There are many reasons to travel to Costa Rica, but one of the best reasons is to meet and interact with Costa Ricans, often called ticos. Ticos are super laid-back (unless they are driving or watching soccer), welcoming, and generous.
Whether reuniting with a host family from many years back, spending time with a driver or tour guide, or want to spoil the maids and waiters at the resort, or volunteering, I’m often asked about the best gifts to take to Costa Rica to give to ticos.
The key to taking a good gift is to know a bit about your audience. Don’t take a bag of socks to a wealthy family hosting you in the capital, for example.
Costa Ricans are as varied in income level as many Americans. Please don’t assume that everyone in Costa Rica is super poor. You can assume that your hosts will be very grateful for any gift you give.
Here’s a video of my convo with another Costa Rican expert on gift giving in Costa Rica:
In this post I’ll break down some of the most common gift-giving occasions, and a few ideas for each occasion.
Gifts For Everyone
Almost everyone who visits Costa Rica VERY soon realizes that coffee is a big deal. The ritual associated with the preparation and drinking of coffee is unique to the country, and ticos love to share the experience with visitors.
I often take along a Starbucks coffee mug from Denver or Colorado, to represent where we live. It’s a useful gift and a great conversation piece for long after you have left!
These mugs are sold at most stand-alone Starbucks locations, but sometimes you have to ask the barista for them as they keep them in back.
Most Costa Ricans love to enjoy a small drink (trago) with friends, and this is one gift you can just get right at the Duty Free shop when you land so you don’t have to pack anything extra.
Most popular drinks are Johnny Walker and Bailey’s Irish Cream. The local drinks are Ron Centenario and Cacique.
Now- ticos are not drunks, and not everyone drinks alcohol. So if you choose to bring this gift please be sensitive to how you present it. The host may not open the bottle in your presence either- this is not necessarily customary.
It is considered good luck to gift a Nativity scene to a family, and Nativities or pasitos as they are called in Costa Rica are displayed proudly in homes from November through February.
It’s hard to keep drinks cold and so the double walled products are always a great bet. Plus they can be used for coffee and cold beverages- double score!
Gifts For Women
Perfumes and scented lotions are very popular in Costa Rica, as well as hand sanitizers. When we visit our friends in Costa Rica, I will often take along various popular scents from Bath and Body Works or Victoria’s Secret and give them to the women who cook us amazing meals when we stop by their house. They LOVE them!
A great addition to any household!
Scarves and Hanker chiefs
It gets “cold” at night for ticas, and it is very fashionable to wear a scarf out and about. (This is probably not true in the beach areas.) It is also very in style to wear a silk hanker chief around one’s neck on special occasions.
This set looks gorgeous and the price is right.
Essential oils and diffusers have become popular in Costa Rica just as they have in the US, and these are fun gifts! It’s relatively easy to get additional essential oils in Costa Rica to replenish too.
Gifts For Men
Music on the go is always fun, and the mini speakers are more expensive down there than in the US. This one looks awesome.
For some reason these Columbia shirts are all the rage in Costa Rica for men. As are old Navy, Abercrombie and Gap t shirts and sweatshirts.
Gifts For Children
Several years ago when I was living in Costa Rica, I was in a dance troupe, and one of our fellow members spent some time in the U.S. When he returned, he brought to rehearsal all kinds of little Mars candy bars to share.
It wasn’t until that moment that I realized that American candy bars aren’t very common in Costa Rica. Now, I take them for all of the kids when we visit, and us parents get several moments of quiet to chat before the sugar high kicks in!
Paper is expensive in Costa Rica, especially school notebooks. Many students pick coffee or bag groceries in the summer in order to be able to afford their notebooks for school.
Because paper is a luxury, it is always fun to take along composition notebooks (the covers hold up well in the humidity), colored pens, crayons and stickers for the kids to create with, and for the older teens to use at school. Cartoon character covers are especially popular! These look especially cute.
I am a huge puzzle fanatic, and I can rarely find puzzles in Costa Rica. This is a fun present for everyone! This puzzle looks perfect.
This is my most requested item when I ask people what I can bring them from the States. I am obsessed with these new little Lego sets.
Gifts For Teachers
Teachers in Costa Rica are middle class- they earn a great living and can, for the most part, purchase the things that they want and need. The only difference is that there are high tariffs (taxes) on imports to Costa Rica, so anything not fabricated in Costa Rica is going to be a much higher price than in the States.
My favorite idea is this laptop bag with pencil case.
Gifts For Service Projects
If you are heading to Costa Rica for a missions or service trip, you might be interacting with lower income ticos. You may or may not feel comfortable giving more extravagant gifts to those living in poverty. There are still several special and important gifts that you can give that are useful for lower income ticos.
For some odd reason, socks are very expensive in Costa Rica- more expensive than in the U.S. (A painful realization for me after my suitcase got stolen out of a rental car and I was left with only the clothes on my back.)
I will often take packs of nice athletic socks for the people I am serving. Socks are great because they are useful, and pretty much one-size-fits-all (not always as easy to take along shirts or pants if you don’t know the sizes of the people you will work with.)
Small Kitchen Appliances
Kitchen appliances are so much more expensive in Costa Rica, and they are a vital tool for low-income families who don’t eat out very often. The electric current in Costa Rica is the same as US, so you don’t need to worry about an electrical converter. Here are a few of the most requested items for the kitchen:
- Rice cooker – this is my absolute favorite
- Coffee pot – this one is easy to pack, and we have had ours for 15 years with no problems.
- Blender – this one is a perfect option
- Cutting boards – plastic is best due to climate
Shampoo, deodorant, lotions, razors, toothbrushes, toothpaste.