Posted tagged ‘quepos restaurants’

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.



Soursop (aka: “Guanabana”)…. a Sour name for a Sweet Cancer Fighting Costa Rican Fruit!

May 26, 2013

Circulating around the internet these days, this latest “favorite” tree has been making headlines everywhere touting it’s remarkable cancer curing properties discovered and actually being proven in scientific studies. In case you haven’t seen the articles, I’m referring to the Soursop Tree (Annona muricata), known in Spanish as the Guanabana (say that 3 times fast!). The Guanabana fruit is one of the most delicious and odd looking tropical fruits you will commonly find here in Costa Rica. Guanabana fruits are easily recognized in local farmers markets with their large heart-shaped form, rich green color, spiny skin and a white, creamy pulp peppered with elongated, black seeds. The pulp when eaten straight from the fruit is a bit sour to the taste buds…thus earning the name “Soursop”, but with a little added sweetener, this tropical gem blends into a creamy, fruity smoothie that rivals a fattening a much less healthy milkshake. It is also commonly used in ice creams, yogurts and other tasty delicacies.

The Soursop Tree is a really quite small considering the size of each fruit it produces. Growing up to 10 meters (a large specimen), this can make this non-descript tree ideal for a home garden orchard. The young branches, as well as the trunk of the tree eventually bear pale yellow, conical flowers which later turn into the large green fruits. The ovate, glossy leaves have a peculiar odor when rubbed and have proven to be valuable as a natural medicine in both ancient and now modern herbal remedies. In early times, the leaves of the Guanabana were used for tea to reduce swelling of the mucus membranes or to treat liver disease. The black seeds were often crushed and used as a vermifuge to help with parasite infestation. All parts of the tree were also ground and used as a sedative or as an anti-convulsant. The fruit was used to reduce joint pain, to treat heart conditions, as a sedative, to induce labor, or to reduce coughing or flu symptoms, just to name a few of its many benefits.

Thrifty home gardeners can start their own Guanabana trees simply by saving the seeds from a fruit you buy at the local market. Plant one oblong seed per planter filled with fertile soil and sit back and relax. Germination can take as much as 2 weeks or more,
so just be patient and keep the container watered several times a week. Once the seedlings begin to emerge when they are around 30cm, you will want to transplant them to a more permanent place in the yard. These trees do well on a wide range of soils, as long as good drainage is present. It takes a Guanabana tree some 5 years before it can begin to produce fruit, so you need to be in for the long haul when planting this unique tree. It’s important to protect the trees and fruits from disease and insect attacks, so it is not uncommon to see these fruits covered with loose recycled plastic bags as they mature to protect the fruits from fruit flies without the use of harmful insecticides, as well as in some cases, citric oil is rubbed on the bark of the trees to help protect them from other diseases.

The leaves, roots and bark of the Soursop have also been studied extensively by some of the more prestigious institutions known for their cancer research departments. These institutions such as the Health Sciences Institute, Journal of Natural Products, Catholic University of South Korea, Purdue University, National Cancer Institute, Cancer Research UK have definitively concluded that the Guanabana contains special organic compounds called “annonaceous acetogenins”, which effectively target and kill malignant cells in 12 types of cancer, including colon, breast, prostate, lung and pancreatic cancer. These acetogenins are inhibitors of enzyme processes that are only found in the membranes of cancerous tumor cells, and have no toxicity to healthy cells. These means they not only attack the bad cells and leave the good ones to do their work, but the natural compounds in Guanabana lessen the side effects like nausea, hair and weight loss during the treatment. The tree compounds have proven to be up to 10,000 times stronger in slowing the growth of cancer cells than Adriamycin, a commonly used chemotherapeutic drug, which is pretty impressive stuff!

These studies have confirmed the anti-tumor, anti-parasitic, insecticidal, and anti-microbial activities of Soursop, which indigenous people discovered centuries ago and yet, the US government seems to dispute the documented findings!

As rapidly as excitement had skyrocketed about the Soursop, skeptics rushed to denounce the “cancer cure” as a fraud and scam afflicting the needy, the desperate, and the gullible. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) swooped in to fine and close various businesses that had unwisely reported an ability to cure cancer. And in September 2008, Medical News Today publicized the FTC’s actions, quoting its director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, Lydia Parkes, as saying: “There is no credible scientific evidence that any of the products marketed by these companies can prevent, cure, or treat cancer of any kind”.
Is this a Big Pharma conspiracy or what? We need to focus on not just enjoying this delicious fruit, but helping people with cancer as well!! So when if Costa Rica, if you see this fruit at your Costa Rica hotel, or have the chance to buy “Guanabana”, “Soursop”, “Graviola”, “Pawpaw” or whatever it may be called in
that part of the world at a local market, jump on the opportunity! Not only will you get a sweet tasty surprise, but you may end up eventually helping the world come up with a natural remedy that could lead to lessen the suffering cancer patients currently must endure! Now that is Pura Vida!

