Tambor, Costa Rica - Modern Lifestyle Mixed With The Beauty of Nature
By Lou Kritz
A secret has quietly been discovered in the Alajuela canton, or county, in the beautiful northwest area of Costa Rica’s Central Valley—it’s the valley community of the Tambor district, a six-mile-long, one-and-a-half-mile-wide enclave of small barrios and rural communities that lay along Alajuela’s northwesternmost border.
Officially decreed a district in November 1922, the name Tambor means “drum” and harkens back to the drum use of the Indigenous people who inhabited this area. Now, however, the folks who have seen the potential of this quiet community are young professionals, students, and retirees who have caused an incredible jump in the population from 1,975 to today’s estimated 14,338, a total change of +291%. The current median population age is 27.7 years.
Providing everything one might need, either within walking distance or only minutes away by car or bus, Tambor offers comfort, relaxation, and the big-city excitement of shopping and services in Alajuela.
Retire in Tambor, Costa Rica
The southwestern edge of Tambor is located in La Garita near the intersection of national routes 3 and 1. The district then takes a northeasterly turn and widens to one-and-a-half miles at the Vargas area on the northeastern corner and the Tuetal Norte area on the southeastern corner. National routes 107 and 118 service the area from the north and northwestern parts of the Central Valley, while Route 1 is the main north-south international highway through the country.
Tambor is at an elevation of 3,117 feet, almost exactly the same altitude as Alajuela, and 200 feet lower than San José, thus the town is a few degrees warmer than the city. Moving to Tambor, you can expect daytime highs in the mid-80s F and nighttime lows in the mid-60s F with very little variance year-round. The dry season is from mid-November through April—with February being the driest month—and the rainy season is from May to mid-November. October is the wettest month with an average of 17.6 inches of rain. Being only 10 degrees north of the equator, daylight in Costa Rica averages 11 hours and 38 minutes, varying only by 30 minutes throughout the year.
Choosing a place to live in this area should be relatively easily given that there is a mix of older tico-style, or Costa Rican-style, houses included among the newer options of high-end homes, moderately priced houses, apartments, and even condos. Most options are scattered among small villages and rural areas, with plenty of room and beautiful views to enjoy.
There are quite a number of condominiums being built that appear to be small rental units at very reasonable prices. For modern, moderately priced houses, try Carrillos Bajo. The market right now is competitive as landlords and sellers struggle with the effects of COVID-19, but prices over the last three years have been stable without any major swings.
Tambor is an excellent location to take advantage of the several medical care systems in Costa Rica. First, CAJA, the government-backed full-service system, has a clinic in Tambor. The nearest CAJA hospital, San Rafael, is in Alajuela. Also, you would be an average of 14 miles from the major hospital center in San José with specialist care ranging from pre-natal to geriatric, in a system rated more highly than that in the U.S. There are also independent doctors, clinics, and labs available with high standards of care and prices at 15% to 60% of U.S. rates. Because of the excellent care and reasonable costs, the country has become popular as a medical tourism destination.
Tambor has a unique position in the Central Valley in that it sets on the southern edge of an entry point to the beauty of the mountains and volcanos. Then, the metropolitan benefits are as close—or even closer. From Tambor center, it is 4.5 miles to the city center of Alajuela, and even closer to major shopping on the west side. The Juan Santamaria International Airport is 7.5 miles away, and a trip to the center of San José is 18 miles.
The country’s excellent and affordable bus lines leave from Tambor on a very busy schedule and take you direct to both neighboring cities, or to connecting stations for longer trips. Local bus fares are about $0.76, and long-distance fares run about $3 to $7. Note that senior citizens (65+ years old) ride free locally, and either free or half price on longer trips. The town is also well serviced by the government-controlled red taxis, with the bright yellow triangles on the door. A ride to downtown Alajuela is in the $3 to $5 range.
All of these benefits add to the appealing “vibe” of this interesting community. It’s a mixture of young families, with many pointed to the technological opportunities in the cities, and seasoned retirees, both expats and ticos. Daily needs, like groceries, auto service, medical care, and social activities are within walking distance, and major shopping is less than 10 minutes away. Add to that the many forms of entertainment available less than half an hour away, and you have the best of both worlds: the rural calm of the mountains combined with the metropolitan character of the cities.
Lifestyle in Tambor, Costa Rica
Your lifestyle in Tambor will be modern mixed with the culture of old Costa Rica. As new people have moved in, they bring with them a newfound appreciation of the beauty of nature. The Poás Volcano is nearby, and national parks and waterfalls surround you. While this is not a coastal town, you are only an hour away from Pacific beaches where you can enjoy warm winds and cool Mai Tais.
Transportation is readily available—15 minutes to the airport, buses right out front, and taxis just a phone call away. Major shopping is close on Alajuela’s west side and into the downtown area. Venture 12 miles further and San José welcomes you. Don’t forget that Alajuela has an all-day every-day marketplace in Mercado Central (Central Market), as well as a weekly feria, or farmers’ market, on Friday and Saturday, all on your side of town.
Dining options in the Tambor district vary from quick bites at 712 to Go to full service at La Bendi Grille and Las Delicias del Maiz to the romantic Restaurante Pandora at the upscale Villa San Ignacio. Overnight accommodation ranges from B&Bs to several resorts, and much in between. There are great options for both relaxing and entertaining friends and guests.
