My first trip to Costa Rica was in 2013. Prior to that, it wasn’t somewhere I had ever considered visiting but when a friend invited me to stay at her family’s property along the northern Pacific coast in the beach town of Playas del Coco for a couple of weeks, I couldn’t refuse.
Playas del Coco is a popular destination for expats, snowbirds, and vacationers because it’s the closest beach town to the international airport in Liberia. It’s only a half-hour drive to get here from the airport, so you can be wheels down and at the beach within an hour.
As my friend and I explored the area I couldn’t get over how simple life here was. Small family farms, something that is starting to disappear back home on the prairies of Canada, are still very much a thing here.
Some of the houses in town were raising chickens and they would often run out onto the street—roosters, hens, and chicks. I found it so quaint. Seeing cows walk down the street was also something to get used to… but I loved it all.
It was incredible for this small town Saskatchewan girl to see a different way of life but before I knew it the vacation was over and I had to go back to Canada.
Over the years I visited Costa Rica several more times, even trying out a couple full 90-day stays (the most a visitor can get). My friend had moved here full-time and I was glad for the excuse to visit once a year.
Eventually I took the plunge too.
In 2019, I quit my beloved job as a local news reporter back in Canada and moved to Playas del Coco.
I soon discovered how different living in Costa Rica is from visiting. I thought I got a pretty good idea of what living here was like during my three-month stays, but it’s really not the same. You have to think long-term. What do I need, and what can I live without?
I live with way less here than I did back home, where I had accumulated enough things to fill a four-bedroom house.
Here, I live in a studio apartment for $400 per month. There’s a shared pool with my few neighbors and a high, secure wall around the densely treed property.
It is furnished, but not like you typically get back home. In Canada, when I rented an apartment, it was always unfurnished. Just your large appliances were supplied and the rest was up to you. Here, unfurnished is truly unfurnished—no stove, no fridge, nada, nothing, zip!
On the other hand, a furnished apartment like mine will have almost everything you need, like a bed, pillows, sheets, towels, plates, cutlery, pots and pans, the lot.
As a result, I haven’t had to buy much, just things to help fill in the gaps here and there. I learned to use a chorreador de café to make coffee so a coffee maker wasn’t necessary. I bought a blender to make morning smoothies, something I rarely did back home, but fruit and vegetables are so abundant and inexpensive here—two bags from the local stand cost just $12—I have no excuse not to indulge in this healthy routine.
Keeping expenses low is pretty easy here. I find I buy and waste less groceries. Living in a smaller space means I can’t store and freeze as much food as I did back home so I eat fresher food and avoid pricier pre-made meals and convenience items.
I don’t have a car here. Vehicles are a big expense, due to high import taxes. That’s why I chose to live in a walkable community. I live downtown and can walk to the health clinic and dentist office, the banks, grocery stores, mini-markets, and dozens of restaurants serving all types of food from casados (a local dish of rice, black beans, plantains, salad, a tortilla, and meat or fish) to falafels.
If you can believe it, the guy that owns the falafel restaurant is from the same Canadian province as me! Talk about a small world. He remembers my name when I call to place my order. It’s nice to interact with someone from back home every once in a while.
While the culture shock of living in a developing country like Costa Rica can come at a price, it definitely has its advantages as well. You just need to adjust your expectations. You can’t expect first world amenities in a developing country. The roads won’t be as good as you’re used to, and expect delays… when travelling… when going to the bank… when the cows are walking down the streets… Just relax and remember it’s all part of that slower paced lifestyle you were seeking.
You’ll soon develop that Pura Vida attitude the Costa Ricans have perfected. When you do, you’ll see how precious life really is here.
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