Habla Ya Panama: Oreba Chocolate Tour in Cacao Plantation of Bocas Del Toro Tuesday 18 July, 2017

I had another amazing opportunity with Habla Ya in Bocas to go on another excursion tour. This time an interesting hike up to the Cacao Plantation through an indigenous community, the cacao farm and the jungle, and learn about everything from growing cacao until artisan chocolate is created… and sample organic chocolate!

Arrival to the Community After meeting your guide at the dock in Almirante you’ll take a short 10 minute ride to the Rio Oeste Afuera community where your chocolate tour begins. A chance to go to the Oreba tribe community, get a little background information on the are and even have a meal that is included in the tour.

We started off with a chance to share a meal of local roots and tasty chicken, prepared with the indgienous people favorite recipe.

During the initial part of the tour your guide will start pointing out several plants typical of the area and he’ll explain what they’re all used for. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how knowledgeable the Ngobe indigenous are about the natural world that surrounds them and how well they take advantage of everything that grows in the jungle (bring closed shoes, not flip flops). There are so many things in the jungle that you can eat, turn into clothes, use as tools or as medicines that there is no wonder that their carbon footprint is so low.

Planting, Growing & Harvesting the Cacao After learning about the fermentation process and the drying of the cacao seeds, you’ll continue to walk uphill under the rainforest’s canopy. If you’re luck enough, you might spot the resident sloth, a toucan or a poison dart frog (during the mornings you’re more likely to encounter wildlife). Your guide will continue to explain the use of several plants and you’ll finally reach a stop where you’ll be surrounded by cacao trees. Here you’ll learn about how the cacao trees are planted, taken care of during their growth, and how the cacao pods are expertly harvested.

Depending on the farms’ state (the older trees aren’t as productive as the newer ones) you might also get to see tiny cacao plants in black plastic bags, getting stronger and awaiting to be planted. Nowadays cacao trees are planted along with banana trees and other fruit trees. This practice not only leads to healthier soil, but it also keeps the monkeys and bats happy and away from the cacao fruits themselves.

Growing cacao is a work of love and dedication. Cacao trees need constant care to prevent certain diseases from spreading and killing the production (with mortality rates of up to 80%). As no chemicals are used, all this has to be done by hand and entire cacao plantations have to be continually monitored on-site. Cacao trees don’t have a proper season: they are always in various stages of fruit production at any time of the year(although there are times when there are more pods ready). When enough pods have ripened to make processing cost-effective, the farmers go around collecting the pods, open them up, remove the flesh covered seeds (which depending on the variety of the cacao is quite nice to eat itself), cover them with burlap in the fermenting bin, let them ferment for the appropriate time and then put them to dry.

Roasting, Grinding & Sampling!

After the cacao seeds are dry enough (over-drying them ruins the flavor), the next step is to roast them. Although the indigenous use more practical equipment to roast and grind the seeds, you’ll witness how it’s been done traditionally with a pot over a fire, and then grinding by hand and stone.

During the time it takes for the seeds to roast (you’ll hear how they start to pop when they’re ready), your guide will continue to tell you about how the cacao plant has an extraordinary history as one of the most important products for the Mayan and Aztec cultures (even used as currency), as well as other Central American tribes. The discovery of America led to the introduction of chocolate in Europe, transforming it into the product we all know today.

In Bocas del Toro the cacao plantations used to be owned by immigrants from the Caribbean islands which employed Ngobe indigenous who eventually bought the land back and continued the production themselves. Even though Panama produces very little cacao compared to other countries, ours is of world class quality.

Once the seeds are roasted, you’ll get to sample some roasted seeds, which are actually known as nibs. At this point, you can already start feeling the pure cacao flavor, and now only the grinding part remains. You’ll even have the opportunity to grind some roasted seeds yourself!

