From indigenous-style jewelry to local arts and crafts to clothing in the traditional Tico look and more, here’s where to shop in San José. Shop hours are typically 8am-6pm Monday-Saturday. Many places close at noon for a siesta; a few stay open until late evening.
Arts and Crafts
San José is replete with arts and crafts, such as reproduction pre-Columbian gold jewelry, hammocks, wood carvings, Panamanian molas, and miniature oxcarts. Mercado de Artesanías Nacionales (Calle 11, Aves. 4/6, Mon.-Sat.), in Plaza Artigas, teems with colorful stalls. The plaza hosts an open-air art exhibition (Pintura al aire libre) 10am-4pm every Saturday March-July. The Mercado Central, on Avenida Central, has a panoply of leatherwork and other artisans’ stalls.
Specialty handicraft stores concentrate near Parque Morazán and include Gallery Amir (Calle 5, Ave. 5, tel. 506/2221-9128), which sells top-quality wood carvings and furniture. Centro Comercial El Pueblo (Ave. 0, tel. 506/2221-9434, 9am-5am daily) also has many high-quality art galleries and crafts stores.
My favorite store is Galería Namú (Ave. 7, Calles 5/7, tel. 506/2256-3412), where the superb indigenous art and crafts include Boruca masks and weavings and jewelry from Panamá and elsewhere. Chieton Moren (Calle 1, Aves. 10/12, tel. 506/2267-6716), located behind the Iglesia de la Dolorosa, sells indigenous crafts direct from the artists—and the earnings return to the artists (chieton moren means “fair deal”).
Another excellent gallery is Arte Contemporáneo Andrómeda (Ave. 9, Calle 9, tel. 506/2223-3529, 9am-7pm Mon.-Fri., noon-6pm Sat.).
Librería Internacional (tel. 800-542-7374), Costa Rica’s answer to Barnes & Noble, has stores on Avenida Central (tel. 506/2257-2563), in Rohrmoser (tel. 506/2290-3331), in San Pedro (tel. 506/2253-9553), and outside town in Escazú (tel. 506/2201-8320). Librería Universal has an outlet at Avenida Central and Calles Central and 1 (tel. 506/2222-2222).
Mora Books (Calle 5, Ave. 5/7, tel. 506/8383-8385, 11am-7pm Mon.-Sat.), on the west side of the Holiday Inn, sells used books as well as magazines and maps.
Every souvenir store sells premium packaged coffee. Make sure the package is marked puro—otherwise the coffee may be laced with enough sugar to make even the most ardent sugar lover turn green. You can also buy whole beans—albeit not the finest export quality—roasted before your eyes at the Mercado Central (Ave. Central, Calle 6). Ask for whole beans (granos), or you’ll end up with superfine grounds. One pound of beans costs about $1.
The Café Britt stores in the airport departure lounge are well stocked.
If you admire the traditional Tico look, check out the Mercado Central (Ave. 1, Calle 6), where you’ll find embroidered guayabero shirts and blouses and cotton campesino hats. Shoemakers also abound, many selling cowboy boots, including dandy two-tones.
The best place for upscale brand-name boutiques is Mall San Pedro (Ave. Central at Rotonda de la Hispanidad, San Pedro, tel. 506/2283-7540). You can buy hiking, climbing, and adventure gear at Mundo Aventura (Ave. 3, Calle 36, tel. 506/2221-6934).
Artisanal markets sell attractive indigenous-style earrings and bracelets. Much of what you’ll see on the street is actually gold-washed, not solid gold. Most upscale hotel gift stores sell Colombian emeralds and semiprecious stones, 14-karat-gold earrings and brooches, and fabulous pre-Columbian re-creations: Try Esmeraldas y Diseños (tel. 506/2231-4808) in Sabana Norte. The Gold Museum Shop (tel. 506/2243-4317, 9:30am-5pm daily), beneath the Plaza de la Cultura, sells quality gold reproductions.
One of my favorite stores, Kiosco SJO (Ave. 7, Calle 11, tel. 506/2258-1829, 11am-6pm Mon., 11am-10pm Tues.-Sat.) has some of the hippest handmade creations by Latin American artisans, including jewelry and handcrafted leather bags and boots, all of top quality.
Excerpted from the Tenth Edition of Moon Costa Rica.