When visiting Bocas del Toro, don’t miss the opportunity to take in the Örebä Chocolate Tour.
While on a recent trip to Bocas del Toro, our intrepid group of adventurers decided to take the Örebä Chocolate Tour, Örebä is the Ngäbe word for cacao. The chocolate is 100% organic and the care and nurturing of the cacao plants are all done by hand.
I had heard about the tour and the reports on “Trip Advisor” were very positive. After booking the tour at Casa Verde Hostel in Bocas, we took the 9 a.m. boat from Bocas del Toro to Almirante. Our guide, Samuel, was waiting at the dock with his “Örebä Chocolate Tour” sign.
We all piled into a taxi for the 10 min ride to the cacao (pronounced “cah-cow”) plantation. On arrival, we were provided with walking sticks and rain ponchos – both of which turned out to be valuable pieces of equipment.
During our 3 hour tour, Samuel explained about harvesting the cacao pod and processing the individual beans for market. Along the trail he pointed out many edible plants and trees, including star fruit, taro, orange, avocado and guava trees.
In the village, we stop to see the fermenting boxes and drying sheds. Since there is no electricity in the area, the entire process is done manually with the cacao beans being “sun-dried”. We hiked past the village and up the hill to where the cacao trees are planted. Due to a recent rainfall the path to the plantation was a bit muddy and slippery in several areas - all part of the adventure.
The history of the Cacao industry in this area of Panama is very interesting. Samuel explained about soil preparation, shade consideration, when and where they plant the seedlings, the harvesting the pods and the marketing co-op they have formed. Almost their entire cacao crop is sold to Switzerland.
700 cacao trees are planted per acre and the trees are interspersed with banana, papaya, orange, avocado, guava and other fruit trees. This way the monkeys, rodents and birds have food – other than the cacao pods. He said a night monkey could eat 15 cacao pods in one evening - equivalent of one pound of chocolate.
Next we arrived at a small shelter where a local Ngäbe woman showed us how the cacao beans were mashed into a chocolate paste using a very old mortar & pestle. Sue and I tried our hand at mashing the beans. It was very messy but I got to lick the chocolate paste off my fingers. The Ngäbe woman took the chocolate paste, added a bit of milk and sugar, and gave it to us to eat. I am a self-professed chocoholic so for me this was just short of heaven!
To complete out tour we arrived back at the village for a local lunch of chicken, taro root and taro leaves (tasted like spinach). In the lunch pavilion, tables were set up where local handicrafts and chocolate products were sold. Good selection and good prices.
After lunch, the tour concluded with each one of us being offered a FREE 4 oz. package of chocolate - whole beans, Nibs, unsweetened cooking chocolate or dark chocolate. This was a delicious and delightful touch to the end of a very enjoyable tour.
The tour costs $30 per person. This includes transportation from Almirante, the complete tour, lunch and a 4 oz. of chocolate gift. Forty percent of money raised goes directly back into the tour; 30 percent goes to members of the indigenous association that began the tour and 30 percent goes to local education and art/handicrafts programs. They have a great product and an interesting program that will leave each visitor with a better understanding and appreciation of the labor required to make chocolate.