As the Christmas holidays approach, families start to plan the traditional “tamaleada” a moment of family gathering and fun. Grandmothers start the checklist of ingredients, the corn dough preparation, the plantain leaves (to wrap the dough), and selecting the best wood pieces to prepare the firewood (the old cooking way).
The preparation of tamales is likely to have spread from the indigenous culture in Mexico and Guatemala to the rest of Latin America. Authentic Costa Rican tamales include saffron rice, chickpeas, red pepper, carrot, and potatoes. They can also be made with chicken, beef, pork, or a combination of these. For a vegetarian option, tamales can instead be filled with mashed potatoes, beans, and vegetables.
Once the tamales are ready, they are served at holiday parties and shared with other families, friends, and neighbors.
For a better Costa Rican experience, you can season your tamal with the famous Salsa Lizano, a tangy, slightly sweet, and very slightly spicy brown sauce (similar taste of the Lea and Perrin Worcestershire sauce).
Also, try your tamal with a cup of freshly brewed coffee! And don´t worry if you are not traveling during December, many restaurants of traditional Costa Rican food serve them year-round!
¡Buen provecho y Feliz Navidad!
Article by Bahia Aventuras our trusted tour operator in the south.
In Costa Rica, there are two seasons to spot humpback whales. They migrate from their feeding areas in the North and South Americas to our warm tropical waters for mating. These whales are characterized as being very sociable, but usually travel alone or with their offspring. They are rarely found in groups, which are mostly formed by males, to compete for the females. One of the strategies the whales use during their breeding season is to stay in warm shallow waters, such as bays because their geographic features provide better protection for their young, known as a calf.
In Costa Rica, we have the great Coronado Bay located in the South Pacific. This bay includes the waters of the Marino Ballena National Park, Drake Bay, and Cano Island. The temperature and depth of the water around Cano Island provide some of the best conditions for reproduction and protection of the calves in their first weeks of life. This is also the area where the majority of migrating whales give birth to their young, giving it an important biological value. The conditions of the Coronado Bay area favor ecotourism, making it the largest in the tourism industry for the sighting of cetaceans in Costa Rica, especially for humpback whales. Three species of dolphins are seen regularly, along with the occasional visit from Bryde’s whales, pilot whales, and false killer whales.
The migration of the humpbacks whales to Costa Rica occur at two different times:
July to the end of October
This is known as the rainy season when we are visited by the southern humpback whales who migrate from the Patagonia in South America to the warm waters of the South Pacific off the coast of Costa Rica. Their mission here is mainly to give birth to their calves, known as ballenatos in Spanish, and some like it for courtship. The warm waters of the bay offer many benefits for the growth of the young as well as protection against its main predators, orca whales, and some sharks. The population in this area of the south is quite large in quantity, making sightings more plentiful during the whale tours. August and September are the peak months for sightings where the probabilities exceed 70%.
End of December to the end of February
This time is referred to as our dry season and begins with the visit of the humpback whales of the Northern Hemisphere. They begin arriving in late December during migration from Oregon, with the same purpose of reproduction and courtship. The population of these whales is much smaller, therefore reducing the percentage of sightings compared to the other species.
Whales & Responsible Tourism
As a way of showing how important the cetaceans and other inhabitants of this bay area are to the economy here, Bahia Ballena has declared the month of September as the month of the whales in Costa Rica. During this time there is a celebration called Festival of Whales, which invites the locals to learn about whales in order to generate greater awareness of the conservation of these species. During the festival, tours are given at a reduced cost for locals, and activities are provided that give information about our marine and terrestrial resources.
Bahia Ballena was a fishing village in the ’70s, 80’s and part of the ’90s. At the end of the ’90s, the fishermen decided to start offering boat rides to beachgoers showing them the island and the coastline while observing dolphins and whales. At the beginning of 2000, the Costa Rican government began supporting the locals who were offering those tours by providing the necessary training to do the excursions in a responsible way, training the captains and guides to make the tours more formal.
