Unforgettable memories are by far the most precious souvenir you could bring back from your Costa Rica vacation. But let’s face it…what’s a vacay without a little shopping spree? Add to that an enticing infusion of history and culture and what you’ll get is the perfect souvenir to bring home. Or several of them. Souvenirs that just screams ‘COSTA RICA!’ whenever you see them.
Whether useful or not, cultural or simply ‘pretty’, unique or edible, Costa Rica offers an array of fantastic souvenirs for the shopper, collector, or gift-giver. But if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind work of art, that reflects the country’s indigenous cultures and history, then look no further than Costa Rica’s best cultural souvenirs to bring home.
But be warned: you may just want to pack an extra travel bag.
Miniature Painted Oxcarts
Unsurprisingly, most of Costa Rica’s best souvenirs are hand-made, carved and stitched using natural and sustainable materials. Renowned for being an ecologically conscious nation, the country’s best souvenirs are made with love, both for the artwork and the land the materials derive from, and represent a taste of the culture and multi-colored landscapes.
So fine, bringing home a hand-painted oxcart may be a bit of a challenge, but the Ticos have you covered. Miniature wooden oxcarts are the ideal souvenir for visitors who want a unique and unmistakable keepsake of their trip to Costa Rica. For the best in the country, head to the city of Sarchi, just an hour’s drive north from the capital, San Jose. This immensely charming town is renowned for its intricately carved and painted artifacts, including not only oxcarts but also masks, furniture, and stunning jewellery.
Boruca masks, which were used by indigenous Boruca warriors in their fights against the conquistadores, are arguably the second-most favoured Costa Rican souvenir and have become so ubiquitous they are literally found in just about every stall and souvenir shop in the country.
Many of the cheaper masks you’ll find are ‘imitations’, so if you’re in the market for an authentic piece, made by a Boruca tribesperson, then you ought to visit an upmarket art gallery or souvenir boutique instead. Traditionally, Boruca masks are multi-dimensional works of art, brightly painted with drawings depicting scenes and wildlife of Costa Rica. The more complex pieces can set you back $200, but if you’re after a truly special souvenir to hang on your wall, then this would certainly be it.
The Chorotega people of north-western Costa Rica (they used to inhabit Honduras and Nicaragua as well) have lost much of their traditional language and way of life over the years, yet still retain their incredible pottery skills. In the small towns of San Vincente and Guaitil, beehive-shaped kiln ovens are a telltale sign that amazing workshops are around.
Chorotega pottery is about the last remnant of a tribe that was one of the strongest in the country by the time Europeans arrived. And it’s a stunning one at that. This incredible legacy is being kept alive through local workshops and organizations that promote the art, keep the indigenous history alive and promote the craftsmanship throughout the country. You’ll find everything from stunning plates, bowls, vases and animal sculptures for that utterly unique and historical souvenir-lover.