Costa Rica is known for its lush, wildlife-filled jungles lining deserted white-sand beaches. It’s a favorite photo for the tourism board. The whole country appears wild…untamed. There is a lot of that out there. And having the whole beach to yourself while capuchin monkeys scamper in the trees above is quite a thrill.
But there are also more developed areas, resort towns on the beach where you can walk out your door and sip an espresso at a low-key cafe…shop at chic boutiques…stock up at specialty stores on gourmet foods and imported favorites from home (but also enjoy a weekly outdoor farmers’ market known as a feria)…book a sport fishing trip with friends to catch record-setting marlin (catch-and-release) or a tuna for dinner…or golf 18 holes before lunch. All that and natural beauty is all around you.
One such standout is Jaco, the most developed beach town on Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast, if not the entire country. Don’t mistake it for Fort Lauderdale or Cancun. It’s a big fish in the “small pond” of Costa Rica, but a fraction of the size of resort areas you see in other countries. Yet it does offer visitors and the many expats of dozens of nationalities (though most are North American) who live there plenty of services, comforts, and conveniences.
The town sits on a bay, a long stretch lined with condos, hotels, and resorts. A block inland, Avenida Pastor Diaz is the main drag, with restaurants and shops on either side. It comes alive at night. You can also find good-value real estate here too—I found properties ranging from $56,000 up to almost $350,000.
There are restaurants of every cuisine, from upscale gourmet wine bars to sushi to Italian to Mexican…and, of course, fresh-caught seafood joints, downhome places where you’re overdressed if you were more than flip flops and shorts. But that’s just the beginning. You can join a gym for workouts, take yoga classes, redecorate your home in high style, get your computer fixed…all in town.
Plus, this stretch of coast is just about an hour-and-a-half to San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. There you have even more shopping (including warehouse shopping clubs), the best medical care in the country, and the main international airport, which makes traveling to and from your home country a breeze, not to mention picking up visiting friends and family.
You get the best of both worlds as far as location. The natural beauty and beach lifestyle, with the conveniences of the big city a quick drive down a well-paved, modern highway. Yes, Jaco can get busy, especially on holiday weekends. But if you ever need to escape the crowds, quieter residential areas—and some totally deserted beaches—are five to 10 minutes down the road.
In Jaco you have the chance to buy very affordable condos right on the beach, or just a block or two inland. Imagine views of the glistening Pacific from your terrace. Or taking a walk on the three-mile or so graceful arc of Jaco beach every morning, with a quick dip in the water to cool off at the end.
Another benefit: You can buy titled beachfront property in Jaco, which is rare in Costa Rica due to the maritime law that restricts ownership of land on the shore. Older buildings tend to be two to three stories, with a courtyard featuring a swimming pool and tropically landscaped gardens, with the beach right there. Over the last several years, developers have built up, installing condo buildings of up to five stories or more, with architecture ranging from Miami Beach style (white, with lots of glass) to colonial inspired.
One of the smaller buildings is a three-bedroom condo on the second floor. There’s a community pool and nice green space for sun bathing and cookouts. But the ocean view from the balconies off the master bedroom and living room are the main attraction. It’s listed at $300,000.
Another I found was a two-bedroom close by, at the south end of the beach, in an ocean-front building with pool, (but you don’t get the ocean view out your window). The current price is $245,000. For a condo in one of the luxury buildings, you will pay more. A two-bedroom, 2,000-square-foot unit with three ocean-view terraces, fitness center, and pool and sundeck on the beach, will run you $344,000.
A bit inland, but still very close to the heart of town and the beach, you can find older developments, many favored by Costa Ricans, which are very affordable. These gated communities include community pools and are secure. One three-bedroom, two-bathroom condo, just a block from the beach, lists for $95,000. In the same community is a two-bedroom unit, with a small second bedroom, for $56,000. In a neighboring development, you can find two-bedroom units for $67,000 (sometimes you can buy for even less with a motivated seller).
One thing to keep in mind with these condos is that Jaco is a popular tourist destination for both foreign travelers and increasing numbers of Costa Ricans from San Jose with money to spend. And many are opting for vacation rentals instead of hotels for their stays. That means some people are making a tidy income from theirs.
As Jaco slowly but surely loses its reputation as a tourist trap, it is being discovered more and more each day by upscale travelers and well-heeled expats. And that means interest in Jaco (and by extension its real estate) is increasing. A region that suffered much during the housing market crash is bouncing back and new developments are coming online as we speak. Opportunity is there.
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