The Western Gateway
By Lou Kritz
When visiting San Ramón, Costa Rica, you realize that each town and village has a personality and feel that makes it special. In San Ramón, it’s history and location. The 12,000 people who live here will tell you that this was one of the first incorporated communities, dating to its founding in 1856.
The town is known for the leaders of Costa Rican society that have local ties. National poets, Felix Angel Salas Cabezas and Lisimaco Chavarria Palma wrote, studied, and taught here. Two significant presidents that affected Costa Rican principles also call this home. Rodrigo Carazo and José Figueres Ferrer, mid-19th century officeholders, set a new course of human relations and international respect for the county.
President Figueres is especially important. During three presidential terms, from 1948 to 1974, he abolished the army, nationalized the banking sector, granted women and Afro-Costa Ricans the right to vote, and directed the once-military funding to go to medical care, education, and citizen’s welfare.
The location of the town places it at the very western edge of the Central Valley, along the Pan-American Highway, Route 1. It’s about a short hour to mid-town San José, 30 minutes to the airport, and an hour or so to the beaches. Plus, it’s at the edge of the outlying areas. To the north are the mountains and dairy farming areas, and to the northwest are the lowland vegetable areas. To the west, the beaches of the Pacific await, ready for swimming, surfing, or just relaxing.
Weather in San Ramón is unique. The year-round temperature range is 61 F to 87 F, so days are warm with a cool breeze in the evening. The only things to watch out for are the microclimates. A hundred-foot rise is like moving 10 degrees north in longitude in the U.S. or Canada. Opinions vary, with some folks relishing the cooler temperatures.
Retire in San Ramón, Costa Rica
San Ramón experiences the wet and dry seasons of the country, and will cause you to scratch your head until you acclimate a little bit. Winter, the rainy season, begins in May and continues to late November. Summer, the dry part, goes from late November until May. Folks from Calgary, Canada, or St. Paul, Minnesota, will be confused until they cease thinking in temperature terms, and see that ticos use precipitation as the season definers.
San Ramón is uniquely affected by variances in elevation. Slight differences affect the temperatures as well as the precipitation. The top of one hill can have a different pattern than that in the valley. It’s a good reason to rent before buying.
As retirement brings a little different focus, it’s important to know that good, competent medical care is certainly part of your lifestyle. First is CAJA, the government program, with healthcare clinics in town, and a hospital in downtown San Ramón, where most procedures are handled. For more progressive procedures, a patient can be transferred to one of the six major facilities in San José.
There is also a large independent medical community of all types of specialties, as well as ultra-modern hospitals. The cost here is usually at about 10% to 30% of U.S. costs. Private insurance is also available.
Housing options abound also. From an in-town small apartment to a luxury, gated community manor, all are available. It is easy to find a tico townhouse or a more modern country home that is near town but on the edge of the rural areas.
For rental houses, expect to pay $600 to $1,000 per month, depending on location. On the upper end, you can go even higher. Purchasing a home is the result of your wishes. Being budget-conscious allows starting at $60,000 to $80,000, with many, many higher possibilities. As stated before, because this is a different economy and culture, renting for at least a year before buying, is highly advised.
Lifestyle in San Ramón, Costa Rica
This town started as a farming community, and continues as such. However, there is a large contingent of the workforce that commutes daily, by bus or by car, to San José for employment. This has certainly affected attitudes in the town.
The dual nature of the culture of San Ramón offers possibilities for any of your desires. Housing can be found in town, close to everything, or further out, more rural and more relaxed, all in relatively low-crime areas. Statistically, San Ramón ranks below the national Costa Rican averages. You also have the option of finding a microclimate that suits your lifestyle.
Shopping options include malls and several bigger chain stores that have opened. While these seem bigger here, they don’t yet rival the massive operations expats are familiar with back home. Yet, you can find whatever you need, often at a quite advantageous pricing. Then, the town offers a central market that provides fresh foods on a daily basis, along with a variety of grocery store types to fit every taste. The crowning jewel, however, is the weekly Saturday feria, or farmers’ market. Local growers and purveyors pick produce the morning of the market and deliver fresh veggies, fruits, meats, cheeses, baked goods, and more that taste so good that they never make it home. They become “car snacks.”
Living in the midst of the coffee-growing area gives you the choice of having a cup of freshly brewed Joe at your favorite cafeteria with friends, or taking a bag home to help you make it through the day.
The restaurant scene in San Ramón is lively. Just about any taste can be satisfied. Here is just a shortlist of possibilities. Try: Chepe’s for Central American and Costa Rican fare. Soda Diana is a small venue for Central American and Spanish food. Savoy Ala Thai is probably the country’s best Thai spot and is vegetarian-friendly. Or, Pizza Lola with the special Costa Rican touch, and vegetarian friendly.
