Vamos Ticos! Let’s Go (to) Costa Rica

Vamos Costa Rica!
Vamos Costa Rica!

Today Costa Rica is playing the Netherlands in the World Cup. After a wonderful week at Arenas del Mar in Manuel Costa Rica, I am definitely rooting for Costa Rica today. The happiness of the Costa Ricans (also known as Ticos) was so obvious throughout the whole country both with life and with soccer. Although I missed their tie with England because I was zip-lining through the jungle, I could feel the excitement and Costa Rican pride throughout the resort.

I have so many favorite moments from my trip including the gorgeous views, the spacious rooms bigger than my apartment, and the monkeys… OMG MONKEYS!! It was the first time I saw monkeys outside of a zoo! I was like a little kid when David, the owner of Arenas del Mar, came running up to me at breakfast to say there was a “troop” in the trees.

I only saw a tiny sliver of Costa Rica, but I already know I want to go back. I want to see the volcanoes, cloud forest, Osa Peninsula, and Arenas Del Mar again! While I usually stick to my “no repeats” clause when it comes to traveling to the same place more than once, I am giving Costa Rica a pass. There is so much to see and do there. I barely scratched the surface! With more than 600 photos, and the majority of them of food at Arenas del Mar, it was hard to pick my favorites. Here are just a few!

Hover over the pictures for the captions.




Costa Rica

Gluten-Free Feast at Arenas Del Mar in Costa Rica

Last week, I spent a wonderful (albeit too short) five days at Arenas Del Mar Beachfront and Rainforest Resort near Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. This trip went far above and beyond any of my expectations. The staff was stellar. The food was delicious, fresh, and most importantly, all gluten-free for me. The jungle and beach combination was just perfect for my vacation and I wish I could back!

I have so much to share with you about the trip, but I thought I would start with the real reason I went to Arenas del Mar. I went for the gluten-free food. From when I first checked into the hotel, I was impressed and did not feel like I was getting any kind of special treatment as a gluten-free blogger. I truly believe that EVERYONE gets the same stellar treatment that I did during their stay. I watched, I listened, and I saw the same friendly and excellent customer service for all guests.  It was impressive!

GREAT kitchen logoAs I mentioned in my previous post, the staff at Arenas Del Mar is going through the GREAT Kitchens training program with the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. Although I thought just the kitchen staff was being trained, it seemed like others throughout the hotel had a great awareness. Jorge, the manager, also told me he was going through the training soon which I thought was a great testament to how seriously the staff is taking this training.

Me (center) with the amazing restaurant tstaff of Arenas ddel Mar and Denise of San Diego, CA. She is also gluten-free and loved the food!
Me (center) with the amazing restaurant staff of Arenas Del Mar and Denise (2nd from left) of San Diego, CA. She was also a gluten-free guest and loved the food! A special thanks to Jorge, the hotel manager, on the far left for making my stay so great!

Ok, now on to the food!

I ate every meal during my time in Costa Rica at Arenas del Mar except one when I went ziplining. There are two restaurants on the grounds of the hotel: El Mirador Restaurant near reception (Click here for the dinner menu) and Playitas Restaurant and Bar right on the beach. Lunch and dinner are not included with your stay, so budget about $50-75 per person for food and drinks each day. Breakfast is included with your stay and it is amazing!

Much of Costan Rican cuisine is naturally gluten-free. There was always lots of fresh fruit, beans, rice, meats, chicken, and fish. This made my dining decisions relatively easy. Even with the naturally gluten-free menu, the staff went the extra mile to ensure that my meal was totally safe.

During check-in, the reception staff asked me if I had any food allergies. I told them “Yes, shellfish and gluten” and they must have made a note on my “guest chart” about these dietary restrictions. I gave a simple reminder to the waitstaff each time I sat down to eat at one of the two restaurants at Arenas Del Mar. They eased my nervousness by repeating “gluten-free” when I placed my order and again when they brought me my plate. By the end of my stay, the staff all knew I was gluten-free and I think they expected me to ask, ask again, and then take pictures of my food. It is just what I do!

The food at Arenas del Mar is fresh, some of the freshest food I have ever tasted. Each dish takes some time to prepare, but it is worth the wait. The food clearly was made just for you and wasn’t sitting in the kitchen for hours. This quality and attention to detail did not go unnoticed.


Let’s start with my top three favorites.

Gluten-Free Pancakes served with almonds, ginger, mango and coconut. I may or may not have eaten these for breakfast three of the four mornings during my stay. (Confession: I did eat these three mornings!)