After the seeds are grinded, a smooth chocolatey paste remains. Get ready for the moment that everyone has been waiting for: actually trying the chocolate out! And it’s certainly a yummy treat, as the Oreba Chocolate is considered by Swiss experts to be amongst the finest chocolate in the world. Mix it with some sugar and milk, and you’ll get milk chocolate, or just leave it without milk and you’ll get dark chocolate. Or if you prefer to have it in its pure form, just refrigerate the runny paste that is left after grinding it and you’ll get solid bars of rich unsweetened chocolate, about 50% cocoa butter and 50% cacao solids. This is what the Ngobe indigenous pack by hand with a truly artisan touch and get ready either to export to Switzerland or sell locally. This Cacao Plantation tour was amazing. I am of course a chocolate lover but I didnt realize the process that still goes into making them. I loved being with the indigenous people, watching them roast and roll the cacao seeds into a paste and learning of the culture. It was truly interactive and I love how natural and regal the process is. That people of Panama are still going through the rigourous process of harvesting these cacao seeds to make into some of the exported chocolate that everyone loves today.

Myself, student of Habla Ya and the tour guide with an indegenious tribe member after the Cacao Tour

Thank you for Habla Ya in Bocas Del Toro for taking us on another interactive tour. Read about the Nivida Bat Cave Tour here.  During this tour as well, the tour guide would every now and then speak in Spanish to get us to utilize some of our comprehension skill of the language. I highly recommend this tour if you are a Habla Ya student or even if you aren’t a student. Please go visit the Rio Oeste Afuera community for this Chocolate tour and support them as well. I made sure to buy lots of items handmade and crafted of jewelry, cacao powder, cacao nibs and more to give back. I love giving back to locals especially those of indigenous communities.

Summer Immersion in Panama: FREE TOUR EACH WEEK when you Book 4 Weeks or more of Spanish Lessons starting between June 5 – August 28th 2017 

Are You Impressed with the Harvesting of Cacao Seeds?

About the Blogger - Kiwi the Beauty

Kiwi is the free spirited blogger and content creator of KiwiTheBeauty.com. As a digital influencer, she produces creative inspiration around beauty, lifestyle, media and travel leisure. Her life mantra is to make manifesting fun! When she’s not blogging, she is eating trendy hipster food, carrying crystals, making it rain at her local farmer's market and binge brunching. Follow her on her blog and social media at kiwithebeauty.com + @kiwithebeauty

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  • Stacie says:

    That sounds like so much fun! I’ve always been fascinated by the chocolate making process. The whole thing is so interesting.

  • Jennifer Van Huss says:

    What a fabulous place to visit! Trying new foods and seeing where they come from makes it so much more intersting!

  • That is such an amazing process and lifestyle. I would love to go and take part in all the activities and learn more about the culture. I never knew eating chocolate could be so educational.

  • Diana says:

    I love this little tour of the process of cacao beans! This looks like a lovely setting too, and I’ll go anywhere for good food 😉 Looks like fun.

  • Jeni says:

    What an interesting trip. I’m always fascinated by the way things work and where things come from. Who doesn’t love chocolate? This is the perfect tour for me.

  • Yum! Love local food from other cultures. Never heard of this country before, looks beautiful!

  • ricci says:

    What a cool tour!! I would love to go on a chocolate tour one day…HA!!

  • Totally impressed as I’ve never experienced this before! This is awesome and I sure would love to experience this someday should we find ourselves in Panama. I think it’s nice that you shared your experience with us.

  • Ali Rost says:

    What a great post! I’ve always wondered how chocolate was made, and it would have been so much fun to see for yourself. From now on I’ll have a far greater appreciation when I buy my favorite chocolate bar. The process truly is a lot of work! x

  • Dogvills says:

    What an interesting experience. It’s fascinating to see how much work goes into those yummy treats.

  • Tomi says:

    The excursions are a great way to immerse yourself into the local community and learn about the rich history of a place. As a chocolate lover I would totally enjoy this excursion.

  • Sarah Honey says:

    What a fun tour! I would love to visit a cacao plantation.

