This morning, Azamara Quest is docked in Puerta Caldera, Costa Rica. It is disembarkation day, so we must say goodbye (for now) to all of our Azamara Quest friends. Since we are staying an extra night in San Jose, we chose to book the Espiritu Santo Coffee Tour and Airport Transfer ($139/pp). We figured that we can get a taxi from the airport which is only 10-15 minutes from our hotel.
Guests disembark Quest in Puerta Caldera
The tour we selected is primarily designed for guests with late flights (after 3:30pm), but also works for those with post-cruise plans. The tour does not require that we disembark until 8:45am, so we have plenty of time to enjoy the buffet breakfast at Windows Cafe. We were issued Green #11 disembarkation luggage tags and stickers. Be advised, however, that Azamara does not make announcements over the PA system regarding disembarkation. We show up at the gangway on Deck 4 and the process of getting off the ship could not have been easier. Our room key card was swiped one last time and we said goodbye to Phillip Herbert, the Hotel Director, who was greeting guests as they stepped off the gangway.
We boarded the motor coach for our tour after making sure our luggage was securely loaded underneath.
Motor coach for our excursion
Soon, we are welcomed by Maria, our local guide for the day. As we drive toward the coffee plantation, up the narrow highways, and into the mountains, Maria provides us with lots of information about the local area and customs.
It takes about 90 minutes to get to the Espiritu Santo plantation and, after a brief bathroom break, we are introduced to Ed, our guide for the coffee tour.
Espiritu Santo Guide, Ed
Ed shows us how the coffee "cherries" grow on the plants and how they are hand-picked only after they have turned red.
Red coffee cherry
Squeezing the coffee cherry will release a small amount of sweet juice and two beans.
These beans must be washed and dried before they can be roasted. We can see some beans are spread out on concrete in the sun for drying.
Beans drying in the sun
Once they are dry, the beans can be roasted. Some beans are roasted light, others medium and of course, some dark. Interestingly, the darker the roasting, the lower the caffeine levels. Therefore, light roast has more caffeine than a dark roast. Ed walked us through the various stages of the process and we got to watch beans being roasted and packaged.
We were surprised that even for a small factory, some of the beans were being packaged by hand.
Ed brewed a pot of coffee, which he made by simply adding hot water to a pot with coffee grounds. He let the mixture sit for a few minutes, then filtered it through a sock-like filter directly into the cup. It was quite good.
Filtering the coffee
After the demonstration, we were all invited into the shop where we could purchase coffee, candies or other coffee-related products.
Rickee tries some coffee flavored liquor at the shop
With purchases in hand, we re-boarded the bus for a short drive to Sarchi, a small town famous for the artistically decorated ox carts. Ox carts were the traditional form of transportation back "in the day." In the middle of Sarchi town, there is a huge, oversized ox cart that was hand painted by the local artisans, a photo-op for sure!
World's largest ox cart
We did not get off the bus in Sarchi, most likely because the bus had to get folks to the airport for their flights. An unexpected traffic jam, due to construction, delayed our arrival at the airport by about 10 minutes. Nevertheless, I don't suspect anyone missed a flight as a result. As soon as we got off the coach, we began searching for transportation to our hotel, Costa Rica Marriott San Jose. Another Azamara guest on the bus was staying at the same hotel, so we all three shared a taxi van. The total was $13 + tip, split 3 ways.
When we arrived at the Marriott, a bellman greeted us and welcomed us "home" (we seem to be hearing that phrase a lot lately). They retrieved out luggage from the taxi and directed us to the check-in counter. This hotel is an older property, but has a ton of character. The decor accurately reflects the Costa Rican culture and the surrounding grounds are immaculately manicured.
Costa Rica Marriott San Jose
Check in was very smooth and easy, however, our room was not quite ready. Check-in time is 4pm, but Kattie, the young lady checking us in, said our room should be ready by 3pm. That would give us just enough time for a late lunch at Hacienda Kitchen. The beautiful cafe patio overlooks a driving range and mountains in the distance.
The view from Hacienda Kitchen patio
I ordered Chifrijo, a traditional dish consisting of a bowl of rice and beans topped with salsa, roasted pork, chicharron (fried pork skin) and avacado served with tortilla chips. Rickee ordered a ham sandwich on French bread with avacado, pickles and mayo. My appetizer was large enough to be a main course and was very good. I would definitely order again.
We also enjoyed a couple of Costa Rican beers (Imperial) as we looked out over the incredible scenery. As promised, our room (326) was ready by 3pm and we wasted no time getting settled into the Deluxe Room located overlooking what can best be described as a garden area near the pool. When the bellman brought our luggage, I asked about getting a bucket of ice for some champagne we had brought with us. He said he would take care of it and within a few minutes, room service arrived with a champagne bucket and two glasses!
Champagne on ice
We will post a more detailed review of the hotel and room separately, but suffice to say, we enjoyed our stay and would not hesitate to stay here again. We took our champagne down to a table in the garden area and toasted to another wonderful travel experience.
Chris Dikmen and Rickee Richardson are travel journalists from Dallas, Texas
Tomorrow, we will fly back home. This will be our first time to fly international on Southwest Airlines. Our next adventure will be a 7-night Tahiti cruise on Paul Gauguin Cruises.