Holiday shoppers looking for authentic Costa Rican gifts need not be limited to cliché souvenir stores. Think outside the gift box, and look to a variety of unique Costa Rican stores and products that make shopping for gifts easy and fun.
At Casa 927 in San José’s historic Barrio Amón district, more than 30 local artisans sell their beautiful, 100 percent Costa Rican-made products direct, without intermediaries. From jewelry to leather boots to decorative items, you’ll find something for even your pickiest aunt at this unique boutique.
One of the store’s newest collections is Rainforest Oasis Costa Rica, a line of 100 percent Costa Rican perfumes and body lotions ($15-$30). The deliciously scented products are made from extracts of Costa Rica’s national flower, the guaria morada orchid.
Another group of artisans, Galvez Bijoux, creates jewelry and belts made of Costa Rican leather and original photographs of the country covered with resin ($11-$48). The result is a collection of unique, colorful and modern pieces of wearable art that showcase Costa Rican images like butterfly wings, beautiful San José buildings and traditional oxcart designs.
Other interesting gift items at Casa 927 are lamps made by Rolo Design ($70-$90). The colorful lamps are made out of calabash gourds with tiny holes cut into them, filled with beads and crystals to create colored light. Every lamp is one of a kind, making them truly original gifts for your loved ones.
Casa 927 is at Calle 3, Avenida 11, in Barrio Amón. The store also has an excellent café to provide nourishment for hungry shoppers. For information, call 2221-2302, email firstname.lastname@example.org or find Casa 927 on Facebook.
Chocolate is always a crowd pleaser, and Costa Rica’s Sibú Chocolate certainly aims to please, with its sinfully good, certified organic chocolate bonbons in exotic flavors such as cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon and chili pepper; caramel infused with fresh ginger and coconut; Tarrazú cappuccino; and mountain blackberry ganache. Bonbons come in boxes of one, nine and 16 (about $2, $14 or $24, respectively), and the beautiful packaging will save you money on gift wrap.
During the Christmas holidays, Sibú is offering a special on chocolate tamales. These delicious organic chocolate treats come in packs of two, wrapped in a banana leaf just like traditional Costa Rican holiday tamales. The packaging makes them a perfectly Costa Rican gift. For more information and to find out where to buy Sibú Chocolate, visit www.sibuchocolate.com.
For gift items with real Costa Rican flair, try Arteria, where everyday items such as T-shirts, coffee mugs, aprons, mouse pads, bottle openers and umbrellas ($2-$16) flaunt designs based on perhaps the country’s most beloved and richest heritage: Costa Rican slang. Expressions like “Mae,” “Pura Vida,” “Charita” and “Tuanis,” along with convenient definitions in English, add a fun educational aspect to gift items for friends and family abroad.
Arteria’s latest collection portrays designs from another Costa Rican tradition, mascaradas, or traditional masks. The colorful items are all created in Costa Rica by national designers. Arteria has two locations, one in downtown San José on the south side of the Supreme Elections Tribunal (2257-1446), and another in Heredia, 50 meters east of the justice court (2267-0433).
Another great option for holiday gift shopping in Costa Rica is San José’s 7th Street Books, specializing in English-language books on Costa Rica-related subjects. The store offers a wide variety of coffee-table books full of beautiful photos of Costa Rican national parks, wildlife and craftsmanship. Books range in price from $9 to $50.
A number of Costa Rican cookbooks are also available here. “The Best Recipes Costa Rica” ($50) is full of great traditional cooking ideas, and the photos are sure to stir up anyone’s appetite. The bookstore also offers all sorts of interesting books on Costa Rica’s natural wealth – hummingbirds, reptiles, bird-watching, trees, medicinal plants and more – as well as La Pequeña Granja products such as soaps made from goat’s milk and scented with Costa Rican banana, coffee or pineapple ($4 a bar). The store is on Calle 7, between Avenidas Central and 1, 50 meters north of Hotel Balmoral. For information, call 2256-8251.
Also for the cooks on your shopping list, “There’s a Frog in My Soup? and other cooking mysteries” offers recipes, cooking tips and hints collected by the Pérez Zeledón International Women’s Club of Costa Rica in the country’s Southern Zone. The idea started, says member Sheelagh Richards, as a fundraiser and a way to help newcomers mystified by unfamiliar fruits and vegetables at the weekly farmers market in San Isidro de El General. “When we ask, ‘How do you cook this?’ the answer is frequently ‘En sopa, muy rica’ (‘In soup, delicious’),” she says.
To learn more about how to use the local produce, club members set out to collect recipes from Tico friends and each other. Most helpful for newcomers, and even old hands, is the illustrated section on how to buy and how to cook native fruits and vegetables, along with a bilingual glossary of cooking terms. The spiral-bound book costs ₡5,000 ($10), and all proceeds are donated to Hogar Bretania, a residence for senior citizens in San Isidro. You can find copies in some San Isidro restaurants, including Bazooka’s and Laura’s Place, as well as the Vivero Bonita. Or write Sheelagh Richards at email@example.com or Cathy Mata at firstname.lastname@example.org to buy a copy, or to find out more about the club, which meets every second Tuesday of the month.
Keep your valuables under your shirt! That’s the slogan for a one-of-a-kind, made-in-Costa-Rica item that’s a great gift for security-conscious friends: a quilted hanger that has zippered secret pockets and pouches for passport, money or jewelry. Part textile art and part practical travel accessory, these sturdy plastic hangers come upholstered in a colorful patchwork of cotton tropical prints. They are the handiwork of Colette Dionne, a Canadian sculptor and textile artist who divides her time between her Haliburton, Ontario, studio and her Toucan Studio South in Hatillo, just north of Dominical on the southern Pacific coast. You can buy them for $19.95 at Citrus Restaurant in Ojochal, or directly from the artist in Hatillo. Call her at 8830-0613 for directions, or visit her website, www.toucanstudio.ca, to find out about other retail outlets.
Ship your gifts in time for Christmas
A number of companies will help you ship gifts to your loved ones in North America and beyond. Prices vary depending on the company, delivery speed, destination and size and weight of the package. Below is a list of several shipping companies and sample rates for a standard box weighing up to 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds). Prices are generally better if you’re shipping to Miami, Florida.
Aeropost/Aerocasillas: $42 to the U.S.; does not ship to Canada or Europe. Delivery time is eight days. See www.aeropost.com or call 2208-4848.
Correos de Costa Rica: (Costa Rican Post Office) $58 to the U.S.; $86 to Canada and Europe. Delivery time is five days to the U.S., six days to Canada and Europe. See www.correos.go.cr or call 2202-2900.
DHL: $173 to the U.S. and Canada; costs to Europe vary by country. Delivery time to North America is two days. See www.dhl.co.cr or call 2209-6060.
JetBox: $106 to the U.S. and Canada; $150 to Europe. Delivery time is two days to the U.S. and Canada and three days to Europe. See www.jetbox.com or call 2253-5400.
Starbox: $27 to the U.S., two-day delivery time. Prices to Canada and Europe vary by destination. See www.starboxcostarica.com or call 2289-9393.
UPS: $147-$166 to the U.S. and Canada; $183-$206 to Europe. Delivery time is one to three days to the U.S. and Canada and three to seven days to Europe. See www.ups.com or call 2290-2828.
Tico Times freelancer Dorothy MacKinnon contributed to this story.