San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Attention, Christmas Shoppers: Some Ideas To Get You Started

If the idea is to make Santa seem exotic and worldly this year, Costa Rican stores are offering scores of options to add some creativity to your holiday shopping.

From traditional Latin American crafts to Asian goods, Costa Rican indigenous artwork, Christmas cookies, bubbling spas with multicolored lights and anything available on the Internet, alternatives abound for all tastes and budgets.

To start the season’s shopping with the sweetest gifts, Azúcar bakery (288-6697) behind the Pops in the western San José suburb of San Rafael de Escazú, has a selection of Christmas cakes, pies and cookies that could make fine gifts for co-workers or acquaintances.

Azúcar owner Barbara Jupiter said the bakery’s pie selection includes pumpkin, cherry, apple, blueberry, lemon and pecan. It can also decorate Christmas cookies and cakes to each client’s liking.

And if you expect shopping to keep you miles away from the kitchen this year,Azúcar offers hors d’oeuvres and a catering service for Christmas lunch or dinner, with a choice of roast pork or turkey accompanied by rice, beans, plantains and salad.

“These days we are all running around, so people can leave the cooking to us,” Jupiter said.

In the realm of handicrafts, Costa Rica is brimming with possibilities for traditional holiday gifts, with stores and galleries inside and outside the Central Valley.

In San Gerardo de Dota, a mountain village in southern Costa Rica, Galería Dantica (740-1067, at Dantica Lodge (TT, July 28) offers an exquisite selection of Latin American crafts.

Owner and textile designer María Luisa Castro explained that most of the gallery’s crafts are Colombian, but it also carries Peruvian, Panamanian and Costa Rican art. Her idea is to one day offer crafts from all of Latin America.

According to Castro, the gallery focuses on traditional and contemporary decorative crafts, and offers indigenous tapestries, cushions, chairs, hammocks, jewelry and natural handmade soap.

“The goods we have here you cannot get anywhere else in Costa Rica,” she said.“Everything is handmade from natural fibers.”

Shipping of items can be arranged anywhere inside the country, and Castro said she expects to set up a Web site to make online shopping possible in the future.

Within the Central Valley, multiple options exist to purchase national and imported crafts.

Galería Namu (256-3412,, in downtown San José, prides itself in being the country’s number-one source of indigenous and folkloric art.

According to owner Aisling French, the gallery is filled with “happy and attractive” colors that work well for Christmas, and offers reproductions of indigenous art found in national museums. For example, Namu has reproductions of textiles by the Brunca indigenous group from the country’s Southern Zone, masks, art by women from La Fortuna, in north-central Costa Rica, and jade. It also carries masks, blankets, drums, ceramics, wood and leather jewelry boxes, tiles, baskets, figurines, sculptures and engravings.

French said each item in her gallery comes with educational information about the artist and tribe that produced it, and stressed that that every purchase benefits a national artist. The gallery offers international shipping.

The Gold Museum Store (243-4217) in downtown San José offers an excellent selection of pre-Columbian-themed jewelry, art, T-shirts and more, as well as a range of numismatic-themed souvenirs, such as coin-imprinted mousepads and keychains, notebooks that look like large bills and a selection of real bills that were printed but never put in circulation.

At Congo souvenir stores ( in the Multiplaza malls in Escazú (201-8017) and the southeastern district of Zapote (280-0750), every item works as a suitable Christmas present, according to owner William Suárez.

Congo carries art by close to 60 Costa Rican artists, including paintings, wood items and ceramics. Suárez said only 4% of the stores’ goods are imported. For the holidays, Congo offers a selection of nativity scenes and candles. Shipping is available.

Nico-yatle jewelry and souvenir store (288-7540) in Escazú also offers a broad selection of wood items, souvenirs and jewelry made with semiprecious stones.

According to owner and jewelry designer Sara Ulloa, Nico-yatle offers exclusive designs that she has created. It also has leather goods, ponchos, candelabra, paintings, sculptures and an international goods section with clothes and jewelry from as far as Thailand and India.

Matahari (291-4943, is a specialized store in the western San José neighborhood of Rohrmoser focusing solely on international imported items, such as lamps, statues, candelabra, vases, centerpieces, frames and furniture imported directly from Indonesia.

“We have various styles, very contemporary ones as well as tropical,” said manager Christelle Magot.

Matahari also offers an interior decorating service and shipping all over the country. Magot said the store is scheduled to host a Christmas fair today and tomorrow, with selected items on sale.

Gado Gado (228-2309) in Escazú Centro also offers imported items from Indonesia, such as furniture, textiles, jewelry, handbags and sandals.

“Our objective is to offer the client different things, the chance to leave here with a gift that he or she will not find anywhere else,” said store manager Karla Mesén.

Clients can place special orders for items from Indonesia; however, goods are shipped from Indonesia only three or four times a year, and clients may have to wait to receive their order, Mesén explained.

Having introduced new merchandise the first week of the month, Gado Gado will be offering 20-50% sales through December.The store also offers interior decorating services for hotels, condos and residences.

If jaw-dropping is the effect you seek, you might find it at Coast Spas de Costa Rica (290-8655,, with an office in the western San José district of Pavas and a newly opened office in Escazú.

The Aruba spa, which fits four people, has intermittent,multicolored lights that give it a somewhat Christmassy motif. The spa, which comes with a cover, a free kit of chemicals and installation, costs $5,600 and is the company’s best-priced spa, according to Coast Spas general manager Rodrigo Beeche.

The company is offering a 10% discount on all its spas for the month of December. If you’d rather shop as far from crowded malls as possible, or need to ship your Christmas presents to or from the United States, Aerocasillas shipping company (208-4831) offers services to make life easier, with locations around the Central Valley as well as in Jacó, on the central Pacific coast, and San Carlos, in north-central Costa Rica.

Apart from renting post office boxes in Miami, Florida, through which clients in Costa Rica can receive Internet orders, Aerocasillas offers online shopping assistance.

General manager Jeffrey Duchesneau, who assured The Tico Times that he and his wife completed their Christmas shopping this year in four hours, sitting in front of their computer, said the company has employees dedicated solely to this type of assistance.

For customers who don’t want to give out their credit card numbers over the Internet, Aerocasillas has corporate credit cards it can use to complete clients’ online shopping, and clients can pay Aerocasillas in the method they prefer.

Marketing manager Johana Gabourel said Aerocasillas will offer a year’s free rental of a post office box in Miami to anyone who presents this article during the month of December.


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