On a lighter note…….

Cancer fighting qualities aside, next time you find the opportunity to taste Guanabana, I can personally recommend its sweet pleasures! Be it fresh, yogurt, ice cream, natural juice or a delicious smoothie, its unique tropical flavors will win you over immediately!

Watch this video for more information on how to prepare the fruit, as well as for the sheer entertainment!
“RasKitchen”, the Rasta Mon of cooking and the benefits of Soursop. He speaks English, but we still needed the subtitles! “Good for your dick mon!” I love at the very end when the gringo really does not want to take a sip of the Guanabana juice, as I think he just watched Rasta Mon prepare it in less than sanitary conditions. It’s all good “mon”, “Good for the Dick”!! Now that is Pura Vida at its best!!


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.


Quepos, Costa Rica….once home to the fierce Quepoa Indians!

May 14, 2013

Quepos acquired its name from the Quepoa Indians, which derived from the Boruca tribes that migrated northward from Columbia towards the end of the first millinium. The great conquistador, Juan Vasquez de Coronado, declared the Quepoa Indians as the ¨most beautiful people seen in these indies¨.
The Quepoa Indians were well respected as fierce fighters, and are said to have pilaged great quantities of gold from the Caribbean tribes of this country in their reign as relentless warriors. It is said that these tribes lived the majority of the year near the foothills of the Naranjo and Savegre Rivers for the purpose of more productive farming, while in the rainiest months they inhabited the coastal hills of Manuel Antonio, concentrating around Quepos Point.
The earliest recorded European presence in Manuel Antonio dates back to around 5 years after the famous Spanish explorer Balboa discovered the Pacific Ocean in the early 1500´s. Explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, who would later be credited with discovering Florida in his quest to find the fountain of youth, arrived to the shores of Costa Rica, and more specifically the Manuel Antonio area in the year 1519. Upon his arrival to our shores, his flotella encountered a large presence of fearsome taunting Quepoa Indian Warriors lining the beach, and wisely declined to make landfall.

To this day, there continues a legend that a hidden treasure of some seven hundred tons of gold, silver, pearls, emeralds and other jewels exists somewhere in the territories that the Quepoa Indians occupied. Though this has never been confirmed, and obviously the treasure has never been discovered, infamous English privateer John Clipperton spent a good part of the late 1600´s exploring the area and befriending the Quepoa Tribes in his attempts to claim this immense fortune. Upon his death in 1722, Clipperton still believed the largest world treasure existed in our area, but was unsuccessful in his quest to claim it.
In the year 1746, after many years of Spanish rebellions, disease brought on by the European settlers, and warfare between rivaling Indian Groups, the Quepoa tribe was forced into extinction. The whereabouts of the legendary treasure, estimated to be worth billions of dollars at today’s currency still remains a mystery!

The actual town of Quepos first came to modern prominence as a busy shipping port for exporting bananas for the United Fruit
Company. After years of devastating disease devastating the banana industry, this crop was scrapped and the agriculture fields were converted to the 40,000 plus hectares of African Palm trees that you see today. Prized for the diverse properties the oil produces,
African Palm oil is now used as bio-fuel, in creams & cosmetics, soaps, margarines, as well as cooking and industrial oils. Although this crop continues to be a major economic force in our area, it helped fuel the decline of Quepos as a major shipping port, as the smaller fruit is much easier to transport and refine locally.

Surprisingly, even as late as the 1950´s basic communication between Quepos and the rest of the country was a challenge. Roads were
almost non-existent, and passage by mule, donkey, horse or oxen cart was for many years the norm for the locals that lived in the area. In the 1940´s the president of Costa Rica, Rafael Angel Calderon declared Quepos and Parrita districts of Puntarenas, and it was at that time that they started work on a major road to San Jose, but that took many years to complete. There was a small railroad between Quepos and Parrita, but it was not widely used for the public and more often at low tide airplanes would land on the beach in front of the main street in front of what now stands as our sea wall. This is how they accommodated the first tourists, which arrived mostly during the dry months of January, February and March, and whom at that time were almost exclusively Costa Rican. It was not until the 70´s that the African Palm industry prospered enough that highways became an absolute necessity, and the first telephone arrived to the Quepos area.

Quepos, home to numerous hotels, restaurants and other tourist operations, it serves as the gateway to Manuel Antonio National Park and it’s even wider variety of hotels, is now better known for it´s World Class Sportfishing, claiming some 17 IGFA records!

