Archive | Must See

Villa Vanilla Rainforest Spices

 While visiting Manuel Antonio Park we discovered a treasure 10 miles East of Quepos—the Villa Vanilla Spice Plantation now known as Rainforest Spices. One of my passions is cooking so I was excited to see this farm and the process of growing and cultivating vanilla. To my surprise this 27 acre farm went well beyond traditional organic farming of vanilla. The farm boasts a rich cultural environment of epiphytes, orchids, bromeliads, tilandsias, spice trees, cocoa and medicinal plants as well as goats, chickens and cows.

The crops are grown bio-dynamically a process, the owner Henry Karcyznski, discovered through research after a blight effected his farm. In fact, he is the only demeter certified farm using bio-dynamic cultural sustainable practices. This diverse system prevents diseases and land use problems associated with single-crop agriculture.

Henry met us upon arrival and we quickly hit it off. Both Henry and my husband spent time in Jamaica and they started sharing stories. As we walked through his farm my senses were infused with visual beauty, amazing floral scents and flavors. The tour is more than just delighting the senses, even though that is a major part, it is also very educational. After walking through the epiphyte trail we saw a vanilla vine in bloom.  I admit I really got excited!  As I took in the sight of the beautiful blossom Henry explained once the plant blooms, there is a 24 hour window for pollination and each blossom must be hand-pollinated–a labor intensive crop.

Preparing vanilla orchid for pollination

Stimulation of your taste buds is a large part of the tour experience.  Tasting  is two part–on the trail and at the cabana area.   As you walk along the path through the farm–you will taste leaves plucked straight from the tree each with a distinctive flavor bursting on your palate.  I tasted peppercorns fresh from the tree-the heat erupting in my mouth and true cinnamon called ceylon shaved directly from a branch–the flavor surprised me both spicy and sweet.  I was in sensory heaven but it doesn’t stop here.

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Cassia

As an alchemist Henry understands the medicinal properties of plants. He informed us on the benefits of Ceylon—true cinnamon and cautioned us on the use of cassia which has been banned in Germany—the pretty well formed cinnamon sticks that many people use. True cinnamon, or Celyon, is lighter in color and the sticks are delicate with flaky layers—more like cigar tobacco. The thick, dark sticks are cassia. Henry informed us that Ceylon is the healthy type of cinnamon.

Cinnamon is beneficial for detoxification, promotes insulin production and has very good anti-oxidant properties. As a retired nurse, I was very interested in the medicinal benefits of the plants he grew. The second part of tasting is located in a lovely cabana area called Rainforest Viewpoint.  There is a bar, table and chairs to sit at. We were served Ceylon tea and desserts made from pepper, cheesecake and chocolate cookie with vanilla ice-cream made from farm fresh milk and cream from their dairy cow. The desserts are delicious prepared by their own pastry chef. I was surprised how sweet and delicious the Ceylon tea was without any added sugar. Henry steeps the Ceylon bark for 24 hours to produce this lovely tea. The recipe for Ceylon tea is printed on the package of Ceylon bark pieces available for purchase in their “Spice Shoppe.” We purchased about a Kilo of vanilla beans, extract, ground Ceylon, pepper seeds both white and black and cocoa pods.

These have made wonderful gifts for our family and friends. His vanilla is the best I have ever used. If you are anywhere near a “foodie” you will not be disappointed in this tour. It is still one of the highlights of my time in Manuel Antonio and I look forward to returning for another visit. Update: Time for another visit, the vanilla beans are getting low and the extract is long gone.

Tours are half day and available in the morning and afternoon. The tour description and driving directions can be found on his website at www.rainforestspices.com as well as informative articles. Or you may contact him directly cell: 506-8839-2721 or at the farm 506-2779-1155.

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Where Is That Amazing Waterfall?

riocelesteRio Celeste, one of Costa Rica’s most iconic sights is also its best kept secret. Where is it?

Seen on hotel web sites from coast to coast, one would think it was almost everywhere. But it’s in one location only, that’s the remote Tenorio Volcano National Park about 1.5 hours northwest of Arenal-La Fortuna. This aqua marine blue river is surrounded by amazing rain forest, several boiling hot springs, mud baths, and an incredible 98 foot waterfall cascading down into a beautiful aqua pool of water. Ancient legend attributed the beautiful blue color to God washing his paint brush in the river after he painted the sky. Another legend of the first inhabitants believed the blue lagoon was a crater of the volcano which was later discovered to be false.

The magnificent blue water is similar in color to the vibrant Blue Morpho butterfly; however this coloration is the result of a chemical reaction between sulfur and calcium carbonate which originates in the nearby Tenorio Volcano. Be advised that during rain, the water can become a muddy brown instead of the vibrant blue; but that’s nature.  We had rain the day before and the water was magnificent.

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Boiling blue water gurgles from Volcan Tenorio.