  • Alli Smith says:

    I’ve always wanted to get an up-close and personal tour of a cacao plantation. I didn’t realize all the steps it takes to actually produce the end result – chocolate. I really enjoyed learning the process.

  • candy says:

    Now this is a tour I would be fascinated to go on. Love how it shows growing, harvesting and making the beans into paste and other ways to use them. Talk about getting to know your food source.

  • Jeanette says:

    I’m impressed whenever I go someplace and people are able to cook food basically just coming straight off the tree. What a wonderful experience! That food looks like it was delicious too.

  • Maureen says:

    A chocolate tour? Super awesome. I love that you were able to go here and share this with us, I have often wondered about plantations like this Cacao Plantation, super neat to learn more.

  • Stacie says:

    Wow, so much goes into making chocolate that I didn’t know about. I bet it smelled amazing sitting there watching it all.

  • That is so cool how they still do it the old way. I love how knowledgeable the people are about the native plants and their area. I’m sure they know a lot more than we do about our area.

  • Robin Rue says:

    This looks like it was such an amazing experience. There is so much behind the scenes with the chocolate that we all love.

  • Well being that chocolate is my favorite food, i will be scheduling a tour lol! This is really fascinating! I would love to learn their culture and the history!

  • lisa says:

    What an awesome tour! I had no idea it was such a process to make chocolate from the cacao beans! This is very cool.

  • Wow that looks like a fun time. There is nothing like good food and good friends!

  • Doria says:

    Oh my gosh, this is so awesome! I’m a total chocolate addict and I’ve seen how cacao is harvested–so cool. Looks like you enjoyed your tour!

  • Joline says:

    This is so interesting! I think it’s important to educate ourselves where our favourite foods come from.

  • Jenn says:

    Wow, this is very impressive. I can’t even image living like this. The environment looks so beautiful.

  • Kim says:

    It looks so beautiful there. When we went to Hershey, PA several years ago, they talked about cacao since it is the ingredient in chocolate. Would be great to see it up close.

  • What an amazing adventure! I have always been curious to see a cacao plantation.

  • Anosa says:

    Yes I am totally impressed about the harvesting, its not something I have done before and would totally love to do it. What an amazing excursion.

  • I would love to go there and see this tour! I visited one cacao plantation several months ago, and it was amazing! But it was nowhere as near informative as this one! I had no idea the amount of work that goes into making artisanal chocolates and all of the other products! We also didn’t get to try all of those tasty foods you did either. 🙂

  • Ann Bacciaglia says:

    It would be so fun to hike up to the Cacao Plantation. I had no idea what goes into making chocolate. I would love to be able to sample the freshly ground beans. This sounds like it was an amazing trip.

  • Diana Ajih says:

    Looks like a really cool tour. It’s so tropical and the food looks amazing too! I’ll definitely add Panama to my travel bucket list.

  • Kerri Olkjer says:

    What an AMAZING trip!! I love good organic dark chocolate. So cool to see it’s origins.

  • Wow, what an enlightening tour! I would love to have seen that in person.

  • Sheena Tatum says:

    Now THIS is my kind of tour! What an educational tour as well.

  • Teresa says:

    That looks like an amazing tour for yourself. What a beautiful tradition to watch. It also looks like SO MUCH work for just a small bit of chocolate.

  • Dogvills says:

    I have never seen an actual cacao fruit before. Thank you for posting a photo of it. I love the natural way they prepared the cacao to make it into a paste. That would be so wonderful to sample it right there from the source!

  • Pam says:

    I went on a tour like this in the Dominican Republic. It was so neat to see how the harvesting and drying was done.

  • Wow, you’re having so many adventures and experiences! I thought the bat cave was interesting, but nothing can top a plantation of CHOCOLATE! The cacao plantation looks absolutely fascinating. I loved hearing about the process and seeing the beans grinded out. Sounds like a delicious tour overall.

