The exquisite wooden crafts of Costa Rica

Wood sculpture of a Toucan
Wood sculpture of a Toucan

The culture and artisan crafts in Costa Rica are almost as big of a draw for tourists as the natural beauty of the forests, waterfalls, and beaches. Visitors flock to local markets and other Costa Rica shopping venues for treasures to take home with them. Pottery is just one aspect of Costa Rica culture that attracts attention, but the wooden crafts, made from the local trees of the rain and cloud forests, are what really stand out for many people. These hand-carved masks, bowls, trinket boxes, and other home accents are a rich reminder of the magic of country and its people.

Sarchi

In the province of Alajuela sits the quaint city of Sarchi, which is well-known for its Costa Rican crafts. With its proximity to the rain forest and history of cattle and horse ranches, Sarchi naturally evolved to focus on production of oxcarts for the farms and ranches of the area. The simple design of these carts became a canvas of sorts for the artisans who make them, adding colorful paint and complex designs to transform them into works of art.

The oxcarts may have lost their original purpose, but their value as crafts has not waivered or slowed down. Tourists who visit Sarchi can tour some of the factories where the carts are still made by hand, and then they can buy a souvenir-sized version to take home with them from one of the many stores in the city.

In addition to the painted oxcarts, Sarchi is also known for beautiful rocking chairs and jewelry boxes that make wonderful additions to any home. Tourists can arrange to ship the rockers to their homes or pick up smaller keepsakes that are easier to pack. A stop in Sarchi is a must if you visit this region.

Boruca

Boruca is not a town, but rather the name of a tribe of indigenous people in Costa Rica. The majority of the Boruca people and their descendants can be found along the Pacific coast in the southwestern region of the country. The Borucans are known for their weaving skills and wood crafting, relying on locally found materials including balsa wood or cedar.

What attracts tourists to seek out crafts from the Boruca tribe? Their ceremonial masks, carved from wood and decorated in the shapes of animals of the forests, including pumas, toucans, frogs, or devils, following the traditions of their ancestors. These vibrantly painted ceremonial masks are used as part of the annual Fiesta de los Diablitos, which literally translates to Party of the Little Devils, but is also known as Dance of the Spirits. This celebration tells the story of Spanish conquistadors in Central America from the perspective of the natives who resisted the invaders from Spain.

The rich history of the Boruca tribe is reflected in the masks and other crafts they make by hand. You can trek to the shops near the reservation to purchase some of their handiwork for your home. Not only can you have a work of art that you can’t find anywhere else in the world, but you are also supporting the livelihood of the native Costa Rica culture.

Modern-day Crafts

If you want a more functional craft for a souvenir, you may want to visit Escazú, a colonial town that is now a suburb on the western side of San José. Look for the work of local artisan Barry Biesanz, who coaxes decorative pieces out of the rosewood, tigerwood, ironwood, and other hardwoods that grow in the rain forests of Costa Rica. His signature bowls and jewelry boxes feature intricate carved details that creates by hand, using chisels and knives. His work puts a modern spin on a traditional craft while focusing on quality workmanship.

Wherever you stop to explore during your vacation, be sure to check out the wooden crafts that make Costa Rica shopping another adventure you should experience.