Figuring out the actual cost of living has been hard since we’ve spent 8 days in essentially tourist areas. Cahuita was slow, laidback and quite small. Aside from the beach and national park, there’s nothing there. That fact, along with the distance from the Central Valley, made us realize that the Caribbean coast was not the place for us, at least not at this time. (We were in Puerto Viejo for a couple of days as well, but the whole party town vibe didn’t grab us either.)
Since it was a tourist-oriented area, we assumed that prices were a bit inflated. The mercados (grocery stores) were small by American standards, really more like big NYC bodegas. They were pretty well stocked with basics, and I don’t remember the prices too well. I do remember buying some Kellogg’s cereal for about $4-5 (they actually had a much larger selection of known American brands than loca cereals).
Today we arrived in Belen and I ran out for a quick shopping trip to ‘Mega-Super.’ I’m glad to see that they had some self control in naming their store, at least compared to the northern Manhattan Latino stalwart ‘Xtra-Super-Jumbo.’ (I’d love to know if there’s a store out in the world that’s taken this naming convention to an extreme, perhaps stringing 5 or 6 superlatives together)
Anyway, Mega-Super is basically a really modern supermarket and would not be out of place at all in the US, where we like to pick names that seem practical (Stop & Shop, Price Chopper) or neighborly (Wegman’s, Kroger’s). I don’t think it lacked for anything, though the selection of items was less (like a lot fewer spices). I did walk into a Mega-Super in downtown Alajuela the first day we were here and it was not as modern (this is a brand new store) and was overall smaller with a smaller selection as well.
We’re looking forward to catching a feria (farmer’s market) sometime soon as that’s where we expect to be buying a lot of our food. I don’t think we can go back to grocery store veggies since we joined the CSA, due to both taste and value. Here’s the list of stuff from Mega-Super, converted to dollars at 515 colones per dollar (the rate everyone seems to use right now for giving change in colones after being paid in dollars). NB: 454g = 1lb
- 1 liter milk $0.97
- 1 liter orange juice $1.19
- 400g canned plum tomatoes $1.13 (should’ve bought fresh)
- Nestle Corn Flakes $3.50 (least sugar of all cereals not expressly made to help people poop)
- 15 eggs $2.12 (they’re not refrigerated here – this one has an expiration date of Nov 20)
- large loaf of whole wheat bread $1.97 (I bet we get good hand-made bread for less elsewhere)
- 500g laundry detergent $1.41
- 500g pasta with protein $1.73 (more expensive than regular pasta but a great choice when you’ve got a kid who tends to eat plain pasta)
- 375g tilapia filets $3.91 (or $4.73/lb – better than the best sale price I’ve seen at home. I’m sure buying from a fisherman would be a lot better)
- 1 liter Cabernet $4.09 (I saw wine in a paper box the same as milk & OJ and just had to try it. It tastes way better than anything in the US that involves the words ‘box’ and ‘wine.’)
- 250ml probiotic yogurt drink $1.66
- 1 small shaker of salt $0.29 (is salt supposed to have flouride in it?)
- 400g can black beans $1.01
- 680g potatoes (ie 3 loose potatoes) $0.37
The prices aren’t tremendously lower, but still a bit better overall. As I’ve found out, getting veggies directly from a farm is much more cost-effective, so I’m quite interested to see a real feria and get a much better handle on the cost of food.