Trust us (and our savvy insider tips from our partners at Costa Rica Sun Tours) when we tell you that Upala is a name you’ll hear more and more this year. It is easy to tag the Canton of Upala, located in the Northern province of Alajuela, as Costa Rica’s new frontiers of tourism. Not only for its intense beauty but also for the variety of activities available, local customs and culture to mingle with, and one insanely indulgent new property…and so much more!
This year marks Upala’s 49th birthday and they are planning a sweet celebration to commemorate their roots and heritage as a leading cacao producer in the country. Next month on March 17 & 18th, the community will gather for the first annual ‘Expoferia’ or Cacao and Chocolate Fair. Visitors will enjoy learning about chocolate and tasting it in dozens of ways. This family-friendly event will be complete with an International Folk Festival featuring acts not only from Costa Rica but nearby countries including Paraguay, Perú, and El Salvador!
What to do in Upala
Chocolate! Given this deep history with chocolate, it won’t surprise you that entertaining your guests with a ‘bean to bar’ experience is a must! We suggest including a visit to a cocoa farm – picking the cacao pods straight from the tree, using a machete or stone to open them, learning about the fermentation and drying process, trying a hand at using a traditional “metate” or native indigenous grinding table (or perhaps just a modern metal hand grinder), and ultimately becoming a choco-mixologist…selecting which flavors to add to the powder from cinnamon to pepper…and finally tasting the creation! The guides will share the history, origin, and varieties of cacao.
Tip: Try them all! Also, be sure to bring along a little cash to purchase some to take along.
Rio Celeste – The region also offers easy access to Tenorio Volcano National Park – boasting the enchanting turquoise-colored Rio Celeste (you really must see it to believe it!). Take a hike to the waterfall through this park that hosts both cloudforest and rainforest where wildlife is abundant!
Tip: The hues of the river are at their brightest during the dry season of Dec – April – that said, be sure to bring footwear you don’t mind getting muddy any time of the year!
Caño Negro Wetlands – Nearby, visitors can also discover the riches of the Caño Negro Wetlands National Wildlife Refuge on a boat tour, by kayak, or on a fishing trip! A haven for migratory birds makes this a hotspot for ‘twitchers’ but any wildlife lover will delight in spotting a variety of monkeys, fish including bull sharks, caiman and if you are lucky – a tapir!
Tip: The bird life will be at its height during the dry season Dec – April but given this area receives some of the lowest rainfall in the country it can be great to visit all year. If you have travelers looking to fish, the season runs from July 1 – March 31.
Kayaking – head to the Rio Niño, a superb, calm river full of wildlife for a day of water activity! This off-the-beaten-path river is an area where other people to be encountered are more likely local fisherman in dugout canoes as opposed to other visitors. Kayaking provides the perfect pace to enjoy the common sightings of monkeys and sloths, caimans and even crocodile! Birdlife here is abundant along the river’s edge with the chance to spot species including the Roseate Spoonbills, boat-billed Heron, Zone-tailed Hawk and with a little extra sprinkle of luck…. the impressive Jabiru Stork….to name a few!
Where to Stay
Origins Lodge – The team at Costa Rica Sun Tours recommends including 2 – 3 nights in this area and once you check out our newest accommodation recommendation, we’re betting you’ll stay a week! Origins Lodge is a mountain side retreat…and we mean that in every sense of the word! This haven will nourish even the weariest of travelers from the inside out – we’re talking filling up on the fresh and creative meals of a Michelin-starred chef, yoga classes and spa treatments in tune with your natural surroundings and soaking in the wood-fire heated baths found on each lodge’s private terrace.
The property covers over 110 acres and accommodations are scattered among seven private ‘lodges’ (max 3 ppl) and one Villa Vertigo, suspended in the treetops, with three en-suite bedrooms and private kitchen – perfect for small groups or families (max 9 ppl). El Salto is the centrally located home of the gastronomical restaurant, lounge bar, and entertainment center featuring an infinity pool, wine cellar, and a pool table.
Activities – On site activities include spa treatments and yoga, walking trails, sensory walks with the chef through the gardens, fishing at one of the eleven lagoons, night tours, and horseback riding.
Combos in Costa Rica
This property is setting a new bar in Costa Rica and has a price-tag to match. It will be important to ensure it is combined with the right match in other locations. For example, it can easily share an itinerary with the Four Seasons, Andaz Papagayo, El Mangroove or any other luxury hotel in Guanacaste for a forest and beach mix. The team at CRST also suggests combining it with the Arenal area highlighting the adult-only Nayara Springs as an equally luxurious yet very special duo. Another promising option is only slated to open in August of this year but, stay tuned for news on the opening of Amor Arenal – Arenal’s newest 5-star property.
More Info – If you’d like a little more info about the area or including it in your next itinerary, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Sonya at Kusini Collection or Ignacio at Costa Rica Sun Tours!