting process, today’s conching machine rollers are cooled so that the roasting time can be controlled with precision.
The 1900’s saw the creation of Hershey’s chocolate bars (1893), filled bonbons (1913), Perugina and Valrhona chocolate companies (1922), Godiva Belgian chocolates (1926), Toll House cookies (1930) and army “D-Rations” (1941). Chocolate is now eaten by children and adults all over the world, and comes in many flavors, styles and packages. It continues to evolve with the proliferation of vintages and “single origin” chocolates at the beginning of this millennium.

Initial Production Time
When it is time to harvest, the pods are cut from the tree trunk by hand using a machete. For pods higher up on the tree, a long handle with a small curved blade is used to gently separate them from the trunk. Care must be taken not to damage the other pods or flowers on the tree, as the tree is frail and its roots are shallow. The pods are collected in baskets and brought to a central location. Within a week, all pods are split open, often with a wooden club to avoid damaging the beans inside the pod, and the contents removed. The pods will usually yield 40-60 beans each, depending on the variety of the cacao. When dry, it will take approximately 400 beans to make one pound of roasted beans.


Beans and surrounding white pulp are removed from the pod and piled high, to promote fermentation. Fermenting piles are often covered with banana leaves and stirred periodically to promote aeration and fermentation. After a day, micro-organisms, in particular yeasts, begin to grow on the beans. The yeast converts the sugar of the pulp into ethanol, and the bacteria then oxidizes the ethanol, causing the temperature of the pile to rise and the beans to turn brown. By the second day the pulp begins to break down into a liquid and drain away. At this point, the bean has died from the heat and the oxidization. Bacteria continues the process of oxidation as more and more air fills the spaces previously occupied by the pulp. The death of the bean causes cell walls to break down and different parts of the bean to merge together. These newly combined substances cause chemical reactions which enhance the color and flavor characteristics in the bean. The entire fermentation process for Criollo beans is 2-3 days, and for Forastero usually 5 days.

When fermentation is complete, the beans have a moisture content of 60% which is much too high- drying will reduce that to 7.5%. Drying is done traditionally by spreading the beans out on the ground or a table and allowing the sun to do the work. More modern techniques include drying rooms and heated tables where temperatures can be strictly controlled. The beans should be dried slowly to allow completion of the chemical reactions that began in fermentation, but not so slowly that moulds develop. During the drying process, the beans are continually turned to help prevent mold and provide sufficient aeration. Once the beans are dried, which usually takes one to two weeks, they are scooped into bags and from there the beans go to the chocolate manufacturers.

Quality Checks
The cacao undergoes quality tests at several stages along its journey. The first stop after drying is when the plantation sorts the beans according to size. Only the premium beans command top pricing in the market. The local co-ops and plantations sell to brokers in London, Amsterdam and New York, who then act as middlemen selling to the manufacturers and chocolate companies. The beans are tested usually by sampling 300 beans per metric ton. The sample is weighed and the beans are cut open to reveal any mold or pests and to determine the extent of the fermentation. Every company has standards that define the tolerances for defective beans in a lot. As a final test, the liquors are tasted by a professional panel who evaluates the aromas and flavors of the beans.

Transformation at the Chocolate Maker

Once the beans are ready to be processed, it takes at least 2 to 4 days to manufacture a single candy bar. Though processes may differ from maker to maker, the overall process is common to most. Because each maker blends beans to his unique specifications, makers segregate their beans by type and origin. When they are ready to process, the cocoa beans are cleaned to remove any debris or dried pulp that may remain, and then they are graded and sorted by size. Any shriveled or double beans are discarded.

Next the beans are roasted in large rotating cylinders to bring out the chocolate flavor and color. The roasting can take 30 to 120 minutes, usually at 250 degrees or higher. This is a critical step where chocolate makers add their own signature to the process, by varying the temperature, moisture and time the beans are roasted. The longer the roasting the stronger the flavor, but over-roasting will rune the bean and make it bitter.

Once roasting is complete, the beans are put into a winnowing machine where they are passed between two large cones that crack the brittle shells without crushing the nibs. A fan inside blows and separates the hard outer shell from the cocoa nib. As a part of this process, the winnowing machine sifts through the nibs and separates them by size.

Grinding Machine

Once sorted, the nibs are crushed by large steel discs or grinding stones. The heat generated by the friction melts the cocoa butter which becomes cocoa liquor (cocoa particles suspended in cocoa butter). The cocoa particles at this point are approximately 50-70 microns in size, which is still detected as grainy on the tongue. This liquor if solidified would be pure unsweetened chocolate. The temperature and degree of milling varies according to the type of nib used and the product required.
Some liquor will be used for purposes other than eating chocolate. For this portion, the cocoa liquor is pressed at 6,000 pounds per square inch to extract the cocoa butter, producing a residual solid mass called cocoa presscake. The extracted cocoa butter is used in the manufacture of eating chocolate, while the cocoa presscake is ground finely to form cocoa powder. For the liquor that will go on to become chocolate, the addition of cocoa butter will be the next step. Other ingredients such as sugar, milk and emulsifying agents such as lecithin, are also added and mixed. The amount of cocoa butter depends on the type of chocolate being made. The cocoa butter and cacao solids together make up the coco percentage that is now being emblazoned on many labels. The higher cocoa percent in the finished chocolate, the more intense the flavor will be and the lower the sugar content.

Mixing of Liquor and Other Ingredients
The chocolate mixture is then put through a refining process, traveling through a series of huge steel rollers until a smooth paste is formed. The size of the chocolate particles is reduced to 14-20 microns at this stage, which greatly improves the mouth-feel of the final chocolate. The substance that comes out of this mixing process is surprisingly dry and powdery.

The next process, conching, further develops the flavor and texture by promoting chemical transformations in the chocolate. This process was developed first by Rodolphe Lindt around the turn of the century. Conching is a process of kneading and agitating the chocolate, which can be completed in as little as 5 hours at the more commercial facilities, but can take as long as 3 days at the more artisan manufacturers. During this process, cocoa butter is sometimes added to further enhance the smoothness of the end result. The speed, duration and temperature of the kneading also affect the flavor affect the chocolate in ways not fully understood.

