Last Updated: Apr 30, 2012
From colorful woven hammocks and wood handicrafts to indigenous pottery, Costa Rica’s souvenirs promise plenty for the discriminating buyer. Open-air markets, souvenir shops, and upscale galleries are prevalent throughout the country and display a wide array of goods. Keep in mind that prices are fixed at most stores and art galleries, but bargaining is a helpful skill at craft markets and street stalls.
Home to the world’s largest oxcart, Sarchi is Costa Rica’s artisan capital. The town was not always known for its master artisans – in the mid-nineteenth century, its economy centered on the booming coffee trade. Oxcarts were used to transport the coffee crop and other goods from the Central Valley to Pacific and Caribbean port cities. Today, intricately painted oxcart replicas sell for $100-$450, depending on size. Sarchi’s artisans also create carved wood souvenirs, in addition to leather-and-wood rocking chairs ($200-$250 shipped to the United States) and a variety of furniture (starting at $50).
The Boruca, an indigenous tribe living in Costa Rica’s south Pacific region, are known for their intricate masks and handmade crafts. Borucan masks are carved from balsa or cedar wood, and are traditionally important during the annual Fiesta de los Diablitos (Little Devils Festival). The masks measure from eight to 18 inches in length, and can cost $25-$150 depending on size and the intricacy of the carvings. Boruca crafts also include hand-woven textiles and carved gourds, and are found at upscale souvenir stores throughout the country. Own a piece of Costa Rican culture and make a difference – the Borucan economy depends on sales.
Costa Rica’s artisans are masters at shaping and carving wood. Local markets carry products made of exotic woods including rosewood, rum rum, and purpleheart. Teak pieces are often carved from wood grown on local sustainable farms. Choose from home goods, such as wine holders and salad bowls, decorative objects like animal sculptures, or whimsical items including puzzle boxes and beer mugs. Most products cost $5-$50, but large pieces, such as decorative jewelry boxes, can cost more.
Chorotega pottery is made in the village of Guaitil, located 30 minutes inland from Tamarindo. Approximately 100 local families work in pottery cooperatives, and their stores are attached to open workshops. Watch a masterpiece form as sculptors use local clays and natural dyes, honoring techniques that have been used since pre-Columbian times. Decorative pots, plates, vases, bowls and animal sculptures are available for $15-$150, depending on size and design.
Costa Rica is famous for its robust java, one of the best shopping deals in the country. Cafe Britt, Doka (Tres Generaciones), Cafe Naranjo, and Triangulo de Oro sell premium coffee at bargain prices ($3-$6 per pound). Head to the local supermarket for the best deals. Sold as whole bean or ground, coffee from Costa Rican estates comes in familiar blends like French roast and espresso, as well as organic and shade-grown varieties. Embrace Costa Rican tradition with a chorreador, a coffee maker that requires only a stand, sock filter, and hot water. A beautiful coffee maker carved from rosewood, costs less than $20 at local artisan markets, souvenir shops, and coffee estates.
Relax in a handmade Costa Rican hammock – choose from hanging chairs, traditional hammocks, or tandem models built for two. Many colors and weaves, such as honeycombed cotton rope or tightly woven textile fabric, are available. Hammocks may be purchased with or without wooden bars. These vacation memories come at a great price; plan to spend $15-$100.
Colorful jewelry made from glass and semi-precious stones decorate souvenir stalls around the country, and several markets sell wooden jewelry and re-creations of pre-Columbian gold and jade treasures. Upscale stores also offer exquisite silver and gold jewelry made by Costa Ricans. Rosewood belts and carved seed necklaces are a favorite and make great stories to tell back home. Prices for costume jewelry range $2-$20, while genuine silver and gold pieces run $50+.