I originally lived in Costa Rica when I was five and have been back a few times as an adult. In a country where the military was abolished in 1948, the Costa Rican government instead began promoting the idea of a new army comprised of teachers and doctors. Education and medical services are free, contributing to the positive attitude that Costa Ricans refer to as “pura vida” or Spanish for “pure life”. With a commitment to the country’s biodiversity, an amazing landscape filled with mountains, volcanoes and beaches and a higher level of safety than other Central American countries, Costa Rica is a find for travelers. Deals to Costa Rica can often be found during the rainy season which runs about May through November.
Most foreign visitors to Costa Rica will initially arrive in San Jose. For an experience with Costa Rica’s wildlife, Zoo Ave is a must, while serious coffee drinkers like me will also be pleased with a tour at Doka Estate, both located about thirty minutes from San Jose.
Costa Rica is known for the diversity of its wildlife and with a prominent tourism industry, more and more visitors are discovering Costa Rica’s secrets. I wanted to visit Zoo Ave (pronounced “aw vey” which is Spanish for an animal with wings), located in the small town of La Garita. Established in 1990 and run by The Nature Restoration Foundation, admission for foreign tourists is US$20.00 (or 10,000 colones) where visitors experience not only a good zoo in a beautiful, natural setting, but also learn about Zoo Ave’s dedication to conservation. Zoo Ave serves as both an animal rescue and rehabilitation center, receiving several hundred animals yearly. One Costa Rican was telling me the story that he remembers someone bringing a box of rabbits when he was visiting as a child. Zoo Ave has also successfully bred over fifty species of Costa Rican endangered birds and reptiles which is quite a feat.
Visitors to the zoo will initially begin in the macaw section where blue and gold, scarlet and hybrid macaws are on display. The colors are surreal and so bright that they almost look unnatural. I loved listening to the screeching of some of the macaws as well as high whistling from other birds in the area. One species of bird even had a sound like a horn!
Walking through the zoo, each animal section has a bilingual sign describing the animal species. With landscaping filled with waterfalls and lush vegetation, visitors will feel like being in a rain forest. Animals on display include many species of birds, four species of monkeys including howler and white faced monkeys, a cougar, leopard, crocodiles (visitors are close enough to see the teeth!),turtles, deer, and peccaries. Peacocks even walk freely through the zoo areas.
With several benches scattered throughout the zoo, there are places to relax and enjoy the sounds of all the exotic animals. Spanish signs throughout the zoo with cartooned drawings also teach visitors about conservation. Signs warn about wildlife destruction such as using animals for furnishings and taking turtle eggs.
Go during the middle of the week during the rainy season as the zoo is quiet. I only saw seven or eight people the entire time I was walking through the facility and really enjoyed being up close to the animals and listening to all the birds.
Zoo Ave is an opportunity to see Costa Rica’s fantastic range of wildlife and to experience a foundation whose goals are to give animals in need a chance. I could spend hours and hours here.
Alajuela, Costa Rica
Phone: 2433 8989
While tourism and technology are big business in Costa Rica, coffee is a key component of the economy. I remember my parents driving through both coffee and banana plantations as a little girl and I wanted to revisit a coffee plantation.
Costa Rica began to grow coffee in 1790 using the Arabica coffee grain and by 1821, the government was encouraging Costa Ricans to grow coffee for export. As an incentive, families were given twenty-five free coffee trees.
While land is expensive today and finding laborers to perform the backbreaking work is difficult, coffee plantations still contribute to Costa Rica’s coffee industry.
At Doka Estate, visitors can experience an overview of how coffee is made by taking a tour. Owned by the Vargas family for three generations, the coffee at Doka Estate is delicious. Interestingly, 70 percent of this coffee is exported to Starbucks.
A producer needs soil (the volcanic soil in Costa Rica helps), altitude, rain, sun and shade to grow good coffee. All coffee is picked by hand during the dry season (December to April) and pay is low, measured in the number of baskets picked. The work is typically performed by Nicaraguan immigrants who have come to Costa Rica for a better life, living and working on the plantations. Pay is roughly $2.00 per basket and a good picker can make about $60.00 per day. The coffee is ready to be picked when the beans turn red as lower grades of coffee are produced from green or yellow beans.
The coffee tour will give visitors an overview of how coffee is picked, how beans are sorted and how coffee is dried. The length of roasting effects the coffee’s flavor as the longer the roasting, the stronger the taste. I personally like very strong coffee and am a big fan of Doka Estate’s Peaberry coffee.
The grounds around Doka Estate are beautiful, and filled with enormous hydrangeas which thrive in the Costa Rican climate. Oxen carts also dot the Estate which I remember as a little girl. Vibrantly painted ox carts are now more of a tourist attraction but these carts where critical to agriculture in the past. I remember seeing many on the roads as a child.
Be sure to visit the restaurant on site for traditional Costa Rican food and a stop at the factory store is addictive for coffee fans. Everything from coffee samples to coffee liquor to chocolate-covered coffee beans is available. Even the skins of the coffee bean can be manufactured into paper.
Doka Estate’s grounds also include a butterfly garden but the big draw here is coffee. I’ve been to Doka Estate twice and could easily visit several more times. This plantation is a coffee lover’s dream as this is seriously good coffee.
P.O. Box 129-4050
Alajuela, Costa Rica
(Note: Take the road to Poas Volcano—locals will be able to give directions).