Shopping in Costa Rica – Trading with Local Merchants

At some point you’ll probably want to investigate the local stores in your area to see what souvenirs are on offer. You may want to take some trinkets home for your family and friends. Shopping in Costa Rica isn’t about high-end retail brands. It’s about local economies and merchants selling their wares. It’s a very traditional way of shopping, especially if you’re outside cities like San Jose.

Here's your guide to what works, and doesn't, when it comes to shopping in Costa Rica.

Get Your Priorities in Order

Little trinkets and other items have passion infused into them. They aren’t soulless products from a factory line. A lot of effort went into their creation. Don’t bring your jewellery and other expensive items. This is an adventuring holiday. It’s not a European nightclub excursion.

Match the locals with your attire and you won’t get taken for a fool. Moreover, in some marketplaces wearing lots of expensive apparel will make you an easy target for pickpockets.

Bartering with Local Merchants

Bartering with the locals is perfectly acceptable in Costa Rica. Feel free to pick up an item and ask the seller what the price is. Then ask them if they’ll accept anything lower. Make an offer. Some sellers absolutely won’t budge, but other see bartering as standard practice. Some sellers will issue much bigger initial offerings with the view to entering into negotiations.

Know When to Stop

The important thing is to know when to stop. Pura Vida will only take you so far. You’ll know by instinct when someone absolutely won’t budge. Once this happens, it’s time to accept the price or walk away. Pestering them won’t win you any friends, and it certainly won’t get them to lower the price any more.

Furthermore, your goal isn’t to try to fleece an honest merchant out of a day’s work. Bear in mind, the average daily wage is about $10. You have the money to spend. Most locals will be unable to afford the item you're thinking of buying. So contribute to the local economy by paying a fair price for something you want to buy.

Watch What You Buy

This whole exercise is pointless if you can’t take the item you’re buying home with you. Costa Rica is famous for its fruit and coffee - but bringing fruit into your own country most like won’t be permitted due to controls over biological contaminants. Coffee, on the other hand, may simply need to be opened and put into a clear bag for it to pass the security checks.

Regulations differ between countries. In the US they're stricter than in the UK and other European countries. Check the relevant travel website before buying anything. Most items, such as clothes (of which Costa Rica is a centre for Latin American fashion), will be perfectly fine to take home with you. Ask us if you are unsure.