Here’s a cultural tip. When two or more people order in a restaurant, the food is made based on that order. It hasn’t lain in a steam table all day, waiting for you to show up. The food is then served as it comes off the stove or out of the oven. It is very acceptable to begin eating your selection without waiting for the whole table to be served. It will all balance out in the end.
Cost of Living in San Ramón, Costa Rica
The cost of living in San Ramón can be affected by so many variables, all based on your personal choices. Consider this example:
|Item||Cost in USD|
|Rent for a two-bedroom apartment or house||$700|
|Utilities: electric, water, cable/internet, phone||$100|
|Household Help & Incidentals||$150|
Notes: Groceries can be affected by where you shop. Buying locally is the key. Buy at the feria, the central market, and local grocers, and costs will be reasonable.
Medical through CAJA is about 8% of a retiree’s monthly income. But, only one spouse must provide a verifiable monthly income of at least $1,000, and it covers both husband and wife. Expect to pay $95 to $100 per month for complete CAJA medical care.
Dining and entertainment at $120 is based on one moderate-cost meal per week for two. Locally-owned restaurants and neighborhood dining sites could lower that cost.
Transportation is highly variable. The $150 a month above is low—reasonable, based on your usage. Eschewing a car, and even taking two bus trips and two cab rides a week would bring that figure to less than $100.
Things to Do in San Ramón, Costa Rica
Have a Day Experiencing San Ramon
To feel the vibes of this beautiful place, plan a day in the center of the city. Start at the Cathedral of San Ramón Nonato. The neoclassical style church is the anchor of the community, presenting incredibly beautiful artwork and architecture. Then, cross into the adjacent Alberto Manuel Brenes Park to sit and soak up the local vibes. There is a good chance a local English-speaking tico will stop to talk and will become the unofficial welcoming party.
The next stop is at the side of the park. It is the San Ramón Regional Museum that highlights the history of both San Ramón and Costa Rica. It is one of the best museums in Costa Rica, and is staffed by English-speaking guides who will introduce you to all of the exhibits. The last venues to see are the Universities of Costa Rica, and San José.
Stock Up on the Goodness of Costa Rica
On Saturday morning experience a trip to the feria, or farmers’ market. You will find locally grown fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, baked goods, coffee, and so much more. Everything is of high quality and extremely reasonable cost. For example, choose from 10 or 12 types of lettuce, picked this morning, washed, and offered at three large heads for $1.64, or 55 cents each. Shop, then join the folks at the soda, or lunch counter, for a freshly made meal and good conversation.
Cool Off and Relax in Hidden Beauty
A great place to review your Costa Rican adventure is to kick back at Balneario Los Musas, the Muses Spa. Just on the west edge of town, in a deep, almost hidden, reserve are adult and children’s swimming pools, an exciting water slide, all situated right beside a 60 meter, or 200-foot high waterfall. The fun part is that you can splash in the pool at the bottom. The park includes picnic grounds and you can either take your own repast or enjoy lunch at the soda on the grounds.
Visit the Pristine Cloud Forest and the Diverse Cast of Characters
The Nectandra Cloud Forest Garden is a horticultural display showcasing the richness of the flora and fauna of Costa Rica. The Nectandra Garden covers 130 hectares is primary cloud forest, and the smaller Persea Garden, at 8 hectares, is a rescue of land that was used as an ornamental plantation. The beauty of both the birds and animals, along with the rich floral displays, makes this a valuable day trip, or a relaxing stop on your trip to the Arenal Volcano.
Eat Some Cheese, Snack on Some Candy, and Watch the Weather Change
It’s time for a day trip and there’s no better place than a drive to Zarcero, a 12-mile journey to the north of San Ramón. Zarcero is the center of the dairy industry, and its reputation is growing as the cheese capital of the country. Queso palmito is a string cheese that is good for cooking, or just snacking. Also try cajetas, a local handmade caramel candy that is popular. In-town attractions include the beautiful pink and blue church, fronted by the town park and garden that is decorated with a large collection of cypress topiary trees depicting arches and animals.
Really Relax in Your Steam Bath
Forty-five miles to the north of San Ramón is the Arenal Volcano, one of the most active of Costa Rica’s chain of six active mountains. The town of La Fortuna lies right beside the volcano and the area is beautiful, touristy, and fun. In addition to all kinds of outdoor activities, excellent and varied restaurants, and comfortable lodging options, you’ll remember the time you spent in the mineral thermal hot springs that surround the mountain. Choose from public springs, the hotel-managed private ones, or resorts with your own pool for private relaxation.
There are, of course, many more attractions and points of interest in and around San Ramón making this a great place to live, or to visit on that special getaway.