As a final stage before molding, the mixture is tempered by a series of heating, cooling and reheating steps. This prevents chocolate bloom by realigning the cacao butter crystal formations. The chocolate is now ready to be molded as a whole bar or used to enrobe fillings.

How to make Chocolate:

Costa Rica Chocolate History:

The decade of 1950’s
Costa Rican Cocoa Products began with the clear mission to industrialize the national of cocoa beans in Costa Rica. In order to make this happen the founders acquired the Harrick’s company with its products and chocolate drinks naming it The Costa Rican Cocoa Products. The production of cocoa powder begins, as well as the making of chocolate coating for the industry. Also the first exports of cocoa butter are sent to Colombia and the United States.

The decade of 1960’s
For the 1960’s the company mission was: “To expand operations to Central America.” In order to reach this goal they built bigger and more modern plant in Zapote where they could start the chocolate bar production. They expanded their distribution by opening distribution facilities in different countries of Central America.

The decade of 1970’s
The mission for the 1970’s was key to the development of the company since it was defined as “Product diversification and vertical integration.” For this, the Ruiz family acquired cocoa farms from which they could produce their own chocolate. Later they realized that it was more profitable to import the raw materials. Then in 1977, the distributor company, Diasa was founded. This was a major breakthrough since they were able to develop their own sales force and distribute the product all over the country. Also during the seventies, as sales increased the owners saw the need for the automation of the line of “chocolates bañados”, and bought new machinery to start manufacturing the Perugina candy.

The decade of 1990’s
In the second half of the 1990’s there was a shift in the vision of the company. The Nestle Company which had acquired Perugina of Italy in 1988, made an offer to buy the plant that Costa Rican Cocoa had in Heredia along with its consumer market product-line. The Ruiz family saw this as a great opportunity to concentrate their efforts in cocoa based products at an industrial level.On December of that same year, the Nestle Company acquired the brand names of Harrick’s and Perugina, along with the machinery for their production.The Costa Rican Cocoa Products vision for the second half of the decade is to diversify their industrial product-line in order to continue to fulfill the needs and wants of the national industry and penetrates other foreign markets at competitive levels on the basis of quality and price.The company currently exports its products to all of Central America, the United States, Mexico and Sweden.

The plant and its facilities are located in Zapote in the outskirts of San José, the capital of Costa Rica. The population of San José is around 2.000.000, where the total population of the country is approximately 4 million. The climate of the region is quite mild where in the summer is warmer and in the winter there are sunny mornings and rainy afternoons, so this works well for the manufacturing of chocolate.

Costa Rican Cocoa Co. S.A
In from Multiplaza del Este, Zapote, San José, Costa Rica
(506) 2225-2611 – phone
(506) 2225-7432 – fax

Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.


Costa Rican Sloths….I wish I could be one in my next life!

June 11, 2012
What the heck is a sloth?
Sloths are slow-moving, medium sized mammals. While they are warm-blooded, their blood is typically colder than other mammals, making them less susceptible to biting insects. Like other mammals, they have live births and produce milk to nurse their young.  Sloths are highly adapted to life in the jungles of Central and South America and are very common in certain parts of Costa Rica. Their diets consist mainly of vegetation, which while plentiful, is not very nutritious. Since they do not get much energy from that diet, sloths have a very slow metabolism. It takes up to 30 days to digest a single meal. Their hands and feet are well adapted to allow them to hang upside-down from trees most of their lives. Sloths will only descend from their arboreal homes about once a week to urinate and defecate.  Can you imagine?

The fur of the sloth is another highly specialized adaptation for this animal. The long outer hairs are grooved to allow water to drain away from the body. The hair near the base of their spines crests to form a “drip tip,” which allows rain water to flow off the back. Algae grows in the grooves on a sloth’s fur, providing extra camouflage for the canopy-dweller. Sloth fur also exhibits specialized functions; the outer hairs grow in a direction opposite from that of other mammals. In most mammals hairs grow toward the extremities, but because sloths spend so much time with their legs above their bodies, their hairs grow away from the extremities in order to provide protection from the elements while the sloth hangs upside down.

The Sloths of Costa Rica, also known locally as “Ozos Perezosos” (“Lazy Bears”) and not known for being quick and nimble, though they are rather athletic in their own way.  Sloths have short, flat heads; big eyes; a short snout; long legs; and tiny ears. The species found in Costa Rica have stubby tails (6–7 cm long) handy for digging the hole when they defecate, and sloths’ bodies usually are anywhere from 50 and 60 cm long.  There is something absolutely fascinating about these big hardly noticeable fur balls that appear too sleepy to budge from their perches in the high tree branches that makes them a favorite of all that have the pleasure to spot one. 

Judy Avey Arroyo, a 63-year-old Costa Rica resident (she’s originally from Anchorage, Alaska) has spent many years studying these incredible creatures, and this was never even part of her life plan.  In 1992, three local girls near Avey’s Caribbean Costa Rica Hotel spotted a three-month-old sloth in the road. The girls carried the orphan to the hotel in search of help, and thus began Avey’s study of this misunderstood mammal and her the start of her very popular Aviarios del Caribe Sloth Sanctuary, which has become a cult favorite among sloth enthusiasts and visiting tourism in Costa Rica.

Many of the sloths brought by locals or even travelers from up and down the country’s Caribbean coast to the Aviarios Sanctuary, are just a few months old when they arrive, while others are injured adults. Sometimes they have been badly electrocuted after climbing electrical or telephone cables, or have been crippled by a bad fall, or hit by a car.  There are so few options for these beautiful creatures to rehabilitate in the country, with the only other available sanctuary located on the Central Pacific coast of Costa Rica (recently certified by MINAET, the governing entity in Costa Rica) being located outside of Quepos & Manuel Antonio and is managed by the very popular Kids Saving the Rainforest (  These two facilities are two of only a handful of folks that will even accept these injured animals for rehab and are legally allowed to do so.

