The Costa Rican Craft Town That Offers Life’s Simple Pleasures

Decompressing in retirement was a concern I had after leading an active and hectic business life for more years than I care to count. Moving to Sarchí in Costa Rica’s Central Valley alleviated those concerns since there is so much enjoyment to be had in the mere simplicity of the lifestyle here.

My wife, Jackie, and I have a house in the hills above the city, which opens to coffee fields and views of the capital city, San Jose, in the distance, with an abundance of birds to sing to us over our morning coffee.

Our routine trip down the hill to Sarchí Central is about a 10-minute drive and we usually try to make the most of it by including grocery shopping at the local markets and produce stores. This saves us money over the chain stores since the pricing is geared towards locals rather than tourists. Our weekly grocery bill runs between $40 and $50 per week, not including our meats which we buy at the feria (market) in the neighboring town of Grecia.

We also try to grab a lunch at a local soda or café, where we can get a typical rice dish with shrimp or chicken, fried chicken and potatoes, or a huge hamburger platter with a fresh fruit drink for about $5 per plate.

But mostly we like to explore the many artisanal workshops that make Sarchí famous.

One of our favorite artisans is Ulisis Peres, owner of a small shop named La Ocarina. A spirited 93-year-old artist, Ulisis and his wife take a cab from Grecia to their little workshop in downtown Sarchí to display and sell their painted clay pots, paintings, piggy banks, and, of course, the ocarinas for which the shop is named. The prices of his artwork run from $2 up to $80 for large ornate pottery. Ulisis is always happy to come out of his workshop to talk with us and to tell us a story about how he came to decorate a certain piece we are looking at. Whenever we make a purchase at La Ocarina, we always have Ulisis sign and date it for us, which gives him a great sense of pride, and we always leave with a firm handshake and a gentle kiss from his wife.

There are many other workshops throughout Sarchí, most of them specializing in furniture which is handcrafted here. Regardless of one’s tastes, there will be furniture to satisfy all needs, from distressed and painted rustic articles to ornately hand-carved fine wood pieces and everything in between. We purchased our queen-sized bedroom set with an orthopedic mattress from a local craftsman for $1,200, and it was all handmade from local hardwoods. Our living room accent pieces and the entertainment cabinet along with a coffee table were only $400 and fit our décor perfectly.

Our downtown visits always end up in the Central Park with its huge ox cart and beautiful church. It is a relaxing time to sit and watch the families congregate and the children play. The trip is not complete without purchasing a Churchill (so named because the inventor of the treat closely resembled Winston Churchill) from the ever-present street vendor. A Churchill is a shaved ice confection blended with sweet crème, malt, and fruit syrup, and it is the best $1.50 spent for the two of us to share.

With sweet tooth satisfied and a contented sigh, we end our afternoon driving back to our house to settle in for the light show of the city below us. I doubt there has been any night when I think that I would want to be anywhere else.

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