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A guide to grocery shop in Costa Rica

Costa Rica offers plenty of options to shop for groceries throughout the country, from farmer markets "ferias del agricultor", convenience stores "pulperías, abastecedores or mini supers" to supermarket chains. Despite the many supermarkets and grocery stores

A guide to grocery shop in Costa Rica

Costa Rica offers plenty of options to shop for groceries throughout the country, from farmer markets “ferias del agricultor”, convenience stores “pulperías, abastecedores or mini supers” to supermarket chains.

Despite the many supermarkets and grocery stores in Costa Rica, not all of them carry the same items, have the same quality or have the same prices. Feel free to do your own research.

Ferias del agricultor

Ferias are a retail market in which small and medium vendors sell products from the agricultural, fishing, poultry, dairy, small industry, and craft production sectors directly to the consumer. This facilitates a more transparent and cheaper sale, without intermediaries, hence their motto “I produce it, I sell it”.

There are ferias in almost every town, with around 50 vendors offering fresh and quality produce to the community every weekend. Ready-to-eat food and cultural activities are generally also offered. This type of farmers market offers significantly lower prices of fresh fruits and veggies, during certain seasons.

Although they are a widespread option since the late seventies in Costa Rica, ferias are not common worldwide. According to the National Production Council (CNP), there are about 80 ferias throughout the country. Most vendors only receive cash (colones: bills and coins), however some accept sinpe móvil.

“La Feria” takes place over the weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sundays depending on location). The schedule also varies but it usually starts from 5am to 2pm and some even close up to 7pm. You can find them in strategic places close to the center of most towns.

Convenience stores

These are smaller-scale shops where you can find basic items, with fewer options to choose from, since some people still live paycheck-to-paycheck. They are known by locals as pulperías, abastecedores or mini supers.

Nowadays, the pulpería is not so much a general store, but what we might call “the corner grocery store,” with the important difference that it retains the merchandise behind a counter. If it is a small store with the merchandise out in aisles, it is called a minisúper.

Though the corner grocery store is fast disappearing in the United States, the pulpería is still going strong in Costa Rica. In fact, you will easily find one or more in every small neighborhood.

Pulperías tend to be attended by its owners day and night, and often their home is in the same building. This makes for lower overhead, and thus pulpería prices tend to be quite competitive with those of supermarkets.

In Costa Rica about 9,600 pulperías survive up to this day.

The three most popular or commonly found convenience stores in the main cities of Costa Rica are Vindi, AMPM, and Fresh Market. These stores are visited mainly by those who need to buy something quickly. Like grabbing a quick snack, breakfast to go, or a few items for a quick meal. Prices in these type of stores will always be higher than in supermarkets, but if you only need to buy a thing or two, it won’t make a big difference.

In Costa Rica, there are full supermarkets that have a variety of fresh produce, butcher shop, home goods, deli, frozen food section, bakery, alcohol, etc.

Most grocery stores in Costa Rica take both USD and Costa Rican colones. Likewise, you can pay with credit card. For the small local owned mini markets, it is best to pay with credit card or Costa Rican colones.

If you pay in USD, they will use the exchange rate of the day and give you change in Costa Rican colones. Most places only accept up to 20 dollar bills.

Also, nearly all gas stations have their own convenience store with snacks and other basic items.

A guide to grocery shop in Costa Rica

Supermarket chains

Now that you’re getting settled in Costa Rica, you will need to do some grocery shopping. Whether you are looking for a great variety, low prices or US products, you’ll be happy to find that Costa Rica has it all.

Several supermarket chains operate throughout the country. Their prices are pretty standard between chain stores, which means if you stick to the supermarket chain, you can buy similar prices no matter what part of the country you’re in. Most of these chains are listed on Google Maps and Waze, so search there to find which are closer to your current location.

Instead of buying only foreign/American products, you can save some money by purchasing the local brands instead, since the cost can be around half of the imported goods.

Standard brands and imported products are pretty much in every single supermarket, and most chains are located all around the country, with a few exceptions in remote zones and National Parks. No matter if you are near the beach or in downtown San Jose, you will never run out of supplies.

Although there are many different supermarket chains in Costa Rica, you can’t find all of them in every city. In the country, not all supermarkets have their own pharmacy. Credit cards are accepted everywhere in Costa Rica, so you don’t need to worry if you don’t have colones in hand.

Most supermarkets in Costa Rica close by 8 PM, but a few close at 9 PM/10 PM. You will have a better shot at finding specialty products such as gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan, etc. at supermarkets versus small convenience stores.

In Costa Rica, you can find basic cuts of beef, pork and chicken. Only some stores have fresh seafood (or they have a frozen seafood section).

You can pay with dollars in most supermarkets, the only bill that is not usually accepted is the $100 bill. Always be aware of the exchange rate of the day as it might change from one day to the other.

Auto Mercado, a Costa Rican owned store that is well known for being a high end supermarket with quality items, a bigger range of foreign products and a wide selection of high quality produce. The “gringo market” as my stepdad from Maine calls it, checks all the boxes in terms of quality, cleanliness, variety, and gourmet products.

This chain provides a lot of customized American products that are not available in other grocery stores. Prices tend to be a bit higher, but so is the quality and the variety of the products offered. You can also find gluten free items in Costa Rica with the lable “libre de gluten”. Auto Mercado is your best option for vegan/vegetarian goods.

Walmart Costa Rica owns four supermarkets chains: Walmart, Mas X Menos, Maxi Palí and Palí.

Pali, a budget supermarket is a small and basic market. Maxi Pali, the bigger version of Pali, is a full service supermarket with clothes, home goods, electronics, food, pet supplies, pharmacy, butcher shop and cleaning supplies.

Más x Menos, the “More for Less” chain grocery store has prices that are lower than in Auto Mercado, and the selection of produce is smaller, as well. You can still do all your basic grocery shopping here.

Then there are the middle-high range supermarkets like Megasuper, Super Compro or Perimercados which have pretty much everything, those are usually fairly clean and have a decent selection of produce.

On the other hand, PriceSmart is the Costco/Sam’s Club of Central America, a membership shopping club. When you step inside this membership warehouse club, you might think you’re back home in the US. Besides groceries, you can also purchase electronics, kitchen supplies, and many other goods.

Pequeño Mundo is widely known for being big and having a huge variety of products including furniture, clothing, fresh produce, and literally everything you need. They have many stores distributed throughout the country and you can find great prices in all of them.

Hopefully you’ll enjoy the variety of flavors, colors, and textures that Costa Rican produce offeres. This tiny country in the middle of the Americas is a paradise in more ways than you can think. Go to your nearest feria and buy the most exotic fruit or vegetable you can find and try it. Use your imagination and mix your cuisine with Costa Rican recipes, you’ll love it.

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mvillalobos@outlierlegal.com

She serves as the Journalist at Outlier Legal. Maripaz Soto has a Degree in Communication Science with a major in Journalism from the University of Buenos Aires (UBA). She has worked with UNOPS and GIZ. Empathic, creative and determined, are some adjectives that fit her perfectly.

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