Archive for December 2013

Christmas Season Shopping in Costa Rica? Try the Golfito Duty Free Zone!

December 21, 2013

Don’t blame the messenger, but once again, Christmas is just around the corner. For those of you that have been lucky enough to survive another year of this slow economy and stagnant tourism numbers, it’s time to start thinking about Christmas shopping. If you are considering some big ticket items, the duty free zone of Golfito might be just the place for you!

A Little History:
Once a bustling banana port, from 1938 to 1985, Golfito was the headquarters of the banana operations for United Fruit in the southernmost part of Costa Rica. Creating an economy that had previously not existed, unfortunately the mid-1980s brought declining markets, higher export taxes, worker unrest and banana diseases forcing United Fruit’s departure from the area. Though some of the plantations successfully converted to the production of African Palm Oil, this move was not enough to sustain the job loss and economic blow caused when the company departed. Attracted by the World Class fishing within the Golfo Dulce region, Sport Fishermen have helped stimulate the development of new Costa Rica Hotels & Lodges, creating a flourishing tourist industry in the area. Nonetheless, the Golfo Dulce region and more specifically, the town of Golfito, have continued to struggle for survival, even after close to 20 years of economic stimulus in the form of a Duty Free Shopping Zone.

Government Incentives:
In the 1990’s, in an attempt to boost the region’s economy, the Costa Rica government approved a duty-free facility (déposito libre) in the northern part of the Golfo Dulce zone. Just the mention of the town of Golfito, brings the image of thousands of Ticos on any given day bustling around the rows of this fairly run down mega shopping complex, giving life to an otherwise dying town while shoppers hustle and hustlers shop. Keep in mind….the duty-free shopping is for Costa Rican Nationals and legal residents only, with the most popular purchases being the bigger ticket items. Unfortunately, as you will see below, this is not like a Sunday visit to the local mall, many restrictions apply which can complicate the shopping process, so be sure to read the details.

Rules and Regulations:
The Duty Free Zone was created to stimulate the economy and travel to the region by giving Costa Rican residents a tax free zone to shop for their purchases. To get the most out of these visitors, specific rules were established in order to legally make these tax free purchases. First, exemption from sales taxes is only valid twice a year, with a total purchase amount that cannot exceed $1000 per buyer, per trip. Second, you must stay overnight in Golfito before taking advantage of the tax-free shopping, a requirement enacted to support the area’s family owned “cabinas” and boutique hotels. Third, as a guarantee of your overnight stay, a shopping authorization card (TAC) must be requested at the Customs Offices the day prior to shopping. Hours are Tuesday-Saturday from 8am-8pm, Mondays from 1pm-8pm and shoppers are required to present their valid Costa Rican “cedula” (identification card) when applying.

Hours and Shopping Limits:
When you begin your shopping at Golfito, its recommended to start early and bring along plenty of patience. Stores open from 8am-4:30pm Tuesday-Saturday and 7am- 2pm on Sundays. Stores are closed on Mondays. When checking out, you will be required to show the store personnel your shopping authorization card, so keep that handy. Remember, one card gives you the right to make a purchase for up to $1,000, though you can combine two cards (no more) for a total of $2,000. The other card can only belong to first-degree relatives such as parents, children, siblings or spouses. Naturally, there are “gavilones” or “tipos” that hang around the area that can arrange that you have sufficient “TAC” cards from “family” to make as many purchases as you need while in the area. Of course, I don’t condone or recommend these services, though they are amazingly efficient and quite convenient:-).

Why go Duty Free?
Though Golfito is not just around the corner, so its a bit of a drive and the entire process is not exactly convenient for most people, keep in mind that products are not subject to most import taxes, nor the normal 13% Costa Rica sales tax, as well as most products are highly discounted, so thrifty shoppers from around the country can save up to 50% on certain items throughout the year. For those looking for smaller ticket items such as perfumes, cosmetics, liquor, cigarettes, small appliances, tires, computer items, and an assortment of household goods, you might want to save going thru some of these inconvenient restrictions and drive a little further South to the Costa Rica-Panama border. At the border crossing, shoppers can purchase duty-free goods on a mystery strip of shops located between the two borders in the town of Paso Canoas. (You enter one door on the Costa Rica side, and exit the other side of the store on the Panamanian side!) No restrictions apply in this area, and both duty free zones can provide affordable delivery of your purchases throughout the country, but be sure to negotiate the price first!

So if you are planning a shopping getaway to the port town of Golfito, consider making a short relaxing getaway out of the trip. (You’ll need it after the Golfito zoo.) With the new Costanera Sur highway, the drive is only around three hours from Manuel Antonio/Quepos Area Hotels, and the entire area offers small marinas, yachting and boating services, excellent sport fishing,
as well as easy access to some of Costa Rica’s most beautiful National Parks and protected areas. Although much of the tourism in the Golfito area focuses on the sport fishing industry, other water sports and beach activities are also popular pastimes, with incredible surfing beaches to the south of Golfito such as Playa Pavones; best known as home to one of Zancudo, Pilon and the famous the longest left hand breaking waves in the world. The friendly people of the area, and the fabulous natural wonders that abound make Golfito and the Golfo Dulce more than just a shopping excursion, the area is truly a
beautiful and relaxing place to stop and see more of fabulous Costa Rica! Happy Shopping!

Author:
Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and owns and manages her own Vacation Rental Home BusinessManuel Antonio Rental Homes.

Sources:
http://costarica.com
http://www.golfito-costarica.com/golfito/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golfito
http://depositodegolfito.com/dlcg/

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Are you Ready to Celebrate a Costa Rica Christmas in that Special “Tico” Style?

