Last March was our first opportunity to visit Costa Rica and get a feel for the country. You can see our trip report here: Trip Report Costa Rica
The main questions on our minds were: “what would it be like to live there?” and “what is the cost of living?” So, we tried to get as much of the local experience as possible. This included several trips to the grocery store. We were paying attention to both the availability of goods and the costs. On both counts we were surprised.
In this post I will cover:
- The experience of grocery shopping in Costa Rica
- Availability of goods
- Cost of food
First, the experience:
During our stay in Quepos (a smaller town on the Pacific side) we shopped both in a large supermarket called Pali – we later learned it’s owned by Wal-Mart – and in the local mini-marts that are pretty common all over the place. We also went to bakeries and coffee shops just to see what they were like and compare prices. We visited a local farmers market, as well.
Our Favorite Tico Food Items:
Dark Chocolate Covered Guava– OMG, these are to die for!
Lizano Salsa (23.7 fl oz) Costa Rica Sauce – caution this stuff is addictive. Love it!
Cafe 1820 – Costa Rican Ground Coffee – 250grams – very common coffee brand and very awesome! Read more on the different coffee brands we’ve tried.
Every place we stopped was open-air. Since it was 90 degrees+ outside when we were there, the stores were hot! But the overall experience wasn’t bad. The stores were clean and well stocked. We did not run into any unusually long lines and the cashiers were generally friendly, some more than others – very little English was spoken in the stores, so we often had to use our limited Spanish skills.
Availability of goods:
We were really surprised to see that one could find just about anything! I have some food sensitivities and I was super happy to see that I could get many things I need. In case you’re wondering: you can easily find Gluten free and dairy free products. Also, many American products are available, like pastas, snacks, sodas, and so on. Clearly there wasn’t as much variety of these American-brands, obviously, but there was enough for what we would need.
As for the local goods, fruits and veggies are readily available. Nice meat counters and plenty of just about everything one might want.
Cost of food:
The availability of American products is awesome – if you’re willing to pay for it. The costs were quite high. This was our second surprise because we expected food to be at least a little bit cheaper than back home – not so. For example, I saw a small jar of peanut butter for over $6.00! Cereals and chips were also expensive. But the thing that really got me was the soda pop: a 3-liter bottle going for about $3.50 – now that’s high. I can walk into our local grocery store here and get a 2-liter for $1.50 and if I catch a sale I might only pay $1.00. Also, the small 16oz bottles were $1.79, that’s not bad if you consider about the same price at our gas stations here in the US. However, this was in grocery stores! So, if you want a 6-pack, it would cost $1.79 x 6 = $10.74 – no discount for the 6-pack…ouch! One time we went into a local mini-mart and found Arizona ice tea – that was fantastic because we both love it. Couldn’t find a listed price but thought: what the heck, we’ll get it, how much can it be? Boy were we surprised when the price turned out to be $3.00/can!
Costa Rican goods are cheaper but still not really that cheap. For example, avocados were about $1.5 each; so about comparable to what we’d pay at home – the same for other fruits and vegetables. Rice was more expensive than in the US and is a staple food in Costa Rica.
The local weekend farmer market was where we saw the most savings. Fruits and vegetables were much cheaper.
So, your shopping cost will vary depending on where you shop and what your tastes are. American-brand products will cost you more than back in the States. Everything else is about the same.
All in all, foods cost as much as in the US or more but we were pleased with the amount of products available and the shopping experience.