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Kosher Rica – Jewish Travel in Costa Rica

 

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The winter snow was piled a foot tall outside of my New York City apartment, but I didn’t mind.  A cab was waiting downstairs to whisk me away for a week in Costa Rica.  Five hours cramped into coach wouldn’t bother me a bit.  It doesn’t take long to adjust to “Pura Vida” a popular local expression that rests somewhere between “Hakuna Matata” and “La Vida Loca” and essentially means “pure” or “real” living.  With Passover soon approaching and the prospect of preparing two seders for 25 people looming overhead, I thought I could use a little pure living. Costa Rica is a perfect place.

View From Horseback Riding

Costa Rica is located south of Nicaragua and north of Panama.  The waves of the Pacific Ocean to the west attract scores of surfers annually and boast a number of luxury hotels and resorts along the coast.  The area Guanacaste has its own airport (Liberia) and frequent flights from the United States.  The emerging tourist hot spot in Costa Rica is along the Caribbean coast where the province of Limon is attracting enterprising developers and nature lovers to unspoiled white sand beaches and far less crowds than the more popular beaches further north.

It is easy to see gorgeous Red Maccaws everywhere.

For Jewish travelers, Costa Rica boasts a fascinating history.  A group of Sephardic Jews first populated the country in the 16th and 17th century.  Another wave of settlers came from neighboring Central American countries in the 19th century pursuing mercantile interests in the Caribbean.  The present day community is more likely to trace its roots to Poland and Eastern Europe during the period before the Second World War when refugees still had an opportunity to flee Nazi persecution.

There is an active Orthodox synagogue in San Jose, Costa Rica, Shaarei Tzion, and the Centro Israelita Sionista founded in 1930 remains the center around which Jewish life in Costa Rica revolves.

For kosher travelers, Kosher Center S.A. is the only Glatt Kosher establishment in Costa Rica and boasts a wide range of top quality beef, poultry, cured meats, and bakery products in a sit down restaurant with takeout/delivery and catering services available throughout the country.  There is a dairy cafeteria at the Jewish Community Center.  Chabad of Costa Rica can also arrange food and amenities.

Tabacon Hot Springs (photo courtesy of Tabacon)

Costa Rica is a land of contrast with appealing beaches on both coasts and a dense rainforest in its center.  For a couple of nights, we stayed in the area surrounding Arenal, an active volcano about 2 hrs from San Jose.  While at one time explosive lava flows were a common site to tourists, things have quieted down over the past few years.  The geothermic activity beneath the surface created hot springs that are popular with tourists.  I stayed at the luxurious Tabacon Resort, a resort member of The Leading Hotels of the World and The Leading Spas of the World located in the rainforest at the base of Arenal Volcano.  The sounds of nature would beckon at sunrise outside my balcony each morning and the attentive staff made sure every need was attended to at this five-star property.  I cannot imagine a more beautiful setting to relax and unwind in Costa Rica.

Lion Face Monkey Posing For Us On The Beach

Manuel Antonio National Park is a must-visit on your Costa Rica vacation.  The diversity of wildlife is amazing and with a trained guide you can see several species of monkeys, sloths, exotic birds and more with relative ease.  When you grow tired of trekking through the forest, beautiful beaches await.  On the sunny February day when I was there, the water was warm, crystal clear and four feet deep for hundreds of yards in any direction.  There are a number of resorts, bars and nightclubs in and around the town.

Totally A Must Do

I was staying about an hour away in Jaco, a popular retirement destination for American expats with beaches, world-class fishing and a number of luxury accommodations available.  There were many day trips available from Jaco.  I enjoyed a 3 hour horseback riding trek (my tush is still sore) and ATV adventure – each offered unparalleled views of this beautiful coastal country.

Don't forget the ziplining!!!

Another highlight of my trip was a semi-private tour of a working coffee plantation.  The Finca Rosa Blanca Resort is an organic coffee farm plantation and luxurious inn overlooking the central valley mountain highlands of Costa Rica.  Its proximity to the San Jose International Airport makes it an ideal stopover upon arrival or prior to departure.  Led by an experienced barista and guide, our two-hour walking tour included a history of coffee cultivation, an in-depth overview of sustainable agriculture and an appreciation of the journey from bean to cup.

I hope I have helped to inspire your next vacation.  As a kosher traveler, Costa Rica is very welcoming and accommodating and it is easy to manage dietary and travel restrictions with hotel staff and tour guides who are more than willing to make your experience memorable.

Say hello to the wildlife for me when you go.

 

Oh and if you are looking to make some Costa Rican food, on of the national dishes is Ceviche, check out our recipes for Ceviche here.

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About Tamar Genger MA, RD

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Tamar lives in New York and is the mother of three amazing children, a Registered Dietitian, professor of Nutrition, and as you can probably guess, a foodie! Tamar loves to travel with her family and visits kosher restaurants wherever she goes. Although she loves the sights, she spends more time talking about the restaurants and food she ate! As a mom and a nutritionist, Tamar tries to balance her passion for healthy cooking with her insatiable desire for chocolate! Find more on Google

 

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13 Responses to Kosher Rica – Jewish Travel in Costa Rica

  1. You have inspired me. We’ve been wondering about a family vacation place. Someone else also recommended Costa Rica.

  2. What a wonderful vacation, specially before passover. What a way to recharge you batteries!

  3. So much fun! One of my favorite foods to eat in costa rica was the fresh passions fruit!

  4. I love this post and being able to travel with you (since I don’t like leaving home – it’s nice to experience Costa Rica this way!)

  5. It sounds like an amazing trip!

  6. I don’t like to leave home, so I am so happy for all the stunning pictures! I love the monkey!

  7. Thanks for the info! Going to CR in February with a friend and found this very helpful!

  8. Im so happy that I found your blog! We are actually going to Costa Rica in April for Passover and celebrating our son’s Bar Mitzvah there. I’ve been searching the internet for some interesting Passover menus and recipes to give to our hotel to try to make the seder a little more interesting and indigenous to the region- do you have any suggestions? We will be staying in Guanacaste for the first half of the week and then heading over to Arenal the second half of the week for the actual Bar Mitzvah ceremony. Any recommendations for special excursions or sight seeing?

    • Wow, that sounds like fun, Mazal Tov. I never made it to Guanacaste, but I hear it is beautiful. In Arenal I definitely recommend Tabacon, even if not staying there, you can go to the hot springs for the day. I also did zip lining in Arenal and it was really gorgeous there.

      As for the menu, I would definitely put ceviche on the menu and probably something with plantains. You can do coconut chicken with a mango salsa.

      Please share some pictures of your trip on our facebook page, would love to see them.

  9. avatar says: saskia_Cg

    Hi! How did you work it out with kosher food? Did you order ahead from the kosher center to be delivered to your hotels at the various destinations? Im wondering as Ill be travelling there soon and need to get organized. Im also landing in SJO then heading to Arenal, wondering whether I just bring stuff in my suitcase or stop by the kosher center on my way to arenal? Thanks for any advice!!

    • I think you are best bringing your own stuff, the roads are not great and it is best if you don’t have to stop somewhere else. They do deliver so you can consider that if you want a lot of real meat. The flight is not that long so you can really bring what you like if you want especially if you will have a small kitchen at any of your hotels.

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