57. Golfito

Tuesday 12/14 - We like options, we like comparisons, and we tend to do a lot of research before we make decisions. Last Sunday we started in our search for appliances, and even though at the time we didn’t know we were going to get serious about making these decisions right now, it seems like a good time to be working on this next step. There is a place about 2 hours south of here in the town of Golfito that we hear a lot of discussion about. This place is a duty-free zone where you can supposedly get good deals on household stuff as well as other things. Some people love it, some people hate it, it’s hard to get a good description of what is actually there and what it’s all about. We decided that we wanted to go see what it’s all about. Even if we don’t end up finding good deals there, it’s something we’ve been curious to see and it’s another thing to check off of our list.

Since it’s a 2 hour drive each way, we got up early and got on the road by 6:30 am. The first 1-1.5 hours are down the same highway that we took to Panama a couple of months ago when we went shopping with Loren and Nancy. There are nice scenic views of the mountains, you go through some small towns, and you get to see what some of the non-touristy areas look like along the way. 

Once you get pretty far south, you hang a right and start heading toward the coast. After another 30 minutes we made it to the town. Golfito is situated along the bay of, what else, Golfito and is a very cute town that I would compare to the Costa Rican version of downtown Stillwater. There are cute boutique-y shops, restaurants, a walk along the waterfront, and we even saw some sailboats and expensive yachts out in the calm water of the bay. I honestly don’t know why this isn’t more of a tourist destination, but I’m guessing it is because it is so remote and such a far drive to everything else that people come to see in Costa Rica. Today we were on a shopping mission so we wouldn’t be stopping to actually check out the town, but we would consider coming back here to spend a day sight-seeing.

After driving down the main street through this cute little town, we came to the duty free shopping area that we were looking for. The duty free shopping zone is basically a large tear drop shape. All of the shops are in the center and a ring road round the outside of it. You can't really see the shops as the entire area is surrounded by a large cement wall. There were several parking lots nearby so we found the first one that had any open spaces, parked the car, and headed toward the front entrance. As we were walking, a guy from the parking lot approached us to let us know that they keep an eye on your car so it doesn’t get broken into, and that they have guys inside that can help us if we need help bringing any big purchases back out to our car. We then headed toward the front gate and were approached by another guy saying that he’s the guy that would help get the stuff back to our car. Ok, cool… at least we won’t have to worry about how to get the big stuff out there if we do decide to purchase anything here!


Of course we were warned about this. These guys are not doing this out of the kindness of their hearts and there are horror stories about these guys demanding money. We got a good inside scoop from Loren and Geiner about what to expect. Basically if you choose to use these guys settle on a price before they touch anything you purchased. Also make sure its for everything. They may tell you that they will charge you 5mil colones (about $8) to bring your stuff to your car. When you get to your car they tell you "oh no that was per item. You have 5 so that is 25mil colones". At that point you're obligated to pay. Ramie told the guy we were not buying and only looking and that we didn't need his services. Well that wasn't exactly the truth but it got him to go away, at least for now.

Once you get inside the fenced area you have to check in and get your “card”. It actually isn’t a card any more, you used to have to get a card, but now everything is electronic. Essentially what is happening is they register you in the system, and each individual is only allowed to buy about $1800 of duty free items for each 6 month period, and each individual is only allowed to buy 1 air conditioner per 6 month period. This registration (what used to be a card) was to ensure you don’t go over your limit. Then, once you are past the registration counter you are free to shop. Once we walked into this central shopping area we could see what the general idea was. There were dozens of shops, some were familiar stores that we had heard of (Gollo and Monge each had at least 2 locations here), and others shops that this was probably their only location. There were also brand specific stores (a Frigidaire store and a Cuisinart store for example). Many of the stores seemed to specialize in those same types of things that Gollo & Monge sell- large and small appliances, TVs, and electronics. There were some liquor stores (which were by far the busiest stores here with Christmas coming up. There were lines out the door with people waiting to get INTO the store) and a few that appeared to sell other random household goods and textiles (blankets, curtains, things like that). Our mission today was appliances, so that is what we focused on. We had been told by some people we spoke to before we came down here, that what you do is go into the stores, find the items that you like, and they write them up on a “quote” type sheet with the specific item and model number and the price. Some will negotiate with you, others maybe not so much. Then you go around to all of the stores and look at all of the things you like and after you've been to all the stores, you can sit down and compare the prices that you were quoted. Then, you can finally make your decisions and go back to buy the things if you decide to buy anything. Also, to make things slightly easier, in addition to the names of the stores, each store had a number that went along with its quote sheet. Of course, the stores didn’t appear to be in order of their numbers, but at least with the store number on the quote sheet you know which Gollo or Monge (since there were multiple) you had been at. Another funny thing is although there were 2 of the Gollos they had different pricing. One store we went to had 5 different locations by different names, but all affiliated to each other, and all had different prices. So even though you looked at that same fridge over at that other store, you have to ask the price at the 2nd store and the 3rd store. It was truly exhausting!

