San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Great Expectations for Holiday Gifts, Decorations

Conjuring up Christmas-card images of snow-covered hillsides and sleigh rides can be challenging when, just outside your window, palm fronds sway in the warm breeze.

You might need a nudge or, indeed, a major push to get in the mood for the holidays, Tico-style. One way to crank up the spirit is with music.

Vértigo (, with at least 10 stores in the Central Valley, is a major distributor of CDs. If you can’t find what you’re looking for in-store, you need only advise a salesperson, who will be happy to place the order. Pick up some classic Christmas CDs for ¢10,000 to ¢15,000 ($17 to $26). For gifts, why not a Frank Sinatra, Al Green, Kenny G or Elvis collector’s edition or box series for ¢15,000 to ¢24,000 ($26 to $41)?

Bookstores always are chock full of interesting suggestions. At any of the 11 Librería Internacional ( outlets, you’ll find a wealth of gift ideas, from heavy coffee-table books, in English and Spanish, featuring Costa Rica’s incredible national parks and wildlife (¢15,000 to ¢30,000/$26 to $52) to cookbooks of all flavors, yoga instructional books and everything in between. You’ll also find easy-listening CDs by local artists, such as renowned pianist Manuel Obregón and guitarist Mario Ulloa (about ¢8,000/$14), or reggae, salsa, rock and pop.

Don’t forget about used books. A big bundle of these can make great gifts for the avid reader. Mora Books ( in downtown San José offers a gazillion mostly paperback books at a fraction of the cost of new ones.

Speaking of books, the 2010 edition of the always-popular “Exploring Costa Rica,” published by The Tico Times (, will hit the streets just in time for  Christmas. The new and different, revised travel book, with a price tag of $12.95, has been completely redesigned and promises to be a winner – a must-have for anyone living in or visiting Costa Rica.

But what are music and books without sweets? For chocolates that look almost too  good to eat and also come with a sustainable twist, try Sibú Chocolate’s ( boxes of assorted truffles and caramels ($10 to $22). Traditional flavors such as cappuccino and organic vanilla bean mingle with innovative recipes that include cardamom, nutmeg and chili pepper, lime and coriander, and fresh ginger and coconut.

The artisan chocolate makers have just launched unique cacao paper boxes this season. Look for them at select Librería Internacional bookstores, fine wine shops and leading gift shops in the Central Valley.

Café Britt ( isn’t just coffee anymore. While its export-quality coffee (¢4,000/$7 for a 12-ounce bag) and liqueur (about ¢7,000/$12) always are big gift hits, the company also offers its own bags or boxes of specialty chocolates, including chocolate-covered almonds, coffee beans and pineapple jelly (¢4,000/$7). Additionally, Café Britt’s environmentally friendly Morphos line of clothing includes all sizes of T-shirts and caps, all with tags made from recycled paper. You can find these items in all Auto Mercado stores and upscale souvenir shops throughout the country.

Three higher-end shopping experiences you simply can’t miss are: the souvenir shop at San José’s Hotel Grano de Oro (, which carries a smart variety of arts and crafts, including indigenous offerings, as well as wood carvings, fabrics and distinctive locally made souvenirs; Biesanz Woodworks (, in the western San José suburb of Escazú, offering exquisite, original woodworks including bowls, jewelry boxes, humidors and even chopstick boxes; and the souvenir shop at the Gold Museum ( in downtown San José, which features a wide variety of jewelry, replicas of museum pieces and high-quality arts and crafts, including indigenous selections, produced by Costa Rican artists. So now we have music, books, chocolate, arts and crafts and gold. We’re getting in the Christmas spirit.

We need something – preferably environmentally friendly – in which to carry our items. Check out the MarViva ( eco-bags (TT, Nov. 6), sold at the organization’s office in the western San José neighborhood of Rohrmoser, just north of La Sabana Park. These make great gifts, too, at ¢3,000 ($5).

Cloth bags have a multitude of uses, but, for leather, you’ll want to visit one of the Central Valley’s eight high-end Del Río ( stores, where the rich aroma of leather entices. You’ll find everything from wallets and handbags to belts and key chains.

We’ve been so busy shopping, our feet hurt. Birkenstocks are in order. And they make great gifts, too. However, these shoes are rather pricey at ¢41,000 ($71) to over ¢100,000 ($172). Find them at Centro de Bio Salud in Plaza del Sol in Curridabat, east of San José (2280-7861) or at Multiplaza Escazú on the west side (2201-6138).

