Their vacations in tropical places left Denice and Robert Key wishing for more out of life and thinking, “What if…?” The couple had traveled throughout the Caribbean and Mexico when they were younger, and they could never quite escape the itch to retire early and move to a warm, exotic destination—something completely different from their Colorado home.
“We wanted to live a less-stressful life and experience a new culture,” Denice says. “So we decided to go in search of a whole new adventure in a place with a lower cost of living than what we’re used to in the States. We were looking for a place where everyone wasn’t rushing around, trying to do 20 things in a day.
“We started researching what that would take, what it would cost, and if we could really do it,” Denice explains. “And we realized we could actually afford to do it right now. We didn’t have to wait 15 to 20 years.
“We did a lot of research on which country was the best fit for us. We narrowed it down to Costa Rica, Belize, Uruguay, and Ecuador. All seemed to have something we were looking for. In the end, Costa Rica won out, at least for now, because it’s a fairly easy flight back to the U.S., the cost of living is still reasonable, and the locals—called Ticos—are very accepting.”
Costa Rica proved to be much less expensive than Colorado. Overall, the Keys spend under $2,000 a month for the two of them, including $650 for rent, $100 for utilities, $150 for car and repairs, $300 for groceries, $250 for entertainment and dining out, $150 for dog expenses, and $200 for health insurance.
“It’s a pretty liberating feeling knowing you can live a retired kind of lifestyle—in the tropics—at ages 41 and 45. And basically afford to live your dream,” says Denice.
The couple is not, by most standards, wealthy. They simply started saving for retirement early, made some good investments, and, most significantly, had the courage to make the move.
They’re rewarded for it daily in Atenas, the mountain town where they live, halfway between the capital of San Jose and the beaches of Playa Bejuco, Playa Esterillos, and Playa Herradura.
“We chose Atenas because it has some of the best weather in the world, and we love being outdoors,” Denice says. “I enjoy hiking up the mountain and also just walking around the area checking out the amazing scenery. Robert and I go to the beach and love to hike volcanoes in the Central Valley. We’ve even started bird watching!”
The wildlife in Costa Rica is world-renowned, so the couple has plenty to see. Toucans perch in their backyard, as do a variety of other birds, iguanas, squirrels, and even armadillos.
Another major draw of Atenas is the strong expat community. Denice and Robert say they feel connected to the place where a community of like-minded people helps each other out.
“We can go to Kay’s Gringo Restaurant to meet up, or Grego’s on Thursday nights to meet with the younger expat crowd,” Denice says. “It’s helpful to know and speak with others who have gone through what we are going through. These people can recommend a doctor or a good mechanic or the best way to get somewhere. Or we can just laugh together over the day’s adventures.
“I feel a lot less stressed here, and I truly think it is the relaxed pace of the country and its people,” Denice says. “It’s the Pura Vida everyone talks about…that ‘pure life.’ We actually enjoy everything more and appreciate the small things, such as trying a new fruit or vegetable each week from the farmer’s market in town.
“It’s funny, but we don’t buy ‘stuff’ here. We purged so much when we left the U.S. that even buying something as simple as a cheese grater is a major decision,” Denice laughs. “We really enjoy living with less. Although things are available here in Costa Rica, we’ve just made the conscious decision to think before we buy…and we don’t miss any of it.”
A couple of friends from the States have already visited Denice and Robert in their new home. If they, too, feel the draw of Costa Rica, what would Denice advise?
“You only get one shot on this planet, so why not live life to its fullest?” she says. “If you are considering it, then just go for it! You only have one life—live it today as you don’t know what tomorrow will bring.”
Editor’s note: In November, we’ll gather our top Costa Rica experts and favorite expats together for International Living’s Fast-Track Costa Rica Conference. It’s your best chance—one that comes but once a year—to spend two-and-half days figuring out your own Costa Rica adventure in the company of those who have already made it happen. We hope to see you there.