A Visit to Villa Vanilla, Manuel Antonio

This entry is part 7 of 17 in the series Costa Rica

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Villa Vanilla is a bio-dynamic and organic farm that grows vanilla, white and black pepper, cocoa, turmeric, hibiscus, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and other tropical spices that are used for medicinal purposes. It is located just a few miles inland from Manuel Antonio and is slightly higher elevation. On this tour, you will learn the intense process of making organic vanilla and cocoa, enjoy a guided tour through their crops, taste samples of desserts at their viewpoint looking toward the mountains and culminate with an opportunity to take some spices home with you.

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The tour starts with an educational part where we were shown the processes for making their spices and the medicinal used for them. I found it to be quite interesting, but this would have been a small challenge if you bring kids. Here, we were able to watch workers strip cinnamon bark, dry vanilla, and pick cocoa right in front of us. Here are a couple of pictures of what you can expect to see while visiting:

This is the hibiscus flower used for making hibiscus spice. The flower petals are used for the spice and the seed inside is used to plant a new plant.

 hibiscus flowerhibiscus seed

These are vanilla beans oiling off in the sun.

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Cocoa fruit whole and cut in half:

cocoa fruit inside of cocoa fruit

Black Pepper drying:

drying black pepper

Comparison between black and white pepper:

black and white pepper

Harvesting the Cinnamon bark:

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Before getting to their crops, we stopped at their composting site. They make all their own compost and start their seedlings with it. When the seedlings are ready to be planted, they are mixed with 1/2 native soil with 1/2 of the compost. As like anywhere, the compost helps add organic material to the soil and hold moisture during their hot season.

compost

Next, we walked a path through their crops. This walk was a highlight of the visit for me. Because the farm was bio-dynamic, they try to use just the resources they have on site. Part of this is understanding bio-diversity as well. This means the crops are mixed together so that the soil stays healthy. For example, all of the vanilla vines are growing on other trees such as a cinnamon tree and the rows of plants are all mixed together. They also use shade to regulate when the vanilla go to seed. So, if it is a really hot, dry year, they use banana leaves to cover the plants to cool them off. If it is a cooler year and more sun is needed, they trim back the host trees so the vanilla plants have more sun.

villa vanilla

The path led us to a small pond and a lookout. At the lookout, we enjoyed samples of food made onsite from scratch with their spices. We had vanilla cheesecake with chocolate lattice, a spice cookie with cardamom ice cream, ceylon cinnamon tea, cocoa chipped cookies that had the roasted cocoa beans (nibs) rather than chocolate chips, and the original chocolate drink, “drink of the Gods.” that the Aztecs used to drink. This drink is made of cocoa powder, cayenne, vanilla, and a little bit of sugar. They would pour milk or water over the top, stir and serve.

villa vanilla lookout

Finally, we visited a spice shop. They had samples of most of their products for sale at the shop. Best of all, the prices were very reasonable.

As always, any time you are outdoors, there is a chance to see wildlife. I asked our guide jokingly, so, are there any snakes? He looks around the ground and says, “not yet.” He did say that snakes don’t like activity. So areas where people are regularly, snakes avoid. We did see some toucans though. 

toucan

Overall the tour was very good. The beginning would be a little long if you had children, but anyone interested in natural remedies, farming, cooking, or gardening would love this tour. Our guide was passionate and knowledgeable. I would highly recommend a visit.

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About Chris 759 Articles
Chris Ashbach is one of the founders of Dan330. Chris is a pilot and avid outdoorsman who loves fishing, hunting, camping, and exploring. He loves taking kids (especially his own) on trips to share his passion of the outdoors. Chris is also a gardener, volunteers at Let's Go Fishing, and teaches Sunday school. Chris holds a MA in Organizational Leadership and is faculty at a local university in Minnesota; teaching undergraduate business classes.