— Updated April 2016 —
When I first traveled to Costa Rica for vacation, shopping was the last thing on my mind. I was enthralled by gorgeous beaches, erupting volcanoes, cute baby sloths, and class 5 rapids. Well, after traveling here for eight years and living here for six, I have had enough time to shop around and find the best things to buy in Costa Rica, my favorite Costa Rican souvenirs.
The following list is my top five favorite made-in-Costa Rica souvenirs:
1. Coffee coffee coffee
At first, I made the mistake of thinking that any coffee at the grocery store was good coffee, but little did I know that most of the good stuff is exported out of Costa Rica. The majority of the brands on the shelves in Costa Rica are not export quality and many contain additives such as sugar. However, there are two brands that can be picked up in the grocery store that are delicious: Café Britt and Volio. Volio is the least expensive, but can only be bought in Automercado, Megasuper, and sometimes AMPM. Café Britt can be found in all the grocery stores, offers a variety of roasts, and can be ordered online. My absolute #1 favorite brand is Doka Estate, specifically the peaberry (delicious!). They have been growing and perfecting their coffee for three generations (tres generaciones), since 1940. This gem of a coffee can be bought in souvenir shops, directly from Doka Estate, or online.
2. Books about Costa Rica that I’ve come to treasure
Just recently published in November 2015, National Parks of Costa Rica is one of my favorite books! It features stunning photographs and provides an unparalleled glimpse into the treasures of Costa Rica’s parks. With spectacular images and informative text, National Parks of Costa Rica imparts an appreciation for the richness of nature and the importance of environmental conservation.
Of course, I also have to include The Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guide. It’s a compact, portable, and user-friendly field guide the novice or experienced birder needs to identify birds in the field in the diverse habitats found in Costa Rica. It was updated in December of 2014 and has the most gorgeous detailed illustrations of Costa Rican birds. I love flipping through it and remembering all the birds I saw and the stories of what I was doing when I saw those birds.
I have another favorite: Costa Rica From Above produced in 2015. It shows Costa Rica as never before seen – 300 aerial photographs taken in small airplanes, helicopter, ultra lights, gyrocopters, NO DRONES. It is a work of extraordinary images that show a diverse country, full of contrasts. I love flipping through it and seeing the places I have visited from a different point of view, so beautiful!
3. Bio-Land beauty products
Inconspicuously hanging out on the lower shelves in the grocery stores, Bio-Land produces an array of organic body products such as soaps, lotions, masks, creams, balms and gels. The company is committed to respecting the health of human beings and their environment, so I can feel good about purchasing their product as well as using them! So far my favorite Bio-Land products are the Organic Fruits Anti-Free Radicals Hydrating Cream, the Volcanic Clay Purifying Mask, and the Organic Aloe Vera Soap (I travel everywhere with it!). Bio-Land personal products cost between $3 – $13 and some can be purchased online at the links above.
4. Chocolate mmmmmmm
Buy some freshly made chocolate on a chocolate tour, which will take you through the steps of making chocolate – from cultivating the cacao to tasting the final product. Bonus is that you get to purchase chocolate directly from the farmer and producer and maybe even you helped make it. An experience not to be missed for fellow chocolate lovers! If you don’t have time for a tour and want to purchase a package of ready-made chocolates, pick up a box of neatly decorated Sibú from the grocery store. The chocolates are made from 100% organic cacao, the packaging is made from recycled materials, all the ingredients are produced locally, and they work with the Rainforest Alliance. Sibú says “Save the planet…it’s the only one that has chocolate.” You can also find Costa Rican chocolate online.
5. Carved wooden masks
Costa Rican masks come in a variety of styles: Bright colorful masks depicting red-eyed tree frogs or leopards, devils sticking their tongues out, or naturally-colored wooden masks with turtles or landscapes. I love all of them and they make beautiful pieces of art for any home. You can find these masks in just about every souvenir shop around the country. Price and quality will vary depending on location ($25 – $400). My favorite place to pick these up was in Puerto Viejo until I found out I could get them in Boruca, from the indigenous people who make them. If a trip to Boruca isn’t on your itinerary, they can be found in many souvenir shops.
Those are my top five. What about you? Have you picked up or received any Costa Rican souvenirs that didn’t make it onto my list?