There are a ton of food shopping options in Costa Rica. Grocery stores in Costa Rica range from high-end markets to small mini-markets which carry all the basics you might need.
It is good to know a bit about all the Costa Rica grocery stores so you can go to the one that best suits your needs.
Large Grocery Store Chains
There are several large grocery store chains in Costa Rica. These grocery stores are similar in size to what you are used to at home.
The best/ worst grocery store in Costa Rica. I say the best because they sell everything you could ever want. I say the worst because I always walk out of there with way more stuff than I needed and end up spending at least $50 every time I set foot in the store.
If you would like any of the food comforts of home or fresh bread, this is the place to buy them.
You can find Automercado in the San Jose area and in the northern Guanacaste region.
Mas x Menos
Mas x Menos is a decent sized store with pretty much everything you could need. Prices tend to be a bit cheaper than Auto Mercado, but the selection is smaller as well. There is also a fresh bread section here.
Mas x Menos can be found throughout the Central Valley area and in Jaco.
PriceSmart is the equivalent of Costco (in other words, you need a membership to go here and everything is sold in bulk).
If you plan on being in Costa Rica for the long term, it may be worth it to get a membership. Memberships cost $40 a year and come with two cards. We share a membership with a friend and it is totally worth the price.
At the moment, PriceSmart’s are only located throughout the Central Valley but rumor has it that one will soon be opening in Liberia. People are all sorts of crazy excited.
Mega Super is a grocery chain that is similar to Mas x Menos. You can find everything that you might need here and the selection is decent.
Mega Super is located all throughout the country.
Maxi Pali is like entering a warehouse of food. It’s always a bit too dark and dingy in here, but the food is cheap. Their selection is not the best, but you can buy the basics that you might need to make a meal.
You can find Maxi Pali all throughout the country.
Small Mini Markets
Mini markets are very popular in Costa Rica. In fact, we go to our nearby mini-market at least a few times a week. At these small markets you can get basic things like snacks, pasta, cereal, some cheeses, lunch meat, and drinks (including hard liquor, beer, and wine).
Prices tend to be about the same that you would pay in a grocery store, but sometimes the prices can be a bit higher. Oddly enough, at least at our local mini-market, alcohol is always a lot cheaper.
AMPM is a mini-market chain located in the Central Valley area that is very similar to a 7/11. This store is clean, modern, and has several pre-made food options. The prices are really high, but if you need some snacks or a quick meal to pick up, this is a good spot.
Products You Should Try
There are a lot of unique foods that are either produced by Costa Rican companies or are just a traditional item that people here like to eat or drink. Here are some things you can buy at Costa Rican grocery stores that you might like to try.
Costa Rica Craft Beers
Craft beers have finally made their way to Costa Rica. They tend to be a bit pricey, but it’s definitely worth a try!
If you’d like more tips on craft beers, we have a guide to beers in Costa Rica.
Guayabita is a popular candy here in Costa Rica. The outside is a chocolate coating and the inside is a guava flavored jelly. You can now buy this as an ice cream flavor as well.
Friend plantains are a tasty snack like potato chips. Usually, they are seasoned with salt
Yuca chips are very similar to potato chips. They come in all sorts of different flavors. I personally love the sour cream and onion flavor.
Tamales are a traditional meal here in Costa Rica. You can buy them pre-made in the premade food section of almost all grocery stores. Just heat them up in boiling water, peel open the banana leaf, and they will be ready to enjoy.
Things to Note About Grocery Shopping in Costa Rica
Buy local products when possible
Everything that is imported has a high import tax. This is the reason that a bag of Reeses peanut butter cups, for example, costs about $15. If possible, it is best to buy local products. There are companies in Costa Rica which make their own bread, cheeses, snacks etc.
Bring all toiletries with you if possible
As I just mentioned, all imported items can be pricey. If possible, bring all your toiletries (shampoo, makeup, bug spray, sun lotion etc.) with you in your suitcase. Hotels will almost always have the basics such as soap and shampoo for you to use.
There are farmers markets located throughout the country
You can ask at your hotel or Airbnb what day is the farmers market in the town you are staying in. Typically, produce is a lot cheaper and more fresh at these markets. Plus, you can find some crazy fruits to try that you’ve never seen before.
Most larger grocery stores accept dollars and colones
It is always a bit easier to pay in colones so that you can assure that you get the best exchange rate. However, if you only have dollars with you most stores will happily accept that. Just note that they will likely give you your change in colones.
Reuse your plastic bags
If you get plastic bags from the grocery store, it is not a bad idea to save them. They are great for putting dirty clothes in or for putting wet bathing suits and stuff in if you are traveling to another location before things have had a chance to dry.
Buy Your Holiday Favorites
If you are visiting on a holiday (such as Thanksgiving) Automercado always carries all your favorites from home if you’d like to celebrate. You can buy cranberry sauce, stuffing, and even a 20-pound turkey if you desire!
Buy Your Souvenirs
In all grocery stores in Costa Rica, there is an aisle of coffee and often chocolate. Costa Rican coffee and chocolate make the perfect affordable souvenirs to bring back to your family and friends back home. Usually, these items are cheaper in the grocery store than they would be in any type of souvenir shop.
Know Your Colones
It is good to know the exchange rate between your own currency and colones. That way you can easily understand how much things cost in the grocery store. I like the free app XE Currency Exchange. You can add colones and your own currency into the app. Then, at the grocery store, you can enter a cost in colones and it will convert the price to your own currency. You don’t need wifi for this.
