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Upon arriving in La Fortuna, the main town near Arenal Volcano, my husband, Vern, and I began exploring the area for things to do. I had seen a sign coming into town advertising coffee and chocolate tours. Well, who doesn’t love coffee…and chocolate? What a GREAT combination!

It was cloudy and drizzling rain the day of our tour. The shuttle picked us up at our hotel and delivered us to the Don Juan Tours site, a coffee plantation about 10 minutes from La Fortuna town square. Fortunately, the walkways are all glass covered, making the visit enjoyable despite the weather. Our guide, Gustavo Ramirez, led the way, chatting about his specialty in ornithology, the scientific study of birds, and the plantation’s history.

The tour was very informative with stations for each phase of the coffee-making process, from planting the seeds to the final product. I didn’t know there was so much to it! I had also been misinformed about the amount of caffeine in various coffee and tea drinks.

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We saw many other naturally occurring plants, animals and insects around the farm, not directly involved with coffee but all part of the ecosystem. Gustavo provided detailed answers to all of our questions.

Of course, we were all anxious to get to the tasting part of each tour segment, and the cocoa station was first. We tried amazing hot cocoa with a little kick; the recipe was not stingy with the amount. After grinding our own cocoa, Vern was the group member who stepped up to make a chocolate bar. He was able to add ingredients to taste and roll it until the mixture was melted all together. How exquisite this was going to be with a cup of hot coffee!

The coffee tasting station was every bit as entertaining. We were all more than ready to savor the warmth. The traditional filtering method was demonstrated using a chorreador — perfectly ground beans poured through a coffee sock hung on a wooden stick, resulting in a strong, smooth individual cup of coffee.

I was impressed most by the staff‘s knowledge about the plantation and variety of flora and fauna. More deeply, I felt that Costa Rican people have a true sense of their surrounding environment and the balance of everything within. They strive to embrace tourism, equipping themselves with information and skills that lend well to educating tourists about everything that makes Costa Rica so special.  A tour to most chocolate or coffee plantations or farms is sure to provide a memorable experience.

Creatures of the Night

Our coffee and chocolate tour guide, Gustavo Ramirez, could not help but pick up on the interest we were showing in the Don Juan plantation’s wildlife inhabitants. So he offered up a night excursion with his coworker Brandon Cruz, and we eagerly accepted. Like my husband, Vern, Brandon is a specialist in herpetology (reptiles and amphibians).

We rightly anticipated this would be right up Vern’s alley and then some, given the level of professionalism and expertise Brandon showed us on this exclusive night adventure. It was cool and rainy when he picked us up at our hotel. We were armed with rain gear and cameras in hopes of getting a few good shots of some animals.

It continued to pour rain throughout the tour, very hard at times and only letting up for a few brief spells. At first walking along the plantation’s

 covered paths, chatting and getting to know one another, it then became apparent we were not going to see what we came for by staying sheltered. So we shielded our cell phones and cameras under rain ponchos and ventured out into the rainy landscape, listening to the symphony of nocturnal creatures living in the rainforest.

Brandon spotted several toads and frogs for us to photograph, getting us on point as we continued in the rain. Then he made some calls, stopped, listened and called again … each time telling us which animal he was trying to locate. At times, we were literally up to our knees in mud trudging across the plantation and along the river banks. Brandon showed tremendous stealth in leading us to some rare and amazing animals to photograph.

Our understanding was that this tour is available on request. If you’re interested in critters that come alive at night and not afraid of the dark (or rain), we highly recommend it.

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