September 11th, 2008

The Case for Cás

Some of the best items on Costa Rican restaurant menus are not actually food at all. They’re drinks–the frescos naturales, or natural fruit drinks, that most restaurants serve. Frescos are different from pure juice, or jugo, because they contain sugar. When you order a fresco at a restaurant, you will need to specify whether you want the fruit blended with water–en agua–or with milk–en leche. Both contain sugar.

Frescos are appealing, because restaurants rarely make them from pre-packaged concentrates or mixes of any kind. Instead, these drinks usually contain huge amounts of the freshest tropical fruit. Although almost any flavor of fresco is delicious–and a wonderful opportunity to try delicious fruits–one of the most unusual and tasty fresco flavors is cás.

A small, yellowish tropical fruit that grows on a tree, cás is very sour. Costa Ricans never eat it off the tree. Instead, they extract the pulp for a terrific juice.

Fresco de cás en agua is like a tropical lemonade. Cás drinks are cool and pleasantly tart with enough pulp to make them slightly frothy. They are the ideal accompaniment to a plate of rice and beans or a nice ceviche. Cás is refreshing on a hot day and is definitely the best of Costa Rica’s wide array of tropical drinks.

The Magnolia Restaurant in the Casino Club Colonial serves a delicious selection of frescos naturales.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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September 11th, 2008

A Pretty Little Lesson

Costa Rica’s escudo, or coat of arms, appears on the “tails” side of every Costa Rican coin and decorates the central red stripe of the official Costa Rican flag. The escudo is aesthetically attractive, and its various elements reveal some important facts about Costa Rican civics and geography.

The three mountains in the center of the escudo represent the three mountain ranges, or cordilleras, that run through the country–the Cordillera Central, the Cordillera de Talamanca and the Cordillera de Guanacaste. Some say that the peaks represent volcanoes found along each of the mountain ranges, and the escudo recently has been altered so that smoke now emerges from the mountain peaks.

The green at the base of the mountains represents the fertile soil and rich vegetation of Costa Rica’s Central Valley.

The blue water in front of and behind the mountains alludes to Costa Rica’s Pacific and Atlantic coastlines, while the ships at sea indicate both Costa Rica’s nautical history and the fact that the country’s ports are free and open.

The seven stars in an arc above the mountains represent Costa Rica’s seven provinces—San José, Cartago, Alajuela, Heredia, Puntarenas, Guanacaste and Limón.

The rising sun refers to the newness of the country when it first adopted the escudo and to hope for its prosperous future.

The golden border represents Costa Rican coffee—the golden bean, or grano de oro.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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September 8th, 2008

Costa Rica’s National Bloom

Costa Rica’s national flower is the Guaria Morada, a purple bloom with a trumpet-like shape and several surrounding petals. The center of the Guaria Morada is often yellow or a darker purple than the petals.

Technically, the Guaria Morada is an epiphyte, and it once grew on trees in the Pacific region and in areas of lower elevation. Several generations ago, Costa Ricans cultivated Guarias Moradas in their own gardens, and typical Costa Rican houses often had a profusion of these beautiful flowers draped over their tile roofs and garden walls. However, because of over-cultivation and overexploitation, the Guaria Morada grows wild only in limited areas now.

Visitors to Costa Rica can see the Guaria Morada in national parks and botanical gardens. Costa Rica’s old five Colón bill also has an image of the Guaria Morada among its other intricate designs.

The Guaria Morada grows in all of Central America, although it is most abundant in Guatemala and Costa Rica.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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September 5th, 2008

Black and White and Served All Over

Guests at the Sleep Inn San José Downtown receive a free continental breakfast in the hotel’s downstairs eating area. One of the best parts of this breakfast is gallo pinto, arguably Costa Rica’s most traditional dish. This tasty mixture of rice, beans, onions, cilantro and red peppers takes its name from its appearance. A gallo pinto is a colored rooster, whose speckled feathers look like the color-flecked rice and beans.

Although various Central American countries make their own similar rice-and-bean dishes, none contains the one ingredient that makes Costa Rican gallo pinto so special—Salsa Lizano. This liquid seasoning, produced and bottled in Costa Rica, contains vegetables and spices, cumin in particular. Restaurants all across the country provide bottles of Salsa Lizano at tableside, and Costa Rican cooks always add a healthy dash of Salsa Lizano to their gallo pinto. The Salsa Lizano provides a depth of flavor that no other spice can.

Costa Ricans eat gallo pinto at any meal, but it is most popular at breakfast time. Restaurants all across the country serve it in the morning. Gallo pinto is delicious with a side of tortillas and fried plantains—and sometimes with one additional drop of Salsa Lizano.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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September 4th, 2008

What’s in a Flag?

The flag of Costa Rica is attractive both in its graphic simplicity and in its wealth of symbolic meaning. Adopted in 1848, the flag has three colors, which allude to those of the French flag, a symbolic recognition of the ideals of the French Revolution.

A Costa Rican government decree of 1848 provides the first official description of the flag—a “tricolor” made up of five horizontal bands. The central red band is flanked by two white bands, which, in turn, are flanked by two blue ones. Each band takes up one sixth of the flag’s width, except for the red band, which is two-sixths of the width.

