78. A Different Kind of Shopping Day

Saturday 5/7-  Since my weekdays will now be mostly full with work, we will have to use the weekends to take care of anything that will take more than a half a day (but don’t worry, I have already worked out Thursday feria day with the company, we’ll still be able to make it to San Isidro for the market). We have a few weekends with plans coming up, so we decided that today would be the best day to run down to the Panama border for a liquor run and stop in Golfito on the way back for duty-free shopping.

As we’ve mentioned in past posts, the drive to the Panama border is about 2 hours for us. In Panama we can find fantastic deals on liquor as well as find some products that we either can’t find in Uvita or San Isidro, or can sometimes find much less expensive at the border. Panama also uses the US Dollar, so it is easier for us to comprehend the price of things (but, after nearly a year, we are getting better at the quick currency conversions in our heads). We have guests coming down in about a month, plus Ramie’s stash of rum is getting low, so we wanted to go stock up on some cheap liquor again.

Today we woke up early and headed South on the coastal highway once again. With the drive being 2 hours, and the stores opening around 8, that meant we could get on the road by a little bit after 6, which is fine by me because most mornings I seem to be awake by about 4:30 anyway. It’s an easy drive, typically there’s not a lot of traffic, and there are beautiful mountains, valleys, and some ocean scenery.

Our first stop in Paso Canoas (the border city where we shop) was the gas station. We’ve heard that gas is cheaper down here, so we stopped first to fill up our tank. Here it cost about $5.25 a gallon. Up in Uvita I think we pay nearly $6 per gallon. The gas stations here don’t have the big signs that you can see from the road showing you the prices so you don’t have a clue how much gas is until you get right up to the pump, and even then the prices are for a liter instead of a gallon, and on the Costa Rica side they are in Colones, so there are a lot of conversions to do to figure out how much it actually costs. All we know is that gas is expensive here and we try to not drive more than we have to. Diesel on the other hand is less than gasoline, and Ramie often reminds me that he still wishes we found a diesel truck when we were car shopping a year ago. After the car was fed, we then went to the liquor store. This time since we were driving instead of part of the tour like we were in February, we went to the store that Loren had brought us to on our first trip down here. As we were driving, we realized that this store was much farther down the road than we had originally thought and were very glad that we didn’t try to walk here last time!! We bought our fill of cheap liquor (remember- most of this is the same stuff you’d buy in the US like Bacardi, Jose Cuervo, and Smirnoff) and again were shocked by how much you can get for how little money.

Our haul 1.75's in back and 1's in the front.

Even candy sweet wine, or is it really just kool-ade?

Ahhhh High school! (according to Ramie) No we didn't buy any Boones Farm but we were laughing and I think the locals were wondering why

We then finally made it to City Mall. This is a huge warehouse style store that has just about everything: food, clothing, toiletries, household goods, automotive, electronics, appliances, most of the things you might ever want to buy. We made our way through the aisles and spent close to 2 hours here before checking out and moving on.

 They take security seriously here! NO STEALING!
I've never seen cans of bug spray this big!

Big Puff Lemon Scent, why? Because bugs love it, Duh!

Those are some Mega Big Colas! Thanks for the clarification.

Our next stop wouldn’t be here at the Panama border. Since we were already this far South, we were going to stop in Golfito on our way back. If you remember, Golfito is the duty-free zone where we bought our appliances in December. This is set up almost like an outlet mall with dozens of stores (most selling similar types of items) all at different prices. Most prices are less than you can find elsewhere in the country, plus you don’t have to pay the 13% VAT (like sales tax), so you are getting good prices if you are willing to go through the hassle of buying it here. While Golfito isn’t technically “on the way” between Uvita and Panama, it is only about a 40 minute side-trip off the highway that we travel. Our goal for Golfito today was to find a TV. We have been without one for nearly a year and have been surviving just fine, and we won’t be able to use it for much right now anyway since we don’t have internet yet (it will work, however, for video games. I haven’t played Animal Crossing since tax season, but Ramie likes other video games on the big screen). Since Costa Rica is so mountainous, over the antenna TV is not a thing here. It's Satellite or streaming (with internet). We definitely don't watch enough TV to justify buying a satellite subscription (we didn’t even have one the last few years in the US), not to mention it would mostly be in Spanish. Regardless, a TV is something that we do plan to have in the house and might as well buy one now while we are down here, especially since we don’t know when our next opportunity to make it here will be. We got to Golfito around 12:30 and noticed that there was an extremely long line to check in to be able to shop. By long, I mean almost all the way from the front entry to the furthest back store (at least a football field long). We found our way to the end of the line and stood there for a little while noticing that the line wasn’t moving at all. We discussed whether this was actually worth it or not, and after going back and forth, decided that since we were here, Ramie should go around and look for TVs to see if there was even anything we wanted to buy, and I would stay here in line and save our place. The line was moving frustratingly slowly but I waited while Ramie looked. He texted me a few times with what he found and gathered up the quote slips like we did with the appliances so many months ago. 

