Costa Rica’s Eco Edge
It seems strange that farm-to-table ever became a trend. Wasn’t this the way our ancestors ate for millions of years? In Costa Rica, farm-to-table is still a way of life; cooking with locally sourced sustainable food is (for the most part) the norm, not the exception. The food in Costa Rica is simple: Rice, beans, tortillas, and plantains form the basis of most traditional meals. Then there’s the fresh produce. In Costa Rica, the fish is fresher, the fruit is juicier, and the coffee is bolder, and it’s likely this can be attributed to sustainable farming. Costa Rica is one of the greenest countries in the world, and at the end of 2015, reported that 99 percent of its energy came from renewable sources. It is also on the forefront of sustainable tourism, with more eco-lodges than almost any country in Latin America. Here are three incredible eco-lodges, in different parts of Costa Rica, which are serving up fresh, local fare.
Arenas Del Mar, Manuel Antonio
The view at Arenas Del Mar is astounding. Located atop a cliff on the Pacific coast, the hotel overlooks the ocean and Manuel Antonio National Park. It’s hard to believe such a luxurious hotel can be completely carbon neutral; everything from the bamboo straws to the biodegradable cleaning products are eco-friendly. It also has a food garden and utilize 100 percent organic, local produce to create its cuisine. Naturally, being on the ocean, the best thing you can consume at Arenas Del Mar is fish, like ceviche, snook with mango and coconut salsa, mahi mahi on corn tortillas, and seared tuna. But while there’s no denying how incredible the fish is, you can’t go to Costa Rica and ignore some of the other local staples. Like many countries in Latin America, starches are an important basis for every meal, including rice, corn, potatoes, plantains, and, of course, tortillas. The hotel offers a tortilla-making class, which is taught by Doña Elisa (or ‘Mama Eli’ as she’s affectionately known). She is the tortilla-making queen and has probably rolled out more pieces of dough in her lifetime than you can count. The recipe is simple, containing only corn flour, water, salt, and the two ingredients which give them a Costa Rican stamp: sour cream and queso fresco. Tortillas might not seem hard to make, but there is definite skill involved, and Mama Eli has it down to an art. Her hands move fluidly as she mixes and kneads the dough. Once it’s ready to be cooked, she throws the dough onto a piping hot pan until it becomes crispy. It’s eaten plain, or with sour cream and cheese, and served with a glass of agua de sapo (also known as “frog water”) which is a sweet drink made from brown sugar, lemonade, and ginger. Who needs haute cuisine when you have this?
Lapa Rios, Osa Peninsula
Located on the Osa Peninsula, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Lapa Rios is a five-star eco-lodge tucked away in a private rainforest reserve. People come here to explore the enchanting Corcovado National Park, but stay to enjoy the incredible views and remote location. The hotel is completely isolated, with little access to the outside world. Sustainability is at the core of everything it does — it even has reusable water bottles for guests to take on their day trips. Being so remote, it’s not easy to access products for the hotel’s food and drink offerings. At the Brisa Azul restaurant, all the ingredients are locally sourced. It serves up a selection of quintessential Costa Rican dishes, one of the most iconic being chifrijo — a giant bowl of rice, beans, tomatoes, avocado, pork cubes, and pico de gallo salsa. It’s wholesome and uncomplicated and probably made the same way it was a hundred years ago. More importantly, it proves that good dishes can come straight from the nearby surroundings.
Finca Rosa Blanca, Heredia
Located in the lush central highlands of Costa Rica, Finca Rosa Blanca is a hotel and organic coffee plantation, with distant views over the sprawling city of San José. And it’s also one of the most sustainable hotels in the country: Solar panels are used to heat the water, recycled materials are used throughout the hotel, and the swimming pool water is cleaned with a copper/silver ionization system. Sustainability is at the core of everything this hotel does, too, including the food. On the property, you’ll find a greenhouse where they grow organic vegetables and herbs, which are used to create local cuisine by native Costa Rican chef Gustavo Alvarado. Alvarado was trained and gained most of his working experience in the U.S., but he is Costa Rican by birth, and cooking Latin-style cuisine is in his blood. “I make neuvo Latin cuisine,” he says. "I utilize local ingredients with elaborate techniques.” This proves true in the array of dishes he serves: masa (corn dough) cooked in a komale plan; orzo with beans, avocado, cilantro, and freshly grilled prawns; a simple salad of artichokes and squid; and gnocchi with corvina (a fish similar to sea bass). Everything is fresh, organic, local — words we desperately look for on packaging at our local supermarkets. But there are no labels here; that would just be a waste. Alvarado’s food is incredibly forward-thinking, and while the produce might be simple and local, the techniques are definitely not. As an homage to the coffee plantation on which the hotel is situated, he has also created an adventurous five-course coffee tasting menu. On the plantation, the coffee is shade-grown, banana plants are used to irrigate the coffee trees, and there is no use of chemicals or pesticides — proof that sustainable farming can be a successful way to grow products.
These three lodges are only the tip of something much bigger that is happening in Costa Rica, and has been for many years. The country is showing the world that ecotourism doesn’t have to be austere. Luxury bed linen can be made from bamboo and first-rate food can come straight from the garden. Let’s only hope that other countries begin to follow suit, making a sustainable way of living the norm, not the exception.
Planning a trip to Costa Rica? Namu Travel Group is a locally-based travel company which organizes unique, experiential-based bespoke itineraries around Central America.