Sloths belonging to the Choloepus Genus and the Bradypus Genus arrive to the sanctuaries year round (these are the only types found in Costa Rica). The Choloepus is commonly called a two-toed sloth, although Avey points out it’s more like two fingers, as the animal’s lower limbs each have three toes. The Bradypus has three “fingers” (or “toes”) and a sort of smiley face and appears to be wearing a mask around its eyes, so those are not as hard to spot, though both species are difficult to notice when living in the wild.  For both types of sloths, the fingers and toes are curved, claw-like bone appendages with fingernail coatings, which help sloths cling to branches and stuff a variety of tree leaves into their mouths. Sloths can also use the claws for defense against predators, especially should they find themselves on the jungle floor, though the most common predators are the harpy eagles, which can swoop down and snatch these large creatures right off a sturdy tree limb. Although the sluggish herbivores are rarely ever the first to attack, they will eagerly use their long claws if needed for self defense. Their natural self defense is further aided by an algae that grows within their furry coat and helps hide their scent from possible predators, such as ocelots and jaguars.  Naturally, it’s humans that have long been one of the sloths’ biggest threats, with the continuing loss of habitat.

The three-toed sloth is active during the day, unlike the nocturnal two-toed sloth, and so the three-toed specie is more commonly spotted by passersby. This sloth only eats leaves from trees and lianas, but may feed on one hundred individual trees of up to thirty species, eating leaves of different varying ages. Sloths live, feed, mate, and reproduce near the upper levels of the forest canopy and rarely come down from the canopy except for defecation. They often move to a new tree only to keep balance in their diet, and this is generally only every 2-3 days. Home ranges for sloth individuals can overlap considerably and females tend to be more social than the males. Sloths may prefer different food sources within the same home range, as they tend to feed on what their mothers taught them to eat while growing up.

Though large for an arboreal mammal, the three-toed sloth must also be light for it to be able to live on easily breakable branches where it can sleep for some 12-18 hours per day.  So for that reason, the sloth has overall reduced muscle mass. These unique creatures also have an enormous gut capacity, nearly 30% of their total body weight! The sloth’s diet of leaves is digested very slowly, so they need a have this large capacity. Due to their slow metabolism, the sloths have thick fur to insulate them for when their body temperature drops at night.  That is why often you will spot a sloth basking in the sunlight of the day, before curling up in a ball in the tree for the night to conserve their limited energy.
When not sleeping, sloths move only when necessary and even then very slowly.  They have about a quarter as much muscle tissue as other animals of similar weight. They can move at a marginally higher speed if they are in immediate danger from a predator (4 m or 13 feet per minute for the three-toed sloth), but they burn large amounts of energy doing so. Their specialized hands and feet have long, curved claws to allow them to hang upside-down from branches without effort.  In fact, their nails are so adept that hunters can shoot a sloth and it will often remain hanging in the tree!   While they sometimes sit on top of branches, they usually eat, sleep, and even give birth hanging from limbs.


About once a week, the sloth descends from its elevated living space, digs a small hole with its stubby and erect triangular stump of a tail, defecates and urinates in the hole, then covers it with leaves using its hind legs and returning as soon as possible to its safer elevated home. This process lasts less than 30 minutes, but is the most dangerous moments in the sloths life as it is during this time the sloth is most vulnerable to predators. While mortality of young sloths is high, individuals that survive are recorded to live as long as 9-11 years in captivity, and as many as 20-30 years in the wild.

Several kinds of moths have a symbiotic relationship with this species and live as adults on the sloths. These arthropods leave the sloth to deposit their eggs once a week on the sloth’s dung, at which time the hatched larvae feed on the dung, pupate, and later emerge as adults, to fly in search of another sloth to make their home. A single sloth may carry 1000 or more species of moths, beetles, mites and other small insects you do not want to share your skin (or bed) with!  Because of the cyanobacteria and other parasites, sloth fur serves as a small ecosystem all its own.

Adult males are characterized by a patch of shorter hair on their backs that is colored pale to bright yellow, with a dorsoventral black stripe through the center. Adult females lack such a marking, so that is the easiest way to determine the sex. It is essentially impossible to distinguish the sexes of young and juvenile sloths because there is no external genitalia.
An adult female spends approximately half the year pregnant and the other half rearing her single (but on rare occasion twin) offspring. Young sloths can begin eating leaves when they are only two weeks old. As the mother carries the young with her, she shows it which trees and lianas are fit to eat within their home range and when the baby is around 6 months old, the mother suddenly leaves the young to her home-range and moves to establish her own new home range nearby. The young and mother maintain contact through vocalizations, and the young continues to use this portion of the mother’s range for a while and then eventually gives up the bond and departs to live on its own.  Their home range can contain over 100 favorite types of meals for the sloth, but by far the most common would be the Cecropia (Guarumo in Spanish) tree, which also happens to be the easiest to spot these beautiful animals due to its large open limbs.
The History of  a Costa Rican Sloth Sanctuary by Judy Arroyo:
Over twenty years ago a small sloth was brought to my door. I cupped the tiny animal in my hands and knew I had to do something. This baby sloth, who many of you know as Buttercup, was dying of starvation. Her mother was most likely dead and I was faced with a huge challenge. At the time, little was known about sloths, much less baby sloths. I was advised to let the baby go, that I would not be able to feed her, that I would only be prolonging the inevitable. I looked down at her little face and knew that I would do anything in my power to save this tiny sloth.

Buttercup had a few difficult months. Using books, common sense and intuition, I was able to concoct a diet that brought her into adulthood. Today, she holds the record of being the sloth to live the longest time in captivity. She reigns supreme over our veranda at the Sloth Sanctuary.
As the years passed, we became the “sloth people”. Orphaned and injured sloths were brought to us for rehabilitation. In 1997 we started an educational program to teach local people and tourists that baby sloths are bad pet choices. We raised awareness about poaching and habitat destruction. The Sloth Sanctuary became a gathering place and international hub for sloth research.
Today we are responsible for over 130 sloths. Many have been maimed by electric wires, or tortured by cruel humans. They require our constant attention. We love taking care of these adorable gentle animals, but we need your help.
Please consider supporting us as we care for these beautiful animals, and become a virtual member of our team. Help us raise awareness in our local community so the needless cruelty and the pain will stop. 
You can learn more about the Aviarios del Caribe Sloth Sanctuary or make a donation at  The sloths thank you!!
Also,  for those aficionados of sloths that just can’t get enough of these adorable creatures, I definitely recommend you join for the latest and cutest to be found in the sloth world! 
And for those that live or will be visiting the Manuel Antonio area, please don’t miss the chance to volunteer in our area at  the ever popular Kids Saving the Rainforest found at Hotel Mono Azul or check it out at!!  They can arrange individual or groups tours of the sanctuary with their resident veterinarian and helpful and enthusiastic volunteers!
Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years.  Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica.  Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.
Animal Planet

Earth Hour 2012! Turn out the Lights and Help the Planet!

