Loving Life in Costa Rica’s Central Valley

Loving Life In Costa Rica’s Central Valley

“My Stress Level is Much Less Here”

Name: Dave Scott

Age: 65

From: San Ramon, Costa Rica

Living in: Central Valley, Costa Rica

It wasn’t practical reasons like lower cost of living, great—and cheap—medical care, and friendly people that convinced Dave Scott, 65, to move to San Ramón, a town on the western edge of Costa Rica’s Central Valley region.

Though the country has all those advantages and more, and while those were factors in the decision, it was something else that drew him.

“It was like an invisible string around my neck pulling me here,” says Dave. “It’s more of a heart thing than a head thing. It’s hard to explain. It was just the feeling we had.”

The severe winters in Maine were also taken into account. But even though it’s in the tropics, San Ramón, like the rest of the Central Valley, has a very temperate climate, averaging about 75 F year-round. Highs are in the mid-80s F, lows at night can get to the mid-60s F. It’s thanks to the altitude—starting around 3,000 feet. The temps are easy on the electric bill, too—no heat or AC needed. Dave says their bill is about $120 a month.

Another advantage of San Ramón is the location. It’s in the middle of the country, making travel to other regions easy. Pacific coast beaches are just an hour south. You can be in the rural Arenal region, known for the 33-square-mile lake and active cone volcano of the same name in about two hours. The country’s main international airport is about an hour east.

The Central Valley also has the best medical care in both the public and private systems, especially in and around the capital, San José, which is just about an hour and a half away. Of course, San Ramón itself has a good hospital and many private physicians.

It’s a thriving regional hub with about 70,000 people in town and the surrounding area, with a bustling downtown centered  around a cathedral and large central park. There are dozens of shops, restaurants, cafés…along with any service you need. There are plenty of cultural activities, too—having a branch campus of the University of Costa Rica plays into that.

Dave and his first wife, who later passed away after a long illness, checked out the area in 2005 and stayed with friends in town.

“We made the decision to move even before the tour. The visit just confirmed it. We spent three days here and just loved the community. We were welcomed with open arms. We went back to Maine, sold our house within a week, and moved into a nice rental—totally wheelchair accessible—in 2006,” says Dave. They shipped a container with household goods and a car, a process Dave describes as “smooth.”

When they first moved, Dave, who worked in customer service and was a part-time foreign currency trader back home, was working remotely for his company in a tech-support role. But when overseas workers were prohibited by a new rule, he was given the option of moving back to the U.S. to keep working or getting a separation, which would set him up for early retirement.

“Sure wasn’t going to go back,” laughs Dave.

Dave later met Ana Doris Guzmán, 52, a local English teacher. Her Costa Rican family welcomed him with open arms when they married. And Dave has certainly adapted to the Pura Vida lifestyle Costa Rica is known for.

“When I interact with Ticos, they don’t seem stressed. They’re happy. There’s less drive to keep up with the neighbors and buy things. Last time we were in the U.S. you could really see a difference there. Here we do with a lot less stuff, and we seem to generally feel better about life,” explains Dave. “My stress level is much less here. It’s relaxing. Even if you’ve been out all day running errands there’s always the sunset or the birds or something else to mellow you out.”

The couple eats a diet of mostly fresh fruit and vegetables, along with chicken and fish. It’s all readily available at local markets, including the weekly feria, or farmers’ market. Occasionally, they make a pilgrimage to PriceSmart, a warehouse shopping club similar to Sam’s Club in the U.S. that has branches throughout Central America. You just can’t beat Bisquick for making Red Lobster-style biscuits, says Dave.

The couple stays busy working in their garden (“My wife loves to plant stuff,” says Dave) and hanging out with friends and family. They also volunteer with a San Ramón-based Tico/gringo organization called the Community Action Alliance, which raises money for local charities and groups in need and fosters connections between the expat community and locals. Dave says that the English Conversation Club, one of the Alliance’s activities, consists of about 300 local members who will generate enough income to provide 11 scholarships for local elementary students next year. The couple participates by teaching English to school kids and adults, work they find a lot of joy in.

“Every single day is different and that’s one of the things that makes it so nice,” says Dave.—Jason Holland.  

 “In the 70s F Year-Round with Cool Mountain Breezes”

Names: Frances and Bruce Jones

Ages: 60s

From: Florida

Living in: Atenas, Costa Rica

Frances Jones leans back in her chair and motions to the rolling view from her terrace. Forest and coffee field-flecked hills stretch for miles to the Gulf of Nicoya and the Pacific. “When we found this place the house was simple—no porches—but the view was just killer. Even if it was a tent, we still would have taken it,” says Frances.

