Sugar, Cocoa, Coffee, & Oxcarts {Costa Rica}

It didn’t take long before we fell into a routine that would get us out in the morning doing things and then coming back to drinks and cards while we watched the clouds come in and cover the area. It seemed like the perfect mix of adventure and rest.

We had spent the last couple of days up in the beautiful Monteverde mountains so for today’s going and doing we decided to switch gears a little bit and signed up for a plantation tour in town. The day would end up giving a lot of cultural joys, some planned for and others that took us by surprise.

Sugar Cane, Cocoa, & Coffee-Don Juan Plantation

We made our way to a different part of town where we had signed up for a tour of the Don Juan Plantation where we would get a real look at what it takes to produce sugar cane, cocoa, and coffee and how these became such an important part of the culture in Costa Rica.

In 1937 Don Juan and his family arrived in Monteverde. They were one of the first farming families in the area. They began with growing coffee and then started producing other things as well. His reputation for coffee growing grew over the years. Then his son and nephew decided to open up an expresso bar in town. They brought a single coffee plant and set it up in the corner so customers could watch it grow and see the process from the beginning. The interest in the coffee plant led to opening up the plantation for tours.

The first part of the tour took us past rows and rows of tall green sugar cane plants. Our guide had a few stalks ready for pressing. He started by shaving off the outer layer with a knife then cutting the inner core into small pieces. He handed each of us a piece to suck on. Then we put the cane through the presser while the sweet juice spilled from it. After a couple rounds he inserted slices of a lemon/mandarin orange into the broken shafts of the cane and we continued to press it a few more times. He collected the juice and poured into small cups for us to drink. It was the best lemonade we had ever had.

The next part of the tour was all about cocoa and turning it into chocolate. We got to break open the outer shell and see the rows of cocoa beans protected by white film. We took the dried and bitter beans and ground them into pieces which were then ground again into a kind of paste. From there the guide laid out some cinnamon, salt, red pepper powder, and vanilla on the counter and let us add whatever we wanted to the chocolate. We were pretty pleased with the taste, even more so when it was mixed with a little hot water and cocoa butter for some excellent hot chocolate.

The last part of the tour was seeing the coffee that had started it all. We helped the guide pick some of the coffee beans and put them into the machine that would separate the bean from the shell. We learned about the baskets that people would attach around their waist to gather the beans and the small box that would need to be filled to get paid. Such labor intensive work for not very much money. We saw the greenhouses where rows and rows of coffee beans were drying until they would become ready to grind into coffee. Costa Rica’s coffee industry is one of the leading parts of their economy after tourism. They focus is on quality over quantity and they take real pride in the coffee they produce.

Taking the plantation tour was really interesting and offered an important look at what goes into making these products that we love. Our guide was really knowledgeable about the plantation and the area. We were so glad that we had the opportunity to learn so much about this part of Costa Rica.

Dias de las Culturas (Day of Cultures)

We were about to settle in for our daily time of playing cards on the deck while the afternoon clouds came in when we started hearing music from the other side of the valley. We looked out and could see people on the opposite hill side coming down the street -It looked like a parade. We ran to the front desk and asked where the parade was going and if we could make it in time to watch. He said they would be coming through the main part of town. Since we were only a few minutes walk from the main street we hurried and made our way there, joining all the people along the streets.

Soon we began to hear the music getting closer and could see the leading fire truck coming up the street. There were community bands marching with their instruments in tow. When they reached the center part of the city, they would stop to perform. Coming after them were groups of dancers in traditional dress and we loved the bright colors of their swooping skirts.

While we loved listening to the band play, the real thrill came when the dancers began to really put those skirts in motion. The music and the movement was really beautiful. There were older dancers next to the new generation which was a great coming together in celebration of their culture.

Different communities from this area all had their own band and their own bunch of dancers. So with each new group we were struck anew with wonder at the beautiful movement and color of their attire.

We think the parade was to celebrate Dias de las Culturas or Day of Cultures. Typically, Costa Rica celebrates this day later in October on the 12th. In the US this day is marked as Columbus Day in honor of the geographic mistake that led Christopher Columbus to land in North America and begin the colonizing of the continent. But many countries, including the US, have began to refer to this day instead as Indigenous Peoples Day or Day of Cultures to celebrate and honor the peoples and cultures of areas that were here long before Columbus.

