The best place to buy souvenirs and gifts is in the town of SARCHI in the Central Highlands. The town is well known for its generations of artisans who produce a vast array of ornaments and decorative arts as well as practical items like bowls and trays of all shapes and sizes. No visitors can resist the country’s signature emblems, the hand-decorated oxcarts, which artisans creatively adapt to become ornaments, cabinets, boxes, etc., and the sturdy wood and leather rocking chairs, a favorite adornment and in Costa Rican homes throughout the country. Fortunately, both can be disassembled for shipment.
Wooden carvings of figures and animals using recycled wood from coffee plants are popular, so is wildlife carved out of lightweight balsa wood. Jewellery with semi-precious jade set in gold and silver, and pre-Columbian replicas made with jade, copper and bronze, make wonderful gifts for the ladies at home. Indigenous arts, such as the deep red ceramics of the Chorotegas, and the masks and woven objects of the Borucas, are sold in select places.
Mats, table cloths and napkins are practical souvenirs that are easy to pack and take home, so is wall art made of textiles. Notepads, diaries and envelopes made of recycled banana leaves are pretty and useful and will bring back happy memories of Costa Rica. With any spare space left in your bag, take home some famous freshly roasted Costa Rican coffee that comes in neat little gift packages.
If you cannot make it to Sarchi, rest assured that you will come across a good selection of these items scattered across the country in shopping centers, gift shops, boutique galleries or big department stores. Perhaps prices are slightly higher but special sales and promotion discounts are offered throughout the year. If you enjoy shopping, it is recommended that you put away a couple of days in San Jose to visit the most popular shopping malls, such as the Multiplaza in Escazú that has many upscale shops, including a few that specialize in arts and décors. The Terramall on the highway to Cartago has gigantic department stores that feature huge selections of ornaments and home furnishing. El Pueblo in Barrio Tournón, a Spanish colonial-style architecture, houses souvenir and artisan shops. Mall San Pedro, just east of downtown, is Central America’s largest shopping mall, with 3 levels of boutique shops, food court, cinema and gym. Only 200m east of the U.S. Embassy in Pavas, Plaza Rohrmoser is a small shopping center with restaurants and bars. Plaza Real Cariari, located near the International Airport, is huge and is considered an upscale shopping mall. The newest shopping center in the country is Paseo de las Flores on the highway to Heredia. If your interest in shopping is coupled with a keen appetite, you will enjoy visiting Plaza Itzkazú, where you can sample a variety of international cuisines like Peruvian, Italian and Japanese; an American steakhouse and a Spanish tapas are also featured at this location.