Costa Rica is not a "shopping country" except for the 3 weeks before Christmas when everyone has an extra month of pay to spend on the kids or on major appliances or mattresses. Christmas is a delightful and happy time of year here due to that 13th month of pay known as an "aguinaldo" (a legal requirement of all employers in Costa Rica).

The rest of the year there is no so called "disposable income" (what loony came up with that phrase?). As Costa Rica is a very "local environment" everyone tends to buy things locally. Since there are not that many stores and nobody has much money this tends to save a great deal of unnecessary expenditures (well except the month of December).

If you are a visitor to Costa Rica you should be aware that there are very few uniquely Costa Rican items anywhere in the country . . . but you may want to think about adding these to your itinerary to help support local folk (make sure stuff is made in Costa Rica).

There are plenty of souvenir shops but none like this one. In San Jose just north of the center you'll find a lovely shop called the Namu gallery - about 40 mins from here. They collect and sell only indigenous art from groups like the Borucans and the Maleku. Their sales help support these indigenous communities. Namu is a one of a kind in Costa Rica and is doing the right thing.

You can also visit Boruca - about 5 hours south of Alajuela (easy to get to, drive past Manuel Anatonio) and a spectacular visit in a beautiful village where most of the folk are somehow connected to the selling of intricately carved and painted masks and the police station is shuttered closed. You need a 4*4 to get to the village but worth the effort.

You can visit the Maleku if you travel to Arenal as do 80% of our visitors but nearly nobody goes another few km to the Maleku reserve. The Maleku can organize tours for you that your hotel can hook you up with to visit things like poison dart frogs, medicinal plants and a "museum" (really a twig hut but a great visit where you may be able to find a necklace made from Gar fish scales). The people are wonderful and need your support . . . they make some art such as rain sticks, iguana covered drums etc.

You may not have heard about the Chorotega? Yup right on your way to the northern and central Guanacaste beaches near Santa Cruz - distinctive pottery in pre-colombian styles.

You can visit the Bribri in the Caribbean zone . . . take a day trip to Yorkin (if your trip includes Puerto Viejo or Cahuita), a delightful indigenous group - and the largest in Costa Rica . . . the trip is by dugout and they make chocolate, bows and arrows as well as the occasional painting (which you should snap up because their output in nearly zero).

Many tourists also visit Sarchi, the home of the wood workers of Costa Rica just 30 mins from the Pura Vida Hotel. You'll find all kinds of local wood stuff and things like our famous rocking chairs (very good for pondering about peace) and ox carts and such. If you go, try and visit the last authentic waterwheel driven oxcart factory still run by the nearly octogenarian Alfaro brothers - find the big church/giant oxcart and wander around about 300 meters north and west of the church and you'll see their ancient factory. Make sure to leave a small donation in the box for using up their time showing you their wonderful ancient contraptions.

Finally, there are more but you'll also find interesting things in some hotel gift shops - look for locally produced items - often wood but sometimes some nice ceramics - in particular the famous PEFI ceramics (also at the Pura Vida) made by the daughter in law of Don Pepe Figueres (the guy who established modern Costa Rica and no doubt pondered peace in our time after he abolished the army in 1948 while sitting in a famous Sarchi rocking chair). You may have to work on these things but they'll be worth it :-)

For people moving here, we advise stuffing a container with good plumbing and electrical stuff. If you do not use it you can always sell it. Such items are expensive here but over the last couple of years have become more available. A few things like 3-way dimmers are impossible to find and some products seem to be being dumped here (such as safes where the keys don't work).

For housewares we recommend Cemaco - a local chain with branches around the country - good quality and selection. For gringos in need of a Home Depot fix, we have a smaller chain called EPA (3 stores - Escazu, San Pedro and Heredia - and growing) - but still most home fixit stuff is bought at little ferreterias on most town street corners. These little stores are troublesome if you don't speak Spanish and you need to describe a plumbing fixture to the runner who seeks such things. However, we highly recommend trying to support the local economies which is what we use local people and local businesses if we are going to build something.

For furniture we have most stuff made now through a local expert carpenter in our village and a guy with a shop in Sarchi (the woodworking capital). It is also good to be on good terms with a local welder - we have 2 or three we know - one who makes beautiful windows and doors. For kitchen stuff, there is a commercial kitchen supply house in Pavas called TIPS - they have the best selection and anyone can buy there. There is no real diferentiation or discrimination - if you can find a wholesaler you can often buy small amounts at wholesale prices.

For appliances we have a duty free purchasing area at Golfito in the zona sur - a long way from here. few people recommend this anymore as it is too far and the prices are not much different to places like Pricesmart in Escazu. All the gringos have a Pricesmart card - good prices on things like fridges, generators (yes, some people need them), dog food, rice and bulk stuff like that. An finally for our guest building a house in Dominical, yes we have a Walmart here - it is in Escazu and is disguised as a Hipermas store so nobody gets upset. It is a vast and sad place. I think the better options are above.

Finally when buying things that need fixing like lawnmowers and such, get it from the local store - they need the money more than you and they love fixing things. Every town has a fixit shop and they will fix almost anything you can think of. We just recently found a place for example that will put wheels back on suitcases.