Tour of San Jose, Poas Volcano & Coffee Plantation
Our tour of San Jose in the Central Valley of Costa Rica was a fantastic way to start the day! Paul, our Caravan tour guide, shared his love and pride for the history of his beautiful country. Paul taught us the term Pura Vida. While it’s literal translation means “pure life,” it is a term that Costa Ricans (or Ticas, as they like to call themselves) use to express their optimism for life. It’s also a term that can be expressed in a multitude of ways. It’s so nice to do a guided tour of San Jose with someone who was born and raised in the area. Our guide was so knowledgeable and passionate about his homeland. Paul even told us that as a child he picked coffee beans on his family-owned coffee plantation.
Costa Ricans are very proud (and rightfully so) of the fact that they abolished the army back in 1948-49 and used their military budget to fund education, security, and the culture of their people. All medical and educational needs of the people are provided at no cost and senior citizens are issued a “gold” card that allows them certain privileges. In fact, seniors are permitted to move to the front of the line or ride the local transit for free!
I also find it quite remarkable that this tiny country had the foresight and courage to protect nearly a third of their homeland in national parks and wildlife preserves, ensuring the protection of over 16,000 different species of flora, fauna, and wildlife. According to Wikipedia, Costa Rica has only 1% of the world’s land mass but an astonishing 5% of the world’s biodiversity. Simply amazing!
After our tour of San Jose, we also headed to Aljuela to visit Poas Volcano National Park and the Escallonia Cloud Forest (literally a mountain forest that gets very little rain but is mostly covered in cloud). The road to Poas volcano is quite narrow and winds up to an elevation of over 8800 feet above sea level. Near the top, Poas volcano and the surrounding forest was completely engulfed in cloud…so it was really quite cool and humid, which meant we needed to wear a light jacket or hoodie. Unfortunately, the clouds hung around so all we could see was a blanket of white but it was quite unique all the same. (See the picture of my two boys in front of the cloud-shrouded Poas volcano.)
Other excursions while on our tour of San Jose and Central Valley included a visit to a butterfly garden and a tour of the Doka Estate coffee plantation. The butterfly garden was a domed refuge that was home to dozens of species of beautifully colored butterflies including the incredibly beautiful Blue Morpho Butterfly.
Our guide for the Costa Rica coffee plantation explained the whole coffee growing and harvesting process. After growing the coffee plants and picking the fruit to separate the coffee seeds from the fruit, the coffee beans are graded and separated based on size and quality. Then the coffee beans are dried in the sun. (See photo)
Only the largest, top quality coffee beans are dried out in the sun. The majority of those are then shipped to international markets. The medium and lower quality coffee beans are usually dried in large heated ovens.
At the end of the coffee plantation tour, we got to taste some of the finest coffee in Costa Rica. The country only produces 100% Arabica coffee (the absolute best kind) and only keeps about 3% of what they produce for themselves. The other 97% is shipped to markets around the world. Today I bought some 100% Costa Rican espresso whole bean and some Peabody coffee beans. Peabody beans grow as a whole bean instead of two half-beans inside the fruit. These are considered to be quite rare and produce a much smoother, sweeter coffee taste.
We loved our tour of San Jose and we love traveling with Caravan Tours. On tomorrow’s leg of this Costa Rica tour, we head north to La Fortuna where it’s supposed to be sunny and in the mid-80s. Really can’t wait! The day includes a visit to the Parque Francisco Alvardoa, a Costa Rican topiary park. Will tell you all about it in tomorrow night’s blog!
~ Lee K
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