The hike to the waterfall from the park entrance will take about 1 ½ hours depending on your level of fitness. This is not a beginner hike and the trail can be very muddy and slippery. After a rain, the blue color is usually restored within 5 to 6 hours so keep that in mind. The lush and dense tropical forest is inhabited by sloths, tapirs, wild cats, blue morpho butterflies, tropical birds, howler, Capuchin and spider monkeys. The trail winds around tree roots and inclines so navigation requires some level of physical stamina. There are around 250 stairs with hand rails that take you down to a viewing platform at the waterfall and what goes down must eventually come up, including you, so take your time and carry water.  The park trails are in a constant state of improvement but it’s still recommended to borrow a hiking stick at the entrance and use it for balance.

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Park Ranger Station and walls of mementos from visitors and volunteers.

We think the best way to see the park is with an experienced guide which can be hired at the park entrance or arranged for in advance. Park hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. with an entrance fee of $10. We hired our guide at the park entrance for $30 although prices will vary between $20-$40. It was money well spent as the trail can be challenging, not well marked and its nice to have an extra hand to help in slippery areas. Keep in mind, even with a guide, you still need to do the hiking! Swimming in Rio Celeste is not allowed within the national park.

Getting There: 4X4 recommended, particularly in the rainy season. The road from Arenal to Tenorio NP goes past Rio Celeste Hideaway, a fantastic place to spend one or more days.  After the park, the road continues downhill on to the west slope of the volcanic mountain range that separates the country and continent. This scenic shortcut takes you through cattle ranches and into the more arid conditions of the Guanacaste province.

Rio Celeste is off the beaten path and many take a day trip from the Arenal area. We stayed at the beautiful boutique hotel, Rio Celeste Hideaway which is 2.5 miles southeast of the park entrance.  This lovely boutique hotel with Moroccan and Bali/Indonesian charm is worth a stay.  Rio Celeste is part of the prestigious family of boutique resorts that include the world-famous Nayara and Nayara Springs, without the sticker shock and with down-to-earth ambiance. The private and spacious casitas are luxuriously appointed with beautiful outdoor showers set in your own private garden.  Tropical grounds are well maintained and each room has a private deck facing the rainforest. A trail on the property offers an alternative to the national park with an easy 30 minute hike to a portion of the blue river. A covered deck with towels awaits you where the trail ends with seating for the guests to enjoy, relax and take in the beauty of your surroundings. This is a nice option to visit the area for those who cannot navigate the more strenuous trails in the actual park.

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A great photo slideshow is available here.

 

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Costa Ballena A Top Destination

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By Steve Linder

Behind this crescent-shaped beach is the last stand of Primal Rainforest reaching from the Pacific to the Atlantic coasts.

Costa Ballena, in the Southern Pacific area of Costa Rica has been getting some good press lately.  Travel & Leisure magazine recently named Bahía Ballena one of the top 13 “Hottest Travel Destinations” and TripAdvisor announced Travelers’ Choice Awards naming Uvita number 15 on a list of top destinations in Central America. Of the top 25 Central American spots, 12 were in Costa Rica.

Travel & Leisure, a US based company, is read by almost 5 million people worldwide and describes Bahía Ballena as a pristine bay previously a favorite of backpackers and migrating whales but recently discovered and accessible.  TripAdvisor is the world’s largest travel site garnering more than 200 million unique monthly visitors and they describe Uvita as a tiny village with miles of pure white sand and fabulous swimming.

The Marino Ballena National Park is a gem named for humpback whales who meet and mate there every year.

As seen from the air skirting above the canopy you can find a multitude of hidden beaches that you can later explore by car or on foot.  This beach is just South of the Whale’s Tail near Punta Uvita.  All beaches in Costa Rica are technically public beaches, therefore free.  Although getting to a specific beach may involve crossing private property or through a National Park.  Be sure to obtain permission or take a well marked path that is known to be free access, otherwise you will want to pay the property owner or park the access fee.  Its a small price to pay for the maintenance they provide to make the beach accessible.  Having said that, the path may still be dangerous and the road may require 4×4.  This is a case for proper adventure attire and travel tech, i.e. walking poles or stick.


Steve Linder can be found @pacificlots.com

 

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Corcovado National Park

Tweet       Corcovado National Park covers a substantial area of the Osa Peninsula located in Southwest Costa Rica. Established in 1975 the park encompasses an area of 425 km. Corcovado is widely considered the “crown jewel” of parks in Costa Rica and world renowned for its bio-diversity and prolific wildlife. The park is […]

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Caño Island

Tweet By, Steve Linder Caño Island Biological Reserve is one of Costa Rica’s well known national parks.  The island is located off the Osa Peninsula in the Pacific ocean directly west of Drake Bay.  It’s the exposed part of an underwater mountain thrown up by an ancient collision of the two tectonic plates on either […]

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