For a different, aromatic kind of gift, Bio Salud also offers incense and holders, as well as chic sticks-in-a-bottle tricks that use capillary action to perfume your home or office (¢12,000/$21). Also, always welcome are bamboo plants of any size (¢3,000 to ¢30,000/$5 to $52), revered in Asian cultures as harbingers of good luck.

After a long day of shopping, our list still is weighty with the names of our hard-to buy-for friends. For something unusual and a little funky, visit the Drop Shop in downtown San José, at Calle 11 between Avenidas 10 and 12 (8823-4292), where Susan Arias designs and makes mandalas, interesting and colorful circle creations made of fine wire (¢8,000/$14). She says mandalas are “therapeutic tools designed to lessen anxiety and create harmony in the environment.”

The artisans’ market adjacent to Plaza de la Democracia in San José is always a good source for people looking for something different. Here, you can find handicrafts, textiles, wooden objects and stocking stuffers galore.

Here’s another gift idea for the culturally minded: What about tickets for performances at the elegant National Theater (2221-5341) in downtown San José? Check out upcoming schedules and buy tickets in advance at There’s something especially enticing about handmade items for decorations and gifts, but many of us have neither the time nor the talent to devote to their creation.

Thankfully, a simple phone call can solve that problem. The owners of Inspiraciones en Quilting (2273-5620, 2283-2168) will “create the design that will relay your feelings of friendship and love through gifts that will last for years.” They make everything from decorative vineras (wine bottle coverings), tablecloths and napkins to Christmas tree skirts and bedspreads. Just give them your idea; they’ll take it from there. And if you’re looking for handmade jewelry, try artist Gabriela Gutiérrez (8853-9829), whose specialties are engravings and textiles, though she also makes lovely candles.

Of course, if you’re looking for imported items from China, the United States, Europe or India, strike out to one of the many mega-stores, where you can find virtually anything your heart desires in the way of decorations and gifts. Universal stores even have shiny purple and orange fake trees mixed in with the green ones. Artificial trees there run from ¢10,000 to ¢160,000 ($17 to $276).

Cemaco, with all you need for your home, has four stores in the Central Valley: the western district of Pavas (2296-3711); Multiplaza Escazú (2201-6363); Alajuela, northwest of San José (2443-1880); and the southeastern district of Zapote (2280-2112).

Hipermás megastores have six locations in the country: San Sebastián, in southwestern San José (2286-0033); Heredia, north of the capital (2262-5353); Curridabat (2272-1994); the northeastern suburb of Guadalupe (2283-7105); Escazú (2288-4270); and Oreamuno, on the road to Paraíso, east of the capital (2553-4890).

Universal department stores are in 10 locations nationwide; call 2222-2222 or visit for information.


Christmas Tree Shopping


El Zamorano (2268-8257), 13 kilometers north of La República on the Braulio Carrillo Highway to Limón, sells Christmas trees one to three meters tall, ranging in price from ¢8,000 ($14) to ¢25,000 ($43). It also sells poinsettias and offers delivery service (cost depends on mileage).

Ernesto Martínez at El Zamorano says most Christmas tree farms are in outlying areas such as northern Heredia and east of San José on the road to Zurquí. Ask around for the tree farm nearest you, where you can traipse about among the trees (and often in the mud) and pick your own. These places also usually sell cedar wreaths.

If you opt for an artificial tree, your options are practically limitless at the big superstores, where you’ll pay from less than $20 to upwards of $300. For more Tico flavor, check out quaint roadside ferias for trees and decorations.




Ship Your Gifts in Time for Christmas


A variety of Costa Rican courier companies are on hand to help you ship gifts back to loved ones in North America and Europe in time for Christmas. Prices vary depending on the company and the speed with which you want your package delivered. Below is a list of several shipping companies and their rates for a standard box weighing up to three kilos.

Aeropost: $26 to the U.S. and $32 to Canada. Does not ship to Europe. Delivery time is between five and seven days. See or call 2208-4848.

Correos de Costa Rica: (Costa Rican Post Office) $26 to the U.S. and $39 to Canada and Europe. Delivery time is five days to the U.S., six days to Canada and Europe. See or call 2202-2900.

DHL: $127 to the U.S., $144 to Canada and $279 to the U.K. Delivery time to all destinations is two days. See or call 2209-6060.

Jetbox: $67 to the U.S. and Canada, $94 to the U.K. and Europe. Delivery time is three days to North America and five days to Europe. See or call 2253-5400.

Starbox: $100 to the U.S., $117 to Canada and $155 to the U.K. and Europe. Delivery time to all destinations is two days. See or call 2289-9393.

UPS: $133 to the U.S. and Canada, $174 to the U.K. and Europe. Delivery time to all destinations is two days. See or call 2290-2828.

–Sean O’Hare





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