If you are one of the nearly 3 million international tourists that visit Costa Rica each year, chances are you’ll want to make your way back home with a uniquely ‘Tico’ gift for a loved one. While vacationing in this peaceful tropical paradise, you might notice a few items that you’ll actually have to get a local to explain to you to figure out exactly what they are (like a choriador). Before packing up and heading out, consider picking up the following must-buy Costa Rica gifts for your amigos back home. Some of these aren’t available outside the country, so it’s best to stock up those marked with an *asterisk.
Salsa Lizano is a commonplace condiment found on nearly every restaurant and dining room table in Costa Rica. Ticos put Lizano on many dishes, but the breakfast staple gallo pinto just isn’t the same without it. If you develop a taste (*ahem, addiction) for Lizano while on vacation, be sure to grab some prior to leaving. For some silly reason, Lizano is virtually impossible to find outside of Costa Rica. Several Facebook pages keep die-hard fans updated on where it can be found stateside, and a handful of U.S. cities have savvy folks that import it where larger concentrations of Ticos live.
These colorful masks aren’t as easy to come by as the Guatemalan imports that are seen at street vendors and in marketplaces throughout the country, and identifying an authentic purchase can be challenging as knock-offs are increasing. To ensure you aren’t getting a fake, plan a visit to the Boruca Reservation near Palmar Norte in the Southern Zone. The Boruca also make beautiful hand-woven tapestries and bags dyed with natural elements like mollusk ink and tree fruits that you surely won’t find anywhere else in the world. For more information on the Boruca tribe, their artwork and where to find it, check out the Boruca.org website.
Who doesn’t love chocolate? This is a great item to grab for anyone that’s on your gift list, no matter how old or young they are.
Finding good quality or locally handcrafted chocolate in Costa Rica was a challenge not too long ago. But in recent years, boutique chocolatiers have sprung up country-wide, and finding delicious chocolate made from in-country cacao is no longer such a quest.
A few great chocolate bars to try:
For serious connoisseurs, or those just curious about the process of making chocolate, there are several great places to tour, taste and purchase gourmet chocolate.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Costa Rica is synonymous with coffee. In the 19th Century, coffee was king in this small Central American country, boasting a perfect climate and soils to match. Aside from bananas, coffee had the most influence in terms of guiding many facets of the developing nation – from its politics to its land use policies and establishing population centers. While bananas, pineapple and African palm edged out a lot of the coffee-laden landscape in later decades, a good portion of the country’s arable land is still dedicated to growing some of THE BEST coffee beans in the world. While there are far too many to list that you should try, be sure that whatever brand you take home is shade-grown and organic, and preferably fair trade.
‘What the heck is a choriador?’ you might ask. Travelers to Costa Rica might see these contraptions throughout the country, though they are more popular in rural areas like the Southern Zone. A choriador is a simple coffeemaker – no electricity required. Most choriadors are wooden stands with a cotton sack that holds the coffee grounds. To make a fresh cup of coffee, one simply boils water and pours it slowly over the grounds in to a cup. The result is a simple and smooth filtered coffee, and might be the best cup of Joe you’ll ever have. Be sure to grab the filters in a supermercado if and when you see them – the ones available at the airport are pricey. The choriador coffee maker itself can be purchased at most souvenir shops, or even local grocery stores.
For those that enjoy their cocktails, grab a bottle of guaro as a gift. Guaro is a clear, strong spirit that is brewed from sugar cane. Similar in taste to Brazilian Cachaca, beware that it can easily bring on a hangover given its potent percentage of alcohol. It might not be the best tasting liquor ever created, but it does the trick and is great for making infusions. And, it can be used as a substitute for any drink that calls for clear spirits with a high ratio of success. Stick to recipes like capirihnas and mojitos for best results.
Erica is the creative mind behind the Finca Bellavista Treehouse Community in Costa Rica, and one of the neighborhood’s co-founders. Since the community’s inception in 2006, Erica has lived a life less ordinary, immersed in nature, in this off-grid rainforest paradise. Through the process of cultivating unique and meaningful rainforest experiences for finca guests, Erica has become acquainted with special places in Costa Rica and people from all over the world. Her love for the Southern Zone region of the country has grown along with her knowledge of local spots, cultural experiences, and through developing an intimacy with the landscape and its flora and fauna.