Escazú, the Elite Beauty of Costa Rica
By Lou Kritz
Mention Escazú to anyone who has an interest in Costa Rica, and the reply is, “Oh, that’s the most expensive place to live here.” It’s a sad commentary on a beautiful—and yes, upscale—community that has blossomed in this developing country.
The settlement of Escazú started in the 16th century when Huetar tribes called it Itzkatzu, which means “stone of rest,” because it became a stopover and rest point as early tribes traveled through the country. There remains today a population of about one thousand Huetar descendants in the Escazú area.
The town was officially named and certified in December, 1848. It has grown into a lovely, upscale version of the beauty of Costa Rica. It is a near-west suburb of the capital, San José, near the less urban areas, with stunning views of the surrounding mountain ranges. The elevation of Escazú is 3,612 feet, or 1,101 meters., giving the population of 45,000 a tropical climate year-round.
Escazú is a three-town cantón, or county, of the same name. The main, most active area is Escazú City Center, with San Rafael de Escazú lying north, and San Antonio de Escazú lying south. These three divisions blend together into a thriving, interesting, and attractive composite. Real estate in the city varies from century-old adobe houses, now being restored, to modern high rises, apartment complexes, and upscale, attractive homes, all nestled between the two mountain ranges that define the Central Valley. This setting—with its scenic outlooks, narrow and twisting valley roads, and the charm provided by architecturally beautiful churches and adobe buildings—merges with the style of contemporary high rises to show that the city can be modern, but you still feel firmly at home in Costa Rica.
Retire in Escazú
The expectation of making your permanent home in an upscale community will be immediately adjusted by the cost of real estate, both purchased and rentals. The many amenities and conveniences available are reflected in the budget you need to live here. This is the current situation in Escazú. Both types of living accommodations are higher than the Costa Rican average, but still significantly lower than the U.S. national average.
The general cost of living is higher, too, owing to the much wider selection of quality and name brand goods. In food and daily living outlets, the unit costs are close to the rest of the country. In designer fashion outlets commonly found in the trendiest malls, expect to pay for this higher level of style and quality.
The activities available in Escazú are unique both in quantity and quality. This is the location of the country’s first golf course and country club. It maintains an open membership program. Shopping options range from the Multiplaza mall, the country’s largest and highest quality venue, to Escazú Central, which offers an abundance of boutiques and specialty stores in every category. Big box stores are also common. PriceSmart, the Central American division of Costco, and Wal-Mart, are just two examples.
Dining and entertainment options are mainly of prime quality. If you prefer a certain type of top-notch cuisine, just name it, and choose from several variations and restaurant styles. Tico sodas, or small “mom-run” eateries, and family-style restaurants are at one end of the spectrum and gourmet chains and independents are at the other. Then, couple this with music clubs, stage shows, and other entertainment venues, and your date night is ready and waiting. Friends who had first settled near Sarchi moved to Escazú because of their life-long love for serious jazz music. They explain that the level of professionalism in the clubs, open every night of the week, is as good as, and often better than, at any community they had found in the U.S.
Lifestyle in Escazú
Expect life to be a little more exciting in this city. Home choices range from older tico-style homes (many of architectural significance), to more modern apartments and condos, to striking homes at all levels of investment. Once you choose, you may find that one of your neighbors is the ambassador of the U.S., Holland, Britain, Germany, Canada, or South Korea. They all live in Escazú.
Everyone enjoys the weather, both for outdoor activities and sometimes just sitting on the terraza, sipping a cool whatever. The temperature variation is 85 F in the daytime to 60 F at night, year-round. Summer, the dry season, is from December to April, and winter, the rainy season, runs May through November. Yes, it’s backwards for most of us. Don’t try to understand it. Just enjoy it!
The Escazú area has become an expat haven, so you’ll likely have English-speaking friends to go exploring with. Plus, the ticos (Costa Rican slang for natives) enjoy speaking with you as they work to learn a new language, English. If health and wellness are high on your list, you will find large numbers of clubs, everything from yoga to bike touring.
Medical care is superb, beginning with CAJA, the government-backed program. A low monthly cost, based on your income, covers all medical visits, hospital care, prescriptions, basic dental care, and specialty care, all without copays or further charges. There is also a thriving private medical system that is excellent, and at prices ranging from 15% to 30% of “back home” care costs. There is insurance available for that system also. Hospital CIMA, in Escazú, is the biggest and best hospital in that system, and it is surrounded by a medical community of specialists and ancillary services.
If you are a gustatory explorer, then the Escazú community is for you. Cuisines such as Indian, Japanese, Italian, Mexican, French, sushi, steakhouses, and tico, all opportunities for a pleasant meal, await you. After a full day of shopping at the many malls and shops, a great landing spot is one of the culinary surprises not very far away.
