Written by Debbie Bride & Marian Paniagua
To be sure, the tiny village of Guaitil is off the beaten path, but not too far off. Nor is it a difficult drive or hard to find, and the trip takes you through a particularly scenic area of Costa Rica’s Guanacaste province. Guaitil is just a 15-minute drive east of Santa Cruz along the old route to Nicoya. It can also be accessed by buses running regularly from Santa Cruz.
However you get there, your Guaitil visit will be highly worthwhile and is best not rushed. Seldom are there opportunities like this to step back thousands of years in time for a firsthand history lesson. Guaitil is famous throughout Central America for its significant role in preserving the legacy of Chorotega pottery. The story unfolds as you stop by any of the local studio-galleries to observe and chat with the artisans at work.
Generation after generation of Guaitil townspeople have passed down their knowledge and expertise to keep the pre-Columbian style of pottery alive as a hallmark of Chorotega indigenous culture. Many of the pieces are exact replicas of original artifacts in Costa Rican museum collections. The government provides photographs of these items to the Guaitil potters for reference, ensuring every detail is historically accurate.
Even in modern times, every piece of Guaitil pottery — pots, jars, plates, bowls, pitchers, vases and more — is handmade from start to finish. From the ground rock mixtures of clay and paint components to the stones used for smoothing and polishing each creation, all the raw materials are locally sourced from rocks and sand in the area. No chemicals are added at any stage of pottery production. Every tool used for grinding, sculpting and freehand etching, and each piece of equipment is handcrafted from wood, stone, metal and/or repurposed scrap parts. Innovations include a potter’s wheel made from a recycled kitchen stove element, fan motor and motorcycle sprocket.
Remarkably, Guaitil’s pottery craft industry is the economic base for supporting the entire community. It’s the ideal place for tourists to purchase authentic, locally made souvenirs of Costa Rica directly from the source at reasonable prices.
While you are in town, be sure to stop by one of the local sodas to sample some traditional Costa Rican food and beverages, for which Guaitil is also known.
Guaitil is named for a species of tree that grows in the area. Native Chorotega tribe members would smash the tree’s seeds to release a black ink used for painting their skin.