Expats have been flocking to the Central Valley for decades. Despite the name, it is actually a high-altitude plateau—above 3,000 feet—that is surrounded by tall mountains. In the middle you have Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose.
Several towns have become expat centers over the years. San Ramon, Grecia, Alajuela, and Atenas, to the west of the metro area, are well-established. There’s Heredia to the north, Moravia to the east, and Escazu, Santa Ana, and up-and-coming hot-spots Puriscal and Ciudad Colon to the southwest.
What makes this region so attractive? For one, thanks to the altitude, it has the ideal climate. Despite being firmly in the tropics, the year-round average temp is the mid-70s F, with some areas at higher altitudes even cooler.
Another is that, because foreigners have been coming to live here for so long, there’s a built-in expat “infrastructure,” like social clubs, theater groups, poker and bridge nights…plenty to keep you busy.
Plus, it’s centrally-located. The big city and all its conveniences are close by. You can be in San Jose and its suburbs within an hour to an hour-and-a-half at most from just about anywhere in the Valley. There you’ll find the best shopping in the country, including North American-style malls and warehouse shopping clubs (similar to Sam’s Club). It’s quite common for expats living in the Central Valley to pop in to San Jose for shopping, dinner, and a movie (new releases in English). If you want to hit the beach, it’s an hour or so to the Pacific.
It’s also the center of culture. Opera, classical music, jazz clubs, big-name concerts (Elton John and Bob Dylan were here in 2012), art festivals and museums, and other high-profile events… there’s something to do every weekend.
But when you get out of the city, you’ll find charming villages, bustling market towns, and plenty of quiet rural areas throughout the Central Valley.
It’s an agricultural center, with plenty of natural areas in between. Rolling hills covered with sugar cane fields, cow pastures, and hillside coffee plantations are interspersed with lush river valleys and forests.
Roberta Laidman, 70, and Harry Raabe, 68, have lived full-time in Atenas, a town of about 5,000, for two years.
One reason they chose the Central Valley is echoed by most retiree-age expats here: quick access to the country’s top public and private medical care in San Jose, including the top hospitals and most specialists.
“When you reach a certain age, you have to be within spitting distance of an angioplasty,” says Roberta.
The quiet pace of life and the beautiful surroundings were also an attraction. “We’re just thrilled to be here. It’s like waking up in paradise,” says Roberta. “We eat breakfast on the balcony, and we don’t jump up when we’re done to do something else. The view is mesmerizing. The environment calms the spirit.”
The Central Valley is full of affordable real estate. A mountain-view home outside Atenas, a 2,000-square-foot, two-bedroom, furnished, North American-style home is listed at $219,000. A furnished two-bedroom cabin with views of Grecia and the Poas Volcano is $89,000.
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