Costa Rica is a perfect place to sample a wide variety of scrumptious tropical fruits.
Whether you shop at a nearby farmers’ market or the supermarket closest to your luxury rental – or even if you just want to pick some fruit while on a relaxing jungle walk – dabbling in the local produce is a fantastic idea if you’re eager to experience some of most taste-bud-tempting fare this country has to offer.
With assistance from the writers at Frutas Tropicales de Costa Rica, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite native tropical fruits. Complete with photos and text in English and Spanish, Frutas Tropicales de Costa Rica is an outstanding guide for identifying these fruits in the wild (and even the supermarket). Many tourist information centers and souvenir shops scattered around the country sell this guidebook for less than $20.
Some of these hand-picked fruits go great with smoothies or cocktails, while others compliment meals or simply stand out as delicious snacks right off the vine. It’s your vacation, so do – and eat or drink – as you please.
Maracuya (Passion Fruit)
This purple or yellow passion fruit is exceptional in natural-fruit drinks or smoothies, adding an especially sweet kick when mixed with oranges and piña in blended ice with a dab of brown sugar.
You’d be hard-pressed to find better pineapple than the pineapple in Costa Rica. It’s so fresh, so mouthwatering, and can be used in all types of foods or as a stand-alone refreshment. We love it on top of pizza and mixed into salsa. Sometimes we simply take a machete and hack off the outside and eat it right on the beach. It’s so good! They cost about $2 apiece at the store.
Purple on the outside and white on the inside, mangosteens are incredibly healthy but difficult to find at farmers’ markets and supermarkets. Oftentimes, you’re left to rely on a friendly neighbor with a mangosteen tree on his or her property. They are best right off the vine. Simply peel the mangosteen in half and use your fingers to dig out the tasty pulp. Your body will applaud you for it.
Pipa trees, or coconut trees, are everywhere in southern Costa Rica, from the rainforest to the beach. You’ll likely encounter plenty of roadside vendors selling “agua de pipa” as you travel down the southern coastline. Do yourself a favor and try this natural coconut water. And the colder, the better. Coconut water carries all types of health benefits, combats dehydration, costs less than a dollar and, after a little getting used to, tastes pretty darn good.
Mamón Chino (Lychee)
Also known as a rambutan and mammones, the mamón chino is identified by its red or yellow color and soft-spiked skin. These are another favorite of street vendors as you can typically purchase a dozen or more for only a few dollars. A seasonal peel-and-enjoy fruit – yellow is the preferred color of choice but is more difficult to find – mamón chinos are slightly acidic in flavor and a big favorite of native Ticos.
Like pipas and piñas, there are a lot of mangos in Costa Rica. In fact, from about April through June, mangos litter back roads like leaves during fall. Green mangos are often cut into strips and served with lemon juice and a hint of salt. The larger version of this fruit is referred to as a “manga” and tends to be purple in color. Mangas can grow to almost twice the size as standard mangos. Always wash a mango before eating it, as mango mouth is very real.
Featuring high volumes of Vitamins A, B and C, papayas are not only good for your diet but are also good for your skin and hair. Green papaya picadillo is a popular dish in this country, and sometimes you’ll get papaya served with gallo pinto, the go-to Costa Rican meal. Papayas are also a common ingredient in many smoothies.
Resembling an oversized, cream-colored peanut, Tamarindo is another difficult-to-track-down fruit unless you’re visiting the country’s warm, dry climates to the north. But make no mistake, Tamarindo fruit drinks are as good as it gets. Typically, you can buy Tamarindo pulp mixed with brown sugar in local supermarkets. At home, boil the pulp in a small amount of hot water and strain it. Then mix the pulp with sugar and, abracadabra, you’ll have an awesome local drink in the palm of your hand.
Call it guayaba or guava, whatever name you pick it’s sure to taste delicious. It’s not uncommon to find guayaba candy here, which is made by using guayaba paste. The paste often comes from yellow-skinned guayaba. A new, large type of white guayaba is currently being sold at supermarkets called “guayaba china.” White guayaba is a peel-and-eat variety that’s perfect for packing in a picnic basket.