"The first time I went to Arenal, before I even got out of the car, I was like, THIS is it," Molly Ruland reminisces of her new home in Costa Rica.
During the pandemic, Molly closed down her branding agency's brick-and-mortar office space in Washington, DC. "Since we started working remotely, I figured I might as well speed up my game plan to live in Costa Rica.
"Ultimately, I want to be able to travel the world," she says. "And paying rent in an expensive city in the United States doesn't leave much to do anything but survive."
Molly visited the land of volcanoes, cloud forests, and sandy beaches in 2018. "I appreciated the beauty here and the different way of life," she says.
It took a few moves for Molly to find the part of Costa Rica that suits her best. Her advice is to take some time renting in different areas to find the spot that's "just right" for you.
Starting off in Playa San Miguel, Molly quickly realized that the WiFi was not good enough to run her business. "It was beautiful but really remote, in the middle of nowhere."
So she moved to the Tamarindo area, about 15 minutes away from the beach, because she knew some people there.
That wasn't quite right either, so her next move was to a condo in the popular expat community of Potrero, about 45 minutes north of Tamarindo.
Moving into a condo was a blessing, as it was a great way to meet people and have direct contact with neighbors. She found a community and learned to slow down to the Costa Rican way of life.
In March 2022, Molly made another change. "I love the beach," she says. "But I'm Irish, so I'm not built for hanging out in the sun for extended periods. I love the mountains and how green they are here."
She discovered Tilarán, a small town about 10 minutes from the shore of Lake Arenal, and bought a house where she could be surrounded by nature.
The purchasing process was smooth. Molly's offer was accepted, so she got a home inspection, picked a closing date, wired the funds, and got the key. She used an attorney and bought the house as a corporation.
"The houses in my community go for $300,000 to $1 million. Everybody has their little nook for privacy and a view. One of the things I love about the neighborhood—there are no rules. If I want to paint my house hot pink… I can," says Molly.
There are 60 lots in her community and about 40 houses built. "Some people are here half the year, but there are many more full-timers like myself these days. I love not needing air conditioning or heat in my house." Molly enjoys a community garden at the clubhouse and loves the fruit and flowers growing on her property.
"I pay a HOA fee monthly, an additional $150 a month for the gardener, who works three days a week, and a housekeeper who comes once a week."
Tilarán is on the west side of Lake Arenal. It's an hour and a half from the Liberia airport and two and a half hours from the new marina in Flamingo.
"It's like living inside a storybook… with rolling green hills, a volcano, and many birds and animals," Molly says. "Sometimes it doesn't even feel real. I wake up with this sun every morning, watching it crest over the volcano, and the sky fills with colors."
Living in this part of Costa Rica allows Molly to spend less money daily. "Life in this area is cheaper than on the beach," she explains. "Rentals in town can cost around $500 a month.
"You can get a sandwich and a bottle of tea for a thousand colóns (less than $2). Dinner at a restaurant would be about $9, while in Tamarindo, it's more like $20. I spend about $20 a week on vegetables I buy from a man who sells them from his truck—it's cheaper than going into any store." And you can't beat the straight off-the-farm freshness.
"I go to the butcher, get large cuts of meat, break them down, and vacuum seal packages to freeze. I like high-quality meat at a fraction of the cost." Molly pays about $40 for a beef tenderloin that would cost $120 in the U.S.
"I think the pandemic has shifted things," Molly says. "With remote job opportunities, many young people and families are moving here full-time. Even though it is expensive here for many locals, it's still more affordable than most places in the States, and the beauty is unmatched."