Most tourists correctly choose a beach or mountain as their first destination in Costa Rica. However, eventually if you stay long enough, you will end up visiting San Jose. There are pleanty of arts, crafts, jewelry and other cultural items available in this market.
The best way to find the market is to get into a taxi and ask for the Plaza del Democracia. It is on 2nd avenue. The best way to travel in the downtown San Jose is by taxi. It will save you time and headaches.
There are many of the trinkets tourist buy to pacify their friends back home. Even though this is a great place to pick up something for everyone without breaking the bank, there are also some very nice items with somewhat higher prices. There are wood boxes selling for $50 to $100 and wool and cotton cloth selling for $20 to $40. You may even find some good works of art. Most people are not willing to spend $40 for an item in a market if they think they can get the items for $5-$10. But if you have experience shopping for cultural items, you will be able to find items worth much more. Hunt with discernment and you will find this market is a great place to pick up higher quality cultural items. For example, there is a good selection Tagua jewelry starting at about $12, with matching sets of necklace, earings and bracelet selling for more. Generally the asking price is about twice the base price. Few venders will sell for half the asking price given they would be liquidating inventory not making a profit. It does happen when money is short and an item has been sitting for a while.
Most people realize that getting a better price is a tradition of Costa Rica. Ticos will haggle to get a better price and you should try it too. It is expected. However I have noticed a small misunderstanding amoung some shoppers. When a Tico haggles, they plan on making the purchase. I see many people haggle, then walk away without making a purchase. If you want to haggle, find an item of high quality. Make sure you know what a "good" price is before you start. Next comes the part that makes me cringe. You have to discuss the different aspects of the item pointing out what specific ways the item falls short. (This pineapple is very small.) Or you can get something extra for a reduced price. Ask for a discount based on these observations. About 5 or 10 percent. At the end, be prepared to make the purchase. If you accomplish this, you will be highly regarded. If you just turn and walk away this is being a tease in a bad way.
When you go to the Mercado, there are about one block of stores packed together on a street, four stores wide. It is impossible for you to buy from every vender asking you to purchase. Even if money were not a factor, you would not have enough time or the ability to carry all that merchandise. How do you keep everyone happy? The answer is very simple. Just buy something, have it put in a shoping bag. That bag moves you from the class of "just looking" to buying. Merchants are always happy to see someone who is buying even when the item was from the competiton.
More expensive higher quality items can usually be ordered from the family operating the booth. If you suspect special orders are available then ask. For example the Ramirez booth shown below features art that goes up to the $100's range. Gilberto Ramirez of the same family sells in the art shows and Galleries in the $1000's range. Here are some art of Gilberto
There is a huge selection of Cowrie and wood jewelry. The Cowrie jewelry is hand made. There is a local place that produces much of the wood bead jewelry. If you look around behind the booths, you will see cowrie jewelry being made in the market as well.
There are shops selling Coffee as well. Costa Rica is one of the countries producing the best coffee in the world (That is what they say.) There are a variety of plantations in Costa Rica and they also provide tours. The same coffee you see at the airport is sold here for the exact same price and the Mercado is officially a tax free zone just like the airport. The "house" blend is a mild roast.
Nature is the main draw for tourists. Many of the items you see at the market are "natural."
There is also a great place to eat right in the market.
Don't expect to see only Costa Rican items. The merchandise and vendors come from all over Latin America. This wide variety at the Mercado makes it a great place to visit. Please also visit my other Art and jewelry web site: SensationalTropics.com.;Provided here are links to postings by the artists. These postings are mostly located on a variety of external pages on the internet,but mostly on the official page asocatupyme.com
The oxcart was widely used to transport coffee as well as baggage before railroads. If you landed in Punta Reinas in 1850 and wanted to go to San Jose, your bags would be transproted by ox cart from the port to the capital.
Tagua Jewelry is made out of the palm nut. Bright colors are created by saturating the fibers in dye. The texture of the fibers is very dense like ivory giving it the name natural ivory.
You will find parrot feathers painted with water colors. These are very colorful however you cannot bring parrot feathers into the USA.
As you enter the Mercado Artesania, you will be greeted by a large water color painted on the roofline. Elaborate outdoor paintings like this are fairly common in San Jose.
This is booth #55 Bella C.R. Souvenir of Irma Chavez. She keeps her store stocked with a wide variety of paintings from local artists and hard wood items mostly from the neighboring country of Nicaragua.
Before Columbus, the local Indians made pottery. Here are reproductions of this pottery. You can also see origionals in the museum right next to this market.
Coffe Shop of Esther Solorzano Martinez. Coffee in Costa Rica is high quality. The favorite method used to make coffee is to put the coffee in a sock strainer and pour in hot water. The cotton cloth allows the coffee oils and sometimes some grounds to make it to the coffe cup. Coffe grows up to 1350 meters above sea level.