Costa Rica: Buy Land at Lake Arenal from $14,900

Costa Rica. Just the name conjures up blissful memories of sun-drenched beaches, dark jungle nights, adrenaline-fueled adventure and hopeless romance. I’ve visited there many times over the years, but the first time…well

In 1997, I married my best friend (also known as International Living editor Dan Prescher) at the Don Carlos Hotel in San José. Little did we know this would be the beginning of a lifetime of memory-making adventures that would take us throughout Latin America and beyond. But no matter how far we roam, part of us…the heart of us…belongs to Costa Rica. And we’ll jump at any chance to return.

Recently we did just that, to see how the country has fared since the global real estate bubble began deflating in 2007. We hoped to find bargains, and we weren’t disappointed…

Generally, only projects that were well capitalized, well-conceptualized, well-built and well-priced have managed to survive the global economic crisis. And even those projects are a buyer’s market. If you’ve been on the fence about purchasing a home or condo in Costa Rica—go now. And put on your bargaining hat. Because sellers are willing to deal.

Every real estate agent and developer we spoke with agrees that prices today are about 30% lower than at any time in the last decade. In some places along the coast they’re as much as 50% lower.

In the next few issues of International Living magazine we’ll be filling you in on regions of Costa Rica where you can find excellent property deals today. For starters, here are some inland options…

Just an easy three-hour drive north from the capital city of San José, the pristine, 33-square-mile Lake Arenal is one of our favorite spots of all in Costa Rica.

On the lake itself, you can swim, boat, fish, windsurf and more. And often, you’ll be the only ones doing that—lake sports just haven’t caught on yet. Some who come here say it’s like a far-less-developed Lake Tahoe, as lush green hills of pasture and forested land curve gently upwards from the shoreline—with the majestic Volcán Arenal drawing your eye to the eastern horizon.

Lake-area property sales haven’t been as hard hit by the economic downturn as have other parts of the country. But real estate agents here say the last two years have been tough. As result, many sellers have been willing to settle for lower prices.

The south shore of Arenal is just an hour from the international airport at Liberia. Daily living costs are lower here, too. While you’ll be paying for air conditioning year-round at the beach, you’ll need it lakeside only during the hottest months of the year. And because all sorts of fruits and vegetables are grown here, and the land is well suited to all types of livestock, food costs are generally lower than at the beach.

Properties have been selling this past year for about 30% less than during the market peak in 2007. But don’t expect these lower prices to hold for long. Buyers are steadily trickling here in growing numbers.

Some of the lakeside communities that offer the best opportunities include one on the south side of the lake near the town of Tilarán. This is just an hour from the international airport and amenities at Liberia. The land is perfectly sloped and all utilities are underground so you never have to worry about anything coming between you and those romantic vistas—every lot features both a lake and volcano view. Lots start at about $40,000.

On the north side of the lake, near the town of Nuevo Arenal,  is a project just coming to market with lake- and volcano-view lots starting at a remarkably low $14,900. We toured a brand-new two-bedroom, two bathroom home—fully furnished—with those stunning lake views, selling for just $195,000.

See the April issue of International Living magazine for my full report on real estate in Costa Rica. If you’re not yet a subscriber, you can join up here.