I Followed My Heart to Tamarindo, Costa Rica

“I just got sick of living for vacations, you know?” says Connecticut native Rebekah Bottone. “Counting down the days to those two weeks where you get to be who you really are? Here, I get to be me all the time.”

Rebekah doesn’t have to live for vacations anymore. Not since moving to Tamarindo—a surf town on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.

She always knew she wanted to live somewhere warm. “I chose a college based on the fact that it had a seashell on the prospectus cover,” she laughs. “I just wanted to live somewhere with palm trees.” Too many Connecticut ice storms will do that to you.

With one of the warmest and driest climates in the country, Tamarindo and the surrounding region experiences direct sunlight nearly every single day of the year. Temperatures are consistent year-round, fluctuating normally between 80 F and 95 F. Even during the “rainy” season, from around May to October, a day without sunshine is rare.

But if something as simple as weather seems like a superficial reason to relocate, cut her some slack. There’s solid reasoning beneath Rebekah’s decision to live here. A matter-of-fact acknowledgement of basic needs that we could all learn from.

“You need to listen to yourself, and feel what’s right for you. When you figure out what it is that you want, you need to follow that. I knew I needed to be by the ocean, and have a tropical lifestyle. I knew that when I was still a kid. It makes me feel good, and whatever makes you feel good, you should do that all the time.”

Rebekah first lived in Tamarindo for two years after she graduated college. But on that occasion, she couldn’t make it stick. She moved back to the U.S. for another eight years, but in 2010, she was back. This time, it was to settle. She bought some land at a good moment in the market, for about $22,000. Next was a house—a three-bedroom home that she built with her then husband, for another $120,000.

The-3-bed-home-that-Rebekah-built
The 3-bed home that Rebekah built cost just $142,000 including the price of the land.

“I love the house. It’s not super big, but it flows really well. We designed it to fit what we wanted from it. Good sized rooms, an office, an attic. That’s not standard issue here, but it’s what we wanted. The house is on the end of a semi-circle of homes, which makes for a real community. It’s in a gated complex, with community pool and gardens, about four miles from the beach in a middle-class area. We just had a pool party yesterday, my eleven-year-old twins can play anywhere around the place. It’s ideal for us.”

Rebekah’s energy and enthusiasm for life is immediately apparent. She’s bursting with ideas and opinions, advice and observation. That helps with her work teaching English and running her own YouTube channel. Again, it all stems from being in the place she wants to be, and living the life she’s happy with.

“We live well on less than $3,000 a month. It helps that we’re not renting, but there’s still around $700 a month goes on the mortgage. Then there’s community maintenance fees of around $135, electricity’s about $150 a month, water costs $20, then there’s the healthcare payment to the CAJA system of about $60 or $70. It’s worth it, though.”

It’s worth going into detail about the CAJA—the local name for Costa Rica’s socialized healthcare system. Rebekah gave birth to twins using the public healthcare system, so she’s well placed to comment.

“Initially, I was scared of using the public system, but I had the best experience! I guess it might be harder if you don’t speak Spanish, because although the doctors usually speak English, the nursing staff often don’t. But they’re so friendly and pleasant, it’s a revelation. Not only to me, either. My son had a bad infection a little while ago, and went to the public hospital. It was a hospital visit, so everything’s relative, but he had a great experience there. Again, such friendly, helpful nurses. They took good care of him.”

While there are parts of Costa Rica—the Central Valley, for example—where the expat community is predominantly made up of retirees, Rebekah is keen to point out that in Tamarindo, that’s not the case.

“There are lots of other expat families here, along with 20-something digital nomads, retired people, middle-class Costa Ricans. Actually, it’s pushing the rent prices up a bit. Since the country opened up again after the pandemic, there’s been a lot of new people arriving. Now that so many people can work from wherever they like, a lot of them have been turning up here. It’s not surprising. It’s a relaxed lifestyle here; an outdoor lifestyle. And there’s real community. People meet up and do things together, even if it’s just to go watch the sunset.”

That trend toward online work hasn’t passed Rebekah by, either. Her online English classes on YouTube are an expanding sideline, and her kids supplement their local public school education with online education following the U.S. curriculum. It’s the best of both worlds, Rebekah says. “The public school is great for socialization, and for their Spanish. They’ve got local friends now, not just expat ones. I’m planning on doing a lot more travel and world schooling in the near future, though, so the online school will be valuable in that scenario.”

After a long, strict lockdown in Costa Rica, Rebekah’s enthusiastic to get traveling again, but she’s happy to admit that, relatively speaking, the COVID pandemic didn’t have a huge impact on her life.

“We’re outdoors all the time anyway, I felt safe all the way through it. There was a point when access to the beach was restricted to keep the numbers down. It closed at eight o’clock in the morning, so we just went to the beach earlier, and had our beach walks before eight. Simple. It was very therapeutic. That’s Tamarindo. It’s a place that lets you truly live and enjoy life. When you know what you want from life, you need to follow that. That’s exactly what I did, and this is exactly where it brought me.”

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