March 16, 2012

Earth Hour is driven by the global community’s will to protect the planet we share. Earth Hour’s exponential growth – from a single-city initiative in 2007 to a global movement across 128 countries in 2010 to now in 2012 – is indicative of the growing desire for a cleaner, healthier world that is gathering momentum by the hour. Across the globe plans are underway to make Earth Hour 2012 a bigger event than ever!

At 8.30pm on Saturday 31 March 2012, Earth Hour will mark a moment of global contemplation to go beyond the hour; a collective commitment by individuals throughout the world to be the ongoing change they want to see in it.

At Hotel Byblos Resort & Casino, an adventure boutique hotel in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, we too will be participating in this worldwide event. We cordially invite you to join us for our “Green Drinks” cocktail hour, followed by a special “Earth Hour” themed candlelit dinner to be held poolside at our popular Bistro Pizzeria and Restaurant featuring specialty dishes focusing on sustainability and our ongoing commitment to minimize our Costa Rican Hotel’s carbon footprint.


1. What is Earth Hour? Earth Hour is a global grass-roots movement encouraging individuals, businesses and governments around the world to take positive actions for the environment, and celebrating their commitment to the planet by switching off their lights for one designated hour. Earth Hour 2012 aims to show the actions that people, businesses and governments world-wide are taking to reduce their environmental impact. The highlight of Earth Hour 2012 will see the world’s most iconic landmarks go dark for one designated hour, as hundreds of millions of people transcend race, religion, culture, society, generation and geography, switching off their lights in a global celebration of their commitment to protect the one thing that unites us all – the planet.

2. When does Earth Hour take place? Earth Hour 2012 will be held on Saturday March 31 between 8.30PM and 9.30PM in your local time zone.

3. What does Earth Hour ask people to do? Earth Hour encourages individuals, businesses and governments to use Earth Hour as a platform to showcase to the world what measures they are taking to reduce their environmental impact. Earth Hour asks everyone to take personal accountability for their impact on the planet and make behavioural changes to facilitate a sustainable lifestyle.

4. Does this mean during Earth Hour I have to turn off everything in my home and use absolutely no electricity? No. The main point of Earth Hour is to show the world that a solution to the world’s environmental challenges is possible if we work on them together – together our actions add up! Earth Hour only asks that you turn off non-essential lighting, safety and security lighting should remain on.

5. How long has Earth Hour been going for? Earth Hour began in one city in 2007 when more than two million individuals and two thousand businesses in Sydney, Australia turned off their lights for one hour on Saturday 31 March 2007 to take a stand on climate change. In the space of three short years Earth Hour grew to become the greatest environmental action in history with individuals, businesses and governments across 128 countries coming together for Earth Hour 2010 to show the path to a sustainable future is a collective journey and the movement has continued to grow over the last few years.

6. Isn’t switching the lights off dangerous? What about public safety? Earth Hour only asks people to turn off the non-essential lights for one hour – not lights that affect public safety. Earth Hour is also a celebration of the planet so it’s important to enjoy the moment in a safe environment.

7. What lights can be safely switched off? That is a decision that has to be made individually but usually the overhead lights in rooms (whether it is your house, hotel or a business), outdoor lighting that does not impact safety, computers, decorative lights, neon signs for advertising, televisions, desk lamps, the list goes on and on…. You are encouraged to make sure you have alternative light sources handy before Earth Hour starts, like candles, torches or flashlights.

8. What candles should I use for my Earth Hour event? If you plan on burning candles during Earth Hour please choose natural, not petroleum-based products. If you’re using candles, make sure you take care. Please follow these tips:

• Candles should only be used under adult supervision.

• Candles should never be left unattended.

• Candles should be kept away from children and pets.

• Extinguish candles before going to sleep.

• Keep candles away from flammable liquids and gas-combustible materials.

• Candles should be kept clear of any combustible materials such as paper, curtains and clothing.

• Candles should not be placed in windows as they can be blown over. Blinds and curtains can also catch fire.

• Candles should be placed on a stable, dry, heat-resistant surface away from drafts.

9. What is Earth Hour’s position on safety? Earth Hour wants everyone to be absolutely safe and never to turn off any lights or power that would in any way compromise the safety of any individual in a private or public space.

10. Will my city go completely black? Earth Hour is not a black out. It is a voluntary action by its participants to show their commitment to an act of change that benefits the planet. For many businesses in city skyscrapers or for many government buildings, the lights are turned off at the end of the business day the Friday before Earth Hour. So Earth Hour is more of a fade-out in some ways than a black-out.

11. If everyone turns their lights back on at the same time will there be a power surge? People celebrate Earth Hour in a variety of ways for different lengths of time, with many continuing to keep their lights off well beyond the designated hour. Therefore, it is highly improbable that everyone will switch their lights back on simultaneously.

12. Is Earth Hour an annual event? Though Earth Hour began as a public statement for action on climate change, it has come to symbolize a commitment to broader environmental solutions. Earth Hour’s ‘lights out’ campaign will continue to evolve in accordance with the environmental concerns of a growing global community driven by the pursuit of a better, healthier world. Earth Hour, is as much a celebration of the planet as it is a commitment to environmentally sustainable action, so as long as the global community wants to share a unified moment of celebration and contemplation of our planet, 8.30PM – 9.30PM on the last Saturday of March will always be Earth Hour.

13. Why is Earth Hour held on the last Saturday of March? The last weekend of March is around the time of the Spring and Autumn equinoxes in the northern and southern hemispheres respectively, which allows for near coincidental sunset times in both hemispheres, thereby ensuring the greatest visual impact for a global ‘lights out’ event.

14. How many cities/countries/landmarks took part in Earth Hour 2011? 4616 cities, towns and municipalities took part in Earth Hour 2011 across 128 countries, including 89 national capitals and 9 of the world’s 10 most populated cities.

