Of all the places I’ve visited in Costa Rica, the Nicoya Peninsula is the one that feels most like the frontier. It’s a somewhat isolated region, with mile after mile of untouched coastline along the blue Pacific, craggy hills, vast cattle farms in the interior, and mazes of what are often dirt roads running through forests and fields. It’s also one of the world’s Blue Zones, where researchers have found that locals live longer on average due to a combination of diet, climate, and lifestyle.
Attracted by the natural beauty and off-the-beaten-path vibe of the area, intrepid expats (along with growing numbers of vacationers) have been flocking to small but vibrant communities up and down the coast for years. As conditions and access to amenities and services like Internet and medical care have improved, the Nicoya Peninsula is coming into its own.
There are plenty of deals to be had in the top destinations like Montezuma, Nosara, Tambor, and Mal País/Santa Teresa. There are even home sites that would be impossible to find in the U.S. (and difficult even in other parts of Costa Rica) at any price. And these were the most exciting properties I discovered…homes above or close to deserted beaches…in essence, your own private paradise.
After driving through miles of empty fields and small rural villages, I’d turn a corner and there would be yet another empty beach. Some were long and wide, others were small, protected coves bordered by high rocks on either side, with white sand and calm blue waters in between.
Above these you’ll find homes with commanding views of the coastline below. The beaches become essentially private because—most of the time—there’s really no one else around.
And the price is right. A three-bedroom, 1,400-square-foot home five minutes’ walk from Playa Coyote and Playa Caletas is just $205,000. Down the road, in Playa San Miguel, is a two-bedroom condo (the only such building in the area) for $80,000. You don’t have much of a view, but the water is still a quick bike ride down the road. If you’re interested in building your dream home, ocean-view and walk-to-the-beach lots start at $65,000. With construction costs at $100 a square foot for luxury finishings, you could have a good-sized home for under $200,000.
You may not have quick access to a gourmet supermarket, and a good-sized town is at least an hour away, but you’re not roughing it out here. These are North American-style homes with dishwashers, large bedrooms, and high-end finishings, if that’s what you want. And you have high-speed Internet, satellite TV, good cell-phone service, electric, and water.
If you prefer to live in a larger, well-established expat community, you will find a place on the Nicoya Peninsula to suit you, as well.
Sitting mid-peninsula, Nosara was originally conceived as a retirement community by a U.S. developer in the early 1970s. Though services have gone 21st-century, the early years were a different story. “When we bought our house in 1995, it came with a CB radio,” says Alice Olson, 68, who lives there with her husband Mike, 68. “We got our first telephone in 1999. And there were no cellphones until 2002.”
Retirees still flock to this beach destination, which consists of a trio of beaches—Playa Pelada, Playa Guiones, and Playa Nosara—as well as a working-class Tico town further inland. But they’ve been joined by other groups as Nosara has grown into a surfing destination known for year-round good waves and as a haven for devotees of yoga and other wellness practices.
There are no paved roads, and dirt tracks wind their way through the trees and up and down the hills set back from the shore. A small commercial district near the water features boutiques and restaurants. Thanks to the regular arrival of sea turtles to nest on its beaches, Nosara’s shoreline is a large protected area. Which means it retains a very natural look, and large-scale development is ruled out. Homes in the hills set back from the shore can be very pricey—into the multi-millions. But other properties remain reasonable.
A furnished, two-bedroom house in a gated community is available for $158,000. You’ll pay about that much in general for condos and homes that, like this one, are a short drive from the beach. If you want a walk-to-the-beach property, prices start at about $200,000. I know of one three-bedroom house a short walk to Playa Pelada (one of the best swimming beaches in the area and site of the local fishing co-op—fresh-off-the-boat snapper, mahi mahi, and tuna). It’s for sale at $225,000.