Costa Rica is indeed a “rich coast.” That’s what Christopher Columbus called it—Costa Rica—when he discovered this paradise. And every travel show on TV focuses on the beach life as tourists swarm the shores for vacations filled with swimming, sunning, and surfing.
But this beautiful, diverse country is more than just its beaches. Expats in the know have been streaming to Costa Rica’s Central Valley for decades, because of the rich treasures that lie here.
As you would imagine from the name, this region is central to almost everything. It’s also where almost three-quarters of the population lives. That means easy access to the international airport, first-rate hospitals, excellent shopping (with designer or boutique alternatives), myriad restaurants, and even those all-the-rage beaches.
On top of that, the Central Valley’s climate is impeccable. With elevations ranging from 3,000 to 5,000 feet, you can pick the perfect spot with a mild climate to suit you. Air conditioning and heating aren’t needed—daytime highs are usually in the 70s F or low 80s F, and nights are typically in the 60s F.
If you’re looking for cultural activities, the capital, San José, is the proud home of several wonderful museums. The Gold Museum houses one of the most extensive collections of Pre-Columbian gold in the Americas, and is the pride of Costa Rica. The National Theatre was built in the 1800s by rich coffee growers as Costa Rica’s answer to Parisian architecture. It stands tall, proud, and iconic as a neoclassical architectural feat.
Speaking of coffee growers…Starbucks touts Costa Rican coffee as some of the best in the world. If you live in the Central Valley, you know it is the best. The rich volcanic soils and mountain elevations provide the perfect environment for you to have a full-flavored, aromatic liquid cup of heaven any time you like. My favorite coffee producer is Café Cristina, and there’s nothing more spectacular than seeing the sweeping fields of their cafetal (coffee plantation) in full bloom. Laden with brilliant white blossoms, it’s the only time you’ll think you’ve seen snow in Costa Rica.
Of course, every nature lover coming to Costa Rica wants to see the monkeys…but these mischievous little creatures are only the tip of the tropical wildlife iceberg. The biodiversity in Costa Rica is unmatched anywhere else in the world. And the bulk of that can be found in the Central Valley. Its jungles, tremendous wetlands, and misty mountains are full of life. You’ll find those monkeys, but also a huge variety of colorful critters that you thought were only in children’s books. And all of them framed by waterfalls and volcanoes. When I saw my first keel-billed toucan flying in the wild, I felt an almost uncontrollable urge to buy a box of Fruit Loops.
Public transportation makes getting around the Central Valley so cheap and easy that many expats say goodbye to cars, along with their costs. Bus service is frequent and reliable, with modern coaches carrying you to your next adventure for a dollar or two. Longer trips are amazingly cheap too. From San José, you can get to Jaco beach for about $3, the Monteverde Cloud Forest nature reserve for about $4, or the Poas Volcano National Park for around $5.
And transport isn’t the only thing that’s affordable here. My partner, Michael, and I live on between $1,600 and $2,000 a month. Our monthly electricity bill averages $45 to $50. Unlimited water usage is a flat rate of $7.50 a month. That also includes municipal services like street lighting and garbage pick-up. Internet costs us $26…unlimited 4G cell phone use with unlimited data plan clocks in at $18. Roll in $480 a month for our full-time gardener and $110 a month for our twice-weekly maid.
The Central Valley is a jewel not to be missed…when you come, pay homage to its secrets. You won’t be disappointed.