Let's face it: our love affair with chocolate knows no bounds. The sometimes sweet confectionary is so popular worldwide that it's even inspired its own kind of tourism. If you've ever spent a night like Charlie Bucket in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, dreaming of what delicious cocoa delicacies await behind closed doors, you're in luck. These five countries will more than satisfy your cravings:
Switzerland is one of the world's top chocolate consumers—with the average resident consuming about 20 pounds of chocolate a year. The country is home to gourmet chocolatiers such as Teuscher, as well as iconic chocolate purveyors like Nestle and Lindt. Summer is the height of Switzerland’s chocolate tourism, when thousands of visitors embark a round-trip aboard the Chocolate Train. This day-long excursion from Montreux to Gruyeres and back includes a stop at the Cailler-Nestle Chocolate Factory in Broc. While the train only operates from June through October, you can still visit the factory on your own year-round (though it's closed from March 2 to March 20, 2015). Hour-long tours include a history of chocolate and a walk through the production facilities, as well as an opportunity to sample the goods.
Belgium produces more than 172,000 tons of chocolate annually, and the tiny country is also home to 2,000 plus chocolatiers. Belgium is especially known for the praline, or “chocolate bonbon,” a piece of chocolate with a hard outer shell and a soft, sometimes liquid filling, which Belgian chocolatier Jean Neauhaus introduced to the world in 1912. Today Belgium is a hot-bed of chocolate tourism, with Brussels at it center. There are tours of chocolate factories, chocolate making workshops, and even Choco-Story Brussels (Musée du Cacao et du Chocolat), a small, two-story museum devoted to the history and making of chocolate. One of the city's most popular experiences for chocolate lovers is the Chocolate Walking Tour and Workshop, a guided three-hour walking tour that includes stops at several of the city's artisan chocolate boutiques, plenty of free samples, and a 45-minute hands-on lesson in making pralines.
In true Belgian style, you may even want to pair your chocolate with a nice glass of brew.
Peru is home to the world's rarest chocolate, Pure Nacional, a once prevalent strand of cocoa bean that was thought extinct until a few years ago. Its rediscovery helped pave the way for a new world of chocolate tourism in this South American country. Unlike Belgium and Switzerland, Peru both produces chocolate and grows its own cocoa beans. Peru boasts several outposts of Choco Museo, a museum highlighting the America's long-standing chocolate history and traditions. There are two in Lima and another in Cuzco, where you can make your own chocolate truffles and tour nearby cocoa plantations. Another popular stop for chocolate tourists is Orquidea Chocolate Factory, a mountain-top artisanal factory in the Peruvian jungle that's a collaboration between NGO funding and local communities.
Chocolate tourism has taken off in Costa Rica, with everything from a Rainforest Chocolate Tour in which you actually get to harvest and grind cacao seeds and make a traditional drink, to factory tours and tastings. For true chocolate connoisseurs, the family-run Caribeans Coffee & Chocolate in Puerto Viejo, on the country's Caribbean coast, hosts a week-long chocolate dream vacation that offers a fully immersive bean-to-bar experience. Nearby Chocorart is another must-stop. The Swiss couple that runs this farm uses traditional Maya methods to cultivate their cacao and offers two-hour tours and tastings, including a sampling of their vanilla, mint, orange and coconut flavored signature chocolate stick.
For five weeks every February Hong Kong's enormous Harbour City mall turns into a chocolate wonderland, complete with cocoa trees, pop-up chocolate boutiques, and live demos by master chocolate chefs. The Chocolate Trail attracts chocolate lovers from around the globe to Hong Kong, offering workshops on topics such as fine-tuning your taste buds and pairing Chinese teas with chocolates, as well as bringing together a selection of fine chocolates from countries like Belgium, Italy and France. The city is also known for its high-end hotel chocolate and confectionary shops, such as The Mandarin Cake Shop and The Peninsula Chocolatier.