Shopping in Costa Rica can be a lot of fun, but not everything you find in Costa Rica is created locally. Depending on the country you will be returning to at the end of your visit, it’s also worth knowing that you may not able to bring home anything you like. Understanding what to buy when you are shopping in Costa Rica before you visit can help to avoid disappointment.
Keep in mind when shopping in Costa Rica that you will have to pay duty for anything you buy over and above a certain dollar purchase limit. Americans are allowed $800 duty free, Canadians $750, Australians A$400, and British citizens may purchase a variable amount depending on the specific item.
Check with the customs department in your home country before shopping in Costa Rica for a pamphlet or list of restrictions and dollar limits.
Customs departments may forbid bringing back specific items altogether. For instance, Americans shopping in Costa Rica are not allowed to bring home any fresh fruits or vegetables, any live plants, or any Cuban cigars. British, Canadian, and Australians may bring home tobacco products in preset limited amounts that vary according to nation and specific item.
When shopping in Costa Rica for souvenirs, some gift items are more affordable and authentic than others. The following shopping tips should help you to sort out the tourist items from the local treasures:
- Coffee. Shopping in Costa Rica without buying coffee is like shopping in France without buying perfume or wine. Costa Rica is home to some of the best coffee in the world. Buy whole beans, not the finely ground Costa Rican blends (which often have sugar already added and are too finely ground for most North American, Canadian, and European coffee makers). Café Brit is the most common brand, and is sold all over in hotels and shops, but if you’ve scheduled a trip to Manuel Antonio, check out Café Milagro. If you are touring Monte Verde, the place to buy great coffee there is CASEM.
- Café Rica. Café Rica is Costa Rica’s own native brand of coffee liqueur. Café Rica is inexpensive and available in local groceries in small bottles that make excellent gifts.
- Salsa. Although you can’t bring fresh fruits and vegetables home in most cases, Costa Rica sells a number of native salsas that are the next best thing. Check out Tipica Tropical Sauce, a spicy blend of mango, pineapple, and tamarind, or Salsa Lizano, a bottled green sauce that can be used like steak sauce or ketchup on just about any kind of meat.
- Handcrafts. Costa Rica is not well known for its handcrafts, and in fact, when shopping in Costa Rica, any clothing or handcrafted items you find are likely to have been manufactured in Guatemala. If you love handcrafted items, the town of Sarchi, known as the home of the Costa Rican oxcart, is the best place to go. You can buy oxcarts and a variety of other items there in any size.
- Pottery. The town of Guaitil in Central Guanacaste is famous for its traditional Costa Rican pottery. If you are shopping Costa Rica for a traditional art form to bring home for yourself, these small, simple pots fit the bill. Costa Rican pots have been made the same way for generations and are beautiful too.
- Jewelry and carved stone figurines. Both of these items are unique to Costa Rican artisans so keep your eye out for both when shopping in Costa Rica. Jewelry is available in gold, silver, or gold plate. Carved stone is usually made to look like Pre-Columbian art but does have intrinsic value of its own.
- Hammocks. Finally, shopping in Costa Rica for that special souvenir is sure to bring you into contact with just about any size or shape hammock you could ever want. Hammocks are a local specialty, as are hand knotted chairs.
Shopping in Costa Rica is relaxing and, if you know what to look for, interesting too. Avoid the cheesy souvenirs made in other countries and go for the local flavor. You’ll save money and have more to show for your efforts in the bargain!