Want to know our pick for the BEST SOUVENIR PURCHASE in Costa Rica?
It is featured on DIY Costa Rica!
I realized recently that Ricky and I have been in complete denial of something. We have become the type of people who are completely oblivious to their own obsession(s). You know the kind of people I’m talking about–people who love something, love doing something, or love not doing something, for that matter–so much so that their obsession is blatantly obvious to everyone… except the obsessed. Like multi-cat-owning women who roll their eyes at the crazy cat lady down the street despite their hypocritical take on cat love (“Did you see the sweater she knit for her cat? I mean, I buy mine at the boutique. Who knits their own cat clothing?”) or middle-aged gym-hating men who pass judgment on the fit guy to avoid judgement being passed on them (“That dude there–he obviously works out to pick-up girls. Honestly, who exercises for physical health and mental well-being these days?”), I began to question whether we too had been kidding ourselves. The reason for my doubt? Our unconscious compulsion for collecting Costa Rica souvenirs.
This is the part where I would normally try to justify why we’re not the crazy sweater-knitting cat lady or the macho-womanizer gym-nut, but the truth is, we’re both (figuratively speaking, of course). So instead, in the spirit of full disclosure, I thought I would admit our obsession for what it is and accept what it has developed into: a rather full and diverse Costa Rica souvenir collection. We must also accept our active role in actually collecting its parts. And, if I’m being truly honest, by “collecting” I mean “overindulging in the purchase and hoarding of Costa Rican paraphernalia”. Don’t get me wrong, we love each piece, but together they have consumed our home and our office. We didn’t even intend to acquire them in the first place, which is likely how this obsession sneaked up on us. It just sort of… happened. I suppose throughout our years of traveling around the country, exploring unfamiliar areas, meeting interesting people, and trying new things we developed a habit of picking up a little something along the way, and given the multitude of experiences we have already had so far, it’s no wonder we are left with, quite frankly, not a whole lot of room for much else. 🙂
Blame it on our desire to bring a piece of each past travel experience with us on every future journey (that, and we just can’t say no to supporting local souvenir shop owners, artists, woodworkers, and other crafty artisans), but now that we are no longer blind to all that we are surrounded by (quite literally!), we admit, we’re surprisingly proud of the set. Not only does a quick peek at each piece recall a person, place, or time in our memory, but the mementos represent the beauty of a land that our memories remind us we’ve been so very fortunate to have explored.
For those of you looking for Costa Rica souvenir ideas, hopefully the following photos will act as inspiration for your purchase(s). Of course, in true obsessive form, our photos showcase only a sample of our entire collection, as in true hoarder style, the rest are lost in a wall of boxes and bins. For the time being, the 60+ souvenirs pictured below provide an idea of the types of items available to travellers for purchase in-country, regardless of whether they are looking for a piece that highlights national pride, displays original artwork, represents food and/or drink, can be used for personal and/or practical use, and/or is a special something to bring a little pura vida to their home decor. Oh, and if you’re questioning whether our obsession is real (ie. whether we truly own as much stuff as we claim to do), for the purpose of this post we piled the souvenirs we currently have access to onto a table in our dining room for photo consistency. You wouldn’t believe the number of doubters that exist in our home away from home: cyberspace (T. Swift was right–the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate), so to avoid questioning from our competitors and in order to detail a truly authentic experience for our readers (anyone can walk into a souvenir store, snap a few shelf shots, write a blog post about the contents, and call it a day), we believe our in-house souvenir shots displayed below prove our point, our devotion, our experience, our wacky and wondrous will to collect (year after year, piece by piece), and our wonderfully-warranted obsession.
Note: scroll over any photo below to view the souvenir type
Artwork (Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Artwork included):
Food & Drink:
Personal & Practical Use:
COSTA RICA SOUVENIR BUYING TIPS
So, you’ve decided to buy souvenirs during your trip. Great! Here’s what we recommend doing, what we recommend not doing, where we recommend going, and how we recommend behaving throughout the process (you know, because we’re all about respectful travel!). 🙂
Buy the souvenir(s) you like when you see them.
Not all souvenir stores or popular tourist destinations offering souvenir stores are created equal, so there’s no guarantee you’ll find that unique trinket you spotted four days ago halfway across the country at the next few shops you plan to browse through before heading home.
Don’t leave your souvenir shopping until the last day of your trip.
Sure, you’ve been busy exploring the country along the way, but picking up souvenirs throughout your trip is a good way to ensure you collect mementos that remind you of a certain something, such as a tour, a restaurant, a location, a hotel, a special experience, etc. Besides, souvenir procrastination can only lead to one thing: stocking up on whatever is available to you last minute at the end of your trip, including stuff you may not even like, simply to be able to return home with something “special”.
Purchase souvenirs you actually like and plan to display, use, etc.
There’s no greater point we’ve made throughout this blog post than that we have way, way too much Costa Rica paraphernalia. Most of it we use or have out on display around our home and office, but some of it is buried in our storage room and rarely sees the light of day. Why? Because we have no purpose for it and/or we aren’t too thrilled about looking at it day in and day out. Avoid becoming a participant in the act of careless purchasing by buying souvenirs with a plan in min. If a particular item won’t serve you a purpose or put a smile on your face when you catch a glimpse of it on your wall, shelf, desk, etc. one week, month, or year from now, why waste your hard-earned funds on it?
Pay for souvenirs in the currency they are priced in.
Shops in popular tourist areas most often price souvenirs in USD, but smaller shops, stands found along the side of the road, and beach-side booths typically handle Costa Rican Colones (not only do they tend to price souvenirs in Colones, they may only accept payment via Colones too). Paying store tenders with the type of currency they expect avoids the need for money to be converted from one currency to another (ie. from USD to Colon, or vice versa) minimizing the risk of calculation errors and/or the use of poor currency conversion rates.
Avoid purchasing items at the airport and/or at hotel souvenir stores as much as possible.
I’ll admit, I’ve participated in my fair share of these in-a-pinch souvenir purchases, and not once was I pleased with myself for the last minute buy. Each and every time, I knew I could find more authentic pieces at more affordable prices at smaller, independent, hole-in-the-wall-type places, and most importantly, by doing so I could have lent my finances to a shop owner possibly living sale-to-sale instead of fueling the fire of commercial dominance. Arg!
Shop around for the best price, but don’t barter.
Has it ever been done? Yes. It’s tacky, but yes. Will some shop owners lower their prices? Yes. Do we recommend relying on them doing so or going so far as asking for them to do so? No. Here’s why. Costa Ricans need to make a living just like everyone else, and simply because they are citizens of a second-world country doesn’t give travellers from first-world countries a ticket to disrespect or devalue their livelihood. Sure, many stores will overprice their products, some to purposely take advantage of tourists and others because they honestly don’t know any better. In either case, if the price of a souvenir is higher than what you feel it is worth, don’t buy it at that store (or anywhere, if a lower price cannot be found elsewhere). If the price of an item is what you would value the item at, then pay the listed price. That two, three, or four dollars you want to save yourself (after the “there’s no harm in trying to barter” thought of justification pops into your head), could be the store owner’s dinner, or his bus ticket, or part of her child’s school uniform. It may be pocket change to you, but it could be life changing to someone else. Case in point, don’t overpay for an item you don’t feel is worth it, but don’t underpay simply because you undervalue where or who it comes from.
QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Have you been to Costa Rica? Other than great memories, what did take home as a trip souvenir?
If you’re more of a visual learner, take a moment to view our gallery photos below showcasing all of our souvenir samples.