There are many reasons people move to Costa Rica: low cost of living, high-quality health care; the warm weather year-round; the friendly people; the established expat communities…the list goes on. But in my case there were certain factors that attracted me to Costa Rica many years ago as a tourist and convinced me to eventually make the move down. The first is the…
Costa Rica is easy on the eyes. From lush rain forests to white-sand beaches to looming volcanoes to deep green tree-covered mountains set against a bright blue sky…it’s hard not to constantly just stop and take it all in, even in the places you live. My camera memory cards—always full of shots of the views around my home in the Central Valley and from my travels around the country—are proof of that.
And though this is a developing country with a growing population and economy, the Costa Rican government, as well as private citizens and foreign residents, have taken a strong stance on conservation of natural areas. About a quarter of the land has been set aside as national park, wildlife refuge, or private protected area. This is territory that will never be developed but people are encouraged to visit to learn about the unique environments.
What’s really cool is that there is such variety of landscapes and because Costa Rica is a small country, they’re fairly close together. Get tired of the mountains of the Central Valley, for example, and you could head south for less than two hours and hit the rain forests of the Central Pacific. Go a few hours west and you’ll be on the shore of Lake Arenal, at the foot of the cone volcano of the same name. There are great hiking trails around Arenal, by the way, as you can see here:
Of course, a big part of Costa Rica’s natural beauty are the 763 miles of coastline on the Pacific and Caribbean sides. And that brings me to…
As someone who has always lived close to the ocean, I truly appreciate what Costa Rica has to offer in this department. And there’s something for everybody, whether you like bustling beach resorts, deserted beaches fringed with palm trees, protected coves perfect for swimming, or crashing waves begging to be surfed.
One of my favorite parts of visiting the beaches of Costa Rica (at least on the Pacific side) is the sunset. There’s just something soothing about watching the sun dip below the waterline and then waiting for the stars to come out after. Sometimes celebrated in a group with friends—toes in the sand, sunset cocktail in hand; other times in remote areas with no noise but the crashing waves and no company except the monkeys scampering in the trees lining the shore.
Speaking of monkeys…
Flora and Fauna
Costa Rica is a small country, about the size of West Virginia, but it’s incredibly bio-diverse. With just 0.3% of the world’s landmass, it has an estimated 5% of the species on the planet—about 500,000 in all. And that means an incredible variety of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and, yes, insects. Plus, in this tropical climate all sorts of plants thrive as well, including 1,400 species of orchids.
One of my favorite things to do in Costa Rica is explore wherever I happen to be, camera and binoculars at the ready. I’ve spotted sloths (two-toed and three-toed), monkeys (howler, capuchin, and squirrel), parrots of several species, scarlet macaws, a dozen species of hummingbirds, coatimundis, sea turtles, basilisk lizards (they can run on water)…I could go on. A great place to see a huge variety of wildlife is the Monteverde cloud forest, high in the Tilaran mountains. See here for a video.
Of course, you don’t have to be in remote areas or in a national park to see wildlife. In Costa Rica it’s all around you. In Tamarindo, we used to see howler monkeys on the way to drop my son off at school. When we rented a home in the Southern Zone, toucans would swoop through the backyard every morning. And I once had to shoo a boa constrictor off the road on the way to my house (I didn’t want it to get run over, of course).
Unlike when I lived in the U.S., I feel like I have time for all this wildlife watching because in Costa Rica I enjoy a…
Slower Pace of Life
There’s a saying in Costa Rica—I guess you could say it’s the unofficial motto for the country: Pura Vida. It translates literally to “pure life.” But really it’s a whole life philosophy. Time with family and friends—and enjoying yourself—takes precedence. People have patience. They’re not in a rush. They try to keep the stress levels down. All that translates into a simpler life at a slower pace. Coming from the hectic lifestyle of North America, it’s quite a change. But most expats adapt soon enough and learn to be tranquilo (relaxed).
This new type of life does have its drawbacks. Host a gathering, and it’s not unusual for guests to arrive hours late. Or a repairman might do the same. But the benefits outweigh the hassles.
That brings us to the final reason I love Costa Rica…
A Low Cost of Living
It’s not possible to live like a king on a pauper’s budget in Costa Rica. But it is possible to enjoy a very comfortable life for a lot less money than you would in North America. I’ve met many couples who live well on $2,000 or less per month, including housing, medical, and transportation costs.
The trick to staying within a tight budget is to live and shop like a local. The weekly feria, or farmers’ market, is the place to go for fresh produce, as well as chicken, fish, eggs, cheese, coffee, and much more—all at bargain prices. Try a pound of fresh-caught snapper for $6. A pineapple for $1. Four avocados for $2. Stick to the “whole” foods in the feria, avoiding the expensive imported items and processed foods at the grocery store, and you’ll not only save money, but get healthier too. You can get a glimpse of the feria in the Central Valley town of Grecia here.
Dining out can be affordable, too, if you stick to the sodas in your town, which serve typical Costa Rican fare for $4 to $5 a plate. The casado is the national dish: white rice, black beans, salad, casserole, plantains, and your choice of fish, beef, chicken, or pork. A filling meal, and the price is right.
But the big savings is in housing. Rents for a nice two-bedroom furnished rental with mountain views in the Central Valley start at $400 per month. And you can get an ocean-view home overlooking the Pacific for under $200,000. Comparable homes in the U.S. would be triple those costs…if not more. That’s been one of the major perks for me—living in a great home, in a great location, with a great views for a fraction of what I paid for worse houses in worse locations back home.
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