Close up photo of a hand-painted ceramic bowl with squat tripod legs.

Guaitíl pottery is synonymous with Costa Rica’s indigenous crafts. Photo © Bryan Guzman, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Guaitíl, 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) east of Santa Cruz (the turnoff from the main highway is two kilometers (1.2 miles) east of Santa Cruz), is a tranquil little village. Many of the inhabitants—descendants of the Chorotega people—have been making their unique pottery, piedra, of red or black or ocher using the same methods for generations, turning the clay on wheels, polishing the pottery with small jade-like grinding stones taken from nearby archaeological sites, and firing the pots in large open-hearth kilns. There are several artist families, including in the adjacent village of San Vicente. Every family is attended by the matriarch: Women run the businesses and sustain families and village structures.

My favorite place is the Oven Store (tel. 506/2681-1696 or 506/2681-1484,, where friendly owners Susan and Jesús offer five-hour pottery classes; ask them to explain the ancient symbolism of the designs. It’s on the northwest side of the soccer field. Credit cards are accepted.

The Ecomuseo de la Cerámica Chorotega (tel. 506/2681-1563, 8am-4pm Mon.-Fri.), behind the school in San Vicente, was opened in 2007 to honor the local culture. Inspired by U.S. Peace Corps volunteers, it traces the ceramic tradition.

Getting to Guaitíl

Buses depart Santa Cruz for Guaitíl every two hours 7am-7pm Monday-Saturday, 7am-2pm Sunday. Hotels and tour companies throughout Nicoya and in San José also offer tours.

Excerpted from the Ninth Edition of Moon Costa Rica.