Posted by International TEFL Academy Costa Rica on 08/03/2018

What are my options when shopping for food in Costa Rica?

What are my options when shopping for food in Costa Rica?

When it comes to food, the options you can find in Costa Rica are nearly limitless.  You can find a large variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, all types of beans and rice, international food, and the list goes on! It’s important to note, however,  that Costa Rica has a higher quality of life compared to its neighbors, so some things are going to be more expensive but overall, the food is affordable.  Here’s some information on where to shop, some shopping tips and prices of certain products at different supermarkets.

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There are five supermarkets you can find practically anywhere you go in the country: Pali, MasxMenos, Walmart, PriceSmart and AutoMercado. Apart from these, there are also convenient stores, central markets and farmers’ markets located in most cities of Costa Rica.

Let us break down the supermarkets for you.

Pali

Pali is the cheapest option out of all the other supermarkets mentioned above. You can find all the basics you need, such as rice, beans, vegetables, fruit, bread and others for a very low price. It’s important to keep in mind that Pali does not have a great variety of products.  You can only find certain things here. There are also not a lot of brand names in this supermarket, but the quality of the products is just as good as the ones at the other supermarkets.

Here are a few examples of how much some products cost at Pali:

  • Hass avocado: 4500 colones per kilo
  • Turrialba cheese: 4000 colones per kilo
  • (boxed) Merlot: 2000 colones 
  • Imperial (national beer): 627 colones


MasxMenos

MasxMenos is a bit more expensive than Pali but with a larger variety of products. At this supermarket, apart from vegetables, fruits and all the basics, you can also find products such as croissants, all types of wine and cheeses, as well as seaweed for sushi rolls. They also have more brand name products but they are a little more expensive than the non-imported products. MasxMenos also has sales every Wednesday, and most of their products are cheaper than during the other days of the week.

Here are a few examples of how much some products cost at MasxMenos:

  • Hass avocado: 4000 colones per kilo
  • Turrialba cheese: 2840 colones
  • Merlot: 5425 colones
  • Imperial (national beer): 700 colones

Walmart

Walmart has practically the same prices as MasxMenos. The big difference between Walmart and MasxMenos is that Walmart stores are bigger and have a wider range of products than MasxMenos. Here you can find a lot of the products you’d find in the United States.  Although we will warn you, the availability of these products is not always consistent.  Sometimes we find a product we love, and then it will be out of stock for a couple of months at a time.

Here are a few examples of how much some products cost at Walmart:

  • Hass avocado: 5000 colones per kilo
  • Turrialba cheese: 3750 colones per kilo
  • Merlot: 5000-9500 colones 
  • Imperial (national beer): 710 colones

PriceSmart

PriceSmart is like the Costco of Costa Rica. They sell everything in bulk.  It’s a good place to shop for things that you want to last for more than a month, for instance, toilet paper, feta cheese or crackers.  They’re cheaper here than at the other supermarkets. It’s important to add that you need a membership card to shop here, but you can always ask one of your Costa Rican friends if you can go shopping with them.  We don't recommend signing up for the membership card unless you’re planning on living here for a long period of time.

Here are a few examples of how much some products cost at PriceSmart:

  • Hass avocado: 3550 colones per kilo
  • Turrialba cheese: 5995 colones pero kilo
  • Merlot: 8995 colones
  • Imperial (national beer): 670 colones

AutoMercado

AutoMercado is the most expensive of the supermarkets. Here you can find the biggest variety of products, from camembert cheese to gluten-free products. We would recommend buying things that you wouldn’t need on a daily basis because the prices are a bit high.  However, keep an eye on their sales!  They also have good discounts on their produce on Wednesdays, and  I've bought wine here for just 5000 colones.

Here are a few examples of how much some products cost at AutoMercado:

  • Hass Avocado: 5800 colones per kilo
  • Turrialba cheese: 2400 colones
  • Merlot: 8630 colones
  • Imperial (national beer): 1500 (a liter)

We recommend you shop around! Don’t stick to only one of these options when you can find the same product at a different price range in every store. For example, 1.4 liters of coffee creamer at PriceSmart is 2295 colones while one about half the size is just a few hundred colones more at Walmart.  Also, 462 grams of creamy peanut butter at Walmart is 3725 colones (crunchy was only 3250 colones) and 1.13 kilograms at PriceSmart is 3895 colones. 

Avocados have got a bad rep for being expensive, but again, take the time to look at different places to see where you can get a good deal. I have paid as much as 2000 colones per avocado at one of the fruit stands in Barva and as little as four avocados for 1000 colones at the mini-super in front of the park in Barva. At Walmart, it's right around 1000 colones per avocado and AutoMercado, even more! Keep in mind that most produce is priced by weight, and here that means kilos, and a kilo is 2.2 pounds!

We also recommend skipping name brands if your budget is tight. For example, we always have Salsa Lizano in our house, and rarely buy the name brand because we like to save some colones without skimping on the flavor. We also buy the bags or refills for pantry basics like jelly and spices.

Farmers' Market

Don't forget that Costa Rica also has various ferias (farmers' markets) all over its cities. Here you can get all types of fresh fruit, vegetables, eggs, cheese and meat for a low cost that is locally grown.  Most of it is free of pesticides too! The ferias are usually held during the weekend throughout the entire day, but the schedule can vary from place to place so ask the locals about your community.   The vendors set up tents in the streets, usually close to the center of town, since the feria only happens one day a week.  

Going to the feria is not only a great way to save money, it's a great experience!  The vendors will give you a small piece of their product to try before buying. You won't believe some of the amazing tropical fruits, homemade goods and drinks you can try!  The prices also vary from stand to stand so it’s always a good idea to walk around first and compare prices.  Feel free to do some bargaining here too!

  • A kilo of avocado at the farmers’ market: around 2000 colones
  • A kilo of Turrialba cheese:  around 3300 colones

Here is the schedule for some of the farmers' markets around Heredia and San Jose:

  • San Joaquin (Heredia): Friday
  • Barva (Heredia): Saturday
  • Heredia downtown(Heredia): Saturday
  • San Rafael (Heredia): Sunday
  • San Pablo (Heredia): Saturday
  • Zapote (San Jose): Sunday

Central markets are also located in nearly every city in Costa Rica.  These are permanent structures and are open regularly, not just one day a week like the ferias.  Here you will find many of the same products that are sold at the ferias, but there is less competition so prices might be slightly higher.  The markets are also a great place to buy meat at a great price!  Most mercados also have vendors that sell products like paper goods for parties, school supplies or crafts, spices and even some supplies for the home like pots and pans.

Costa Rica has many options when it comes to shopping, and thankfully you can choose depending on your budget and necessities.  Check this concern off your list, and contact us today to sign up for your 4-week, onsite TESOL course in Costa Rica!


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