Gluten-free pancakes served with almonds, mango and coconut.
Syrups for pancakes: sugar cane syrup, mango puree, coconut syrup.
Syrups for pancakes: sugar cane syrup, mango puree, coconut syrup.

See that beautiful orange mango syrup in the middle? I literally could have eaten the whole pitcher with a spoon. It had the consistency of baby food, but tasted amazing. I slathered my gluten-free pancakes with this mango puree each morning!

Homemade Chips: Crispy tortilla chips and house-fried plantains served with pico de gallo and guacamole.

By far, my favorite dish of my stay. Not healthy, but beyond delicious! I could eat this every single day for the rest of my life


This next dish is a traditional Costa Rican dessert called Miel de Mango. I was told by my waiter William and Jorge, the manager, that dish is usually prepared during Holy Week. It is mangoes cooked into almost a syrupy chutney with sugar and cinnamon. This was topped with vanilla ice cream. William apparently brought the ingredients with him from home to make me this special dish. It was delicious and felt very decadent.

Specially prepared Miel de Mango

The rest of the meals during my stay at Arenas Del Mar were just as delicious (and obviously gluten-free) but the three above were definitely stand-out dishes during my stay. Here is what else I ate last week:

Arenas Beach Gallos: Fresh house made corn tortillas with beans, cheese and your choice of shredded beef or chicken, served with a side of pico de gallo and guacamole.

Arenas Beach Gallos


House made gluten-free bread made from rice flour each night with dinner

Gluten-free bread with dinner
More gluten-free dinner bread


Watermelon Gazpacho with mango, mint, and cherry tomatoes.

When I ordered this dish the first night, the waiter had to come back and tell me that the original dish was made by mistake with regular bread and they were going to remake the entire dish. They asked if I minded waiting and I said of course not. I was impressed he mentioned this at all. It was delicious and I ordered this twice during my stay.

Mango, tomato, watermelon, mint
Mango, tomato, watermelon, mint
Adding the watermelon gazpacho
Adding the watermelon gazpacho
The finished dish
The finished dish

Costa Rican Casado: A traditional dish with white rice, black beans, sweet plantains and pico de gallo salsa. You can choose chicken, meat, or fish to be added to this meal. I had chicken one night and meat one night.

From right: plantains, rice, black beans, pico de gallo, chicken, and homemade corn (masa) tortillas

Lots and lots of fresh fruit: papaya, banana, cantaloupe, mango, pineapple, and watermelon.

New-to-me fresh fruit: guaynabana (soursop in English), nance, and guava. The first two I never heard of before. The guaynabana was delicious and unlike any fruit I’ve eaten in my life!

Nance Wikipedia
Guanabana (Soursop in English)

Zucchini Rolls: Grilled zucchini, sweet potato and almond mousse, dill and sesame emulsion.

Zucchini rolls, almost too pretty to eat!


Vegetable Spring Rolls: Soy marinated market vegetables wrapped in rice paper and served with our special peanut sauce.

When I ordered these spring rolls, the waiter asked me if I was ok with both soy and peanuts. I appreciated his extra step in making sure I was eating safely.

Vegetable Spring Rolls

This was another off-the-menu dessert prepared especially for me. It was chocolate and vanilla ice cream and berry sorbet on top of gluten-free cake. The beautiful topping was edible white chocolate art. I was stuffed after dinner, but managed to make room for this work of art!

Beautiful sundae!


Last, but certainly not least, I need to share with you the juice of Arenas del Mar. Each morning, you can start your day with fresh juice. Georgette, from the restaurant and bar, made the best mixed fruit juice for me in the morning. And check out that straw. It’s bamboo!

Mixed fruit juice with breakfast by the pool

I want to personally thank all of the kitchen and restaurant staff at Arenas Del Mar. I ate safely and deliciously gluten-free all week long. I wasn’t nervous about the food at all and never got sick. When traveling so far from home, this is often a worry for those of us with Celiac. The staff was extremely knowledgeable and it is obvious that they are all working hard to learn more about gluten-free food and Celiac disease. All of the staff took my food requests very seriously and I never felt like I was being treated like a picky eater.  Thank you Arenas del Mar for a delicious and welcoming stay. I cannot wait to go back to Costa Rica again.

Thank you! Thank you! Gracias! Gracias!

Stay tuned for more photos and highlights from my trip to Costa Rica in future posts.


The staff at Arenas del Mar can obviously prepare gluten-free meals every day of your stay. Later this year, there will be two 100% gluten-free weeks at the hotel. There will be special guest chefs from the United States cooking for you during your stay. Read more about these Celiac Weeks here. 

