• Caitlin McAninch

Costa Rica: Tirimbina Park and Chocolate Tour

Updated: Feb 16, 2019

Next to our hotel in Sarapiquí was the Reserva biologica Tirimbina, a non-profit organization created to conserve the rainforest and to provide environmental education and scientific research. The land they own is situated right along the Sarapiquí River and has a vast amount of wildlife and diverse plant life for scientists to study.

On the day we arrived to Sarapiquí, we didn’t really know what to do. We couldn’t get into our hotel room yet, we didn’t really know if there was a town nearby, and we were sort of just clueless. While walking around our hotel grounds, we stumbled into the lobby of the Rainforest Lodge, which is a hotel, but a very odd one. We asked for more information and we learned that they give tours such as chocolate tours, bat tours, bird watching tours, and have the option for a self guided tour around their land.

Truly, if it wasn’t for finding this place, we would have been quite bored sitting at our pool all day! Continue on to learn more about this place and all we did here!

Reserva biologica Tirimbina

This Private Wildlife Refuge has 345 hectares of mid-elevation forest, and 9 km of trails pass through several ecosystems of the forest and river, which is what we got to explore! According to their website, only a third of the Tirimbina forest is used for ecotourism and environmental education (where we were), leaving the majority of the Reserve intact.

As we walked through the reserve we saw a number of tags and labels on different plants, or flags in certain areas, we were sure that had to do with the studying from the biologists that visit this place. Which let’s be real, that’s super cool!

We also learned that this area is a popular destination for school field trips to continue sharing wildlife education to the younger generations of Costa Rica. It’s truly amazing that Costa Rica puts such high importance on preserving their forests and wildlife. It’s something I truly appreciated while visiting this country.

Tirimbina Park Self-Guided Tour

So once we learned about all there was to do here, we decided to do a self-guided walk through the rainforest. They said it was all trails and would be fine! And it was, completely fine!

The land that has the path is directly across the river, so they have a giant hanging bridge across the water! A little nerve racking because… well. It’s a long, thin bridge crossing a rushing river!

Once we crossed it, we saw some iguanas! Just look at how cute they are! I know the female is hard to spot in the second image, but can you see her?!

And then, we just started wandering. We headed right the first time we went. And just sort of wandered around on the trails until we found ourselves back at the beginning. The trail map is all circles; so no matter which route you take, you will always end up back where you started.

It was a bit eerie though. I mean, with no tour guide, we didn’t know really much of what was around us. And even with the sounds of the animals we never saw (because yes, without a tour guide we saw no animals), it was overly quiet in the forest.

But it was still beautiful. Here are some photos I took along the way:

Tirimbina Park Chocolate Tour

One we finished the hike we relaxed in our room for awhile, but then we decided with so much free time, why not just do the chocolate tour? Sure! I’d love to see how chocolate is made.

No lie, I had my phone during this tour and wrote down almost every step to tell you exactly how to make real chocolate. But for the life of me, that note is gone from my phone! I generally remember everything though, so, let us begin.

The cacao plant (ka-ko-uh) used to be treasured by the indigenous people of Costa Rica and throughout Central America – this is like way long ago, before the Spaniards arrived. The plants would grow in the middle of the forest, not in giant plantations, and it took a lot, and I mean a lot of effort to make the special drink that only the royal and most important people of the tribes would drink. And this is why…

Cacao seeds come from the cacao fruit, which you can see here:

Unfortunately a disease can easily grab the fruit turning them black and bad. So many fruits can never actually be used:

These are cute little baby cacao fruits:

When you open a cacao fruit, the seeds are all in the middle covered in this weird jelly goo, that sort of tastes like lychee.

And the first step of making traditional, is sucking the goo off.

Then, you ferment the seed for seven days. Here are the different stages on each day:

Then you dry it in the warm sun in something like this:

And then, it looks like this, which sort of tastes like a really bitter nasty almond:

And then you roast it, and then pick off the skin, and that makes it sort of taste like coffee, I think…

Then, you grind it into a powder, and if you want it to not be so bitter, you add brown sugar and cinnamon:

And it comes out looking like this and sort of tastes like dark chocolate brownie mix:

Then you add hot water, boiled on a traditional stovetop… Just kidding. But you do boil water:

And mix!

And serve with your favorite toppings such as spicy cayenne pepper, vanilla, some substance to thicken it, or more sugar:

And enjoy!

It really was pretty good! Just like a different type of hot chocolate.

The tour also gave us two chocolates to try, one with 90% chocolate (so real chocolate just like how we made it) and 10% milk and sugar, and then Milk Chocolate, which is only 20% chocolate! I liked milk chocolate better!

Here are photos of the instructions and the map that they had:

And that was our chocolate tour! They even gave us cacao seeds to bring home! Cute souvenir!

Fun tour, though! I really liked that we got to try the seeds at every single step, that was a neat way to set it up!

One more hike around Tirimbina

After the chocolate tour we decided to do more walking around the reserve. We only had about an hour til the sunset, so we figured why not!

We saw these weird little statues in the forest:

Which, because I LOVE South Park, just reminded me of the Yanagapa people. Yes, it’s insulting; they’re actually referring to the Yanomama people of Central America. But anyways…

And then we were walking and I was like, “I wonder if all these vines are really strong enough to hold Tarzan.” And then Dylan decided to find out:

Turns out they are.

Stumbling upon Tirimbina was a blessing in disguise for us. Because we were so lost on what to do in this area, Tirimbina gave us activities and kept our Friday full!

To find out what else we did in the Sarapiquí area, be sure to check out my other blog posts about Costa Rica:

Costa Rica

Distance: 3,844 miles

Driving Time: 76 hours

#CostaRica #Activities #Abroad