The winter snow was piled a foot tall outside of my New York City apartment, but I didn’t mind. A cab was waiting downstairs to whisk me away for a week in Costa Rica. Five hours cramped into coach wouldn’t bother me a bit. It doesn’t take long to adjust to “Pura Vida” a popular local expression that rests somewhere between “Hakuna Matata” and “La Vida Loca” and essentially means “pure” or “real” living. With Passover soon approaching and the prospect of preparing two seders for 25 people looming overhead, I thought I could use a little pure living. Costa Rica is a perfect place.
Costa Rica is located south of Nicaragua and north of Panama. The waves of the Pacific Ocean to the west attract scores of surfers annually and boast a number of luxury hotels and resorts along the coast. The area Guanacaste has its own airport (Liberia) and frequent flights from the United States. The emerging tourist hot spot in Costa Rica is along the Caribbean coast where the province of Limon is attracting enterprising developers and nature lovers to unspoiled white sand beaches and far less crowds than the more popular beaches further north.
For Jewish travelers, Costa Rica boasts a fascinating history. A group of Sephardic Jews first populated the country in the 16th and 17th century. Another wave of settlers came from neighboring Central American countries in the 19th century pursuing mercantile interests in the Caribbean. The present day community is more likely to trace its roots to Poland and Eastern Europe during the period before the Second World War when refugees still had an opportunity to flee Nazi persecution.
There is an active Orthodox synagogue in San Jose, Costa Rica, Shaarei Tzion, and the Centro Israelita Sionista founded in 1930 remains the center around which Jewish life in Costa Rica revolves.
For kosher travelers, Kosher Center S.A. is the only Glatt Kosher establishment in Costa Rica and boasts a wide range of top quality beef, poultry, cured meats, and bakery products in a sit down restaurant with takeout/delivery and catering services available throughout the country. There is a dairy cafeteria at the Jewish Community Center. Chabad of Costa Rica can also arrange food and amenities.
Costa Rica is a land of contrast with appealing beaches on both coasts and a dense rainforest in its center. For a couple of nights, we stayed in the area surrounding Arenal, an active volcano about 2 hrs from San Jose. While at one time explosive lava flows were a common site to tourists, things have quieted down over the past few years. The geothermic activity beneath the surface created hot springs that are popular with tourists. I stayed at the luxurious Tabacon Resort, a resort member of The Leading Hotels of the World and The Leading Spas of the World located in the rainforest at the base of Arenal Volcano. The sounds of nature would beckon at sunrise outside my balcony each morning and the attentive staff made sure every need was attended to at this five-star property. I cannot imagine a more beautiful setting to relax and unwind in Costa Rica.
Manuel Antonio National Park is a must-visit on your Costa Rica vacation. The diversity of wildlife is amazing and with a trained guide you can see several species of monkeys, sloths, exotic birds and more with relative ease. When you grow tired of trekking through the forest, beautiful beaches await. On the sunny February day when I was there, the water was warm, crystal clear and four feet deep for hundreds of yards in any direction. There are a number of resorts, bars and nightclubs in and around the town.
I was staying about an hour away in Jaco, a popular retirement destination for American expats with beaches, world-class fishing and a number of luxury accommodations available. There were many day trips available from Jaco. I enjoyed a 3 hour horseback riding trek (my tush is still sore) and ATV adventure – each offered unparalleled views of this beautiful coastal country.
Another highlight of my trip was a semi-private tour of a working coffee plantation. The Finca Rosa Blanca Resort is an organic coffee farm plantation and luxurious inn overlooking the central valley mountain highlands of Costa Rica. Its proximity to the San Jose International Airport makes it an ideal stopover upon arrival or prior to departure. Led by an experienced barista and guide, our two-hour walking tour included a history of coffee cultivation, an in-depth overview of sustainable agriculture and an appreciation of the journey from bean to cup.
I hope I have helped to inspire your next vacation. As a kosher traveler, Costa Rica is very welcoming and accommodating and it is easy to manage dietary and travel restrictions with hotel staff and tour guides who are more than willing to make your experience memorable.
Oh and if you are looking to make some Costa Rican food, on of the national dishes is Ceviche, check out our recipes for Ceviche here.