Costa Rica: Café Britt or Dota Coffee
Many people make the mistake of wandering into the grocery store and clearing the shelves of local coffee brands. Little do they know, the coffee they’re carrying back home didn’t qualify as exportation grade. More than 90 percent of Costa Rica’s coffee is shipped out and only the lower grades remain in the country. There are a few coffee brands offering boutique coffee, which haven’t exported their top-of-the-line beans to northern markets. To ensure you are bringing home only the best, look for Café Britt or Dota.
Fun fact: The Coffee Cooperative of Dota (Coopedota) recently introduced the first carbon neutral coffee in the Americas. Pretty cool stuff!
Peru: Alpaca Products
By far, the best value option and most popular Peruvian souvenirs are fuzzy sweaters, hats, and gloves made from alpaca. A typical Andean hat is called a chullo; you’ll recognize it by the earflaps. Alpaca wool is warm, lightweight, and soft to the touch. You can find these products in any market in Peru, though many sell synthetic and machine-made substitutes, so be careful before you buy. Baby alpaca is the softest and most expensive product. Though you can find it in markets, a better place for high-quality baby alpaca items are boutique and collective shops in Cuzco and Arequipa. Lima has several shops, as well, though prices are likely to be a bit higher.
The Cacao plant is native to tropical forests in the Americas and farms in Ecuador produce some of the highest quality chocolate in the world. Try a variety of homegrown organic chocolates at specialty and souvenir stores in places like Mindo and Quito.
Tips to make souvenir hunting as easy and fun as possible:
• Ask your staff and local guide for shopping suggestions. Many have lived in or traveled extensively through these areas and should have a good list of locations to share.
• Don’t be afraid to bargain in markets, it’s expected. The first price you’re offered will always be higher than you should end up paying. Find out what prices other vendors and stalls are offering before purchasing.
• Don’t look too excited when you find something you want to purchase. If the vendor knows you’re interested, it will be more difficult to bargain down the price.
• Don’t be afraid to walk away and come back later if you’re still interested in the item.
• You can often get a better deal if you buy multiple products from the same stall.
• When perusing markets and souvenir stores, you will come across items made with animal parts. Responsible travelers will avoid buying these as your purchase will probably support the killing of local wildlife to make souvenirs. This is especially the case for crafts that use bird feathers because they very likely killed endangered birds to get them. Never purchase artifacts or products made from endangered species.
The Westcoast Blogger