15. What is the criteria for registering city, town or municipality participation in Earth Hour 2012? For a city, town or municipality to be officially recognized as a participant in Earth Hour 2012 it must meet at least one of the following three criteria:

1. Have the official support of its governing authority. (e.g. Governor or Mayor)

2. Have confirmed participation of a significant landmark or icon.

3. Have the support of an official Earth Hour ambassador.

16. What does a commitment to Earth Hour mean? By registering to Earth Hour 2012, individuals, communities and businesses are making a commitment to turn their lights off for an hour at 8.30PM on Saturday 31 March in acknowledgement of an act they will undertake for the benefit of the planet. Participation in Earth Hour is a sign of your commitment to show leadership amongst your friends, family, colleagues and competitors in finding solutions to our environmental challenges by adopting environmentally sustainable lifestyle habits and business practices on an ongoing basis.

17. Who can participate? Anyone! Anyone who wants to unite with the global community in a worldwide celebration of the planet; anyone who believes a solution to our environmental challenges is possible through the aggregate of our actions.

18. What energy/carbon reductions have resulted from Earth Hour in previous years? Earth Hour does not purport to be an energy/carbon reduction exercise, it is a symbolic action. Therefore, we do not engage in the measurement of energy/carbon reduction levels.

19. How can I help with Earth Hour in more ways than just turning out my lights? For Earth Hour 2012 we are asking people, businesses and governments to go beyond the hour, to make a commitment to an act of ongoing change that benefits the planet. There are limitless things you can do on top of switching off your lights to take Earth Hour beyond the hour. Have a look at the ‘How to…’ guides page on this website for some ideas.

20. What does Earth Hour hope to achieve? Earth Hour aims to unite communities around environmental issues by creating a forum where individuals can discuss ecological resolutions with like-minded people, by creating a channel though which businesses can exchange sustainable practices with their competitors, by building a platform that enables governments to showcase environmental leadership, and by ultimately establishing a global network of individuals, corporations and governments who are committed to the collective resolve of tackling the world’s environmental challenges.

21. How is Earth Hour 2012 different from 2011? Earth Hour 2011 saw individuals, communities, businesses and governments across the globe come together in a moment of unity for the planet, to show the world what can be done through collective action. Earth Hour 2012 asks participants to change by committing to an act that benefits the environment and celebrating their commitment to the planet with the people of the world by participating in Earth Hour. Earth Hour 2012 is not the culmination of a climate campaign, it’s the start of a journey of behavioural change for individuals, sustainable practice for businesses, and leadership of governments on the path to global environmental reform.

22. Aren’t you using a lot of electricity and resources to promote this event? Earth Hour operations are run in a cost effective manner and apply donors’ funds according to the highest standards of accountability and sustainability. We also consider and/or incorporate other climate or environmental issues as determined by the Earth Hour team and its partners.

23. Whose idea was Earth Hour? Earth Hour came from a think tank initiated by Earth Hour Executive Director and Co-Founder, still a degree of scepticism and denial about the issue of climate change. Earth Hour came as the inspiration to rally people to the reality of climate change and start a dialogue about what we as individuals can do to help address the greatest problem facing our planet today.

24. What is Earth Hour’s relationship with WWF? Does WWF own Earth Hour? WWF Australia co-founded Earth Hour in Sydney in 2007, facilitating Earth Hour’s rapid worldwide growth through its connection to WWF’s global network. With a presence in more than 70 countries, WWF continues to play a valuable partner role, ensuring a solid foundation and support network on which to deliver a truly global environmental message throughout the year.

25. Who are the Earth Hour partners? Earth Hour began as a WWF-led initiative in Australia in 2007 in partnership with brand co-owners, Fairfax Media and Leo Burnett. All three partners decided from the beginning, however, that expanding Earth Hour’s global reach would require working in partnership with any organization. Earth Hour’s message has spanned the world with the help of many global partners.

26. Do you have requirements or regulations about who can or cannot partner with Earth Hour? Any partner must uphold and support the aims and principles of Earth Hour. These include encouraging individual and community engagement on environmental issues. Encouraging conscious decisions to change the way we live in order to affect environmental reform, without the use of scare tactics or shaming.

27. Does Earth Hour welcome the support of other NGOs (Non-Government Organisations) and NFP’s (Not for Profits)? Absolutely. In fact, the success of Earth Hour would not be possible without the support of other NGOs and NFPs. Global organizations such as the World Organization of the Scout Movement and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts have been pivotal in spreading the Earth Hour message, while in some countries where there is no WWF presence, Earth Hour campaigns are orchestrated entirely by other NGOs and NFPs who share the same non-aggressive, guilt-free approach to addressing environmental issues taken by Earth Hour.

28. Are there any other social media outlets or forums for Earth Hour? Yes, here is the most comprehensive list we have right now:

Current Earth Hour Global Social Media Profiles

Facebook Group


Flickr Photostream


More global profiles on additional networks are developing everyday.

29. What does the Earth Hour logo mean? The standard Earth Hour ’60’ logo represents the 60 minutes of Earth Hour where we focus on the impact we are having on our planet and take positive action to address the environmental issues we face. For Earth Hour 2012 we have continued the ‘60+’ logo representing a commitment to add to Earth Hour a positive act for the planet that goes beyond the hour. Please publish the logo and pass the word wherever you can and show your support for our Planet!!

20 THINGS TO DO WITH THE LIGHTS OFF! If you are not sure how you should be celebrating Earth Hour this year, here are some helpful suggestions on what to do:

1. Invite your friends over for a earth friendly cocktail hour and candlelit dinner.

2. Get those board games out and have some game time with friends & family in the dark.

3. Lie down and star gaze. Stars are more easily seen the less lighting there is.

4. Do something “crafty” by candlelight: paint, mould, stick, knit, quilt, paint, or?

5. Got kids? Get out the camping gear! Set up a tent and tell stories of when there was no artificial lighting, how it must have been to live in that time.

6. Play a real game of hide & seek with the kids. It has to be even more of a challenge in the dark!

7. Go to sleep early! You never get enough sleep, so here is the perfect excuse to catch up on some zzz’s.

8. While the lights are off, it’s the perfect time to change any old bulbs for new energy saving ones.

9. Why not eat all the ice-cream that’s sitting in your freezer? If you’ve turned your appliances off along with lights for Earth Hour, then it’s just melting anyway!

