- Dave in Columbus
I'll be in Costa Rica for a few days at the beginning of July. It's my first trip to the country (or Latin America at all, for that matter). Any tips? We'll be in San Jose for a couple of days, then we're heading to the Pacific Coast.
If you like markets, there is a fairly good one in San Jose. I think its called the Central Market and it's easily found. You can get pretty much anything from produce and meat, to prepared meals, to non-foodstuff. The Costa Rican dish of choice seems to be Gallo Pinto (I think that was it - someone can correct me if I've mangled it). Its plenty good. If you get out of the capitol, there is good ranch country in Costa Rica with excellent steaks to be had at roadside stops. Also good seafood on the coasts. Bring home some productos Lizano (hard to find here salsas, sauces etc.)
Bring binoculars to see great and fancy birds and monkeys. Watch out for spiders and snakes. Have fun - it's a great place.
The Central Market is where I bought coffee to bring home. You could smell it right through my luggage. I went probably ten years ago, before the big eco-tourism boom hit. I found the country to be incredibly varied and beautiful. I'd be interested to hear if the air quality in San Jose is better than it was then, as it was downright thick.
I went to the symphony one evening. I think the ticket cost $5. I bet things are a lot more expensive now.
Ah, Costa rica, Land of the Giant Houseplants!!! The little things in pots in your window are ten-feet high there! The papayas are the size of a small child!!! No, I'm not making this up!
The Mercado Centrale in San Jose is a chow mecca..Not only can one procure those infant-sized fruit to lug around with you, the inner-most area of the indoor market is FULL of stalls where you can get home-cookin' for a few dollars..Whole fish with boiled plaintains and rice, sopa de mariscos, ceviche....
Also, outside of the Mercado, as Pat said, you can buy your coffee, freshly roasted in 20 lb. bags to bring home..Those coffee roasting stalls are an experience. Just standing in one, you can "taste" the coffee on the back of your throat for the next few hours...Dulce de Leche fudge was worth every F***ING calorie!(and I do not have a sweet tooth!)
Lots of places make wonderful fruit drinks; I loved the mango or papaya, mixed with sugar and WHOLE milk, and their whole milk is an experience.
Stop at any roadside stand that says, "cerveza", and you can be guaranteed a snack of ceviche, sometimes with Yucca Fritta, if you're lucky...I stopped at every little stall, and ate ceviche EVERY day..NO ill effects whatsoever...
Traveling outside the city, look for stands that sell fresh roasted cashews..They'll taste like no nuts you've ever eaten..They'll also have them "on-the-hoof", au naturel, still connected to the fruit, persimmon-looking, that you don't eat...
Are you going to Manuel Antonio? Great, easy, beautiful hiking in the tropical forest near the beach, and GREAT fish tacos(my first ever!), on the beach..
Like Pat, it's been about 9 years for me, so, sigh, things may be more "first world"..I have wonderful memories of a lush country, whose vitality put it on the edge of being out of control, where I ate grilled corvino every nite...(Probably Chilean Sea Bass, probably you can't get it now...)
Eat any fish you are offered!
Oh, the cerveza! I forgot until reading your post. Yeah, don't miss that. And you jogged my memory about the fruit sold on the street. The pineapple was like eating sticks of pure sugar. In fact, you'll see fruit you've never seen before, and do try it. Often on menus you'll see a dish listed as "tipico", which is "typical", I guess, of national cuisine. Try it, whatever it is. At the zoo one afternoon I noticed some flowers that were reminiscent of some at home, but as big as plates. It took me a moment to realize that they were plain old impatiens. Huge.
Even in a city the size of San Jose, one had the feeling that the jungle was just waiting to take over again.
We took the bus from the station called "coca cola" of all things, out to Puntarenas, a beach town. The bus service was great, at that time. There I had cerveza every day. Oh, I hope it hasn't changed too much! Please, report back.
I haven't had a cerveza yet today, but it sure sounds like I have! I could do with one right about now, and some ceviche too! Yes, ceviche, of course. There was a place on the beach in Puntarenas (not much more than a lean-to) where I would walk to right around dawn, and they'd be preparing their fish. I'd always get a hand out. Thanks for pointing out my mental lapse! I wouldn't want anyone to get the wrong impression. : )
re: Pat Hammond
Things haven't changed much except late night muggings in Central SJO. Coca-cola area has become dangerous. Other than that the country is still lush, and fruits and cerviche are still yummy.
A thing that people forget, the tico/tica rice-beans are different than one finds in say Mexico -
The new newfind is Tamarindo - much farther than punterenas, and hence more rustic and undeveloped :)
Small town of Alajela, near airport and SJ: Jalajeno's restaurant. Goooooo Tex-Mex after a long week of Sodas. Norman owns a B&B as well, great eats and sleeps!