Today, the tourism industry in Costa Rica is very professional, using bilingual guides and captains who are certified by the Costa Rican Chamber of Tourism, as well as being organized as associations. There are about 10 well-organized whale watching companies in Bahia Ballena that even offer other activities.
Whales and dolphins, like other living beings, are susceptible to the impact of man on their environment. The application of friendly practices in the operation of tours is of great importance for their protection.
Currently, Bahia Aventuras has a protocol for sightings, making the least possible impact on the cetaceans. This protocol includes maintaining a suitable distance from the dolphins while navigating at the same speed and in the same direction as them. In Costa Rica, swimming is not allowed near the cetaceans as not to intervene in their habitat or their behavior. The use of experienced captains and guides is extremely important. They must know whether or not the whales or dolphins feel threatened in the presence of boats by observing and evaluating their behavior. It is up to the captain to determine if the sightings should be continued or abandoned, by respecting the space of these beings. When you choose any of our tours, you will be safe and well informed!
Check the tour video here
Sea turtles have inhabited the land for more than 100 million years, in their long stay on the planet, they have managed to survive various climatic changes such as glaciations. Despite having overcome all these, today by actions caused by the same man, they are in danger of disappearing.
It is assumed that of every 1000 turtles that are born only one will reach a mature age, this process depending on the species can last between 10 and 15 years. The Green Turtle is found in all oceans. It plays an important ecological role in seagrass areas. It can weigh up to 230 kg.
The females loaded with eggs complete their journey and arrive at the beach at night, curiously 30 years later, when they reach their maturity stage, to the same beach where they were born, and this is precisely one of nature’s great mysteries. Males never return to the beach, but stay in the immediate vicinity of it. The females can return 3 to 6 times to the beach to spawn during the mating season, and each time they make a new nest in which they lay between 90 and 150 eggs.
We can help you organize a night walk while staying at one of the most beautiful lodges of the area with direct access to the beach. Green turtle season in Tortuguero: July to October approximately.
Originally from Equatorial Africa this ethnic group came to Costa Rica at different historical moments and greatly contributed to enrich the culture and idiosyncrasy of the country.
Africans accompanied the Spanish settlers in Costa Rica during the discovery of new territories, the settlement of the first towns and the attempt of subjugation on the indigenous.
By mid-eighteen century, the turtle fishermen who constituted the minority of population settled in the coast of Limón founding small towns. These were joined by Afro-Caribbean people after the construction of the railways in Panama and Colombia.
Since 1871 with the beginning of construction of the railway to Limon from San José, Costa Rica experienced the greatest wave of Afro-Caribbean immigrants from different parts of the Caribbean, especially from Jamaica. The relationship of freedom, the ruin of the sugar cane plantations and the subsequent crisis forced the Jamaican to emigrate from the island.
The relationship between the Jamaicans and the State was circumstantial because the workers had in mind to return to their land; therefore they kept alive the ethnic and cultural connection with their country of origin. But the financial crisis of the railroad force many to stay, they engaged in subsistence farming on small plots settled along the rail line. Later on the banana exploitation came, job that the Jamaican was already familiarized with, since it was grown in Jamaica.
The isolation of the black population by the Costa Rican government began to disappear in 1948 when the government of José Figueres Ferrer took the first step to repeal discriminatory laws that classified the Afros, Chinese, Syrian, fugitives and mentally insane people as undesirable. He overrode the law that prohibited the migration of blacks to the Pacific following the banana plantations and opens the door to a process of integration between the Caribbean of Costa Rica and the rest of the country.
In their architecture, you can notice the clear British influence, which came from the West Indies and Jamaica, having wooden Victorian houses built on pillars, painted in bright colors, enclosed by a porch and decorates with cheerful Memorandum borders.