  • Paula Schuck says:

    This looks like a great tour. I have done this similar tour elsewhere, but this one also looks very educational. Love learning when we travel too.

  • Rosey says:

    That’s interesting that the older plants are less productive than the young ones. You would think it’d be the opposite. 🙂 This looks like a great tour!

  • kristin says:

    So beautiful. I love that the process is so hands on. makes you really appreciate how it’s made and the time it takes.

  • I would absolutely love this, and not only because I love chocolate. It’s so interesting to me how products are made and it would be so cool to see the process in person from start to finish!

  • My Teen Guide says:

    How awesome to see how cacao is harvested and made into a paste, the precursor of delicious chocolate! Yum. I did not know it was that labor-extensive.

  • Mimi Green says:

    Very impressed, this is serious hard work they are putting in everyday. The tour sounds like an experience of a lifetime.

  • lisalisa says:

    WOW, what an awesome trip I’m sure!! These tours you share with us are so cool, and I learn so much each time I visit your site. I would have to say, seeing the Cacao plantation would definitely pique my interest!

  • Amanda says:

    Wow, what a unique and informative tour. I am a chocoholic so I would love to learn all about its different uses and how it came to be such a prominent ingredient in so many things.

  • This place reminds me of the country I grew up in, Philippines. The only difference is the food but the environment is the same.

  • Sue Reddel says:

    What a terrific opportunity! It was so interesting to see the process in which the chocolate is made. I hope you got to taste the final product. That would be the ultimate reward.

  • Tami says:

    You mean chocolate doesn’t come from a wrapper inside a grocery store? I enjoyed learning about the origin of chocolate, as well as the plantation. This is now a must travel destination.

  • Ty says:

    This seems like a really fun tour and so informative. I had no idea how to harvest cacao. Thanks for sharing.

  • Debra J Hawkins says:

    What a wonderful opportunity! I want to do more of this, it looks like it would be such a learning experience!

  • Eva says:

    Wow! Looks like that was one amazing experience! I love that you shared a meal – it looked so yummy.

  • Candice says:

    This look like an interesting tour and the jungle is beautiful! What a blessing to go on an interactive tour and learn something new about another culture. I would have loved to see the whole process of creating chocolate.

  • Nicole says:

    I just went to Punta Cana about 3 weeks ago and my husband and I went on a tour of the local village and learned how chocolate and cocoa is made. What amazed me is the taste of the actual cocoa bean pod itself. It is really fruity! Also, chocolate is really purple before the beans are sun dried! Pretty cool stuff. Your tour seemed a bit more detailed than mine was, which is cool.

  • Kasi says:

    Looks and sounds like an amazing time! Love your photos!

  • Kita says:

    I read about the process of making chocolate. So great to see it up close and personal.

  • Kenya says:

    This sounds awesome! I would love to do something like this! Thank you for sharing.

  • Elle CleverlyChanging says:

    Such an amazing experience. The memories you made on this trip will forever be with you.

  • I have seen my friend process the cacao seeds with some more expensive machinery than this. It’s so cool that they do it here by grinding it on a stone. I can imagine that it would be quite pure to try it out directly like that. I can imagine that it was an awesome tour out there.

  • Gabriel Bregg says:

    It’s always amazing to see the backstory behind our favorite treats. Always makes me wonder who was the first person to think to try this!

  • Sounds like an amazing experience. This reminds me of my home country of Guatemala. The vegetation and the scenery are so similar.

  • This is amazing and I would LOVE to go on this tour! I love learning how the locals go through the process and it always amazes me.

  • Kim says:

    Did they share the recipe for the chicken? What was the side of greens? I love cacao and reading about the process of it being made was intriguing.

  • Tata says:

    Wow this was nothing short of amazing! I had no idea that this progress was so rigorous. Where there a lot of bugs during the tour? Also, were you able to take some chocolate with you?

  • Adeola says:

    Love the images of the locals and how you all engaged with them by eating together and getting into their routine.

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