We started with the first store inside the gate (which was number 50 or 60 something… I also don’t think that all numbers have stores. I mean, I don’t think there were 60 stores in the area, but there were over 60 numbers). We looked around, found 1 item that we may have been interested in, had them write up their quote sheet, and then moved on to the next store. We did this again and again in many of the stores that sold appliances. Some stores had staff that spoke English, some did not. We muddled along with our limited Spanish and Google Translate in the stores where they didn’t speak English. After the first few stores we had learned the Spanish names of the appliances that we were looking for and began to notice things that we liked and didn’t like about specific appliances. We went to store after store looking for things that we liked, getting the quote sheets, and moving on the next one. I didn’t look at the time at all during this round so I really don’t know how long this took. While we were walking around and through all of the stores, we would periodically notice the guy from the parking lot that told us he would help us get our stuff to the car. That’s weird, but I suppose he’s out looking for people to help (and get paid).


Finally once we had been to many of the stores and had a handful of quotes, we found a table out in the courtyard area and sat down to look through everything. Ohhh.... sitting down felt so good! Did I mention this was exhausting!? This place was like an outlet mall on steroids but for appliances and electronics.  There were so many people and so many large and small appliances. We enjoyed sitting and while taking some time off of our feet we compared prices, ranked different ones based on how much we liked them versus the price (of course, we always seem to like the most expensive things the most, but we are on a budget too), and once we narrowed down all of the items here in Golfito that we liked, we compared them to the lists that we had made from Gollo and Monge back in Uvita. From what we could tell, we would definitely save money by purchasing here in Golfito for 2 reasons. Many of the items we found started out at a slightly lower price than those in Uvita, PLUS we would be saving the 13% VAT (ie. sales tax) by buying here in a duty free zone instead of buying in Uvita. Of course, the only down-side would be getting all of these items BACK to Uvita. We wouldn’t be able to fit a fridge, stove, washer & dryer, microwave, and 2 A/C split units in our truck! Geiner does have a big work truck and we know that he would, for a fee, have some guys go pick up our purchases for us and bring them back. Even with the price that he quoted us for the pickup and delivery, we would still be saving a significant bit of money. 


Ok, so now that we decided it would be a good idea to buy our stuff here, which ones do we buy and at which store or stores? Well, after looking at Gollo and Monge in Uvita the last few days, and then looking at ALL of these stores here, we discovered that there is almost zero chance of being able to find a matching set of appliances. You know, when you are shopping for a full set in the US you can go pick out your “set” and will get a fridge, stove, microwave and dishwasher (well, we aren’t doing a dishwasher here, but you get the idea) that all match. They are the same brand, same finish, have the same handles and all look nice together. Well, I guess that isn’t a thing in Costa Rica! Even if we bought each appliance at a different store, we still wouldn’t be able to get a full matching set. It is even nearly impossible to find a matching washer & dryer! So, since that clearly isn’t an option for us to even try, we’ll just stick to buying everything in stainless steel. We spent quite a while going through our options, and finally decided on what we wanted. We would buy the fridge from 1 store, and the microwave, stove, washer, dryer, and 2 air conditioners at another store. We were pretty happy that it turned out this way, as the fewer stores we bought from, the easier this would all end up being. 

By now it was sometime after noon, I don’t have a clue what time it was because I still wasn’t really looking at the time, but I knew that we were getting tired of shopping. We went back to the store that had the majority of the appliances and talked to the guy there. Fortunately he spoke English very well. We told him what items we were looking at buying and asked if he could give us a better deal since we were buying so many. He had to go through the whole song and dance of going to his manager and back and forth (kind of like buying a car at a dealership). Finally, we agreed on prices that we could both be comfortable with, and told him to write it up. This is when he comes back to us and says that the washer we wanted to buy was the last one. You mean this one on the floor, the one everyone has walked by and kicked, opened and pushed all the buttons? Yep, that's the one. So back to the negotiating table. Ramie actually got him to give us more of a discount. BONUS! Oh, but first, we wouldn’t be able to take all of this with us today, so can you hold it here until Mid January, until we can get someone to come pick it up for us? This was no problem, so let’s do this! Well, this part took much longer than you would think it should take to “check out”. I was tired by now and just wanted to be done, plus we had to go to another store to do this for the fridge. 

