Costa Rica is not the cheapest country in Latin America…in fact it’s one of the more expensive in Central America. If an ultra-low cost of living is your number one priority, this may not be the country for you.
That said, my husband and I still enjoy a beach life here that we could never afford back in the States. We moved nearly two and a half years ago to the northwestern coast of Costa Rica, otherwise known as the Gold Coast. Starting in the bustling beach town of Tamarindo, we gathered our bearings in a brand new country and have since moved to a smaller village about 15 minutes north.
We wake in the morning to the sounds of howler monkeys and live a life free of checking the weather report, because we know it will always be hot and sunny. The house we rent fills with natural light and fresh air. It has three bedrooms, giving us plenty of space for guests and a home office, and with two and half bathrooms, no one ever needs to wait their turn. Sometimes we enjoy a morning swim in our pool, just steps outside the back door and surrounded by lush, jungle landscape, overlooking the rolling tree-covered hills of Guanacaste.
This house is our own little oasis in the middle of paradise, and it’s hard to believe we only pay $1,150 for rent. Especially when you compare it to the $1,375 we paid for rent back in Chicago. Only there, we had a one-bedroom apartment, the kitchen and the living space were one, and the “full” bathroom occupied the same square footage as a typical half-bath.
Although it was just the two of us, and our very large dog Harvey, there’s no denying things were a little cramped. Back in Chicago, by city standards, you’d describe our apartment as having a “great location” But let’s be honest…it wasn’t 10 minutes from the peace and calm of the Pacific Ocean. And I certainly couldn’t sip organic, local coffee on the patio surrounded only by the sounds of tropical birds, the occasional monkey, and sometimes the sound of horses in the distance.
Harsh winters were one of the main driving factors for us to head south of the border. We could have gone west as well, to California, but we knew our cost of living would surely go up. We also knew that if we were going to move to a hotter climate, we wanted to be at the beach, or as close to it as possible. And we wanted to enjoy the nature that comes along with a tropical climate.
Of the places we’ve rented in Costa Rica, a 10-minute drive is the farthest we’ve ever been from the beach. Not too shabby, and not something we could have found for the same price in the U.S.
People often ask, how else we save when it comes to costs, mainly because they experience sticker shock when they see the prices of imported goods in Costa Rica. Well, to put it simply, we often steer clear of imported goods and that has been quite a positive lifestyle change for us. Back in Chicago I’d prefer to shop at stores like Whole Foods or Mariano’s for fresh, organic produce. Those were the places that always seemed to have the highest quality produce. Fruits and vegetables are a staple in our household, and it wouldn’t be hard at all to drop $100 on produce that would end up lasting about a week. In Costa Rica, I can go to the local feria (farmers’ market), or a roadside fruit stand, and buy ample produce for a week for under $40. Fresh food abounds here. It’s accessible and affordable…and we can’t get enough of it!
Not to mention we’ve experimented and added some of the most delicious (and antioxidant rich) fruits to our diet. We love maracuya (passion fruit)—it’s a smoothie game-changer. Rambutan is a funky, spiky red fruit that’s sweet as candy on the inside. Pineapples this close to the equator are the real deal. And there’s nothing like paying a local vendor $1 on the beach to crack open a refreshing, chilled coconut and hydrating yourself with a dose of pipa (as they call it here) water. Last year, my husband and I visited Miami and we paid a vendor $8 for the same service. I repeat: a beach life we could never afford in the U.S.
If I am completely honest though, there is one single factor above all else, that makes our beach lifestyle so much more affordable here in Costa Rica, and that is the lack of consumerism that you find in the U.S. We’ve learned to live with less material needs, and we simply don’t have the temptations to spend money that we had back in the States. We have had the opportunity to clear our minds, evaluate what’s truly important in the fulfillment of our everyday lives, and become more connected with the nature that’s all around us.