After a delicious open-air patio breakfast at our hotel, which included a mild rain shower, we waited in the hotel lobby for our ride to the Villa Vanilla Rainforest Spice Farms Tour. Our tour guide, Christopher, arrived at 8:30 am, and off we went.
Villa Vanilla Spice Plantation is located 10 miles east of Quepos in the Central Pacific Rainforest overlooking Manuel Antonio National Park. The plantation includes 27 acres currently in agriculture production and 126 acres of primary and secondary rainforest. Cash crops include vanilla, Ceylon cinnamon, cacao, black pepper, allspice, turmeric, holy basil, oregano, curry, ginger, and a variety of exotic fruits, essential oils, and medicinal plants.
Vanilla, the most popular flavor in the world, is the plantation’s major crop. Native to Central America and Mexico, it is also the second most expensive flavoring agent; the reason for its high cost is the labor-intensive nature of vanilla cultivation and processing.
The tour was amazing. The light rain coming down made it even more enjoyable. Christopher showed us all of the beautiful plants, and we had the chance to taste and smell them as well. After seeing how all of these wonderful spices are grown, we trekked deeper into the forest where we came upon a two-story structure. We relaxed on a big leather sofa in a club-house-like atmosphere as we looked out over the rainforest. We were served ice cream made from the vanilla bean grown on site, chocolate made from cacao, ginger cookies, cinnamon tea, and sweet rolls made with cinnamon—all cultivated from the farm. What a tasty treat!
The entire tour took a little over 2 hours, and then we were brought back to our hotel, now full of knowledge about many herbs and spices. Most of us are used to seeing and buying spices and herbs from the grocery store shelves, but to get out in the rainforest and see how they actually grow is pretty amazing. I will never look at pure vanilla the same again. Oh, and did you know that black pepper and white pepper are from the same plant and the only difference is how they are processed?