The line of bands and dancers was broken up when someone announced the arrival of the oxcarts coming up the road. We moved to the other street so that we could have a better view of the procession. And there they were, a long line of oxen pulling beautifully decorated carts up the street.

These oxcarts, known as carreta, honors Costa Rica’s most famous and historical craft. In the mid 1800s these carts were used to transport coffee beans from the central valley down to the coast. This journey would take about 15 days. The beautiful decoration of these carts came later in the 1900s when each region of the country had its own design to distinguish the driver’s origin by the painted pattern of the cart.

in 2005, these beautiful carts joined the UNESCO title listed as an ‘Intangible World Cultural Heritage’ for their symbolic representation of the people of Costa Rica and the production of coffee that they were used for. These carts also became the symbol for the national labor organization.

It was an amazing experience to get to witness this display and celebration of the cultural heritage of this area. As well as the tour this morning where we learned about sugar cane, cocoa, and coffee and how its production has become such a hallmark of this part of the world. This day was full of wonderful cultural experiences.

If you have enjoyed this cultural celebration, you may be interested in these other celebrations:

Papa’ete- French Polynesia

Hill of Tara- Ireland

Thanks for joining me on this cultural day with a plantation tour and dias de las culturas. May you always celebrate the beauty and industry of where you come from.

21 responses to “Sugar, Cocoa, Coffee, & Oxcarts {Costa Rica}”

  1. Looks like you had a day packed with interesting and educational experiences. How fun for your daughter, and for you as well. The plantation tour looks really informative, and delicious too. Then the unexpected parade and cultural dances seems like the icing on the cake. Thanks for sharing your adventures Meg; looks fabulous!

    • Thank you, it was a great day and we felt so lucky to catch the parade. My daughter loved their big swooping skirts and was wishing she had one like it. Her favorite part was seeing the baby ox leaning how to pull a cart. I hope you have a great rest of your day 🙂

  2. The coffee finca tour is an essential part of a trip to Costa Rica, huh. How lucky that the carnival/parade came while you were there – a real bonus! Those carretas are incredible, so decorative, we enjoyed seeing those too. So pleased your trip is giving such enjoyment.

  3. What a wonderful day! The plantation tour sounds fascinating – we visited a coffee plantation elsewhere in the country, and sugar cane in the north, but didn’t see chocolate production anywhere. As for the festival, what a bonus and so colourful!

    • The cocoa was probably our favorite part of the plantation tour…although my husband would say the coffee. Seeing the parade was a real thrill. So glad we could catch it to see it 🙂

  4. What a great tour. Sugar, chocolate, and coffee: three things that make the world go ’round. And make MY world go ’round.
    Great catch of that parade! Those carts are so intricate. I would have just painted “The Travel Architect’s Cart” on the side as a form of identification – haha. But then, that wouldn’t get me a UNESCO designation, would it?

  5. These are truly cultural experiences to treasure Meg. We would have been all over this, especially the coffee part. We are committed coffee drinkers and wherever we are around the world we usually pick up half a dozen or so bags of ground beans for our trusty French press. Many times there is a Costa Rican blend among the mix, so yes, yes, yes to this if we ever make it to the country. Brilliant to see Tess enthusiastically pitching in here and there and the luck of being in town when the performances took place. The wheels on those carts are positively psychedelic!

    • The tour was great and we left ladden with bags and bags of coffee and chocolates. She was so thrilled to get in and do every part of the tour and our guide was sweet to gear it towards her. But happening upon the parade I think was our favorite moment of the trip- the swooping skirts and those incredible painted carts were just so perfectly Costa Rica 🙂

  6. This looks like a fun excursion to learn more about the history and culture of Costa Rica. Sugar, chocolate and coffee are among some of my favourite things. It’s neat to learn a bit more about how they’re made and how important they are to Costa Rica’s economy. Good timing to also catch the Dias de Las Culturas!

    • When we saw the tour, we said the same thing -these are all our favorite things! The tour was really interesting and gave a great look at these key parts of the country. We left with many bags of coffee and chocolates to take home with us. 🙂

  7. What an amazing experience Meg and a day full of beautiful surprises. I would have loved to have seen those dancers. But my favourites are the ox-carts, such wonderful artwork

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