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Shopping in Costa Rica for little gifts that mean a lot

Since I came to Costa Rica a year and a half ago, I have always looked for little gifts to bring to family and friends when I go home.

Like most people, I began with coffee. I’d bring back whichever was cheapest on the rack. Forget the nice packaging of some of the high-end brands. Once people found out I hand-carried coffee from Costa Rica, it automatically became good. (They are still asking for it!)

After I about exhausted the potential for coffee, I moved onto those little coffee-bean candles (₡950/$1.90) from Pequeño Mundo bargain housewares stores – simple and inexpensive, but on theme and attractive. Then, there were the Café Britt chocolates (beginning at about $7), which are sinfully addictive. The good thing about these is that they come in different sizes, so you can splurge for the important people but have small samplers for those who don’t quite make the list.

And don’t forget the delicious Sibú Chocolate a local organic brand of sinful bonbons in exotic flavors such as spicy truffle with cardamom, nutmeg, organic cinnamon and a hint of chili pepper and caramel infused with fresh ginger and coconut in rich dark chocolate (about $1.50 each). The attractive packaging, in single-, nine- or 16-piece boxes, makes these sweets a treat for the eye as well as the tongue.

For a while, I brought back jellies made by Deli Sweet in Santa Ana, southwest of the capital (₡2,280/$4.50). I stumbled upon them when they were handing out free samples at an Auto Mercado supermarket. A moment after I tasted the all-natural pineapple and the sweet strawberry jelly, I went right away to clear the shelf. I kept the store low on stock for a few weeks straight.

Staying on the local theme, bookstores here always seem to carry a range of coffee-table books with photos featuring Costa Rica’s breathtaking national parks and wildlife. Award-winning BBC nature photographer Roy Toft and author Trond Larson recently came out with “Osa: Where the Rainforest Meets the Sea” ($50), which is full of images from Costa Rica’s natural jewel, the Osa Peninsula. I’m also tempted to buy “Gallo Pinto” by Andrea Corrales, who’s compiled recipes for favorite Costa Rican dishes including olla de carne and heart-of-palm salad (₡6,600/$13).

If books aren’t the thing, there’s a wide selection of Costa Rican music, including Culture Minister Manuel Obregón’s new release, “Piano Malango,” the “Salón Tropical” salsa compilation, “Calypso Limón” for a Caribbean flavor, and popular Malpaís tunes for easy listening. All can be purchased at San José’s 7th Street Books for ₡7,500 ($15), and at music and souvenir stores around the country.

This may be self-promotion, but I have also taken to giving out The Tico Times’ “Exploring Costa Rica” guidebook, hoping the photos of paradise-promising hotels and destinations will tempt friends and family to come visit. Subscriptions to the print and newly revamped online editions also can be given as gifts, and come in a variety of plans and prices.

What’s next on my list? Well, Aromas para el Alma (, a 100 percent Costa Rican company run by women and for women, has several products I’ve been meaning to try. With prices ranging from ₡4,500 to ₡6,800 ($9 to $14), I figured I could load up on organic sprays and lotions meant to energize, relax, detoxify or simply enjoy. And La Pequeña Granja ( offers a number of soap products, with scents based on Costa Rica’s top agricultural products, such as banana, coffee and pineapple (₡2,000/$4 a bar).

I ran into a representative from Ie’pa Costa Rican Indigenous Art (www.artesa at a recent event. The organization offers rural tribes a potential income stream by enabling them to make high-end crafts for sale. Items produced include textiles, jewelry, arrows, instruments and masks.

Also, environmentally friendly banana and coffee paper, made of the waste from the harvest, makes a great gift. You can buy it in note-card form (about ₡2,900/$5.80) or as sheet paper in many downtown souvenir shops.

I’m still looking for ideas for this holiday season.

Ship Your Gifts in Time for Christmas

A variety of Costa Rican courier companies are on hand to help you ship gifts back to loved ones in North America and Europe in time for Christmas.

Prices vary depending on the company and the speed with which you want your package delivered. Below is a list of several shipping companies and their rates for a standard box weighing up to 3 kilograms. (Prices are generally better if you are shipping to Miami.)

Aeropost/Aerocasillas: $38 to the U.S.; does not ship to Canada or Europe. Delivery time is eight days. See or call 2208-4848.

Correos de Costa Rica (Costa Rican Post Office): $52 to the U.S. and $77 to Canada and Europe. Delivery time is five days to the U.S., six days to Canada and Europe. See or call 2202-2900.

DHL: $146 to the U.S. or Canada and $300 to the U.K. Delivery time to Canada and the U.S. is two days. It takes four days to ship to the U.K. See or call 2209-6060.

Jetbox: $70 to the U.S. and Canada, $99 to Europe. Delivery time is three days to North America and five days to Europe. See or call 2253-5400.

Starbox: $32 to the U.S., $79 to Canada and $144 to Europe. Delivery time to all destinations is two days. See or call 2289-9393.

UPS: $146 to the U.S. and Canada, $172 to Europe. Delivery time to all destinations is two days. See or call 2290-2828.

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