Limon´s province gastronomy highlights the subtlety of its dishes, in those who have always been used ingredients that nature provided and that they also planted for their nutritional needs. The coconut milk is the base on which they cook fish, seafood, rice with beans, or the famous Rondón, a soup made with the vigorous products they had such as tubers like the yucca, camote, ñampi, plantains and accompanied with red snapper, mackerel, jurel, lobster, crab or king crab.
Source: Caribbean Way Magazine
If you plan to overnight in downtown San José, do not miss a visit to Barrio Escalante, a neighborhood that first grew out of coffee haciendas cracked under modernization and then patched itself into its present incarnation of art-flick theaters, lounges, and restaurants.
We can recommend a couple of restaurants such as the iconic Olio Restaurante & Pub with an array of Mediterranean tapas and dishes with fresh local ingredients.
Or how about taste falafel and other dishes at the brand new Faqra Lebanese restaurant? Beer lovers can enjoy more than 140 types of beer to pair with different gourmet dishes at Costa Rica Beer Factory.
How about some coffee? Franco Café run by Cesar Madriz, a Costa Rican barista that combines all types of coffee from different regions of the country. Enjoy freshly prepared pastries and healthy snacks in an urban ambiance!
On a future blog, we will be recommending other dining options; we need to try them first!
At the west end of the Central Valley, lies Sarchi, a small town surrounded by beautiful coffee estates, known as the crib of national artmanship. This is where the world´s largest oxcart was designed, built and decorated in 2006. A national symbol of our peace and work-oriented culture, the typical Costa Rican oxcart was declared a World Heritage Symbol by UNESCO. The oxcart united the highest artistic talents with the most important values of the Costa Rican people: perseverance, hard work, and peace. For this reason, in 2006, the Sarchi Chamber of Tourism invested in the construction of this extraordinary oxcart that currently holds a record in the Guinness Book of World Records. Sarchi and its neighboring towns: Grecia, Poas, and Naranjo are great locations to enjoy a coffee tour, shop for unique souvenirs and experience traditional small-town life in Costa Rica.
We also recommend a stay at Chayote Lodge located in Llano Bonito de Naranjo. It boasts 12 spacious bungalows. Each features a private terrace with breathtaking views of Poas, Barva, and Irazu Volcanos, as well as the Central Valley and the Nicoya Gulf in the Pacific Ocean, which can be seen on a clear day.
Inspired by the rich coffee culture of the region, each nook of the property resembles a piece of the coffee picker’s story and their lifestyle. Moreover, Chayote Lodge’s architecture and design integrate the most noteworthy elements of the coffee culture. For instance, the bungalows will resemble the traditional Coffee Receiving Stations known locally as “Recibidores”. Surrounded by coffee fields, green pastures, and a rich agricultural environment, the area depicts the best of a simple, yet enriching, Costa Rican tradition.
The community of Monteverde has developed around the highest values of conservation and sustainable use of the natural resources for agriculture and ecotourism. Located in the highlands of the Tilaran Mountain Range, the town of Santa Elena is the most important tourist center.
Small and medium size hotels and lodges serve as the control base for nature lovers, scientists and families who come here to discover the secrets of Costa Rica’s tropical cloud forest.
The lush vegetation, dense fog and continuous light rainfall give the place a mystical and exciting atmosphere, which dares its visitors to let go and be taken by the charm of this sacred place. Here you will find exceptional flora and creatures not found anywhere else in the world.
Santa Elena is not like very other rural town, its center no bigger than a few blocks, always has something charming to offer. Aside from the basic services such as a supermarket, a pharmacy, ATMs, there are several unique cafeterias, sodas, bookstores and souvenir shops stocked with unique handmade gifts and crafts from local artists.
Fresh water springs, cascades, long paths leading through a virgin jungle and the sight of such exotic species unique to the trees of Monteverde (like to Quetzal bird) are just a few of the elements that attract nature lovers to this area.
