A $125,000 Home in Costa Rica's Heavenly Southern Zone

A $125,000 Home in Costa Rica's Heavenly Southern Zone

I was sick of the rat race in the U.S. I was sick of corporate America. So I jumped on a plane with my dog and cat, and I moved to Costa Rica.

Mind you, it wasn't quite as spontaneous as that. I had been splitting time between Florida and California, working in property management and as a legal transcriber with a law firm. Then some of my friends—retired doctors from Boston—attended an International Living conference in Costa Rica's capital city, San José.

After the conference finished up, they took a real estate tour and ended up buying a place just over the mountain, 20 minutes away from where I live now. I'd been coming to visit them over the years, enjoying the hiking here. Eventually I made the decision to move here permanently.

I've been here for seven years, now. I'm about 15 minutes from Ojochal, in San Buenas. Right by the only golf club in the Southern Zone.

Most visitors and expats stick to the northern half of Costa Rica—it's where the capital city, San José is located, along with the highland towns of the Central Valley, and the surfing beaches of Guanacaste province. But there's a lot to recommend the less-developed Southern Zone on Costa Rica's Pacific coast, too. That's where I am.

We get the best of both worlds here—ocean views and mountains to hike in. The Southern Zone is green all year. Some other parts of Costa Rica, up in the north, get brown and dry for part of the year. Here, that's not the case. And being off the beaten path is an advantage, too. It's less touristy here, although development is moving farther south every year. That's pretty obvious around Uvita, for example. But generally, it's more authentic, more genuinely Costa Rican the farther south you go.

Having gotten familiar with the region in the years I was visiting my expat friends, I knew I wanted to buy a home in the Southern Zone. Buying homes turned into something of a habit.

I bought my own place first. It's a one-bedroom condo, with one bathroom, in a group of 13 condos. It's lovely, with teak wood cabinetry, granite counters in the kitchen, a pretty garden area, and even though it's up in the mountains, I have an ocean view. That's the beauty of the Southern Zone—it's mountain scenery right by the beach. The condo cost me $125,000 when I bought it six years ago. Since then, I've bought another two condos to rent out, so I now have three. I also sell real estate.

With a portfolio career in Costa Rica, I can order my days to fit the life I want to lead. On a typical day, I'll go hiking in the morning, then come home and work there from 7 a.m. until 1 p.m. Between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., I meet clients.

Once that's done, I might head to the ocean—I love the water. I might take a ride in my 4x4, or head to one of the local bars and shoot pool for a while. It's quiet here, definitely not the big city life. Everyone's in bed by 8 p.m.! It's about hiking, and ocean swimming here, not partying. And I love that the temperature is in the 80s F all the time.

On the downside, we get a lot of rain, and that can make some of the smaller roads difficult to drive on. And whatever way you cut it, we're pretty isolated—it's four hours to San José, the only big city. But things cost less here than in the city. My budget runs to about $2,200 a month, for everything, including my $33-a-month CAJA health-insurance payments.

It's good care—though you have to make an adjustment to your expectations. It's not like in the U.S. where you get a private room in a hospital that looks like a hotel. It's more basic than that. But the care is good.

I've had first-hand experience with it, both in the public and private systems. When I had a hip replacement two years ago, I chose to do that privately. As it turns out, I got the same surgeon as I would have had if I'd had it done on the CAJA. The hospital was different, but the doctor was the same.

The procedure cost only $15,000. For a hip replacement, that's an incredible price when you compare it with U.S. rates. It works great. It needs to—I hike every day in the mountains around my home, and I love 4x4 driving too. Those are a big part of my life here in the Southern Zone…far from the rat race.

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