Like many folks, Frances and her husband Bruce were displeased with the politics and cost of living in the United States. And they wanted a cooler climate than where they lived in Daytona, Florida.

So they began their international search in Central America. “My brother-in-law was stationed in Panama at the time,” says Bruce. “He wanted us to move there, but we never made it after flying in to Costa Rica. We got off the plane, rented a car and wandered without an itinerary for one month. Well, we stayed lost, and fell in love with the place.”

Frances continues: “We decided to move down that month, so we rented a big ‘ole farm house in San Isidro de Grecia for a year. After that year we were certain we wanted to live here permanently. We put our house in Florida on the market and looked around Grecia until we found this place.”

“We were very fortunate—very blessed to be at the right place at the right time,” she adds. “While Bruce headed back to Florida to sell our house there, I kept coming back to see it… I’d found my dream home.”

A pleasant climate was crucial, too. “We liked the weather here in the Central Valley,” says Bruce. “I originally wanted to be on the coast but we looked along the beach and found it was too hot. They say it’s the best climate in the world in the hills of Atenas. And I agree. Our neighborhood is at 3,200 feet above sea level, and generally stays in the 70s F year-round with cool mountain breezes.”

The couple have spent the last nine years transforming the once simple house into a luxurious estate to match the view. With vaulted wood-beam ceilings, a new second story, an expansive wrap-around porch and even an elevator—Frances jokes that she rarely cares to leave home.

The building costs were much lower than in the States, and the handiwork was superb. “We found an amazing contractor who stood behind his work. A couple months after they put in the upstairs addition, we had a leak, and I called to let him know…he said he’d be out the next day to look at it—but about 10 minutes later, he and his brother arrived to make an assessment. They came in, threw a ladder up (in the midst of a tropical rainstorm, no less) and fixed it within a day. No charge.”

And it wasn’t just improvements to their home that cost less than they would in the States.

After paying out-of-pocket for health care for 30 years, the modern, affordable medical care in Costa Rica was a huge bonus. “We only use the Caja (mandatory insurance) for emergencies. Once for stitches we were in and out in 30 minutes with medication and everything. We pay $100 per month for both of us… can’t touch it in the States,” says Bruce. For elective care, he recommends the nearby Clínica Bíblica. “I’m going to eventually need a knee replacement, but they don’t work with the Caja. It’ll cost us about $14,000 out of pocket. It would be $60,000 to $70,000 in the States. The surgeon is top-notch and the joint prosthesis will be top of the line.” He goes on, “Dental is very cheap down here, too…all in all I’m very well pleased.”

The couple keep busy. Bruce likes to work outside in the garden, where he can enjoy the ideal climate. And Frances has a passion for rescuing animals which has followed her here. One of their home improvements is the addition of a small veterinary clinic, which is where she’s transformed the lives of countless dogs, cats, and wild creatures. “I couldn’t even guess how many animals we’ve saved here,” she shakes her head, “I’ve been rescuing animals since I was four years old, I can’t help it.”

To help pay for pet supplies, they occasionally rent out a room to traveling animal-lovers. While Frances stays up in her castle on the hills with her furry pack of pups, Bruce moseys down to mingle with other retired expats over a cup of coffee in the mornings. They have local Tico friends, too. Their mountain-peak neighborhood has even thrown three fiestas in their honor. When asked if they have any trouble communicating in Spanish, Frances remarks, “Oh he doesn’t speak the language.”—“I get by fine!” Bruce cuts in.

While they don’t have any immediate plans of moving from Costa Rica, they do enjoy the surrounding countries as well. “I’ve traveled all through Panama and into Nicaragua. It’s all good,” says Bruce.—Emily O’Shea.

Read More about Costa Rica’s Central Valley and Lake Arenal

Costa Rica’s Central Valley is an area that has been quietly attracting expats to its lush, green, rustic locations for some years now. At an elevation of about 3,600 feet above sea level, the climate here is temperate, the cost of living is very affordable and the country’s capital is located here with every amenity an expat could want.

In International Living’s report: Costa Rica’s Central Valley and Lake Arenal—Costa Rica: Dream It, Find It, Live It you can read more about the towns in the Central Valley that we think are perfect for anyone looking for a relaxed lifestyle.

Editor’s Note: This article was taken from a past issue of International Living’s monthly magazine. To get full access to all past and future articles and to receive the magazine in the mail or online each month, simply click on the below button to subscribe to International Living magazine at the special introductory price of $49. You will get instant access to the current issue of the magazine as well 10 years of back issues. As an added bonus, we will also send you a FREE report – How to Retire in Paradise on $55 a Day. (You can cancel your subscription at any time.)

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