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.

Mangosteen, the Super Fruit in Costa Rica! It’s not just a Mango, it’s even better!!

February 13, 2013

This incredible super fruit is commonly referred to as the “Queen of Fruits” and is one of Costa Rica’s most prized super fruits (when you can find it), it’s the Mangosteen!

Traditionally, Mangosteen fruits have been used for thousands of years in folk and traditional medicine to help support healthy inflammatory processes and digestive health converting this rare fruit to the new darling of the super fruit world.

For those not familiar with it, Mangosteen fruits have a deep purple rind and soft white flesh seed pods inside. The fruit tastes deliciously sweet like a cross between a mild peach and a sweet strawberry and it is easily one of the most delicious super fruits in the World. Add the fact that Mangosteen is packed with nutrients that provide plenty of healthy benefits and you have the best of all fruit worlds!

What makes Mangosteen so potent as a super fruit? It’s loaded with xanthones—powerful antioxidants that help fight free radicals. In fact, of the 200 xanthone compounds known, the Mangosteen contains over 40, and these xanthones are found in the dark purple outer rind (pericarp). That’s more xanthones than any other fruit in the world!

Mangosteen production can be challenging though and these trees need optimal growing conditions to survive. Warm, humid weather, combined with plenty of rainfall to thrive seem to make many parts of Costa Rica the perfect setting to grow this fabulous fruit, but definitely limits it’s ability to become cultivated worldwide. Gardeners will need patience as well should they want to add this tree to their home garden, as the fruits grow slowly on tall evergreen trees that can reach up to 80 feet. The fruit is delicate and must be picked as close as possible to the time of ripeness to get the maximum amount of xanthones, so this can require a constant vigilance on the growers part. This means the fruit is generally only be picked around twice a year, and with the height of some of the trees, it can be quite the challenge to harvest!

Facts about Mangosteen Fruit

The Mangosteen, which carries a botanical name of Garcinia mangostana is a tropical plant indigenous to Southeast Asian countries and the Malay Archipelago. Many believed that the unique and exquisite flavor of Mangosteen fruit had delighted the Queen of England so much that she called it the “Queen of Fruits”, thus the origin of that nickname, though historical references to the actual truth of this story are limited and difficult to substantiate.

The Mangosteen tree can be hard to recognize, as it typically grows between 20 and 80 feet tall, featuring dark-brown, flaking bark. The leaves of the Mangosteen are elliptic, thick and leathery, deep-green, fairly glossy on top and yellowish-green beneath. The flowers of the Mangosteen are 1.5 to 2 inches wide. The pericarp of ripe Mangosteen is dark reddish purple in color and is the most obvious identifying characteristic of this mostly non-descript tree. The aromatic inner flesh is a creamy texture and quite sweet and it definitely easy to recognize once tasted.

Some Health Benefits of Mangosteens

Since the pericarp of Mangosteen consists of numerous compounds, it is the part most regarded as containing beneficial antioxidant qualities. In clinical studies, Mangosteen has xanthones (see info above), which have anti-cancer effects. Some other health benefits include its antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and antifungal properties. Additionally, this great fruit is very low in calories, has no cholesterol or saturated fats, and is bursting with fiber (13% of RDA in each 100 g) which is recommended in any daily diet for improved health. Mangosteens also contain high concentrates of vitamin C; supplying around 12% of RDA in each 100 g. Fruits full of vitamin C aid the body to build resistance to combat flu-like infectious agents and eliminate free radicals. Fresh Mangosteens also serve as an excellent source of B-complex vitamins like thiamin (vitamin B1), niacin (vitamin B3) and folates (vitamin B9). These vitamins function to help your body system to metabolize fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Lastly, these super fruits also have a high count of minerals such as potassium, magnesium and manganese. Potassium is an essential component that helps manage heartbeat and blood pressure; thereby helping in the fight to combate coronary heart disease and strokes. Not a bad record for a small fruit!

How to Choose a Mangosteen

When selecting this prized fruit, pick ones that appear to be in good shape on the exterior with little or no bruising. Bruised fruits will cause a more bitter taste on the inner seeds. Press the pericarp or shell of the Mangosteen and if you find the skin soft, the fruit is not fresh and you should choose another specimen. A firm outter shell of this fruit is the best sign of freshness.

Little Tip: There is a simple trick to find out how many seeds are on the inside of this fruit. Turn the Mangosteen upside down. Count the number of the petals on the flower-like spot at the center of the fruit. The amount there is equal to the amount of pieces inside the fruit.

How should one Store Mangosteens?

