The best places to eat, the Instagram-worthy beaches and the hidden gems that nobody else knows about? Everyone wants the local perspective when they travel. Lucky for you, we caught up with second-year defender and Costa Rica native Dennis Castillo to get the inside scoop on his homeland.
Castillo came to the States to pursue his dreams of playing professional soccer at the age of 18, and after six years in America he still carries the spirit of his country with him in his daily life.
"I was playing in the second division in Costa Rica with Deportivo Saprissa," Castillo said. "One day the opportunity to come to America to play college soccer presented itself."
In 2012, Castillo left his home in San Jose, Costa Rica to begin his journey at Virginia Commonwealth University where he saw a wealth of success. The 2015 Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year was a four-year Captain for the Rams, and set a school record by starting in all 80 games he saw action in. He scored 17 goals and notched two assists, which also earned him NSCAA Second Team All-Midwest Region, Atlantic 10 Championship Player and Atlantic 10 First Team All-Conference.
His success at VCU caught the eye of the Colorado Rapids' technical staff, and on January 14, 2016 his dream was realized when he was chosen as the 37th overall pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft.
Castillo credits growing up playing soccer on the streets of San Jose for allowing him to achieve his ambition of playing professionally.
Anyone that's crossed paths with Castillo during his short tenure in Commerce City knows he embodies the 'Pura Vida' spirit. If you’ve been to Costa Rica you know that 'Pura Vida' - simply translated to 'pure life' - is more than a way to greet people - it’s a lifestyle.
“It’s a slogan that represents our culture really well,” Castillo said. “I think because we’re in the tropics there is a lot of nature everywhere, so I think that affects your well-being a lot. It’s not a fast-paced culture. Everything is slow when you compare it to America, but not sluggish. It’s a way of living. You must visit to feel it.”
And that is exactly what Castillo wants you to do. When asked the one thing that he'd want people to know about his country he replied: “If you like nature and you’re looking for an affordable vacation you should go to Costa Rica.”
Local Costa Ricans, or 'Ticos' as they're known, have a relaxed way of looking at life - being thankful for what they have and not dwelling on the negative. But the country’s real trophy is its nature – rainforest, volcanos, beaches. They’re gorgeous, they’re everywhere, and they’re a huge part of what make Costa Rica so very special.
“Two weeks is not enough in my country – you can’t do it all in one week,” Castillo said.
You’re convinced, you want to go to San Jose to experience the Pura Vida spirit … now what? We had Castillo wrap up his favorite Costa Rican places, culinary delights, and authentic customs.
WHERE TO GO: MARKETS IN DOWNTOWN SAN JOSE
“If you’re staying in downtown San Jose you should definitely go to the market. There is a nice stretch of shops on the boulevard. Maybe visit a museum, but I recommend going to see the nature instead. One day is enough in the city.”
WHERE TO GO: PLAYA BLANCA | MANUEL ANTONIO NATIONAL PARK
“The two closest best beaches in my eyes are Playa Blanca in Punta Leona, and the Manuel Antonio National Park has some very nice beaches in it.”
WHERE TO GO: BRAULIO CARRILLO RAIN FOREST
“There is this famous rainforest called Braulio Carrillo. It is a rainforest all year round. You can do zip lines, hikes, and gondolas that take you through the rainforest. You see cool birds and different animals.”
WHAT TO EAT: GALLO PINTO
“My country, when it was colonized there were a lot of people from Italian descent, French descent, Afro-Caribbean, Spanish and indigenous people, so we’ve got a mix of everything. Since we have influence from so many parts of the world, everything has been passed down. There are plenty of traditional dishes, but the main one is gallo pinto. It’s a mixture of rice and beans, fried plantains. That’s the base to our diet – you can have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I can’t, it’s too heavy, but people have it three times a day. It’s easy to make. I can’t make it like my mom’s or my grandpa's, but I try. There is this sauce back home called Salsa Lizano. It’s not super spicy but it’s a mixture of vegetables and spices – it’s very good. You must have that on your gallo pinto. It tastes best when you make it with old rice. If you save the rice for one day, that’s when it tastes best.”
HOW TO IMMERSE YOURSELF IN THE CULTURE: PLAY STREET SOCCER
“Ninety-five per cent of the kids, or more, play soccer in my country. The sport is so cheap that people play it everywhere. It’s the most popular thing - that and politics. It’s always soccer - after school, any free time, even in breaks in school, it’s always soccer. There is a small place in each school that you can play, and it’s always packed. First graders to sixth graders, they are all playing there it’s so packed. It was fun, I remember it.
"I remember also, when I came back from school I would have to wait for my cousins to get back from their school so we could play.
"There is something that street soccer teaches you. I don’t know how to explain it. Being out there, there are good things and bad things, but the technique, the interaction when things get a little rough, you experience a lot of things that you don’t experience in a private coaching session or in an organized team. There is something you experience in the streets. It gets competitive. When someone kicks you because it gets competitive you’re not going to cry and go back home. In organized sports if someone kicks you, you pause and check on that person. In the street, that’s not going to happen. When you are 5, 8, 10 it builds your character and that shows up later.”