10. Soak in a warm tub and enjoy the silence and solitude you rarely get.

11. Plant a tree to serve as the center of next year’s celebration of Earth Hour.

12. Meditate to encourage an inner peace & tranquility in your life throughout the year.

13. Exercise. You don’t need lights to workout!

14. Read a book like they did in the old days with no distractions from television.

15. Take the dog for a walk with a flashlight. You’ll both benefit from the activity.

16. Make a list of ways you and your family can carry on the commitment to be more earth friendly throughout the year.

17. Write a personal letter to a loved one. No impersonal email this time!

18. Sing around the campfire and roast some marshmallows.

19. Arrange a candlelit massage. Your eyes are closed anyway!

20. Take advantage of that dark, alone time to spend some “amorous” time with that special someone. Or great advice is to check out your local Earth Hour site and see if there’s a place near you that will get plunged into darkness at 8.30pm on March 31st and go there to celebrate!

Let us know what you will be doing during this year’s Earth Hour, we’d love to know what creative ideas you have to share with us!

SUMMARY: Be a part of Earth Hour 2012; add your voice and take action, encourage others to join the hundreds of millions across every continent who have already spoken as one on behalf of the planet. Together we can make a difference! For further details on how you can participate in Earth Hour plus take Earth Hour – “Beyond the Hour” refer to or contact us at the Costa Rica Hotel Makanda by the Sea for more details on how we are committing to make a difference for our Planet!

AUTHOR: Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.


Costa Rica……the new Culinary Vacation Destination?

January 15, 2012

Recent efforts have been made to market Costa Rica as a culinary destination (see article) for your next vacation. Known for its abundance of nature and biodiversity, Costa Rica has always been considered lacking in the culinary department. The first thought that comes to mind when someone mentions this country as a valid culinary destination is…..really? Seriously though…..Costa Rica has been slowly making a name for itself in food lovers circles and thanks to our friends at Food Vacation, I’d like to share this excellent article on Costa Rican Cuisine!

“Costa Rican food is not especially memorable,” so begins the Frommer’s guidebook section on Costa Rican food & drink. Likewise, Fodor’s 2004 Gold Guide quips, “Costa Rica is not known for its fine dining.” First, is this reputation for being what Travel & Leisure magazine recently called a “food purgatory” deserved? In our opinion none of the Central American or most of the South American nations have anywhere near the culinary sophistication of, say, Mexico, which stands out as having one of the world’s great cuisines. Chile and Argentina have inherited some excellent European culinary traditions, and had the economies necessary to support them, but otherwise most of Latin America cannot lay claim to being a culinary wonderland.

Cultural Considerations:
As suggested, there are economic reasons for this, and Costa Rica is no exception. Though richer than some of its neighbors, Costa Rica is a poor country and its native residents never had the money to elaborate a sophisticated cookery or dining tradition. To the extent that this occurred historically, Costa Rica belongs to the worldwide Creole culinary culture that encompassed not only south Louisiana, but also the Carribean, coastal and/or colonial areas of Latin America, and the sugar islands of Africa, as well as the Indian Ocean.
In our opinion, therefore, Costa Rica does not deserve to be singled out for being particularly bad in culinary terms–it is simply within the general ambit of Latin cookery stretching from Belize to the Amazon.
Second, Costa Rica does have its culinary highlights. These include a great wealth of high quality primary ingredients including seafood from two coasts, an abundance of different vegetables, a full array of culinary herbs and spices, and a treasure trove of fruit varieties. Costa Ricans are also very good farmers. Beef and other meat quality is not superior, but more than workable. Chicken is good quality and very popular, while tuna, red snapper, and mahi mahi (or their relatives) can be excellent. Needless to say, Costa Rica has some of the best coffee in the world. Due to Costa Rica’s much tauted bio-diversity, its good soil, and abundant fresh water mean a full range of agricultural production as well.

As a Creole cuisine, Costa Rican cookery is a fusion of indigenous knowledge and ingredients, colonial European sensibilities (in this case mostly Spain, but also Italy), more recent U.S. influence, Afro-Caribbean techniques, distinct Chinese flourishes, and a mostly poor population with a relatively large (but still small) class of wealthy Creoles and European immigrants or their descendants who demanded some kind of fine dining.
With its cultural imperative to appear harmonious and somewhat homogenous, Costa Ricans like to sublimate the existence and strong influence of both indigenous (i.e. Native American Indian) and Afro-Caribbean slave influences. Costa Rica presents itself as out of the Central American norm in terms of not having a large indigenous or mixed indigenous-European or indigenous-African (mestizo) population, and this is simply not true. Likewise, though they still live largely in the Caribbean lowlands, there is a significant black population–descendants of plantation workers–in Costa Rica. Many of them speak Creole English. Too, the Chinese imported as slavery-level workers for the banana railroad in the late 19th century remain in Costa Rica, with their population suplemented by more recent migrants from Taiwan and mainland China. The Chinese have become fully integrated into Tico society, and their cuisine has made its mark as well. Finally, 20th century immigrants from Italy cannot be forgotten, nor can the Spanish colonial rulers and administrators, many of whom became coffee barons.
Thought of in these cultural and historical terms, Costa Rica cookery becomes a bit more interesting.

Current Culinary Happenings:
Today, the biggest culinary influence probably comes from the tourism industry and the advent of more upscale Costa Rican Hotels and inns that have brought professionally trained cooks into the country to prepare menus that may or may not have much to do with native traditions. This has the tendency to produce what we call culinary school menus, where the chef tries to reproduce what he was taught at Cordon Bleu, the Culinary Institute of America, or in a Las Vegas hotel kitchen. Thus, you have lots of “international” Costa Rican restaurants and menus with no particular attachment to time or place, except for the strictures imposed by ingredient availability.

If any treasure trove of culinary creativity exists in Costa Rica, it lies not in these hotel dining rooms or the countries many area restaurants, but in the home cooking (including the wealthy elite homes) and the Sodas (family-run roadside or market eateries). This is not to say that all Soda food is good or creative. A Casado is just a rustic worker’s lunch at a cheap price, marrying together all the courses of a European meal in one place and on one plate–the salad, the starch, the main course.
Spanish influences–empanadas or brown sauces–exist alongside Indian ones–tamales–along Cantonese Rice and Chinese “chorizo” (chorizo chino) sausages and “Italian” macaronis.

