A delayed flight meant we got in late to San José. Our luggage barely fit into our rental car—I could have sworn roof racks were standard on Mitsubishi Monteros. And after taking the wrong turn out of the airport, we were hopelessly lost until we spotted a taxi stand and asked the way to the town of Grecia, where our rental house is. Not a great introduction to our new life as expats in Costa Rica’s Central Valley.
But things started looking up first thing in the morning. Out the window, I spotted a hummingbird circling a cactus flower. And soon a brilliant blue tanager perched on a branch nearby. Sun shining, blue skies, a light breeze, and a temperature in the mid-70s F.
In the light of day, we easily found our way to town, just five minutes from our new home. We discovered the perfect little spot to people-watch: Café Las Delicias. Rice, beans, eggs, plantains, and café con leche for me and my wife. French toast and hot chocolate for my son. And all of it for just $14.
At the grocery store we hit a stumbling block—no vanilla-flavored coffee creamer, for us a household staple. But it turns out you don’t need it when you drink Costa Rican coffee, which is excellent. And much of it, in fact, is grown in our backyard—coffee plantations ring Grecia.
As we picked out some green beans in the produce section, I gave a cheery buenos días to an older woman walking by. She quickly pulled me aside. “Go to the mercado (central market) across the street for vegetables; they’re much cheaper,” she told me. “And be sure to go to the feria (farmer’s market) on Friday.”
Both now keep us stocked with fruit, veggies, herbs, fresh flowers, locally-made cheese, meat, bread…even dog food…for a fraction of what we paid in the States.
We spend about $40 a week and then struggle to get our heavily-laden bags home. We usually take the bus in (90 cents each) and a taxi back (for $4).Organic strawberry jam: $2 for a big container. Avocados (usually a couple of bucks each in the States) are four for $2—that means fresh guacamole every week. A papaya as long as your forearm: just $1. Pineapples—huge ones—for just over a dollar. Carrots and cucumbers are 75 cents a kilo. Fresh hearts of palm are just under $2 (compare that to a can for $3 or more in the U.S.).
And that sweet woman in the grocery store wasn’t alone in her friendliness. We’ve met helpful people everywhere. All the locals know the town bus schedule by heart, so it’s not posted at our stop. Asking about the bus has been a great way to meet our neighbors. And they’re always surprised—and pleased—to see “gringos” on public transportation.
They practice their English. And they’re very encouraging when my wife practices her Spanish. (Mine I learned young from my Spanish-born mother.)
My 5-year-old son gets a lot of attention, too. Ticos (as Costa Ricans call themselves) love children. He’s had to get used to tousled hair and a barrage of compliments on his cuteness.
I wake up early (the sun is up at 5.30 a.m.) and enjoy coffee on my front porch. Set on the side of a hill next to a small river, our home is quiet, private, and surrounded by nature. The birds are most active in early morning, so my binoculars are always at hand. I saw a toucan fly by one day. Mot-mots nest nearby. I spend the time before lunch writing in my home office, while my wife home schools our son. If I’m not on deadline, we’ll head to the pool or one of our porches to relax. Or go to town.
In the current issue of International Living magazine, I share more of what I’ve learned since moving to Costa Rica—including a budget, a guide to Grecia bargains, where to eat out, and more.
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