While the rest of the country natural reserves and national parks are managed by the government, the largest section of Monteverde’s cloud forest is owned and by private groups, cooperatives and companies. However the natural reserve conservation model carried out by groups such as the Montever Cloud Forest, the Children Eternal Forest and Bosque Eterno have proved to be highly successful in resource conservations and the development of scientific knowledge.
Papaya – Carica papaya
Native to the American tropics, this is an exceptional fruit to try during your Costa Rica vacation!
It has a great flavor and nutritional qualities; the papaya is an important source of vitamins A, B, G and C and is excellent for the digestion. The most common papaya in Costa Rica is called “papaya criolla” which is large, with a yellow to intense orange pulp, and its flavor may vary from very sweet to a slightly insipid flavor and may vary in shape. People tend to prefer the elongated ones, with firm consistency, called “cachos” in Costa Rica. The small “Hawaiian papaya” has been grown recently for exports and the crossbreeding with the “criolla” has created a mixed type. The papain, a proteolithic enzyme used as a meat tenderizer is obtained from the green, unripe papaya. When pieces of pulp or peelings from a papaya (preferably green) are placed on the meat for a few minutes, it will help to make it tender!
Location: Southern side of the Osa Peninsula
The park protects major habitats including a montane forest, which covers more than half the park; a cloud forest, located in the highest region, richly populated by oaks and tree ferns; swamp forests, flooded practically all year-round; a holillo forest, predominated by palms; a mangrove swamp located on the estuaries of the Llorona, Corcovado and Sirena rivers; and a freshwater herbaceous swamp.
The park is home to some 500 species of trees, equivalent to a quarter of all the tree species in Costa Rica. Some of the larger trees include the Purple Heart, poponjoche, nargusta, banak, cow tree, espave and crabwood.
It protects several endangered species including cats and large reptiles. Moreover, it is home to several species of birds, which are either endemic or whose distribution is very restricted.
There are 140 species of mammals, 367 birds, 117 amphibians and reptiles, 40 types of freshwater fish, and there is an estimated of about 6,000 types of insects.
It is common to see large herds of white-lipped peccary, as well as troops of howler and spider monkeys. The park is a sanctuary to the largest population of scarlet macaws in the country.
Other species of birds found here are the king vulture, white hawk, short-billed pigeon, tovi parakeet and bronze-tailed sicklebill.
Costa Rica is known for its civilized way of life. It is no exaggeration to call the country an oasis of peace. This a fundamental part of the Costa Rican character.
Costa Rica is the seat of the University for Peace as well as the Inter American Court of Human Rights. This fact empathizes the trust placed in the country´s political and social stability by the international community. Costa Ricans are characterized by three distinct cultural life styles that of the peasants and farmers of the Central Valley, of the inhabitants of the plains of Guanacaste and of the Caribbeans of the Province of Limón. Their ethnic origins are a mixture, being a blend of the native inhabitants of the area (although to a lesser extent than in other Central American countries), of the Spanish colonists and of Afro-Caribbean immigrants which began entering as of the last century.
The Costa Rica is both friendly and hospitable, the obvious product of his freedom. Costa Rica is one of the oldest democracies in America, as well as being a free and independent republic. Its inhabitants not only enjoy complete political stability, but also their nation´s long-standing commitment to democratic freedom.
Peace is the most precious possession of Costa Rica´s people. The country abolished its army in 1949, the police force is sufficient to protect the citizens. Costa Rica was twice nominated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize and this was awarded in 1987, to the incumbent President of the Republic, Dr. Oscar Arias. This award was a truly merited recognition of the Costa Rican way of life.
The social impact of this democratic tradition is easily seen. In 1869 a compulsory public education system was established, one that involves public institutions at all levels. In this, the government supplies the necessary funds for medical and educational programs; both services having achieved outstanding success. Due to the educational efforts, 98% of the adult population is literate. Medical services, especially in the area of preventive medicine, have reached high levels of achievement in both rural and urban areas. Life expectancy is between 72-75 years of age, an excellent average for Latin America.