Far above and beyond these cultural culinary elements, however, is the importance of Costa Rica’s ingredient diversity, which is the basis for the making of any great cuisine.
Given its equatorial location and its physical geography, Costa Rica has an inordinate number of zones within which food can be grown. These includes temperate fruits and vegetables such as apples, peaches, strawberries, asparagus, peas, artichokes, cauliflower, and cabbage as well as tropical exemplaries from jack fruit and bread fruit to innumerable varieties of mango, papaya, lychee, pineapple, avacadoes, types of passion fruit (maracuya, granadilla, etc.), anona, guayaba, banana varieties, coconut, chocolate, vanilla, chayote, mangosteen, husk and tree tomatoes, cashew, macadamia, coffee, etc. If a tropical fruit exists in the world, it is probably cultivated in Costa Rica. While travelling around the country, many want to encounter “typical” cuisine and to focus on what is local. This is great if you understand that Costa Rica has been a poor country with a fairly unelaborated culinary tradition. The most famous national dish is thus black bean and rice, known as “gallo pinto.” It is flavored with sweet chilies, cilantro, salt, pepper, and usually Lizano Salsa. Costa Ricans make very good empanadas (pastry stuffed with a variety of ingedients including beans, cheese, potatos, and meat, or any of them in combination) as well as tamales. Tamales are often made in the home at Christmas time, but can be purchased at sodas–small family run restaurants–at anytime of the year.
Tamales are made of a corn meal masa similar to that found in Mexico and the rest of Central America. The masa has been treated with calcium carbonate and has a distinct flavor, with stock, lard, garlic, and seasonings often being added. This forms the outer shell, which is then stuffed with beef, beans, chicken, and/or vegetables and cilantro or culantro. The tamales are then wrapped in fresh banana leaves, tied up, and boiled or steamed until firm and fully cooked. They are excellent served with a fresh tomato salsa!
Another typical Costa Rican meal is the casado or “marriage,” which consists of portions of a number of different dishes served on one plate, usually as a kind of worker’s lunch. Typically you can choose from beef, chicken, or fish casados, and these main ingredients will be accompanied by a combination of cabbage salad, vegetables, fried yucca, beans, rice, or other available side dishes.
Tacos al alambre, or barbed wire tacos, are another typical plato. These are not Mexican style tacos–instead it is a dish of braised chicken or beef cut into strips, usually cooked with sliced sweet chili peppers, and a mild sauce. It is served with fresh tortillas or tortilla chips and one or two sides and is delicious.

Both the Mercado Central and Mercado Bourbon in central San Jose are very interesting from a culinary perspective, particularly to see the variety of fruits and vegetables grown in the country. However, the Central Market and particularly Bourbon are not in good neighborhoods and one should use their street smarts when in these areas.
The weekly farmer’s market in San Ramon (or most any town in this country), by contrast, are considered safe and full of local farmers selling and incredible variety of products. These are generally held every Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, just ask for “la feria”, or you can inquire at your hotel.

Cheeses: the level of cheesemaking sophistication in Costa Rica is not high and sanitary standards could be questioned. We would personally recommend staying away from the fresh white cheeses, particularly those riddled with gas holes, unless they are cooked. An exception is Queso Palmito or any of the other pasta filata type (mozzarella type) cheeses, which have for all intents and purposes been heat treated in the production process. All cheeses made by the Monteverde co-op and by Dos Pinos are very sanitary if not particularly savory.
The cheeses made by the Dutch-style factory at Barva can be quite good.

Tropical Fruits: Costa Rica’s farmers grow an astounding array of tropical fruits, from luscious golden and Creole pineapples, to passion fruit, lychee, and custard apple.

Wine: Although some European immigrants have been experimenting with wine grape cultivation in Costa Rica, no one has succeeded. The government did sponsor an experimental effort several years ago, but eventually most of the vines were ripped out.
If you see Costa Rican wine for sale, it is almost surely from imported Chilean grape juice that is then processed in Costa Rica–the quality is terrible and it is–at least so far–not worth buying except as a total novelty.

So if you find yourself in Costa Rica, or will be traveling to soon to Costa Rica, take a harder look at the cuisine. Immerse yourself in the culture by eating “comida tipica”, visiting one of the many farmer’s markets, or befriending some of the friendly “Ticos” who are famous for inviting visitors to their homes for a meal. You will find that this country actually does have some fabulous food. And if you find yourself coming to Costa Rica in August, don’t miss the “Maestro Culinario” cooking competition, featuring this countries top chefs! Buen provecho!!

Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.


New Quepos Costa Rica Marina Pez Vela Still Struggling to Catch a Wave

November 27, 2011

Quepos, Costa Rica’s Marina Pez Vela is approaching two years of operation in 2012, but where are the jobs and the growth we were promised? After a slow start, the marina’s supporters hope for a pick up in business, if only the economy would put some wind in it’s sails. Harold Lovelady, the Marina’s owner/designer originally planned this as his retirement project, but it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. For more information, read on……

The residents of the Costa Rican port “city” of Quepos, a sleepy little town located 4k North of the world famous Manuel Antonio National Park, have been eagerly awaiting the economic boom they had hoped to see when the building of the World Class Marina Pez Vela was first proposed. The dilapidated old pier, originally built by the United Fruit Company, had become an eyesore, so a new marina was not only badly needed, but was the new hope to generate tourism to our area. The original antiquated pier was designed to accommodate the exportation of bananas back in the 50’s and 60’s, with the remote Quepos town being used as a base camp for the administration of the extensive surrounding banana plantations (they have since been converted to African Palm Plantations). Unfortunately, most area residents are still waiting for the economic benefits that were promised when the Marina Pez Vela originally broke ground. Plagued by the continued slow economic climate and lower tourism numbers, the construction of the Marina has been no ride down easy street.

“Initially there was a lot of resistance, but now it’s clear sailing,” said Harry Bodaan, owner of the Mansion Inn Hotel in Manuel Antonio and president of the Quepos and Aguirre Chamber of Commerce. “Everybody recognizes the fact that a marina the size of Pez Vela is going to bring an enormous amount of business to Quepos. A lot of investors have come to Manuel Antonio because of it … The development of Pez Vela will change the face of this part of the central Pacific.”, expressed Mr. Bodaan last year.