Transportation is typical Costa Rican, which means it is some of the best ever modes of how to get from here to there. Auto travel is easy in this area as the infrastructure, that is, the roads and bridges, are newer and in better shape. Or choose a red cab, the government-regulated and very economical taxi service. The country-wide bus system is unique. Local buses run every few minutes, at least on the hour, and border-to-border routes out of nearby San José go several times a day. Rates are very economical, with free, or half-priced, rates for seniors.
With regards to safety, crime rates in Escazú are good. Costa Rica is generally a safe country, although not crime free. Over the last five years the national crime rate has dropped, led by a large drop in the San José metropolitan area, of which Escazú is a part. Living here still demands attention to good prevention practices, like always locking the car, holding valuables securely, and so forth.
Cost of Living in Escazú
As with all cost-of-living analyses, much depends on personal choices. Escazú is no different. You can choose to rent or buy an older home that needs updating, or a sky-is-the-limit luxury palace, depending on your needs and desires. Escazú has it all. Apartments, also, vary both in quality and price. One more option from a budget standpoint, going a little further west in the suburbs, will bring you into communities with slightly lower housing costs. However, you will be moving a little further away from the amenities and activities that this premier community has to offer.
The following is the range of monthly estimates:
|Item||Cost in USD|
|Rent||$1,200 to $4,000|
|Utilities||$150 to $400|
|Groceries||$450 to $900|
|Medical/Caja||$150 to $550|
|Dining/Entertainment||$200 to $600|
|Transportation||$129 to $650|
|Household Help & Incidentals||$150 to $500|
|Total:||$2,429 to $7,600|
Rent: This wide variance is not the limit. Luxury property rents can run as high as $10,000. There are a few places available for less than $1,000, but the quality is extremely low and undesirable.
Groceries: Depending on food choices and your willingness to use mostly native Costa Rican items, there is an opportunity here to eat better and at lower cost.
Medical: Using mostly CAJA, with just a few over-the-counter items, makes this reasonable. Even at the higher end, for more private care, it is significantly lower than standard U.S. care.
Dining/Entertainment: One dinner per week at a family restaurant, for two, $30.00, and one gourmet meal, $80.00, totals $110.00, plus $90.00 for those martinis and munchies after the show.
Transportation: Low end is buses and taxis only, or $650 for your own car and related costs.
Household Help: Cleaning help, $22.00 to $28.00 per day, plus gardener, and general help.
Things to Do in Escazú
By Lou Kritz
Discover the “City of Witches”
An intriguing pastime is studying and investigating the witch phenomenon in Escazú, which is informally known as the “City of Witches”. Dating back centuries to the beliefs of the early indigenous peoples, the legends detail witches like Tulevieja, an apparition with the head of an old woman and the body of a bird. There is also a witch named Zárate who is said to still live in the caves of Pico Blanco, on the mountain above the city. Learning about the many strange characters and occurrences, and relating the legends to everyday life, will fill many hours.
Explore Your Backyard
The towns and barrios that make up the Escazú canton have so many rich points of interest which call for ongoing exploration. Begin in Escazú Centro, the throbbing commercial heart of the canton, where you can find historic adobe housing, beautiful churches, and quaint neighborhoods.
South of Centro is San Antonio de Escazú, with a rural and agricultural bent. This town has an architecturally awe-inspiring church that cannot be missed. Then on to San Rafael de Escazú, with its bustling, modern vibe. Seeing the styles of buildings, the various shopping venues, and other attractions will be an ongoing pleasure.
Shop Till You Drop
We all love to shop, and Escazú puts you in the middle of Costa Rica’s best shopping experience. The Multiplaza mall is one of the best places to shop in the country, with a full lineup of top-quality, high-end stores, salons, and restaurants. The downtown Avenida Escazú competes with the Multiplaza by offering a full array of couture stores of excellent quality. In this shopper’s paradise, there are a number of various-sized malls interspersed by almost unlimited stand-alone shops. Enjoy big box outlets like PriceSmart, then investigate the many small, local specialty offerings. You’ll find you will take this “tour” many times in the future.
Find Local Produce at a Feria
Feria is the name for a farmers’ market, and a key reason to settle here. The ferias are held once a week and feature locally grown vegetables, fruits, nuts, and berries, along with meats, cheeses, seafood, plus many other locally produced food items. The products are harvested the evening before, then sold by the farmers themselves. Escazú and San Antonio each have a feria on Saturday mornings from 4:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Take a Short Drive to the Capital
After a 20-minute drive, begin exploring the capital, San José. The best place to start your tour is at the Central Avenue Boulevard (a one-mile pedestrian promenade) in the city center. There you can visit museums, the National Theater, many important monuments and historical buildings, and a large traffic-free shopping venue. Then, you can extend the trip city-wide into ethnic barrios for more shopping and excellent dining of all types.
