Global Correspondents, Semester Abroad How to Make a Chocolate Bar

March 14, 2023
By Linda Wu, Wharton & College '24

CIEE Monteverde: Tropical Ecology and Conservation (BCC), Costa Rica

Linda is one of the Semester Abroad Global Correspondents writing and sharing her experience abroad during the Spring 2023 semester. Follow along with the group of correspondents on our blog and look out for their images on the @pennabroad Instagram feed.

Representing only 0.03% of the earth’s surface but with 6% of the world’s biodiversity, Costa Rica is filled with lush primary tropical forests and dense canopies crawling with wildlife. This not only makes the country a prime location for scientific research and ecotourism, but also sparks a lot of debate on how best to protect it. During our field trip to La Selva Biological Station, I had the chance to hear it framed with chocolate.

Geiner Huertas is a naturalist guide and entrepreneur in Costa Rica’s wet lowland tropical forest. He launched his career 13 years ago when learning English gave him a chance to work at the research station. Since then, he has been a guide for other places like Braulio Carrillo National Park and Tirimbina Biological Reserve. In 2015, he and his boss, Rodolfo Alvarado, launched a new project. They rented out an old cacao plantation and started giving tours on the chocolate-making process. That’s also where our class met Geiner.

Making Chocolate

When I asked why he started this company, he responded, “we don’t protect what we don’t love, and we don’t love what we don’t know–education is the best way to protect nature.” The chocolate tours are not just a highly interactive experience where you can eat mouthfuls of chocolate (though this is true), but they are also a place to learn about the flower pollinators, microbial communities, and complicated ecosystem processes that go into making this sweet treat. The goal is to encourage conservation by educating others about delicate parts of the tropical rainforest, and what better way to do that than with chocolate. Outside of these tours, he spends part of his time speaking at various institutions and schools about the ecosystem and conservation of the area, trying to make an impact no matter how small.

The chocolate tour company also brings additional income to the community. In fact, 80% of their souvenirs are locally made products, they buy cacao from 16 surrounding families, and hold a Chocolate Festival on the last Sunday of October each year, which brings in tourism revenue. In the past year, they had over 600 people at the festival!

Pursuing a major in both biology and business, I find this story intriguing because it shows how ecological value can drive economic value; financial gains from tourism provide further incentives to preserve the area. The opportunity to spend a semester in a place as rich in biodiversity as Costa Rica allows me to learn about this dynamic from passionate, knowledgeable entrepreneurs like Geiner. I am excited for my next few months of studying, experiences, and memories in this country. Stay tuned!

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The Semester Abroad (SA) program offers undergraduate students the opportunity to study in a new global community through extended study for a semester or year. Penn Abroad partners with top institutions around the globe and collaborates with Penn’s undergraduate schools to offer programs for students across academic disciplines.