Category Archives: Food

El Sano Banano: Home of the Mocha Chiller

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Two words describe my favorite thing to consume in Costa Rica, and they’re not “gallo” and “pinto.” Rather, “mocha” and “chiller.” I first read about the Mocha Chiller in a Costa Rican guide book, but by no means did I plan my first trip around trying one. After the first taste, I now plan my trips to Costa Rica around this delightful drink served at El Sano Banano in the small beach town of Montezuma. El Sano Banano translates into the healthy banana, and much of their food is healthy. I’m going to consider the Mocha Chiller to be a healthy alternative to a shake since it’s made with homemade frozen yogurt. I’m not yet privy to the exact recipe, but I’m told the other ingredients are espresso and homemade chocolate syrup.


In addition to their drinks El Sano Banano serves incredible food, and their menu is like nothing I’ve seen elsewhere in Costa Rica. In addition to the typical Costa Rican fare, they serve sushi, sandwiches made with fresh-baked brown bread, colorful salads, and desserts showcasing their homemade frozen yogurt and baked goods.


At El Sano Banano vegetarians can mingle with meat lovers while watching a free movie on their projector. Every night they play a movie, often new releases in English, but you’d better show up early if you want a seat. Otherwise, they have outdoor seating on their front and back decks where you can people-watch. Actually, you’re far more likely to be plate-watched as people passing by will do double takes at the sight of your food. For dessert, indulge in the Mocha Chiller or another one of their specialty drinks. In my dreams El Sano Banano has free refills…

 Photos: A collage of a FEW of the MC photos in my extensive collection. The chicken sandwich served on homemade brown bread with homemade honey dijon mustard and homemade pickles! If you choose to sit on the back balcony, you’ll share the ocean view with the birds who like to help with breakfast service. Speaking of birds, the early bird gets a good seat at movie night to watch Argo. 

Every traveler's dream…

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Seriously, this is a question that has come to my mind so many times as well. And I always have a hard time answering it, as I would love to go so many places, that I can’t think what will be my preferred choices. Oh wait, there’s no limit on the cost of the trip… I think I would just travel the entire world. What about you?

Costa Rica Cooking Lessons

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After a nice drive over the Talamanca mountains and through “Cerro la Muerte” a cloudy mountaintop where so many people died during the creation of the highway they call it the peak of death, we arrived at the small restaurant (called a “soda” by Costa Ricans), El Tabacon, that is owned by the family I used to live with. Dona Sidey and her daughter Daniela were waiting for us with fresh pineapple juice and the food prepared for us to start our “Costa Rican Typical Food” cooking lesson. We cut local vegetables from their farm called Ayote and Chayote, which are two different squashes that are really tasty when chopped up into small cubes and cooked with some onions, red peppers, cilantro and other simple ingredients that create a healthy dish.

Usha making tortillas with Daniela and Sidey Usha making tortillas

Then Usha tried her hand at tortillas, flattening the corn flour and water mixture into it round shape and throwing them into the frying pan for just a few minutes, and then grilling them on an open flame. Mmmm, yummy homemade tortillas! We also had homemade guacamole, rice and beans, and a salad made with shredded cabbage, tomato and cucumber with lime juice and cilantro for a dressing.

James and Usha having lunch at the El Tabacon soda Sidey with James and Usha in the soda

It was great to see Sidey, who was my host-mom when I lived here last year, but was more like a really good friend and confidante. We welled up with tears at the sight of each other, and were so happy to see each other even though it was just last year when I was here but without a phone or internet it is hard for us to keep in touch. Her daughters came over to the soda, along with her husband and two little most adorable grandchildren (on tractor) and our driver said he could see by how my face lit up how happy I was to see them. They are really wonderful people I’m lucky to be back. It’s amazing how some people can touch your heart and make you feel like family.

Memories of Colombia

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Already since I’ve been back I’ve seen news about Colombia, negative news regarding conflicts in parts of the country. Unfortunately this is the image Colombia has had for a long time and continues to have. Of course there are problems in the country. But I would like people to know that you can go there and have an amazing trip and meet wonderful people, never knowing or being exposed to any of these things that are reported on by the media.

After travelling from the capital city of Bogotá, to the beautiful islands of San Andrés and Providencia with their unique Caribbean culture, to the fascinating colonial city of Cartagena and to Tayrona National Park, my interests were piqued – and I couldn’t have imagined what more the country had to offer.

Our trade show in Bogotá gave me the chance to meet the many tour operators who have picked the best places in the country to visit. There is the desert of Guajira, the archaological sites of San Augustín, the Amazon region, the Pacific coast where there are ecolodges and whale watching and surfing, the colonial and modern cities, the coffee regions where some of the world’s best coffee comes from, and I could go on. I hope I have the opportunity to go back one day and explore some more.

I wanted to thank Proexport, the Colombian government for inviting us on the trip, the hotels we stayed at, the amazing restaurants we ate at (still can’t get that yummy food out of my head!), and the fun dive instructors we had. And a special thanks to Lorena Zapata for being our group’s leader, making sure we got everywhere we had to get to on time as much as possible and for being flexible with all of us, who each had different interests and independent personalities!  Lorena invited me into her home and became a great friend. She and her family, who moved to Bogota from Ecuador 10 years ago and fell in love with the country, charged me with becoming an Ambassador to Colombia! So I am attempting to fulfill my promise, with pleasure.

Here are a few more random pics of our “Chiva” driver in Bogota, Punta Faro, Cartagena, and sunset at Taganga.

Chiva or Taxi driver Punta Faro hotel on Mucura Island

Buildings in the old city, Cartagena Sunset at Taganga

Cartagena de Indias: An enchanting city

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One of the most famous colonial cities in the world, Cartagena de Indias was named by the Spanish after a city in Spain, and given the name “of the Indies” to distinguish it from that city, marking its location in the West Indies.  Founded in 1533, Cartagena underwent several pirate attacks, forcing residents to build a wall around the city and several fortresses with underground tunnels for making quick escapes. The wall and fortresses still stand strong today and create a unique backdrop to the colonial architecture. Unfortunately I only have night views of the Castillo de San Felipe but it gives you an idea.


We spent some time exploring and were treated to a stay in one of the most beautiful boutique hotels, Bovedas de Santa Clara, in the “old city” among cobblestone streets, brightly coloured buildings and flowering balconies.  Just walking through the streets and plazas is an unforgettable experience in a colonial city such as this.

There is SO much more to see, we all would have loved some more time here, knowing it is a special place. But we were whisked off to another island off the coast of Cartagena for more diving and some time on the beach at one of the several islands that can be reached by boat within a couple of hours from the city harbor.  The hotel was fairly simple but nicely designed from the outside with high thatched roofs and an open concept. The beach was small and private, and nice for relaxing. Unfortunately the food did not live up to the amazing restaurants we’ve been to so far, including the simple, typical places. Speaking of food…

I can’t forget our dinners in Cartagena with some of the best dishes I’ve ever had. El Santisimo right near our hotel in Santa Clara where I had mahi-mahi in a delicious sauced served in a banana leaf and candied bananas (pictured above) and Club de Pesca (Fishing Club) which was right on the water at the marina just outside the old wall. I said it before and I’ll say it again, the food is incredible here – the Colombian dishes of fish served in various sauces such as lime with coconut milk and cilantro along with fresh blended fruit juices surely make a stay here that much better.  Then we were off to Santa Marta for some more diving – can’t complain really.

Some more pictures of Cartagena – what an unforgettable place!






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