For further details, please contact Jeremy Allen, Program Director and hotel Partner at or 1- 610 407 9371. Please tell Jeremy you learned about Arenas del Mar from Erin Smith of Gluten-Free Globetrotter!

* Arenas del Mar hosted my 5-day stay. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are purely and entirely my own.

Costa Rica

100% Gluten-Free in Costa Rica at Arenas del Mar

Do you ever dream about faraway places but get scared because you have Celiac?
Do you ever think “I want to travel, but where can I eat gluten-free so far from home?”
Are you ready to take your first gluten-free vacation since you were diagnosed with Celiac, but you don’t know where to go?

I know exactly how you feel. That’s why I started my Gluten-Free Globetrotter website in 2011. I wanted to convince other Celiacs that they also can travel. Living with Celiac since 1981, I didn’t know anything else but gluten-free travel. In 2005, I took my first solo trip to the Grand Canyon and I never looked back. I’ve travel the globe and ate gluten-free 100% of the time!

Part of my mission with Gluten-Free Globetrotter is to find “safe” places for us to go around the world. When I learned about Arenas del Mar in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, I was truly impressed. The more I read, the more I knew I had to go see it for myself. I diligently started doing my research, homework, and outreach to make this dream come true.


Photo credit: Arenas del Mar
Photo credit: Arenas del Mar

Arenas del Mar is a 38-room hotel on the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica. In 2013, Travel and Leisure magazined voted it the Top Family Hotel in Central and South America. It has also been awarded 5 Stars for Luxury and 5 Leaves for Sustainability by the Government of Costa Rica. This is all nice, but not enough for this Gluten-Free Globetrotter.

GREAT kitchen logoWhat impressed me most? All of the kitchen staff at Arenas del Mar is currently being trained through the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness GREAT Kitchens training program“This comprehensive course teaches the essentials of gluten-free food preparation and cross-contamination avoidance – skills that are critical for serving customers with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.” This is HUGE! Here is a hotel almost three thousand miles away that is learning how to cater to a Celiac customer in the middle of the jungle!!!

My gluten-free stars aligned, my unused vacation days were ready and waiting, and in less than three weeks, I will be traveling solo to the jungles of Costa Rica and staying at Arenas Del Mar* for five days! I am beyond excited for this trip. Traveling the globe, searching for gluten-free friendly places, and then sharing that with my readers is exactly what I want to do with my life. It’s why I write Gluten-Free Globetrotter. If I can encourage just one reader to step out of their comfort zone and book a gluten-free vacation anywhere in the world, then my mission is complete!

Arenas del Mar can cater to the gluten-free community year round, but there is an extra special treat later this year. In September and again in November, Arenas del Mar is hosting two weeks dedicated to the Celiac Community. These two weeks will be 100% gluten-free for all guests! How cool is that?

Photo credit: Arenas del Mar
Photo credit: Arenas del Mar

Here is more information about these extra special weeks:

A Week for the Celiac Community

In support of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA), Arenas Del Mar will host two Weeks for the Celiac Community. During the weeks beginning September 13th and again on November 8th.  Both restaurants at Arenas Del Mar will go 100% gluten-free for their guests’ safety and comfort.

A Week for the Celiac Community was inspired by the daughter of one of the owners who has celiac disease and understands first-hand how anxiety bout dining out can deter those with special dietary needs from traveling. When she travels, she becomes scared at each mealtime with concern for the ingredients in her food and cross contact in the kitchen.

The first week, beginning September 13th 2014, will feature guest Chef Monica Glass, who herself has celiac disease, accompanied by Chef Nicole Petrongolo. Monica has worked as a pastry chef at the acclaimed seafood restaurant Le Bernardin in New York City, 10 Arts in Philadelphia and now Clio in Boston.

The second week, beginning November 8th 2014, will feature Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook, the owners and chefs of the highly rated Zahav in Philadelphia. This restaurant was named best restaurant in Philadelphia by Philly Magazine.

All the kitchen staff at Arenas Del Mar will also have completed the NFCA’s Great Kitchens training program which is accredited by the American Culinary Foundation.  A portion of the proceeds will benefit the NFCA.

For further details, please contact Jeremy Allen, Program Director and hotel Partner at or 1- 610 407 9371. Please tell Jeremy you learned about Arenas del Mar from Erin Smith of Gluten-Free Globetrotter!

You can follow my Gluten-Free Globetrotter stay at Arenas Del Mar via:

* Arenas del Mar is hosting my 5-day stay later this June. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are purely and entirely my own.