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You’ve no doubt heard of (and perhaps experienced) wine, culinary, sport, music, or various other niche types of travel. But have you ever considered chocolate travel?

When we mention chocolate travel, we’re not just talking about eating chocolate when you travel. We’re talking about visiting places where cacao (cocoa) is grown, meeting cacao farmers, chocolate makers, and chocolatiers, and learning something about their craft. Chocolate travel means indulging in cocoa cuisine, attending chocolate events and festivals (the Grenada Chocolate Fest is outstanding), and visiting chocolate attractions and museums (Hershey, Pennsylvania, is the ultimate North American chocolate destination with a chocolate theme park, chocolate museum, chocolate hotel, and even a chocolate spa!).

Here’s why chocolate travel belongs on your bucket list.

A woman at a chocolate spa.

Chocolate Spas Will Transport You To Another Place

Did we say chocolate spa? You bet! There are an increasing number of spas worldwide offering edible chocolate facials, cocoa-based massages and pedicures, and even full-body chocolate wraps that transport your spirit to another dimension. That’s because Theobroma cacao (the technical name for the raw product that is processed to become chocolate) releases endorphins and cannabinoid receptors into our bodies to give us a natural high. As the theobromine is absorbed into our bodies, we experience a natural euphoria that’s known to bring some of us pure joy.

Try to find out the purity of the body rub at a spa you may be visiting. If it is nearly 100 percent pure cocoa powder and cocoa butter -- as is used at the Pure Jungle Spa in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica -- you’re getting the real thing. If cocoa is way down on the list of ingredients, the effect is far less likely to be incredible, but you’re still likely to enjoy your spa experience.

A man helping to harvest cacao pods.

You’ll Get To The Source

Visiting places like Costa Rica and other Central American countries, the Caribbean, Mexico, South America, Africa, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Australia to see how their cacao is grown, harvested, and processed is another terrific way to engage in chocolate travel. Some destinations like Grenada and St. Lucia make an industry of chocolate tourism, offering travelers the opportunity to visit cacao farms (where they can participate in the harvesting of cacao pods or graft a cacao seedling), sample cuisine that features cacao in savory or traditional recipes, try their hand at grinding roasted cocoa beans and make it into stone-ground chocolate bars, and learn how cacao has impacted the country’s history, economy, and culture. Look for cacao-growing countries 20 degrees north and south of the Equator.

A cacao farmer.
Doreen Pendgracs

You’ll Learn The Difference Between Cacao-Producing Countries That Make Chocolate And Those That Import Cocoa

We’ve all grown up eating and loving European chocolate from countries like Belgium, France, Switzerland, Holland, and Germany. Many people say Belgian chocolate is the best. Many say Swiss chocolate is the best. But once you engage in chocolate travel, you learn that there is no such thing as Belgian or Swiss chocolate. There is only Belgian-made chocolate or Swiss-made chocolate, as no country in Europe actually grows cacao. Most European chocolate is made from cocoa grown in West Africa, as the Ivory Coast and Ghana produce close to 70 percent of the world’s cocoa, which is then shipped to Europe for distribution. We have the Europeans to thank for creating contemporary chocolate, as it is said that explorer Hernan Cortes first brought cocoa beans to Spain by ship back in the early 16th century. There, confectioners added spices such as vanilla and cinnamon to cocoa to mitigate the bitterness of the pure beans. Chocolate as we know it began to evolve.

It is only in the past two decades that cacao-growing countries began making chocolate from their cocoa beans rather than exporting nearly all of them. Today, you can taste true jungle chocolate in places like Peru and Mexico where the chocolate is made using exclusively indigenous flavorings such as passionfruit, mango, tequila, figs, and nuts. Of course, little of this magnificent chocolate is exported, as fresh chocolate truffles and bonbons don’t travel well. So you have to go to the source to get it, and what a delicious journey that can be.

A farmer holding cacao beans.

Your Chocolate Travels Can Help Change Lives

As cacao is most often grown in under-developed countries, your tourism dollars can help the local economies and families involved in the farming and processing of the cocoa. You can take tours to cacao farms in many cacao-growing countries. In some countries, you can engage in voluntourism activities in which you’ll visit cocoa cooperatives to help process the cocoa and make chocolate from it.

However you get your chocolate fix, It’s important to understand some of the terminology that will help you make better chocolate purchases at home and abroad. We’ve all heard of the term fair trade, and many of us have already have altered our buying habits to ensure we are purchasing fair trade products sourced from farmers and makers who are paid fairly for their labor. But there is another term that is also very important to look for when committing to making ethical purchases, chocolate and otherwise. Look for products that are designated sustainable. When it comes to chocolate, sustainable products are sourced such that farming families, the environment, and every part of the food chain are taken into consideration to ensure we will have delicious chocolate to enjoy for years to come.

Ready to begin your chocolate travels? Budapest's hidden chocolate museum could be the perfect place to start.

About The Author

Doreen Pendgracs has been a freelance travel writer since 1997. She specializes in soft adventure and boomer travel and is a leader in the emerging niche of chocolate travel. Doreen has been researching chocolate and cacao through 20 countries over the past 10 years and has authored an award-winning book about chocolate travel. She has a vibrant blog, Chocolatour, where you can connect with her on various social media platforms. Doreen also writes freelance articles for various publications that include National Geographic Traveler. Doreen curates chocolate and wine pairing events and has been a speaker, guest, and judge at numerous chocolate events around the world. Join Doreen on a small group she has curated to Costa Rica in collaboration with EF Go Ahead Tours. Information on the upcoming tour is available here.

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