While there has been general support of the on-going construction of the Marina by the local citizens and business owners, the expected financial and tourist boost, with the expected accompanying job opportunities it would create, have yet to be realized. At this time, only about 20 people work at the marina facility, mostly in sales and cleaning or security positions. Though not giving up all hope, the towns of Quepos and Manuel Antonio, with their many nearby Costa Rica hotels, dining establishments, souvenier shops and other small businesses lament that the project as yet to attract the added business so badly needed in this struggling tourist mecca.

The beautiful views of the fairly vacant, yet handsomely designed crescent-shaped marina beckon to those boating, yachting and water enthusiasts that flock to the area to enjoy World Class Sport Fishing, Sailing and Snorkeling tours, as well as excellent Surfing, Jet Ski Excursions, Kayaking Trips and many other adventurous or relaxing water sports. It would seem that further growth would be in inevitable, though the stalled economies around the world are surely holding up the eventual plan. Only a handful of slips are currently rented or owned, but according to the owner Mr. Harold Lovelady, inquiries about owning a slip or investing in the project have remained steady.

Harold Lovelady, is the owner and mastermind behind the Marina Pez Vela. Lovelady, originally retired from the state of Texas after a career in telecommunications, arrived to the town of Quepos some 11+ years ago, with his boat and the ex-pat dream of spending his golden years fishing in what he considers to be “the best fishing location in the world.” After only a short time, he realized the growing need for a marina in the small, but busy tourist town of Quepos; and thus…. the idea of building Marina Pez Vela was born.

Not a man to think small, Lovelady’s original idea took some 11 years to come to fruition and resulted in the soon to be World Class facility of the Marina Pez Vela. A professionally planned 55+ acre state-of-the-art marina, it officially opened it’s first phase in 2010. Located just north of the old United Fruit Company pier in downtown Quepos, this beautiful Marina is not hard to spot, as it can be found just past the main sea wall when entering the famous town of Quepos. Watching on the right side of the road, visitors will spot the thousands of short, stout breakwater plugs based on technologies utilized for the very first time in Costa Rica, these plugs are called Cofferdams. Cofferdams are natural material-filled cellular steel structures, the largest of which measures 18.5 meters in diameter and the smallest 12 meters in diameter. These unique breakwater structures are specially designed to resist the strong ocean waves of the Pacific, enabling the marina’s inner slips and docking areas to remain safe from the dangerous seasonal storms that have been known to sink dozens of expensive charter fishing boats and yachts in this area in years past.

“It started as a small project, but as more people expressed interest in a marina, we had to redesign the original plan to accommodate the potential demand,” Lovelady said. “It was evident we needed to make a larger, world-class marina. So that’s how it turned out.”

The Marina Pez Vela, which officially opened its 97 docking slips in 2010, is still in the first phase of development. In coming years, the marina plans to build a total of 303 slips, a boatyard for maintenance and repairs, a retail shopping center, condominiums and a luxury hotel, all within the confines of the marina’s currently mostly empty lot. The marina’s initial slips are being rented or have been bought by travelers from around the world to include Russia, South Africa, Europe and the USA, to name a few.

Quepos, having suffered for decades with a dilapidated third world pier with unsafe, substandard facilities that were damaging the environment, Mr. Lovelady explained that when a large yacht comes in to fill up with gas, somewhere between 10,000-50,000gallons of diesel fuel is pumped into a single boat. Something that previously caused potential safety and environmental hazards, the marina now provides a formal fuel dock, charging an environmental fee on top of the cost of fuel which is deposited into a fund just in case there is ever a need for clean up of any potential accidents or spills. Another grand potential the facility will likely provide is in terms of the marina’s boatyard. Once finished, this one-of-a-kind facility, will service and repair boats of all types and sizes and will serve as the only facility of its kind on the Pacific coastline of Central and South America. “The boatyard will have 5-ton and 200-ton travel lifts. Between the two of them, it will allow us to pull a boat out of the water up to about the length of 135-feet.” Lovelady said. “We will be able to fix anything that’s broken on anybody’s boat that comes in.”

The majority of boats coming into the Marina Pez Vela are currently tourist yachts and sport fishing charters that work in the area year round. A study in 2008 by the non-profit Billfish Foundation found that fishing tourism generated some $600 million for the Costa Rican economy, accounting for approximately 2% of the country’s GDP (gross domestic product), employing directly and indirectly an estimated 63,000 people. With numbers like that, it is obvious that this project has a huge potential to change the face and reputation of the small town of Quepos.

In addition to jobs that cater to the sport fishing and tourism industry, the Marina is expected to eventually provide work for government positions as well, as members of the Public Works and Transport Ministry and Immigration will all work out of an office near the boat entrance to Pez Vela. Government officials will be responsible to check the boats and their passengers, using the marina to monitor for illegal activity, conduct safety inspections, and ensure that the vessels carry proper documentation and licensing. With the interest to also host offices for the Costa Rican Health and Finance Ministries, the marina slips are equipped with an industrial waste water pump that transports boat waste to a treatment plant, where the waste is broken down and the grey water reused. This is an important aspect of the Marina’s ecological goal to avoid potential health and environmental hazards that a large marina facility could create when in full operation.

As more boats make the Marina their home, anticipation continues to grow in the Quepos and Manuel Antonio areas. According to Marina operators, with the completion of phase three – the hotels, condos and shopping center – an estimated 3,000 direct and indirect jobs would be created by the Marina by the year 2014.

In the meantime, Costa Rica hotel owners in the popular tourist-dependent areas of Quepos and Manuel Antonio, can only bide their time and hope that the many potential marina visitors will help fill the area’s estimated 2,000 available rooms, as well as dine in the many restaurants available in the area. Unfortunately, for now……small businesses that line the 4k road between Quepos and Manuel Antonio National Park will have to be content to limp along struggling with a stagnant economy that has been the root cause of some of the slowest years for the tourism industry in Costa Rica’s history, as well as slowing the final phases of construction on our beautiful new Marina Pez Vela.

How can you help? Send tourists to our area, as they are the biggest boost to our local economy we can hope for! Happy Sailing!!

Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.