In March this year, I had the pleasure of going for one week to Costa Rica on a trip where I did not once have to think about eating gluten free. Why you may ask?! I went with Zaney Travel who specializes in gluten free travel to Costa Rica, as Zane the owner has Celiac Disease himself. That means all meals were planned for me and Celiac safe.
Let's back track a few months to late 2021, I reached out to Zaney Travel as I was interested in the trip after seeing several fellow Celiac foodies go towards the end of last year. Costa Rica was on my bucket list, and when Zane set up a call with me to discuss details of the trip I was thrilled. We spoke for about half an hour, and I was sold. I just needed to get my travel documents sent over and book my flights. Three months later, I was finally heading to Costa Rica.
Day 1: I flew from Chicago on my travel day and had a layover in Panama City, Panama with a couple hours to grab lunch before my second flight to San Jose, Costa Rica. Be warned the Panama City new terminal did not have AC back in March, so be prepared to sweat. After scouting out food options, I ended up with a salad from Quizno's for lunch: good news is I had snacks in my backpack. Once I landed in Costa Rica, customs took about 1-1.5 hours and from there I grabbed my bag and met Zaney Travel out front. We stayed at the Hampton Inn at the airport that night to make it easy on everyone with it being a travel day. From there, we headed to a local restaurant right next door that was Zaney Travel approved. Zane and his team of Jose and Suzy scout out the restaurants and talk with the kitchen staffs plus restaurant managers to ensure the food is gluten free and follow Celiac safe protocols. At this restaurant I ended up having Roast Chicken, Rice, Beans and Tortillas which was the recommendation. From there, we headed back to the hotel and I was ready to pass out after a full travel day.
Day 2 started bright and early with us hitting the road by 8AM. Breakfast was at the Hampton Inn where I tried Gallo Pinto (Costa Rican rice and beans) for the first time, as well as gluten free bread. I was impressed to see the Hampton Inn have breakfast options as a lot of times in the US they do not. Our first stop was off to the Coffee Plantation, where we learned about how Costa Rican coffee is made and even got to sample some. I drink coffee every day, so I was all for the samples. From there, we headed off to Poas Volcano which is an active volcano nearby. After a brief hike we reached the top and you could see the whole crater below. Our next stop was a little impromptu at La Paz Waterfall where we hiked behind the falls and even got to try some local fruit and snacks from vendors there. It was off to lunch then, and I was starving. I was about to have Casado for the first time in Costa Rica. Casado is a dish comprised of a protein, rice, beans, salad, plantains and sometimes a few other things. It's pretty much a giant feast usually served at SODAS (mom and pap restaurants in each little town). The morning was packed, so I was excited to get to the resort: Arenal Springs. This resort was made up of hot springs and right at the base of Arenal Volcano. We pulled up and were greeted by a complimentary drink and driven by golf cart to our rooms. When I opened the door, I was beyond impressed. The room made me feel like I was in the jungle and the bathroom was one of the coolest I had ever seen with the faux outdoor shower. Plenty of room, comfortable bed, and even a little complimentary amenity of GF desserts and wine to greet me. The night wrapped with dinner at the resort, where I tried the special aka the dish they light on fire (I'm not kidding). Y'all know I love a good show.
Day 3: We started the morning at the resort with breakfast where Suzy helped us while going up to the buffet line. Almost everything was GF from the omelets made in clean skillets to the gallo pinto, potato mixture, plantains, fruit, juices, even pastries. I went up for seconds cause I was in heaven. I made sure to burn the calories off at the Sloth Farm down the road which was our stop for the day. It was cool to see sloths in their natural habitat and explore mother nature. After that we headed back for a picnic lunch at the resort; then it was time to hit the pool for a relaxing afternoon. The pools/hot springs were super soothing; each one a different temperature. I spent the afternoon by the pool with the Danen family, who were on the trip and Noah (Zaney Travel's social media guy). It was great to have an afternoon to relax and just enjoy the place you are at. I even got a hot stones massage to help relax my body. Since my trip to India in 2020, I'm all for a massage on vacation. Dinner that night was at the resort and it was Italian themed. I went with the Seafood Pasta in Cream Sauce as seafood is my favorite. This was our last night at Arenal, as we were driving down to the Coast the next day.