Once he had been to all of the stores that he wanted to check at, he came back to the line and after the hour or so that I was waiting, I had still only made it halfway to the check-in.

When he got back we looked through the tickets to see what our options were. We then did some online comparison shopping with the couple of stores in Uvita that would be our other options for buying TVs and realized that we would be saving a couple hundred dollars, so we would continue to stick this out. At some point we realized that the guy behind us in line also spoke English, so we struck up a conversation to see if he knew why it was such a zoo here today. He explained that due to the government computer system being hacked a few weeks ago (remember, this is the reason why my work computer was delayed so long), they could no longer do the check in online with the automated system, everything had to be done the old way, on paper. Well, I guess that explains the long wait! It was also very busy here today because it was a Saturday and people from the bigger cities come down to buy their beer and liquor, in some cases, for their restaurants. The catch here is that each person is only allowed 2 cases of liquor, 2 cases of beer, and 2 cases of wine. Families come down with aunts, uncles, nieces & nephews to maximize the number of cases they could buy, and there was evidence of this at the check-out area when there were mountains of beer and liquor waiting for the owners to all congregate. I don’t know how much less expensive liquor is here than it is in any other store, but the 13% VAT is probably enough savings to make it worthwhile for them. (I really wish I had thought to take a picture of this, but unfortunately, I didn’t.)

It took us about 2-2.5 hours of standing in line to finally get registered to be able to shop. Since we already had decided which store we were going to buy the TV at, we didn’t have to do any more browsing. There were a couple of other stores that I wanted to stop in just to browse, but I was exhausted and didn’t take much time doing that. We quickly made it to the store to buy the TV and were back on our way out of the shopping area, then back home. We took the “scenic” route back to the highway so we wouldn’t have to backtrack South before going North again and found the road to be quite adventurous. It was kind of fun, but I’m glad we didn’t have a heavier load or more breakable things in the car, as we were bouncing along pretty good. Before long, though, we were back at the highway and on smooth (pothole filled, but at least asphalt) road again. This alternate route saved us probably a half hour or more. As we got closer to home Ramie brought up stopping at our favorite Pescaderia (fresh fish shop) so we stopped there to see what was fresh today. They didn’t have any tuna, this would probably be in-season in a couple of weeks, but they did have some fresh mahi mahi, so we got a couple of meals of fresh fish. There were also three VERY fresh marlin, so fresh, in fact, that the carcasses were just lying on the tables waiting to be filleted. Ramie asked if we could buy some Marlin, they said no problem and proceeded to cut the Marlin steaks for us. Seriously, we couldn’t get any fresher fish than that! After we got our fish, we made it home in about 20 minutes. We were wiped out from the long day of shopping but it was totally worth it!

Pura Vida


  1. Cheap booze and expensive fuel for the car, I guess there is a trade off there! I assume you bought the fish by the kilo, how much was the mahi mahi and tuna when you can get it? Edie loves salmon, is that also available? We have fish quite a bit in Mazatlan and it is also freshly caught.

  2. Hi Ken and Edie, To be honest even with the expensive fuel its still a steal to make the 4 hour round trip to Panama. For reference that 1.75L of Rum costs about $60+ here in town. I paid $11 for it in Panama, the 1L of other rum only cost $5 per bottle. Yes the fish is by the Kilo the Mahi and Marlin is about $13.50/kilo, tuna costs about $15/kilo. Most of the time the Pescadaria's do have other shallow water fish like Red Snapper, Snook, etc. but Im not fond of them. No Salmon here the waters are to warm for it, but I have seen it on Menus in some of the restaurants. I do miss my cold water fish like Crappie and Sunnies.


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