December 10, 2013

In case you haven´t noticed, Costa Rica Christmas decorations and discount sales began long before Halloween dates passed. This brings to mind some of our own special ¨Tico¨ Christmas traditions found in our beautiful tropical locale. Be it the kids that start their ¨summer¨ vacations in December, workers that receive their yearly ¨aguinaldo¨ (an automatic one month salary Christmas Bonus from their boss), or the massive preparations of the traditional Christmas Tamales……whichever it may be, ¨La Navidad¨ is just around the corner!

Will there be snow? Well that is highly unlikely since Costa Rica is located only 11° off the Equator, but Costa Ricans are fascinated by snow, since few have everseen the real thing. Many of the floats in the yearly ¨Festival de la Luz¨ scheduled for Saturday Dec 14th at 6pm passes each year down the main street of Paseo Colon and Second Ave in San Jose. Floats are decorated in fluffy white cotton fabrics to give the impression of snow, and many holiday participants threw white confetti at each other, also meant to simulate snow. This year, the municipality once again is put a firm hand down on the throwing of this confetti due to safety factors, as well as the high cost of clean-up afterwards. In years past, there have been many complaints from innocent bypassers walking to work who were suddenly blanketed from head to toe in the white confetti.

Costa Rica´s animal lovers wait anxiously each year for ¨El Tope Nacional¨ usually held the day after Christmas on December 26th. This parade includes marching bands, clowns and other strange characters, but is most popular for featuring some 6000 of Costa Rica´s most beautiful high stepping horses, as well as the famous colorful hand painted oxcarts. These fabulous detailed oxcarts were originally pulled by people, then by oxen, and now are rarely used in day to day work, but are considered historical works of art cherished by the Costa Rican people.

The traditional Christmas tree, more often decorated in hues of blue, gold, silver,
white and maybe a little red, is accompanied by another important decoration, the ¨Portal¨. The Portal is the representation of the birth of Jesus, with the figures of Mary, Joseph, the three wise men, the ox and the mule. The most important figure in Costa Rica is the Baby Jesus. In Costa Rica, Santa Claus doesn’t bring the Christmas gifts, those are brought by Baby Jesus on Christmas Eve. Called ¨La Nochebuena”, it is said that while the family is sleeping, the Baby Jesus appears at the portal and the gifts magically appear under the tree for the morning of the 25th. That is when all family members typically gather around the tree and pray, thanking Baby Jesus for all the good that has passed that year, followed by the opening of the gifts Baby Jesus has bestowed upon them.

The Christmas menu is extensive, but the focus is around the preparing and eating of typical Costa Rican “tamales”. The true “tamal” base is of ground corn, which is
made into a thick dough that is later filled with small amounts of rice, small slices of potatoes, vegetables, green olives, pork or chicken, and finally wrapped in fresh plantain leaves. They are then tied with string in pairs (known as ¨Piñas¨) and boiled until cooked through and through. Making “tamales” is a cherished tradition that involves the participation of many family members and friends, as this is a slow and laborious process taught by Grandmothers from one generation to another. I am lucky enough to have many Tico friends that take pity on my lack of knowledge (or motivation!) to make the tamales and each year give me the gift of the famous Tamal!

Easily, the most chaotic and perhaps crazy activity of the holiday season is the “Zapote Bullfights”, held in the town of Zapote, just outside of downtown San
Jose. It is there that they build a special ¨Redondel¨ or Bull Ring, as well as erect a yearly improvised amusement park complete with carnival rides, amusement park games and a selection of “chinamos”, or improvised food stands. It´s important to note that in the Costa Rican bullfights, the bulls are never harmed, or killed, though the “bullfighters” do not always fare so well (see videos below). The most prestigious cattle ranches provide the bulls for free and it is considered an honor to have their bulls included in this event. Beyond the actual riding of the large bulls (generally done in Costa Rica with NO hands), much more frightening are the bullfighters in the ring. These consist of ¨normal¨ people dressed in all kinds of crazy outfits, that willingly get into the arena in mass without any professional preparation to ¨fight¨ or spook the bulls, encouraging them to chase them around the arena. Incredibly, very few people get hurt or gored during this event, though the activity is definitely entertaining and a big headache for the local Red Cross which voluntarily provides it’s emergency services during this yearly event. It´s interesting to note that this festival year after year draws Costa Ricans from all parts of the country and crosses all social classes.

The Holiday Season then officially ends on January 6th, the day the three wise men arrived and saw Baby Jesus for the first time. That day all the neighbors gather and say a special prayer for the Baby Jesus. This prayer is based on the rosary and traditional Christmas carols. Of course after the prayer, there’s the indulging in
the famous Costa Rica coffee, along with more “Tamales”, “Rompope” (Costa Rican Egg Nog), “Aguadulce” (a Sweet Water like juice) and all kinds of typical baked goods and other traditional beverages. Don´t forget the grapes (no seedless ones here) and the apples, which are considered very special treats here, as they are not readily available or very affordable and kids love them!

Lastly, Costa Rican Hotels and tourism operations around the country eagerly await the arrival of December to usher in their peak tourist season when winter weary snowbirds look to bask in the warm tropical weather and waters of Costa Rica, as well as enjoy the bounty of adventure tours and the beauty of Costa Rica´s incredible natural resources. I hope if you are reading this you are lucky enough to share in our bounty this Holiday Season!

MERRY CHISTMAS OR FELIZ NAVIDAD Y PROSPERO ANO NUEVO!

Author: Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent another 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino owns and manages her own Vacation Rental Home business Manuel Antonio Rental Homes.