I looked at the small brown seed in my hand, doubtful that this was something humans would consume willingly. But Catato, our guide eagerly gestured to his mouth, signaling me to have a taste.
Luckily, I was trying a cacao seed, nothing too out of the ordinary and the bitterness seeped through my mouth when I bit down. Hmm, this isn’t exactly the chocolate flavor I’m used to!
He laughed as he watched my face scrunched up, enduring the bitterness of the cacao.
We were on a chocolate tour in Puerto Viejo but this was no ordinary chocolate tour. We were on the Watsi reservation with a BriBri indigenous family as our guides, showing us how they make chocolate and use medicinal plants as their way of living. Costa Rica is home to some 12,000 BriBri in the Hone Creek area of Limon and even more throughout the entire Talamanca canton. A few families have opened their doors to welcome tourists into their home so they can share their traditions, cultures and way of life.
We went on the BriBri Chocolate Tour in Puerto Viejo to learn about the special role cacao plays in their culture and it was one of the most interesting and enlightening tours we’ve ever done. If you’re in the area, a visit to the indigenous communities is a must. Learn about the BriBri way of life as a unique activity in Puerto Viejo.
BriBri Chocolate Tour in Puerto Viejo
The family we visited was the Catato Lopez Lopez family who live on the Watsi reservation about 25 minutes from Puerto Viejo. In addition to chocolate, we also learned about the various medicinal plants the BriBri use.
The moment we got out of the car, we were greeted by a pitter patter of feet and curious looks from the kids. 3-5 generations of BriBri can live in the same community and their clan system is matrilineal, meaning the clan is determined by the mother. Women have a crucial role in the BriBri people as they are the ones who inherit land and prepare cacao, not men.
One of the daughters came to welcome us and proceeded to call over her father to give the medicinal plant tour. Catato, a stout man with a youthful appearance and enthusiastic energy introduced himself and straight away started showing us to the items they make from plants such as threads, whistles, bowls.
We walked down to the garden behind their house and I was in complete awe not by the how many trees and plants they had, but by their uses. He knew every single plant and tree by name and showed us what they use them for such as paint and dyes, making arrows and even glue!
After learning about the medicinal plants, we headed to the house where the women prepare the cacao. Only women are allowed to prepare cacao as they believe that the cacao tree used to be a women and the god Sibu turned her into a tree.
The mother of the Catato family, Vicky started roasting the cacao beans over a wood fire for 10 minutes while telling us what they use cacao for.
After roasting, it was time to cool the beans and then crush them.
She then sifted the beans to get rid of the shells and then poured it into a grinder. After grinding, the beans turn into a beautiful chocolate paste.
After that, you can add milk or sugar to it, eat it pure, drink it or make it into creams and lotions. They added a bit of milk so we could drink it and it was delicious.
The BriBri women also use it as a face moisturizer and no wonder they love cacao so much, it makes them look so young! I couldn’t believe Vicky was over 50 and has had 9 children, she looked so much younger!
Why Do the BriBri Chocolate Tour in Puerto Viejo Over Another One?
There are several chocolate tours offered in Puerto Viejo so you may wonder why do the BriBri chocolate tour instead? Well you’ll first be helping out the BriBri people who offer these tours and sell the chocolate products as their livelihood. They depend on selling cacao, bananas, plantains and other products to support themselves and their families.
As indigenous people of Costa Rica, they have used chocolate in their daily lives for many years and have a special connection to it. Unfortunately, many of the indigenous people in the country are poor and struggle to keep their culture and tradition alive, which is a good reason why you should go to their tour and support them.
Second, cacao has a very special meaning to them so you learn about it from a family who really cherishes this special tree. Third, they are such warm and fun people and they treated us like family.
Read about more unique/off the beaten path activities in Costa Rica below!
And read about other things to do in Puerto Viejo below!