Never Miss a Meal in Escazú
The restaurant scene here is simply incredible. Choose any style of cuisine, and the level of quality and service you prefer. For example, if you enjoy Chinese food, stop by a take-out shop, eat at a family-oriented grill, or go gourmet at P.F. Chang’s. Do the same with Indian, Italian, French, Spanish, or Costa Rican options. Pizza can be a quick slice for lunch or a sit-down gourmet repast. Or, try the several great Japanese houses that serve sushi. Your options are endless.
Try Your Luck at a Casino
Visit Costa Rica’s first club and golf course, opened in 1942, at Escazú’s Costa Rica Country Club. With open membership and a host of events and fine dining, you may just find yourself becoming a regular visitor.
For a bit more pressure, try your luck at the Grand Casino Escazú, the most popular casino in Costa Rica. It’s alongside the Sheraton Costa Rica Hotel on Rt. 27, about 300 meters west of the Multiplaza mall.
Get Out of Town!
Your location in Escazú in the Central Valley puts you in close proximity to many of the attractions and sites that have become popular. For example, take a day trip north and start with a tour of the Poás Volcano (make reservations). Then, visit La Paz waterfall and take the Doka Coffee tour, Costa Rica’s number one coffee showcase. End the day with the nearby Corso Dairy Farm Tour, and take home some cheese, freshly baked bread, and just-picked strawberries.
You will also be in a position to take separate day trips to historic Cartago, fast-growing Heredia, and Sarchi, the country’s artisan capital.
Escazú, The Beverly Hills of Costa Rica
By John Michael Arthur
Escazú, in the San José province, is often referred to as the Beverly Hills of Costa Rica as it is the most upscale area in the country. Home to many well-heeled Costa Ricans, Escazú has its fair share of swimming pools, tennis courts, and golf courses.
Just a few miles west of downtown San José, Escazú’s location puts you moments from the cultural center of the country, with modern amenities at arm’s reach including a CIMA Hospital and an international airport.
Due to the large expat population, as well as the international businesses in the area, English is widely spoken here. Plus, amenities that you’re used to are easily found here, from ritzy beauty salons to in-vogue designer shops.
Avenida Ezcazú could be Costa Rica’s version of Rodeo Drive. Here you’ll find the architecturally modern high-rises, and brand name designer stores that Escazú is known for. In fact, Starbucks opened their first ever store in Costa Rica here. And you can’t miss those iconic giant horse statues that mark the entrance to an upscale PF Chang.
Speaking of restaurants, Escazú has you covered. You can find just about any ethnic or gourmet cuisine here. The old main street is often referred to as the “Golden Mile.” It’s a four-lane road now, where traffic weaves its way past trendy clubs and cafés, as well as high-end specialty stores. This is where my husband, Michael, and I bought our posh Italian-made kitchen cabinetry. Then we went across the street to celebrate the decision by having ribs at Tony Roma’s and later, dessert at TGI Fridays.
If golfing is important to you, then there’s an excellent 18-hole course at the country club. Afterward you can spend an afternoon shopping in familiar settings; there’s a huge, deluxe mall full of upper-end American and European brand stores. Or maybe you’d just like to relax by seeing the latest big-screen megahit—you can do that too—in English, at the multiscreen movie theatre.
And when there’s only one of something in the whole of the country, you can bet it’s going to be in Escazú—like Crate and Barrel, or the Electrolux store. Is it any wonder then, that the Intercontinental Hotel chose this area for their striking and grandiose presence?
If that sounds just a bit too much like modern America and not enough like quaint Costa Rica, have no fear; there are still areas outside this commercial hub that resonate the charm of bygone days. And where farmers can still be seen riding horses.
This is where you’ll find Escazú’s other face. So far, I’ve mostly been talking about the area known as San Rafael de Escazú—the busy, modern commercial center of Escazú. But if you turn your attention to San Antonio de Escazú, you’ll find a quieter area that retains lots of the ancestral charisma of Costa Rica. Up in the hills that overlook the hubbub that is anchored around San Rafael is the “elder” Escazú. More traditional, less developed, and more rural with typically smaller tico restaurants. When you look out over the dramatic vistas after strolling along the twisty roads with time-honored adobe buildings, you’ll realize that not everything in Escazú is “Americanized.”
You can find anything from tico-style houses to high-rise condominiums or luxury homes in gated communities in Escazú. There are even some empty lots still available if you’re looking to build. But like most of the real estate in this area—it’s pricey. However, if you look around you can find three-bedroom townhouses for less than $200,000. If price isn’t an issue you can also find a breathtaking three-acre, eight-bedroom colonial masterpiece with separate quarters for the staff for a mere $1.97 million.
If you’re looking for a place where you can enjoy a foreign culture without giving up your own, with a temperate, tropical climate, and high-end fashion, then Escazú just might be the place for you.
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