Everybody’s seen them. The shirts that say “My friend went on vacation and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.” They may have been funny once, but not so much anymore. If you get your friends and family a souvenir from your vacation, they expect a little bit more these days. Just like any other country, Costa Rica has airport souvenir shops. They sell everything from key chains and shot glasses to wind chimes and CDs of traditional music. You would definitely be able to find something to bring back for everyone at home. But do you really want to get meaningless gifts bought in an airport? With a little bit of planning, you can find beautiful and meaningful Costa Rican souvenirs long before you head back to the airport.
Costa Rican Crafts
As you walk to the beach, you’ll probably notice some stalls set up along the street covered with handicrafts. Sure, some sell trinkets obviously bought from some warehouse somewhere. But some of these stalls are filled with items that the seller or the seller’s family made. These are the best places to get souvenirs. Although not particularly known for it, Costa Ricans produce beautiful woodwork. It is common to see little jewelry boxes and carvings of exotic animals painted with bright colors. Both large and small, these carvings make excellent keepsakes for yourself and your friends back home. If you want to make sure that the handicrafts were made by hand and not in a Chinese factory, first ask the seller where they came from. Then look for little imperfections in the product and make sure that no two carvings look exactly the same.
Some other fun Costa Rican crafts include hammocks and jewelry. There are stalls that specialize in hammocks, and if you can’t find them in the town where you spent your vacation, then look around in the San Jose market. Sellers offer quite a wide variety of styles, sizes, and colors. Some even have “Costa Rica” embroidered into them. And while the jewelry won’t be finest you’ll ever see, the pieces are fun, pretty, and inexpensive. Don’t be afraid to do a bit of bargaining for a price that you feel is fair.
Edible Costa Rican Souvenirs
Costa Rica is probably best-known for three things: beaches, rainforests, and coffee. Costa Rican coffee is phenomenal and you’ll probably drink a lot of it during your vacation. A bag of coffee makes an excellent souvenir for yourself and your friends. The airport sells bags of Café Britt, which is a fine coffee that is produced for export, but you probably won’t drink this brand while you’re actually in the country. To bring home a truly authentic taste of Costa Rica, go to the mercado in the town you’re visiting and pick out a local brand. Ask your hotel concierge about their favorite kind if you need some help. These bags of coffee will be cheaper than those found in the airport, so you can get as many bags as you can carry.
Unfortunately customs won’t allow you to bring back any of the amazing fruit found in Costa Rica, but dried fruit is OK. As are Costa Rican candies and chocolate bars. And for those who are of drinking age, a little bottle of Cacique, Costa Rica’s own firewater, makes a fun gift as well. Just be sure to warn the recipient that two shots are enough for an entire night out on the town.
There are quite a few ways to bring a little piece of Costa Rica home with you without doing any airport shopping. Support the local artisans in the town you’re visiting for meaningful Costa Rican souvenirs that you and your friends will enjoy for many years to come.