Eating your way through Costa Rica is pretty easy to do. This Central American country may only be the size of the U.S. state of West Virginia, but it’s bursting with locally sourced goodness. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and superfoods all grow locally and are available on nearly any street corner for just pennies. Local meals are exotic mixtures of traditional foods and modern cooking methods, and creative restaurants can be found in any large city. From your three square meals a day to your afternoon tropical smoothies on the beach, you’ll have no problem trying all the local delicacies of the region.
When aiming to fully experience the culinary arts of Costa Rica, you can’t forget about dessert. Finding and tasting all the delicious desserts available in Costa Rica can come difficult to visitors to the area. This may be because of how different Costa Rican sweets are from sweets typically eaten in North America and Europe. It may take you extra time to learn the names of local sweets, but it will be well worth it. You’re visiting a country that grows cacao alongside an incredible array of tropical fruits, and the combinations you’re about to experience may just change your life.
Costa Rica produces cacao in the mountainous central regions of the country. This fruit can be split, the seeds can be separated from the meaty fruit, and when roasted, the most incredible chocolate is born. The majority of this chocolate leaves the country for exportation, but the most delicious blends stay local. You may never again have the chance to eat chocolate grown and produced locally.
Chocolate enthusiasts will be in heaven in Costa Rica. The most incredible high-cacao chocolate bars have made their way into local supermarkets, but surprisingly, they haven’t yet made their way into baked goods. When looking for chocolate, grab a bar instead of a cake or brownie. Chocolatey baked goods in Costa Rica use less chocolate and more sugar, and can leave a chocolate lover disappointed. Visit the northern region of the country and look for a locally-produced chocolate bar. You’ll find that the majority of bars are made by small, family owned business and artisan shops rather than by large candy corporations. These small businesses are typically eco-conscious, and above all, creative. Grab a dark chocolate Nahua Bar then get creative and find some local chocolates mixed with tropical fruits as a gift for your supporters back home.
Cakes make up a good part of the country’s traditional dessert menu, and there’s a good reason these sweets haven’t been phased out of modern culture. Costa Rican cakes go above and beyond what you’ve tried from your home country. To make things easy, these traditional cakes will be easily found on any dessert menu of a nice restaurant in any part of the country.
Start with a Central American favorite such as Tres Leches. This will be a white sponge cake soaked in a trio of different milks. These milks will be sweetened and condensed, and the treat will be the most refreshing way to end a long day of jungle hikes and beach sports. Better yet, get a Tres Leches and make your travel partner get a local caramel custard called Flan. You can try both local favorites and even choose from various fruity toppings to enhance the experience.
In no other part of the world does so much time and effort go into making candy. In Costa Rica, local candies are anything but simple. A great example of this would be the highly anticipated Miel De Chiverre which makes its way into market places during Holy Week in the spring. To make this candy, you’ll need to find and open a huge pumpkin-like spaghetti squash. Locally, this is done with a large hammer. The sweet noodle-like flesh of the squash will be removed and hung to dry. Once dry, it can be mixed with sugar, tamarind seeds, cinnamon, cloves, citrus fruit peals, and coconut. It will take days to finish making just one candy, so the excited anticipation for their return to the market is well-earned.
Other candies in Costa Rica have the same general idea. Typically, they will be sugar and spice coated dried fruits picked locally from the region. Find an artisanal, hand-made candy shop or candy stall at the local market. You’ll find sugared and spiced coconut shreds, tamarinds, pineapple rings, and mixtures of fruits, nuts, and seeds of all kinds. Pick up a couple of each and plan a tasting party with your whole travel group. Some of these candies might be way over-sweetened for some of the taste buds in your group, but you might just find your new favorite treat. For the avid travelers among you, a filmed candy tasting and review session with a great group of adventurous travelers can make for the perfect video blog update.
In Costa Rica, you can choose to drink your dessert instead of eating it. This tropical country is home to some of the most flavorful and creative drinks you could imagine. Keep the tropical fruit smoothies and fresh squeezed juices for an afternoon snack, and save the real treats for your dessert.
To start off with, find a small shop selling home-made “cacao.” This will be a beverage made from the un-roasted cacao fruit, so don’t expect chocolate. Instead, this delicious drink will be refreshing and sweet. Traditionally, cacao was used as a healing food because of its high magnesium content. While the magnesium and strong mixture of antioxidants are still present in your drink, the high quantity of added sugar means you can no longer drink cacao as a medicine. Regardless, your sweet tooth will be satisfied and you’ll have tried another local delicacy not found in your home country.
Costa Ricans are also known for their love of Horchata. This drink is made with a mixture of pulverized rice and corn along with a blend of sugar and ground cinnamon. While in many countries this drink is considered a Christmas treat, in Costa Rica it’s enjoyed year-round.
Costa Rica has a culture full of creativity and enjoyment, so it’s no big surprise that so much love and care is poured into a single dessert. Spend your days scaling volcanoes and eating tropical, healthy meals, then enjoy your night with a well-earned local sweet.