El Sapo, Monteverde – Local Cuisine with an Ancestral Touch

Our new menu at Senda’s El Sapo Restaurant is not only based on fresh, locally produced products but has a strong ancestral Costa Rican influence embedded in it. 

Food sustainability has always been a priority for us.  At the Cayuga Collection Hotels and Lodges in Costa Rica, Panama, and Nicaragua, our culinary focus has always been on developing quality menus through fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients. We tend to seek out Costa Rican culinary experts that help us enhance our menus and train the local talent.  We have taken measures to avoid food waste wherever possible and eliminated imported items so that over 95% of our ingredients come from within a 200-mile radius.  Learn more about this initiative and reducing our food carbon footprint here

Senda Hotel in the Cloud Forest of Monteverde

At the end of 2021, at Senda Hotel in Monteverde, we took things a step further.  We asked Costa Rican chef, Pablo Bonilla expert in ancestral ways of cooking, to help us bring authentic, ancestral ways of cooking and serving food into the new menu at Senda. For the past 10 years, Pablo has been on a quest to learn and preserve Costa Rica’s ancestral ways of cooking. Through his shared experience with many different indigenous groups in Costa Rica, he has discovered new ways of cooking Costa Rican food. The culmination of his work is reflected through his restaurant Sikwa in San José. By the way, Sikwa means white man in Bribri, one of the native languages spoken on Costa Rican territory. 

Pablo Bonilla (Culinary Expert):  “I’d like to think that at Senda we focused on creating a menu that tells a story of Monteverde’s cultural experience. With each dish you taste a part of Monteverde”.

Pablo tells us that: “Most people identify Costa Rican food as a dish that has rice and beans, casado, gallo pinto, chifrijo, amongst others. What they don’t realize is that there is so much more to our cuisine that we, as Costa Ricans, don’t even know. The secrets to our culinary heritage lie in the indigenous villages and in the songs that are chanted about them”.

A new tropicalized version of an orange chicken was added to the lunch menu. This dish is served on a banana flower petal picked from our gardens with fried cassava and a refreshing cucumber and onion salad.

He first got exposed to indigenous culture when staying at a lodge in the Talamanca mountains near the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.  He was amazed with all the different experiences the lodge offered. From Bribri language classes to cacao ceremonies;  a true glimpse into the Bribri culture.  However, he tells us that when dinner was served, the storytelling behind the Bribri culture crumbled as he was served spaghetti with meatballs.

After that experience, Pablo realized that he could support the community in two ways. First by showcasing the Bribri community the value of sharing their culinary culture with the outside world. Second, he would write down the recipes shared through the Bribri culinary chants as a means of cultural preservation. 

If you walk through the gardens at Senda, you will notice it has a variety of species of banana plants. This is where chef Pablo got his inspiration for his plating of the orange chicken. 

The first dish Pablo was taught by ancestral chef Petra Buitrago was “Gallina Achotada”.  It is a chicken dish cooked with “achiote”, a spice and coloring agent that is extracted from the seeds of the Bixa Orellana shrub. 

Pablo remembers that “this dish is one of the most valuable recipes my teacher could have taught me as it represents her clan.  She was a part of the “Tubulwak” clan, also known to us as the yam clan.  As a way of honoring that moment I always have “Gallina Achotada” on my menu at Sikwa”.

Our version of “Gallos” with “Gallina Achiotada” can also be found on the Sapo Restaurant’s menu.  Here are some examples of other considerations that went into the new menu. 

We looked at the existing menu and decided to integrate new dishes and minimize waste. The new ravioli dish filled with pork uses the leftover parts of the pork ribs. 

We added several new vegan dishes such as the white sauce ravioli.  The sauce is made from heart of palm which is a common ingredient found throughout Costa Rica.

We recreated our version of a pickled fish dish “pescado escabechado”,  a red snapper dish that is representative of the province Puntarenas.  You can see the coast from the deck of your Premium suite. 

An important part of cultural identity comes from language. We decided to change the word “tacos” to “gallos”, which is a corn tortilla as its main ingredient and different fillings.  Our gallos are served with typical Costa Rican dishes such as “achiotado chicken”, Caribbean fish or steak and onions.

Chef Pablo and local Senda Chef Eduardo plating the gallos for lunch service.


We brought in new local suppliers.  The fish and mollusks now come from small fishing communities from Puntarenas in line with our Dock to Dish program. 


Almost all vegetables are grown a few kilometers away by Don Tony or even in our own backyard. 


Our breakfast bagels are purchased directly from Don Johny at the Zucaro Bakery in Monteverde. And we are offering local smoked trout instead of the imported smoked salmon that you would find on bagels almost everywhere around the world.  


We added fresh soft cheese “cuajada” from local cheesemaker don Bernal, instead of cream cheese.   


Check out the new Senda Menu here.   Which is your favorite dish?

If you enjoy learning about and eating locally inspired foods, the menus at two other Cayuga Collection Hotels might grab your attention.  Check out the Caribbean-inspired menu at Hotel Aguas Claras in Puerto Viejo and the creative culinary offerings that Isla Palenque offers in Panama. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

How Would You Like to Contact Us?


Monday – Thursday:
7am — 9pm CST
Friday – Sunday:
8am — 7pm CST

Quick answers, always!


Monday – Thursday:
7am — 9pm CST
Friday – Sunday:
8am — 7pm CST

+(506) 4040-0430


+(506) 4040-0430


San Jose, Costa Rica



If you have questions, visit our FAQ’s



Hans Pfister

Co-owner & President