Each of the flag’s colors has its own meaning. The blue stripes represent the blue of the sky and, by extension, purity and tranquility. The white stripes represent peace, an ideal of particular importance to a country with no army. The red represents the blood shed by those who fought for Costa Rica’s independence, although it has also come to symbolize the blood pulsing through the veins of the people and the reddened faces of Costa Rica’s hard-working laborers.

The unadorned red-white-and-blue flag serves for unofficial purposes. For official state and maritime purposes, Costa Rica flies the Pabellón Nacional. This flag has the same five horizontal stripes but also includes the country’s coat of arms, or escudo. The escudo floats on a white elliptical background, whose dimensions are also specified in the 1848 governmental decree. The white ellipse sits on the flag’s broad red band.

Costa Rica’s flag, whether in its official or its unofficial purpose, is a great source of national pride for its people.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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September 3rd, 2008

Culture at Our Doorstep

The Hotel Sleep Inn San Jose Downtown is the place for lovers of precolombian art. Within a short walking distance of the hotel is Costa Rica’s renowned Museo de Jade, which is the largest museum collection of jade in the Americas and which contains some of the country’s most valuable and interesting pieces of precolombian jade.

Located in the high-rise national insurance building (El Instituto Nacional de Seguros, or INS) just across the park from the Sleep Inn, the museum is open from Monday through Saturday. Its five-gallery exhibition space traces the origin of jade-work in the country and presents each piece in its historic and archaeological context. Jade, as a material, had particular cultural and religious significance to the native population of Costa Rica. The origins of each of the pieces—many of which were acquired through trade—are often as interesting as the pieces themselves.

The Jade Museum also features works in ceramic, gold, wood and bone. Guided tours are available in both Spanish and English.

Visit the Jade Museum website.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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September 3rd, 2008

The Rainy Season Could be the Right Season for a Trip to Costa Rica

When planning a trip to Costa Rica, vacationers often hope to avoid the rainy season. They imagine waterlogged beaches, muddy walks through the rain forest and unmitigated dreariness. For them, a trip to the tropics should be sunny and rain-free.

However, for those travelers willing to take the wet with the dry, the Costa Rican rainy season can be a wonderful time to plan a trip. The rainy season usually begins in late April and lasts until November. Most mornings are clear and sunny, and the rain normally only starts after lunchtime. An industrious traveler can do a lot of hiking, swimming or sightseeing before the rains even begin each day.

During the rainy season, plants and trees spring back to glorious, verdant life. Rivers are full again, the air is clear and cool, and the vegetation is lush and just what one would expect in the tropics. The rain itself is spectacular. It pounds heavily on streets and sidewalks but is surprisingly warm.

More importantly for travelers, the rainy season can often mean a reduction in prices. Hotel rates tend to be lower at this time of year. Many tourist attractions are less crowded, and travel bargains are more plentiful.

Although the rain makes day-trip planning more uncertain and can adversely affect driving conditions, it can also make for a truly memorable Costa Rican vacation.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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May 11th, 2008

“Forbes”: Top 10 worldwide favorite destinations

According to Forbes, an influential U.S. magazine, Costa Rica is one of the top ten global tourist destinations. The magazine ranked our country in three different categories: luxury adventure tours, honeymoon tours and summer adventure tours. Our country shares credits in these three categories with destinations like the Red Sea, the Bahamas, Egypt, Canada, Mexico, Chile, France, Hawaii and Greece.

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May 11th, 2008

Costa Rica Information

Those looking for stunning but ecologically conscious vacations need look no further. The misty rain and cloud forest teems with toucans. Encounters with rare wildlife, from quetzals to leatherback turtles, await. Activities such as surfing and whitewater rafting are available on gorgeous beaches and splendid rivers. Arenal Volcano puts on mighty shows almost daily. Nearby hot springs soothe stresses away. San Jose, the capital and largest city, is vibrant and packed with Victorian mansions.

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May 11th, 2008

Tourism on the upswing in Central America

In 2008, the seven Central American countries witnessed a strong upswing in tourism. The previous year, as many as 8 million people from all over the world were expected to visit Maya sites in places like Tikal (Guatemala) and Copan (Honduras); the wildlife refuges and beaches of Costa Rica; the Panama Canal; and the volcanoes and colonial cities of Nicaragua. Nearly 100,000 tourists were expected from Germany alone, according to Pilar Cano, general secretary of the Central America Tourism Agency (CATA). Speaking in the Costa Rican capital of San Jose at the start of the tourism fair CATM (Central America Travel Market), Cano said, “The countries’ joint marketing, including in Europe, and the stable political situation are bearing fruit.” Belize and El Salvador also reported more tourists in 2007 than in 2006. In 2006, about 7 million people visited Central America. Costa Rica remained the region’s most popular destination. In 2006, it received 1.725 million guests, a figure that Tourism Minister Carlos Ricardo Benavides expected to increase by about 10 per cent in 2008. “Tourism provides a livelihood for the people of all seven countries,” Benavides said. “To keep it that way, we must continue to work for peace as well as climate and environmental protection.”

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