A Rich Life in Costa Rica with Panoramic Views, Friends, and Fun

“We wanted to live in a place where we didn’t need heat or AC, outside of the hurricane belt, with ample water, a stable democratic government, and good healthcare,” says Jim Just, 73.

“If you apply those parameters to countries of the world,” says Jim, “It narrows down the list quite a bit.”

Costa Rica’s Central Valley region fit the bill.

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In Costa Rica’s Central Valley, you can enjoy beautiful views and an ideal climate
In Costa Rica’s Central Valley, you can enjoy beautiful views and an ideal climate.

Thanks to the high elevation, which goes up to 5,000 feet or so, the climate is mild, even though the country is firmly in the tropics. Temperatures are in the 70s F and 80s F during the day, cooling off into 60s F, sometimes 50s F at night. The higher in elevation you are, the cooler it is.

The largely rural region is also in the center of the country, surrounding the capital city, San José, which means Costa Rica’s best medical care is here too. Not to mention the country’s main international airport, essential services, government offices, and top shopping—if an item is in Costa Rica, it can be found here.

Jim and his wife, Irina, live in Grecia, in Costa Rica’s Central Valley region
Jim and his wife, Irina, live in Grecia, in Costa Rica’s Central Valley region. It’s about a 45-minute drive to the capital, San José.

It’s a convenient place to be. Add in Costa Rica’s friendly, kind people and relaxed laidback vibe—the famous Pura Vida attitude that essentially means “life is good”—and it’s no wonder Costa Rica has been a perennial contender for the top spot in International Living’s Annual Retirement Index for years.

Jim had been to the country once years before on vacation. His wife, Irina, also 73, had never been. But something clicked from the moment they arrived from their previous home in Oregon, where they ran their own farm and winery.

While exploring the market town of Grecia, about 45 minutes west of the capital, they toured a home for sale on a steep hillside overlooking a verdant valley with views to the wider Central Valley, set among coffee plantations that produce some of the best coffee in the world.

“We did what you’re not supposed to do,” explains Jim, with a smile. “We came here and bought this place within a week of arriving.”

Ten years later, they couldn’t be happier. They are about to receive Costa Rica citizenship. Irina notes they haven’t been back to the U.S. once since the move. And they’re enmeshed in the tightknit expat community that lives here.

Grecia is a busy small town, with a pleasant park filled with mango trees and tropical foliage where residents of all ages gather to chat with friends or just relax between errands in the shade. The park, like most Costa Rican towns, is in front of the main town church.

There is also a central market and a hospital of the Caja government-run healthcare system, which offers specialists in all disciplines but is known to have an especially strong orthopedic and cardiology departments.

Grecia has a typical Costa Rican mercado central
Grecia has a typical Costa Rican mercado central, where locals and expats shop for fruits, veggies, meat, fish, and more. Plus, there are little cafes and restaurants where you can take a break from shopping.

Plus, you have several supermarkets, optical shops, cafes, veterinarians…anything you might need is there for the most part…including a variety of restaurants. There are plenty of sodas, which serve typical Costa Rican food like the casado, which is white rice, black beans, your choice of fish, pork, chicken, or beef, plus side items like plantains, pasta, or salad. But you also have international cuisine restaurants as well.

Grecia and its surrounding countryside have become a popular expat haven. Some estimate there are about 500 expats between here and the two nearby towns of Atenas and Sarchi.

Jim and Irina have fully embraced Pura Vida.

“We get up with the sun,” says Irina, which this close to the equator is about 5:30 a.m. “We have coffee. We do tai chi. Three mornings a week I go walking with friends; it’s about three miles but with lots of ups and downs. At 11, we have our main meal of the day…”

“Then we have a bit of a siesta,” adds Jim.

For much of the day, Irina says they are able to throw open the five doors of their home and enjoy an indoor/outdoor lifestyle thanks to the nice weather, including floor to ceiling glass sliding doors that lead to their large terrace.

Jim also writes poetry in a separate casita on the property, which he has converted into a writing studio. In a pinch, it’s a great guesthouse for visitors. He’s also active in designing their garden and landscaping for their three-acre property, although he leaves the heavy lifting to a gardener who comes three days a week.

They have abundant fruit trees, including lemon and lime, which they use in cocktails, as well as their own mini coffee plantation. They are part of a local co-op that takes care of maintenance and harvesting. They buy their beans from a guy up the street—now that’s buying local.

For more fruits and veggies, they head to the feria, which is Grecia’s weekly outdoor farmers’ market, on Fridays. They get enough to last the week for about $6. They have a goat cheese guy a few ridges over. And they often visit a German butcher in a town nearby for sausages. (Irina is originally from Germany.)

The Justs live on three acres of tropical garden
The Justs live on three acres of tropical garden and have views over the surrounding verdant countryside, much of which is coffee plantations. This is Jim’s writing studio.

Irina says that three or four times a week they’ll have dinner with friends, either at their house or somebody else’s in the group. But they’re usually home by 7 p.m. and in bed by 8 p.m. Sunset here comes at about 5:30 p.m., and it is very dark out here in the country. Many folks who move to Costa Rica adopt a similar schedule.

Another reason the couple moved to Costa Rica was the lower cost of living.

They say, although costs are going up, their adopted home remains affordable, which was another of their criteria when choosing a retirement destination.

“One reason we decided to leave the U.S. is we realized we couldn’t afford it. Here we don’t have much money, but we live rich,” says Jim.

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