The Cacao Ceremony at the Kinkara Glamping Retreat in Costa rica

Could Cacao Hold the Secret to an Open Heart?

Cacao – alongside coffee, it’s one of our most beloved Costa Rican treasures, not least for the part it plays in making the mouth-watering magic we call chocolate but packed with nutrients and antioxidants, it’s earned itself superfood status too. Once the food of the gods, cacao in all its many forms is now a major ingredient in our everyday lives. But beyond its nature as our favorite bitter-sweet foodstuff, very few of us know cacao as a plant medicine used ceremonially to open the heart.

Interestingly enough, it’s not at all a secret that cacao has this extraordinary potential. In fact, the knowledge dates back thousands of years to the great ancient civilizations of Mesoamerica, which comprised much of what is today Mexico all the way down to northern Costa Rica. But it’s only in recent years that we’ve begun to delve back into the healing qualities of cacao and take a second look at the traditional ceremonies centered on this sacred bean.

So what is it that makes cacao so “heart-opening”?

In terms of the personally powerful effects of cacao, it’s not all about the yumminess; on a scientific level, there is indeed some profound work going on. Cacao’s active compound is theobromine, which when consumed acts as a vasodilator and heart stimulant. On a physical level, what that translates to is increased circulation, heart rate and an immediate boost in serotonin, our “happy hormone”. There’s also a strong dose of magnesium in the mix too, a mineral known as “nature’s tranquilizer” and one that relaxes muscles and eases tensions. On an energetic level, taken together, all of these effects are considered as heart-opening and a catalyst for connection.

Cacao Ceremonies are celebrated at Sunset

But how do we tap into these enriching qualities of cacao?

If you’re looking to really explore the medicinal qualities of cacao, unfortunately tucking into a chocolate bar, however blissfully satisfying, or sipping a regular hot chocolate won’t quite do the trick. The cacao needs to be far more concentrated, and according to ancient traditions, consumed in a particular way. That’s where cacao ceremonies come in.

At Kinkara Luxury Retreat, a Cayuga Collection property that’s reviving the age-old practice, the ceremony revolves around a pure, hot cacao drink made from nothing more than ceremonial-grade, hand-peeled, and ground cacao paste and water. Unlike the hot chocolate we all know and love, this one is unsweetened and unadulterated so its taste can be dark, rich and bitter, and its texture thick. But this is all by design; preparing cacao in this way allows for its flavors and nuances to be fully appreciated. It also keeps the bean’s fat intact, helping balance its stimulating properties and aids a prolonged absorption.

Tamazccal Sweat Lodge at Kinkara

At Kinkara, no two cacao ceremonies are quite the same. They’re held in groups typically after dark at El Morén – the retreat’s movement pavilion at the heart of the Mandala Garden – or around the fire pit, with each ritual lasting 1-2 hours depending on the number of participants and their intentions for the ceremony. During each unique ritual, participants are served in turn while the facilitator guides the group through meditation, movement, and expression as well as live music and song to collectively create a raised vibration in the space. Once a deeply meditative mood is set, everyone present is then invited to slowly consume their cacao drink and welcome its powerful effects which many claim to be emotionally healing and euphoric.

Tents and Mandala Garden at Kinkara.

Designed to help us access and embrace our heart-based emotions such as love, compassion, joy, and gratitude, it’s perhaps no surprise that the cacao ceremony experience doesn’t necessarily end at the bottom of the cup. At Kinkara, cacao ceremonies often culminate in “Ecstatic Dance” parties, in which a DJ curates a musical journey that encourages participants to release their inhibitions without involving alcohol and express themselves through movement.

The result is a space full of happy sober souls wired on bliss chemicals, and at least at Kinkara, a shared sense of profound gratefulness and appreciation for the transformative experiences lived during the stay. As it turns out, even when we’re surrounded by an inspiring tropical paradise, looking inward with a helping hand from nature rather than out and around can prompt some of our very best experiences.

You are going to feel like jumping when at Kinkara.


Seeking a restorative and healing sanctuary for your Costa Rica vacation? Kinkara Luxury Retreat in the country’s biodiverse south might just have your name on it. Explore the retreat’s immersive Signature Experiences here including cacao ceremonies, temazcal-inspired sweat ceremonies, and other more traditional vacations activities to inspire your stay, or reach out to us for more information and bookings at Plenty of moments of self-discovery await.

View from Kinkara.

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Andrea Bonilla

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