It is prohibited to remove anything (rocks, wood, plants, animals etc.) from inside national parks or wildlife refuges.
On all other beaches (outside parks and refuges) only commercial collectors with the appropriate permit are allowed to remove sea shells.
There are also laws prohibiting real estate developers from hauling truckloads of rocks, sand and gravel from Costa Rica’s beaches and rivers leaving them susceptible to erosion.
Of course logging without a permit is also illegal and most travelers don’t bring their chainsaws anyway but the laws may extend to driftwood.
Travelers have even reported beach glass (which is, when you think about it, actual garbage) being confiscated from carry on luggage by Costa Rican airport security.
Shells, seeds, sticks, butterflies, feathers, pods etc. that someone else collected and added string to make a necklace or glued to a bowl as a decoration etc. are sold in souvenir shops around the country and in the airport. These are theoretically legal.
If you’re in doubt it’s probably best to leave it. The U.S. and other countries you’re headed home to have extremely strict laws about importing bits of endangered species. I’ve seen Morpho wings, sloth claws, Macaw and Quetzal feathers on the ground while hiking and even found an entire intact sea turtle skeleton once but left them behind to deteriorate naturally.
Tips to Get Your Souvenirs Home
Please leave the seashells at the beach.
However if you have some beach glass or other garbage you’d like to keep as a souvenir we recommend putting it in your checked bags.
It’s not clear why some items are being confiscated but every confiscation reported has been from from carry on – every treasure in checked baggage has made it through.
Consider Another Kind of Collection on the Beach
No matter how pristine a beach appears at first glance they’re all littered with plastic garbage near the high tide mark. It’s a never ending supply that’s replenished every 12 hours with the incoming tide.
Each time we walk a beach in Costa Rica we return with armloads of garbage. It’s usually pretty easy to find a washed up 5 gallon bucket or other container for your trash collection but you may want to bring your own bag. Most beach areas in Costa Rica do not provide trash cans so you’ll need to haul your load back to your hotel or rental house for disposal.
Visit the fun facebook page called 5minutebeachcleanup where visitors post photos of beach garbage collected and sometimes artwork created from the trash.