Oh, and all of a sudden the “helper guy” from the parking lot showed up again!


We told him that we would be purchasing some items today and that we would be taking the 2 air conditioners and the microwave (the things that would fit in our truck) with us today and we would need to have them delivered to the parking lot. As mentioned earlier in this post we were told to discuss a price with these guys BEFORE we agreed to have them help us, so we did this and were comfortable with the price of hiring him to help us out. We would pay him 10mil colones or just over $15. This seemed to make him happy, and he stayed with us from this point until we were ready to load up the items. So, after what seemed like forever, the checkout and payment part at this first store was done. We told them we’d be taking the 3 items with us, and they said that they would go get them out from the warehouse. In the meantime we went to the other store to verify they could hold the fridge for us, and then as long as they could hold it, we would be buying that. The helper guy came with us to the other store as well. He spoke very little English; I’d say that our Spanish is probably better than his English, but we chatted in the little ways that we could while we waited for all of our purchases to come together. Things were taking a while, so I went back to the first store to wait on the ACs to be brought up front while Ramie stayed and waited for the fridge paperwork. Once he got that he had to go to the sister store of the one we are buying the A/C’s at and get the microwave. While waiting for the microwave, Ramie said the helper guy mentioned he would be right back and walked out of the store, to talk with some people right out front. The store employee then told Ramie about the helpers in the center that have carts and will haul your items out to your car for 3mil colones (about $4.50). This was puzzling, and a little confusing. We just hired a guy to help us, but maybe it was more because of the amount of stuff we had...?

When I got back to the 1st store, they had the ACs all ready, and without explanation they started opening up the boxes and taking the units out. What were they doing? The sales guy that we had been working with (and spoke English) wasn’t around, so I just waited and watched this other guy take our AC units out of their boxes. Eventually, the sales guy came back and told me to take a look at the ACs to make sure there was nothing broken or looked wrong with them. I took a look, there was nothing that I could see wrong, but what do I really know, told them it looked good and then they packed it all back up just like it had originally come from the factory.  Ok, that was weird, but I suppose it’s nice that they give you the opportunity to see that nothing was damaged! About the time they were finished packing everything up, Ramie and the helper came back with the microwave. At that point, we now had 2 ACs (that were 2 boxes each) and the microwave, so we thought he would go grab his cart and we would be on our way. Nope– he whistled and called over one guy with a cart from the center of the shopping area. Huh? I thought this guy was the one helping us! What are we paying him for? The 2nd guy loaded up our purchases and all 4 of us walked back to our car in the parking lot. So, now helper guy #1 wanted to be paid the amount we had agreed upon, PLUS he wanted more money for the guy that actually pulled the cart. Well… that’s not what we agreed upon! What did helper guy #1 even do for us? Not really anything, we could have hired helper guy #2 without the help of #1! Well– I guess this is what people had warned us about. Fortunately, the amount for guy #2 wasn’t very much (the guy that actually did the work got less money than the guy who just followed us around, I don’t really get it) but whatever, it was only a few dollars and we were still saving money compared to what it would have cost in Uvita. Well chock that up to a learning experience. I guess it could've been worse and now we know better for next time. 


We are both tired and hungry and just want to get home. Now, I looked at the clock- it was after 3pm. All Ramie and I had eaten all day were a couple of granola bars that I had thrown in my backpack before we left this morning. We had a few more snacks in the car and would snack on the way home.

It was a long exhausting day, but we actually accomplished something big! Was the 2 hour drive each way to Golfito worth it? In our opinion, Yes. Would we go down there again? Probably if we had to buy large appliances again, or if we needed a few small appliances (like if my toaster oven and blender and mixer all die and I need to replace them or something like that). It may be a long drive and a bit of a headache, but it is an experience to be had! Plus, there is a pretty good selection of different things here, AND it’s closer than driving all the way up to San Jose to find a good selection of things that you might not otherwise be able to find.  Too bad they didn't sell weed whackers!


The 2 hour drive home was quiet and kind of relaxing after all of the work all day long. It was after 5 by the time we got back to the house. It had been a long day cooped up for Breeze and she was very happy to see us. I was happy that there were leftovers in the fridge and we could eat dinner without me having to actually prepare something.

Pura Vida!


  1. Replies
    1. Yes, it sure does seem that way, doesn't it? Overall, the general pace of life seems simpler, but some things definitely are more complicated. For this shopping we could have just gone to the local stores and picked whatever they had, but we saved a fair amount of money doing it this way, so the extra work, in our opinion, was worth it.


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