Expat advice: What to do on Thanksgiving

November 24, 2014

If you live in the United States, Thanksgiving is a trascendent holiday. People of all origins, ages, colors, and creeds celebrate Thanksgiving. Carnivores, pescatarians, and vegans celebrate Thanksgiving. Expressing gratitude for family and good fortune is among the most universal traditions – a tradition that even a bunch of stuffy 17th-century Puritans could appreciate. Some folks can give or take Christmas and Flag Day, but Thanskgiving is a chance to spend time with family, an experience more hallowed than, well, Halloween.

But what do you do in Costa Rica?

Historically, Ticos haven’t made a big fuss over this quintessential U.S. holiday, and turkey and cranberry sauce aren’t exactly staples of the Costa Rican diet. This year’s Thanksgiving doesn’t have the cross-cultural cachet of last year’s “Thanksgivukkah,” and you certainly won’t see any Garfield floats hovering above Avenida Central. But as more expats have migrated to the country, local businesses have made it easier to celebrate in the familiar way.

For expats and visitors who are thousands of miles from their loved ones, here are some tropical options.

Dine Out

If you’re searching for a restaurant that serves traditional turkey dinners, your best bet is to try hotels – particularly hotels popular with U.S. visitors. All kinds of hotels will host specials, such as Hotel Pelicano in the Pacific town of Esterillos Este ($40) and El Patio del Balmoral in downtown San José (Nov. 28, $25). Such dinners are generally scattered and advertised only to guests, so if you’re staying at a hotel, ask reception about any special events.

Some restaurants have special events as well. Some U.S. chains offer basic Thanksgiving fare, such as Costa Rica’s three different Denny’s locations ($24). But some of the most unexpected venues are French restaurant La Tache in Escazú ($45), as well as Club Alemán in Los Yoses ($23). Each restaurant is serving Euro-American fusion feasts, an adventurous departure from the usual menu.

Cooking at Home

Nearly every major store in Costa Rica has its stock of turkeys, but brace yourself: If you’re accustomed to grandma’s Butterball, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a sizeable bird, even at major supermarkets like PriceSmart and Auto Mercado. Most of these turkeys are imported from abroad, so expect to pay upwards of $80 for a frozen 20-pounder.

As for fixins, larger stores like Auto Mercado provide an ever-increasing array of imported ingredients, but to do the meal more cheaply – or if you are outside of a metropolitan area –  you might consider tracking down a “Latin-style” Thanksgiving recipe on the Internet. There are zillions of them, and most recipes list readily available ingredients.

Football

You may not have the right cable network in your home or hotel, but there’s a good chance you can catch a game at U.S. sports bars like Chubbs and Rick’s Café.

Yoga Retreat

While binge-eating turkey is not the easiest or cheapest thing to do in Costa Rica, yoga centers across the country run incredible deals on classes and retreats to tighten that post-feast potbelly. Spiritual stretching may seem like the polar opposite of stuffing yourself on stuffing, but it’s a great way to feel fit before the Christmas season. Places like Surf Inn Hermosa, The Sanctuary at Two Rivers, and Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge (and countless others) have all been running holiday deals.

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