San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Snow Unlikely, but Christmas Decorations and Unique Gifts Easy to Come by in Central Valley

It’s that time of the year again – when there is absolutely no chance of a white Christmas in Costa Rica.
But of course, the spirit of the holiday does not hinge on snowcapped conifers and Jimmy Stewart. And just because there are no snowflakes falling or chimneys smoking, it doesn’t mean a person can’t deck out a house in red, lights and fake ice.
Plenty of places around San José sell Christmas decorations and gifts. Here’s a slice of the options available.
Across the street from the Más x Menos in Cuesta de Moras, just two blocks east of the pedestrian boulevard on Avenida Central, is Tarjetas Personales S.A. (221-0304), a store whose sole existence in November and December is dedicated to the sale of Christmas-related decorations.
There’s almost everything imaginable to pretty up the house here. Fake trees, candles, nativity scenes, big blow-up Saint Nicks, stuffed toys and a myriad of other little things. A stuffed animal that looks like the offspring of an elf and a snowman is also on sale.
Miss the feeling of having a chimney? Buy a fake one here for ¢250,000 ($500). It’s the most expensive item in the store.
Need a new Nativity scene? Next door, Celebraciones América S.A. sells religious artifacts and other items for weddings or first communions. However, right now the storefront is packed with statues for Nativity scenes, everything from lifelike depictions of shepherds and Joseph to more caricatured figures. All sizes, too, can be found.
An 11-piece set, with figures more than a foot high in size, sells for a hefty ¢250,000.
Walk along the Avenida Central boulevard and you will find a variety of stores offering Christmas-related items; but if you want to avoid the people labyrinth, head to the big department stores for all your needs.
Hipermás and Cemaco are both made-in- China Christmas havens, with whole sections of their stores dedicated to the holiday, including big blow-up reindeers.
The mega-stores seem less crowded than downtown San José, and the basics – lights, candles, decorations, etc. – are found along with more outlandish decorations.
Cemaco has four stores in the Central Valley: the western district of Pavas (296-3711);Multiplaza Escazú (201-6363), west of the capital; Alajuela (443-1880), northwest of San José; and the southeastern district of Zapote (280-2112).
Hipermás has six stores in the country: San Sebastián (286-0003), in south-western San José; Heredia (262-5353), north of the capital; the eastern suburb of Curridabat (272-1994); Guadalupe (283-7105), northeast of San José; Escazú (288-4270); and Oreamuno, on the road to Paraíso, east of the capital (552-4820).
Great Gift Ideas
Traditional Costa Rican crafts can make both nice gifts and ornaments for Christmas.
The Anne Marie Boutique (221-6707), across the street from the National Insurance Institute (INS) building in San José, is a little shop inside the Hotel Don Carlos. Here, many souvenirs scream Costa Rica tourism, along with more traditional ones like paintings of the Virgin Mary suckling Baby Jesus.
Another good source of crafts in San José is the Mercado de Artesanía (Handicrafts Market) next to Plaza de la Democracia, to the west of the National Museum. Among the many stands, a man with a moustache that seems to have a life of its own will carve anything you write down on a piece of wood in 10 minutes, for about $2. How about a Merry Christmas wish made of wood?
For unique, handmade gifts, consider a children’s T-shirt, canvas bag or floor covering from Laurel’s Originals (869-6637) in Santa Bárbara de Heredia.
After years of creating bright, colorfully painted blouses and beach dresses for all ages, artist Laurel Anderson has resurfaced with a line of children’s T-shirts and dresses, boldly painted with flowers, butterflies, fish and animals. She said she brought back her clothing line owing to popular demand; for now, she’ll only make children’s sizes but hopes to expand later on. Kids’ T-shirts sell for ¢6,000 ($12), dresses for ¢8,000 ($16).
Anderson has also been busy painting canvas shoulder bags and cosmetic bags with the same natural, tropical motifs (¢3,000-12,000/$6-24). New are her sophisticated oil-cloth floor coverings, painted and stenciled with tropical ferns, bamboo and geometric patterns (¢25,000/$50). For more information, contact Laurel’s Originals at 269-6637 or
For 100% handmade gifts, check out Galería Octágono (267-6325), four kilometers north of San Rafael de Heredia at the entrance to Residencial Aves de Paraíso.
Showcased here are intricately worked textile arts and crafts, many of them made by the local women’s collective. Every piece is unique, from small wall hangings to larger quilted pieces.
You’ll also find an array of whimsical small stocking stuffers, from adorable felt hummingbird tree decorations to fabric necklaces. And for presenting your presents, elegant fabric gift bags, hand-painted cards and tags are for sale. The gallery also features rustic furniture made of “found” tree trunks from the Heredia forests, including handsome, sculptural wall clocks made from crosscuts of downed tree limbs, trunk-shaped coffee tables, wall sconces and polished cutting boards. If you can’t get up to the gallery, you can shop online at
Those looking for nice-smelling ideas might try Aromas para el Alma, a Costa Rican company that makes candles, soaps, sprays, lotions and other potions designed to relax or revitalize most everyone, from pregnant women and babies to couples (“aphrodisiac” creams are offered). It’s aromatherapy, and it’s all Costa Rican-made.
Prices range from ¢1,200 ($2.40) for a bar of soap to ¢14,000 ($28) for a liter of aromatherapy spray, and gift baskets are available for ¢6,000-10,000 ($12-20).
For information and points of sale, visit, call 280-0682 or e-mail

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