Shopping

There is certainly no shortage of souvenirs to buy in Costa Rica. Items range from small collectibles, fridge magnets, knick-knacks and T-shirts of the anthropomorphized gaudy-leaf frogs and “My Uncle went to Costa Rica and...” genre, to genuinely well-made wooden furniture and decorative pieces. Haggling is not entered into as a rule but you may find the occasional opportunity to flex your negotiating might.

If you want to buy a few gifts, it's worth having a look at some shops in San José early on in your trip - then, as you travel round, you'll know what is available at the last minute and can make an informed choice.

Don't buy any archaeological artefacts or items made from endangered species including turtles, animal skins and coral.

What to buy

With row upon row of carefully decorated gifts sitting in neat rows it's easy to think Costa Rica is only full of mass-produced items. Look a little closer and you'll see the quirky touch and character of the hand-painted items.

The main place to buy gifts - for some the only place - is
Sarchí
in the Central Highlands. The town has become the artisan centre of the country, churning out creations of colourful, hand-decorated
carretas
(ox-carts). Given that oxen are rarely used by visitors to Costa Rica, time has seen the carts evolve and shrink to become garden ornaments, drinks cabinets and jewellery boxes. Don't worry about getting them home - they can be flat-packed and shipped if required, as can the
sturdy wood and leather rocking chairs sitting on porches
and balconies throughout the country. You can relax even further laying back in a hammock.

But if you can't get to the densely packed one-stop shop that is Sarchí, don't worry. You can buy gifts throughout the country.
Wooden carvings
are popular with decorative and functional pieces including bowls, trays and carvings, as well as recycled wood from coffee plants used to create figures and animals. Lightweight balsa is often carved into tropical wildlife creations.

Jewellery
sets semi-precious jade in gold and silver, and jade, copper and bronze are used
to create
pre-Columbian replicas
. Indigenous pieces are available in a few select places, including the deep red
ceramics
of the Chorotegas in Guaitil, the
masks
and
woven goods
of the Boruca, or the
carved gourds
or
jícara
of the Guaymi and Bribrí in the far south.

Textiles
provide plenty of options beyond the simple T-shirt, with mats, table cloths and napkins evoking memories of Costa Rica when you're having a meal back home several months later. Although they're from Panama, vividly colourful
molas
(brightly coloured appliqués) are available in some parts of the south of the country.

Contemporary, traditional and religious
art
hangs off the walls of galleries dotted around
San José
and
Escazú
. A personal favourite is the vibrancy of Patricia Erickson - but look around, you'll find something you like. Ceramic creations are no more distinctive than in the colourful and slightly humourous pieces of Cecilia Figueres.

Music
makes a good gift and brings back memories faster than a hypnotist in a clock factory. For folklore you won't get a broader swatch than
Costa Rica Pura Vida
, sold in market squares and record shops. Less manic on the
marimba
is the ambient jazz feel of
Editus
who, with Panamanian Rubén Blades, won a Grammy for their album
Tiempos
.

Finally fill any spare space in your bag with freshly roasted
coffee
,
liquors
or
paper
and
envelopes
recycled from banana leaves.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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