You can Buy Dietary Specialties
If you are lactose intolerant, gluten-free, etc. you will have no problem buying specialty foods in all larger supermarkets. The selection may not be what you are used to, but there are options.
Don’t forget to buy water
You can usually drink the water from the sink in Costa Rica. We only buy water in more remote locations. However, if you would like to just air on the side of caution, it is very affordable to buy large water jugs that you can use to refill your water bottle.
Don’t forget the coffee!!!
Maybe you are more organized than us, but we always forget to buy coffee when we are staying at an Airbnb. Costa Ricans love their coffee and I’m pretty sure every Airbnb you stay in will have a way to make coffee, but just don’t forget to buy some at the store ahead of time.
Our Favorite Easy (and Cheap) Meals to Make
If you are staying at an Airbnb, hostel etc. that has a kitchen you can save a ton of money on food by cooking your own meals. Eating at restaurants can be expensive here!
The problem is, sometimes you have to buy a ton of different things (salt, oil, butter, spices etc.) to make a meal. We are always drawn to places that have a grill which guests can use, but then you have to buy charcoal, starter, etc. Ugh!
Also, most Airbnb’s in Costa Rica will have a stovetop, but not an oven or microwave. It is good to keep this in mind when planning your meals because it definitely does limit you a bit.
Anyway, we stay at a lot of Airbnb’s and have gotten pretty good at keeping our meals simple.
Here are some of our favorite easy meals to make while traveling in Costa Rica that won’t cost you a ton of money.
You can easily buy all the ingredients to these meals at any of the grocery stores in Costa Rica.
For breakfast, egg burritos are always a good go-to food. Every store sells flour or corn tortillas as well as eggs.
We usually scramble the eggs and estimate about one or two eggs per person. We then throw some black beans (sold in cans at every store), some cheese (can be expensive so skip if sticking to a tight budget), sausage or bacon (sold everywhere), salsa, and some Natilla (the Costa Rican equivalent to sour cream) into the burritos as well.
If we have a large group with us we just make the scrambled eggs and sausage. We then put all the other burrito goodies on the table and let everyone put together their own burrito.
This is a cheap breakfast and if you buy enough you can have this breakfast for several days.
Cereal and Milk
You can’t get easier than cereal and milk! All stores and mini markets sell at least some variety of cereal. Most mini markets won’t have much of a selection, but you will at least be able to find a few options. Also, all grocery stores (and most mini markets as well) have at least one lactose-free milk variety if you need.
Scrambled eggs, Toast, Fruit
Another simple breakfast we usually make is scrambled eggs with toast and fruit. You will need eggs, bread, butter, and a fruit. Usually, we buy pineapple as our fruit because it just feels so Costa Rican. 🙂
Sandwiches and Snacks
You will probably spend most of your days in Costa Rica exploring. To keep things simple we usually pre-make sandwiches at our Airbnb and bring some snacks.
You can buy bread, lunch meat, sliced cheese, lettuce, and mayonnaise or mustard at any grocery store or mini market. Just remember that you will also need some zip lock bags or something similar to put your sandwiches in.
Pasta salad is easy to make and requires very few supplies. Here is what I buy for pasta salad.
Pasta (obviously), mayonnaise, and vegetables. I typically use tomatoes, black olives, red peppers, a shredded carrot, and a bit of red onion as my vegetables.
Just cook the pasta as usual and rinse with cold water when done. You want the pasta to be completely cooled off. Then add in all your cut up veggies and the mayonnaise (this is not an exact science. Just see when it looks good).
If you don’t want mayonnaise, a light salad dressing would also be great on this.
Pasta and Sauce
Pasta and tomato sauce is always an easy dinner when you just don’t feel like cooking. This is almost always our dinner for the first night we stay at any Airbnb because it’s just so simple.
You can buy pasta and sauce at any store or mini market throughout the country. Just note, it can sometimes be difficult to find parmesan in the stores here. All larger grocery stores will carry parm, but most mini markets will not.
Grilled cheese and tomato soup
Grilled cheese and tomato soup is another of our go-to Airbnb dinners that is cheap, easy to make, and you can buy the supplies at any grocery store or mini market.
All you need to buy is American cheese (you know those kind of nasty looking single wrapped orange slices of cheese?), a loaf of bread, butter, and a packet of powdered tomato soup.
To make, heat up a frying pan and butter two pieces of toast for each sandwich. Toast each piece of bread, butter side down, in the frying pan. Then, add two slices of cheese to one of the still-warm pieces of toasted bread (on the toasted side).
Put the bread together like a sandwich with the toasted sides in the middle. Butter each of the outside sides of the bread. Then grill each side in the pan and voila! You have some really tasty grilled cheese.
To make the tomato soup just follow the directions on the package. All you need is water and a pot.
Tacos are easy to make and can be somewhat healthy. For tacos at an Airbnb, we buy black or refried beans in a can, a tomato, lettuce, a protein (chicken or beef), an avocado, Natilla, and salsa, and soft corn or flour tortillas.
You can buy all of these items at any store.
Then, just heat up the black beans and cook your protein. We then just put everything out on the table and let everyone make their own taco
Hopefully, this gave you a bit more clarity about grocery shopping in Costa Rica. Let us know if you have any questions in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you out!
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