Day 4: Breakfast at the resort followed by getting in the van to head to a local artist's home. This local makes all his artwork from recycled materials, and I was impressed, so I bought a few as souvenirs. I also had my first of several coconuts on the trip (both the coconut piece and juice). After this, we headed to the Superman zipline. I love ziplining as I have been doing it for years, but never one where I'm facing the ground. You probably guessed that I screamed in excitement and they heard me miles away..kinda (I tried to compose myself a little haha). After this, we headed off to lunch in the mountains for what was like cheese quesadillas: I don't remember the name of the dish but I could easily eat a stack of them myself. We then stopped at a grocery store in town, where I checked out the gluten free section and bought a few snacks plus gatorade. Mid-afternoon we arrived at Croc's resort in Jaco. It reminded me of several of the Caribbean resorts I've stayed at right on the beach, which is my happy place. Ocean view, balcony, and right on the beach. Legit, I unpacked a little and headed down to the beach to get a few pics and then time to hit the ocean. I was so happy to be in the Pacific and go swimming. For me, the beach is like cooking I forget about everything going on and just live in the moment. With a full day that day, we opted for dinner at the hotel where we ate on the Costa Rican side. I ordered fish and finished with crème brulee (never say no to dessert).
Day 5: taking an early flight got me ready for this day cause we headed out at 530AM to go to Manuel Antonio National Park: one of the many National Parks in Costa Rica right along the Pacific coast. It was a little over an hour drive and once we arrived to the town, we ate breakfast. I stuck with the Costa Rican Breakfast: eggs, bacon, gallo pinto, and plantains cause I couldn't get enough of it. After breakfast, we met Socio (tour guide) right up the road at the national park and took off to explore and see the animals. From birds to sloths to reptiles, this guy can spot everything. It's a couple mile trail and we went early cause it gets hot. Once we reached the halfway point, we reached the beach in the park. Perfectly clear turquoise water in the little bay and a bit of time to swim; you can't beat it. We then headed back towards the entrance and got a coconut on the way out. Now it was time for lunch, and you know what that means Casado: we drove about 15 minutes outside of Quepos to a SODA and this one was packed. I knew we were at a good spot. Best Casado of the trip here. From there, we headed to Nacarcosta which is a outdoor nature spot. Tons of animals, boat tours, kayaking; pretty much an outdoor lovers heaven. We opted for the water buffalo ride and the boat tour, which took us out on the mangroves. We then headed back to the resort, where we had a bit of time to relax poolside pre-dinner. Dinner was Mexican food at the resort, and I went with the Salsa Verde Enchiladas.
Day 6: one of my favorite days of the trip. Breakfast at the hotel followed by giving back to one of the local schools that Zaney Travel has adopted. We got to meet some of the children, and bring them supplies which they were very appreciatve of. After that, we had time to relax at the hotel (beach and pool of course) before heading out on the Crocodile Tour. This was my favorite activity of the trip. Seeing Jason our guide go up near the giant crocs and know exactly which croc they were was insane. I even held one of the crocs tails and snapped a photo. I love being outdoors, so standing on the front of the boat admiring the views and creatures was the best part; this was while we were moving (hold on for safety). There was a breeze and you could see for miles down the river and even out to the Pacific. We headed to Green Room for dinner, which is a local restaurant in Jaco where the owner has Celiac, so most of the menu is gluten free. We started with Guacamole and then I ordered the whole fish for an entrée. One of my favorite things to order in the islands cause its super fresh. Then, I had a slice of red velvet cake for dessert. One of the best restaurants of the trip.
Day 7: breakfast at the hotel with the Costa Rican delicacies of course and then off to the chocolate farm. I love chocolate, so I was looking forward to this. Learning how the chocolate is made, roasting it, tasting it and of course buying some to bring home. After this, it was off to a beachside restaurant for lunch, where almost everyone ordered Nachos. There's just something about Celiac safe nachos that gets you; I would eat this everyday if I could. We were going to go surfing that afternoon, but the heat knocked us out from the chocolate farm so we opted for the pool instead. Perfect way to spend the last afternoon and relax with new friends. Dinner was a relaxing meal at the hotel and then we all chilled down by the bar that evening before saying our goodbyes, as everyone was leaving different times the next day.
Day 8: breakfast and then off to the airport. I reflected on this one week trip on the ride, and I am so glad I went. Costa Rica has always been on my bucket list and to experience the best of both worlds from mountains to beaches, delicious food, and meet other Celiacs is a win in my book. I would go back to Costa Rica instantly and recommend Zaney Travel to anyone going there. This trip makes me want to travel more and continue to draw new inspiration for Plating with Perel. Since coming back, I've made Casado, Patacones, Gallo Pinto and have a few more dishes written down to try.
Until next time, Pura Vida.