Here’s the place for last-minute Yule purchases

If it is not here, expats and Ticos do not need it. The crowded aisles of the Mercado Central feature everything from cooking utensils to bulk spices and figs in syrup.

Last minute shopping before the holidays or shopping for friends back home can be quite stressful, but expats need not fret because in San José the Mercado Central has tons of gifts.
The gift possibilities vary from the creative Costa Rican sunset painted on a feather to the famous colorful oxcart to the more basic, but still popular, Imperial beer glass mug.

The tourist hotspot on San Jose’s pedestrian mall turned into Tico go-to-spot is the place to be during the holidays, said a sales vendor at the mercado. She sold shot glasses that varied between 1,400 colons to 2,600 colons (about $2.80 to $5.20). Other stores sold shot glasses at the starting price of 2,400 colons.

A.M. Costa Rica Shahrazad Encinias Vela A section of the market houses stands that feature an extraordinary selection of plants and flowers.

Most Costa Rica memorabilia stores carry similar products. There are also some stores that carry one-of-a-kind gifts. But with some time a personal investigation can compare prices and products.

Most stores have the same prices, but haggling is always an option.

It’s not offensive to ask for a lower price, as long as it’s not a ridiculous proposition. It’s not unheard of to trade either.

A few weeks ago the souvenir vendors inside the marketplace were mostly frequented by tourists, but since the holidays are around the corner and aguinaldos are in hand Ticos are shopping in droves at the Mercado Central.

Throughout the year locals do frequent small restaurants and food stands inside the marketplace for lunch time. But now the main product consumers are the Costa Ricans.

A.M. Costa Rica Shahrazad Encinias Vela These banana leaves will end up as the wrapping for a holiday tamal.

Some of the more popular purchases by the locals are decorations to complete the very Catholic nativity scene. These include a manger, dyed sawdust to represent the ground, a baby Jesus, docile looking animals, the three kings and Mary and Joseph. Other items fancied by Ticos during the season are jewelry, banana leaves for tamales, different nuts for holiday baking, candy made out of preserved fruit, clothes and toys.

These items are the most sought after, according to an unofficial survey of vendors.

Residents of San José regularly frequent the marketplace for the essentials in meat, herbs, and flowers. These regulars are used to unoccupied aisles and a calm shopping experience, but now it’s different. There is traffic similar to Paseo Colon on a Sunday afternoon. It is elbow-to-elbow. At certain aisle intersections there should be a traffic monitor.

The only proper etiquette for walking is for accidental physical contact, in which a stop and small apology is recommended, a perdon, or “I’m sorry.” Most vendors speak English, either way expats can take advantage of a foreign country and learn a little about the language. Locals are more than happy to help.

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