Crafts in Costa Rica
Costa Rica's artisans are skilled at manipulating almost any material, be it seeds from the rainforest floor or precious hardwoods. While many souvenir markets and street stands offer goods available throughout Central America, there are several artisan crafts unique to Costa Rica and its skilled artists.
Perhaps the most iconic Costa Rican craft are the colorful oxcarts that serve both practical and decorative purposes. In Sarchi, a small town about an hour north of San Jose, oxcart factories are open to the public. Learn about the oxcart's history in Costa Rica, visit the world's largest oxcart, and purchase one of your own – they're available in miniatures to half-sized creations ($200+) that serve as large planters or outdoor decoration.
Costa Rica has a well-established woodworking tradition, as evidenced in many of the country's craft markets. From perfectly smooth bowls and mosaic cutting boards to elaborate drums, the nation's artisans produce incredible carved goods. Rosewood, ron-ron, and dyer's mulberry are some of the most popular woods for local crafts. Smaller trinkets, like cup holders and checkerboard mugs, sell for $10-$15, while larger items, including serving dishes crafted from uniquely beautiful wood grain, can sell for $50 or more.
Guaitil, a Chorotega indigenous village 30 minutes inland from Tamarindo, is famous for its pottery. Here, approximately 100 local families work as a pottery cooperative, using the traditional techniques perfected by the Chorotega since pre-Columbian times. Open-air shops are attached to each workshop, and offer everything from small bells ($2) and wind chimes ($25) to decorative plates ($30) and large vases ($50).
In the south Pacific town of Boruca, the Brunka indigenous craft the country's most famous masks. Carved from the lightweight balsa or cedar woods, these masks are an integral part of the tribe's Fiesta de los Diablitos, or Dance of the Spirits. The masks measure 8-18 inches in length, and are typically brightly painted with ornate animal designs. The Boruca economy relies mostly on the sales of their artisan masks, so expect to pay $25-$150 for a handcrafted, one-of-a-kind piece of art.
Costa Ricans, especially in the province of Guanacaste, are excellent cattle farmers. Leather products offer the opportunity to purchase a practical, usable souvenir – the soft, buttery leather makes beautiful wallets ($15), gloves ($20), and purses ($40+), as well as leather rocking chairs ($100-$125) and other upscale accessories.
For an inexpensive souvenir or gift, consider handmade jewelry, which is available in just about every city and town. Industrious artisans collect shells, seeds, nuts, petrified wood and other natural debris to craft beautiful jewelry with a natural touch. Since no two raw materials are the same, each finished product is a unique work of art. You'll often find such jewelery sold along the beachfront in popular towns such as Manuel Antonio, Puerto Viejo, Jaco, Conchal, and several others.