The crime rate in rural Tambor is low, being part of a country that is considered the safest in Central and South America. Most reported crimes are of the petty variety. Locked cars, security lights, and a companion at night will aid in warding off any opportunists.
There is a school catering to pre-school through elementary grades located in Tambor. High schools, universities, and private schools are all located in close-by Alajuela.
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Cost of Living in Tambor, Costa Rica
Costs can vary depending on lifestyle choices.
Below is an example of a monthly budget for a couple living in Tambor:
|Rent||$600 to $900|
|Utilities, cable, internet||$115 to $130|
|Cell phones||$25 to $35|
|Groceries||$400 to $500|
|Medical/CAJA||$120 to $130|
|Dining/entertainment||$280 to $300|
|Transportation||$85 to $560|
|Household help & incidentals||$150 to $160|
|Total:||$1,775 to $2,715|
- Rent for an older tico home would be $600, while modern construction could hit $900 or more.
- Traditional utilities, electric, water, etc., are controlled and stable. Cable and internet vary depending on what is offered in a given area.
- Forego monthly cell phone plans and pay cash for local calls, $5/month. Use MagicJack international at $10/month for calls to the grandkids. Also, hook up to WhatsApp for free calls.
- To save on groceries, buy as much as possible at the feria, Mercado Central, and local stores.
- CAJA, the government plan, is about 8% of one retiree’s income and covers the couple. One spouse is primary and must show a monthly income of $1,000 minimum. As my wife’s Social Security is lower than mine, it qualifies, and now I am her dependent. We pay $96 to $98 per month for total coverage. The additional allocated budget is for over-the-counter medical needs.
- Dining out based on meals for two include: two lunches and one top-cost night out each per week.
- The transportation budget includes three weekly trips to Alajuela on the bus, one trip to San José, one trip to the beach, and one taxi to Alajuela. Then, when you celebrate your 65th birthday, cut this estimate at least in half. Or, buy a heavily-taxed auto.
- Household costs covers a weekly cleaning lady and a bi-weekly gardener, and incidentals.
Things to Do in Tambor, Costa Rica
By Lou Kritz
There is simply so much to do here, both in this quiet enclave and in the surrounding areas. After you spend the first weeks as a tourist seeing as much as possible, you will be living day to day, but likely still interested in sightseeing and discovering the beauty of Costa Rica. The following “tours” can help you discover more hidden gems this area has to offer.
First, Tour Tambor
To get a feel for your new home, drive around and start at the Catholic church and Plaza de Deportes, or Sports Plaza, and see the beautiful edifice that’s fenced in front to stop the soccer balls from bouncing in during “How Great Thou Art!” This is also the location of the year’s biggest festival and the community’s number one event, Festival de Navidad, or Christmas Festival. Don’t miss it.
Search Out the Lodging Choices
Knowing the different types of overnight lodging will help you accommodate those guests that just have to visit you in Costa Rica, or provide you with a romantic getaway on your anniversary. Here is just a sample of Tambor choices.
- Villa San Ignacio – elegance in accommodations and dining.
- Villa Margarita, San Miguel—calm and relaxing accommodation in pleasant surroundings.
- Hotel Martino Resort & Spa, La Garita—a great place to remove stress and enjoy.
- Hotel Asclepios Wellness and Spa—perfect for even more stress relief.
- Xandari Resort & Spa, El Diamante—experience nature in a high mountain retreat.
- Hotel Vista Linda Montaña – discover—get back to nature and enjoy our beautiful earth.
Ya’ Gotta Eat!
This is the fun tour! You can do it again, and again. Here’s a start, but don’t skip the little sodas, or lunch counters, that you see. They are special treats.
- Ruth Verde House & Café
- Deli Pollo
- La Calle Street Food
- La Terraza de Luna
- La Bendi Grille
- 712 to Go
- La Delicias del Maiz
- Pandora @ Villa San Ignacio
Relax and Learn at Interesting Sites
There are countless interesting sites in Tambor and the surrounding areas, but this list is a great place to start.
- Rescate Wildlife Center, La Garita–Costa Rica’s largest animal rescue park.
- Finca Los Amigos—great for hiking, swimming, and nature experiences.
- Los Chorros Municipal Recreational Park—outdoor activities for children and teens.
- EcoAdventures La Finca—guided healthy outdoor adventures.
- Vivero Central La Garita—yard & garden supplier.
Start to Learn About Alajuela
Living in Tambor, you will visit Alajuela often. Start in downtown at the Mercado Central, or Central Market, then branch out to the myriad of shops that offer almost limitless goods. The edges of the downtown include big-box stores such as PriceSmart, Wal-Mart, and El Rey, City Mall, major grocers, and dining and entertainment options.
Discover Metro San José
San José bears the reputation of one of the safest and most visited cities in Latin America. Start at Central Avenue, the city center pedestrian mall and see the government monuments and offices, outstanding museums showcasing jade and gold artifacts, the National Theater, and peaceful parks. Then, dine on everything from fast food to wholesome tico fare to gourmet specialties. Spread out a little into the Chinatown specialty stores and eateries. Enjoy an overnight getaway at one of the four-star hotels that overlook the action, and enjoy a top presentation at the National Theater.
Featured Image Copyright: ©Frank Paldino