Once you have located, bought (or picked) your Mangosteens, to get the most out of them, store these fruits at normal room temperature and consume within a couple of days, as they do not keep well for long. These fruits do not freeze either, so again it is advised to eat them while still fresh for the best super fruit experience!

Would you care to learn a little of the Science?

The Latin name of the Mangosteen is Garcinia mangostana L. The genus Garcinia is named in honor of Laurent Garcin, a French 18th century explorer and plant collector. Besides the Mangosteen, there are numerous other species within the genus, many of which produce edible fruit, but none as impressive as the Mangosteen. Some of these fruit species produce valuable gums, waxes and dyes, but it is truly the Mangosteen that provides the health benefits we are all looking for as a super fruit. (Keep in mind……although the word “mango” is contained in the word “mangosteen” there is actually no relationship botanically with these fruits!)

Some distinct traits of the Mangosteen play a major role in limiting the extent to which these fruits have been planted around the globe, and that is why you do not find them at every farmer’s market, supermarket, or in large plantations around the world. First and foremost, the seeds of the Mangosteen are considered “recalcitrant.” This means that they are very short-lived and must be kept moist or they die quite easily destroying the tree. Mangosteen seeds with much care, can be kept alive in moist peat moss for weeks, enabling them to be shipped to distant locations, though the timing has to be correct, or they can begin to sprout to early losing chance for viability.

Mangosteen trees are dioecious, meaning that there are male trees and female trees, though there are very few male trees that have been identified anywhere in the world so if they exist, they are definitely quite rare. This means the major burden to perpetuate the species is on the female tree. No males means no pollen, so even though the female flower contains rudimentary sterile anthers where pollen would normally be found, without pollen, there is no way to fertilize to create seeds with the true genetic traits. Instead, the female Mangosteen trees are forced to perpetuate the species by apomixis which results in effectively an asexually produced seed. This means it actually produces a clone of the mother tree each time a seed successfully propogates.

How does one best eat a Mangosteen?

The Mangosteen has a soft white edible center that is similar in construction to the sections of an orange, with possibly one hard seed in each of the larger segments. The smaller segments are seedless and seem to melt in your mouth, releasing a delicious juice that is a perfect balance of acids and sugars. The rind, or pericarp, is about 4 to 6 mm thick (1/4″ or more) and when freshly harvested is pleasantly soft. The fruit at that time can be opened by squeezing until the rind splits, exposing the edible segments inside, but the outter casing of the fruit is not eaten.

Several days after harvesting this fruit fresh from the tree, the skin begins to harden as it loses water and dries. At that point, the use of a knife is quite helpful to open the fruit. A shallow cut around the circumference of the fruit while trying to avoid cutting into the soft interior allows the fruit to then be twisted and opened along the cut. The seeds can then be gently scooped out and eaten. They can be very slippery, so be ready!

The slices with an extra brown internal seed which is somewhat soft, should not be eaten as they are generally bitter in taste. The Mangosteen is generally left at room temperature for several days as the rind will protect the interior from too much moisture loss, however I have personally found it better to place the Mangosteen in a refrigerator in a partially closed plastic bag to slow down the moisture loss. When a Mangosteen is very fresh, the seeds are almost pure white inside. As the rind hardens the seeds start to turn slightly brown inside and this helps provide an idea of how long the fruit has been picked. Some fruits will stay at room temperature for a week without any significant loss of quality. However, I have always found that the sooner you eat them the better, so why wait…..go for it!!

Should I start eating this Super Fruit Now?

Work done to date shows that some chemicals in the rind of the Mangosteen may show some benefits against breast cancer, leukemia, pathogenic bacteria, colon cancer and so on… in test tube-maintained cancer cell lines and in rats. There have been no substantiated humen tests, so unless you are a rat, this may not be the cure all you are seeking at this point. There are very promising hints of possible benefits down the road though, unfortunately that road has not been traveled far enough quite yet.

Some additional Ancient Medicinal Uses?

The sliced and dried fruits and rind are ground into a powder and administered to overcome dysentery, diarrhea, gonorrhea and cystitis. When made into an ointment, it is applied on eczema and other skin disorders as an astringent lotion. Another popular Chinese medicinal prep is to steep a portion of the rind in water overnight and the infusion given as a remedy for chronic diarrhea in adults and children. None of these treatments have been scientifically proven, so please use them at your own risk!

So make a point of searching out this super fruit on your next trip to the local farmers market and treat yourself to a new healthy surprise! If you can get enough, consider making some of your own recipes or maybe this yummy jam listed below! Now that is Pura Vida living!!

Mangosteen Recipes by


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.


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 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.