Highly Americanized, not ideal for backpackers. The “high prices” can be a surprise, particularly because a lot of websites seem to (falsely?) list Costa Rica as a cheap destination.
The reality is that the costs in Costa Rica are close if not often identical to those in Western developed countries. Tours and activities hit your wallet hard.
USA retirees have flocked here for years, drawn by its mild climate, prosperity, literacy rate, health care, and, significantly, stable government. The country offers micro-climates, so you can fine-tune your weather by moving up and down the hills.
Though not the bargain it was a decade ago, Costa Rica continues to draw moderate-income retirees, who meet the country’s requirement of income of $1,000 per month from Social Security or a pension. The best part is that residence is easy enough that just about anybody can do it. Residents are eligible to join the universal health-care system, known as Caja. The cost, based on income, can be as low as $49 a month. After that, care is free.
In Costa Rica’s far southern Pacific coast, down near the border with Panama, is a trio of towns that have become quite an expat haven in recent years. These are Dominical, Uvita, and Ojochal.
Those who move to this area find a welcoming community of retirees, with several clubs, activities, and volunteer opportunities offering a way to integrate into social life.
While the Southern Zone is facing an increase in visitors and long-term residents, it’s all relative. Actual numbers are still low, and the development is not overpowering the views. Services, amenities, and infrastructure, however, are much improved.
Real estate, even though it’s a beach area, remains a good value. A two-bedroom condo, furnished, with an ocean-view rents for $1,000 a month.
Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast is much less travelled than its Pacific Coast. But for Costa Rica budget travellers, that’s usually a good thing: cheaper prices, less crowds, and underexplored natural attractions.
The tiny little town of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca offers up an amazing variety of international culinary flavours as well as a wide variety of experiences to choose from. An alternative to staying in a hostel or hotel is to rent a house for 2 or more nights. There are several available in the area for decent rates. See www.vrbo.com.
Where to stay information can be found here.
The first time I ever spent a winter abroad was in the village of Mal Pais, which sits beside the slightly larger “town” of Santa Teresa. I met some fellow Vancouverites while partying in the touristy town of Montezuma who told me about this legendary surf location further west. The next day, we took a one-hour taxi from Montezuma down dirt roads to get this surfing mecca on the isolated Guanacaste coast of Costa Rica.
The Santa Teresa and Mal Pais area is filled with excellent surf camps, yoga studios and lots of great Israeli food if too much Costa Rican rice and beans starts to get to you. At night, the stars in this part of Costa Rica are some of the most crystal clear in the entire world. You can observe them at the excellent treehouse-style beachfront bar and lounge that sits on the lagoon in Mal Pais, and doubles as a Capoeira studio in the day.
The dream digital nomad lifestyle here is to surf the morning high tide, work through the heat of the day in your air-conditioned villa, then surf the evening high tide. If you want a little more hustle and bustle, a few hours north is surfer’s paradise Tamarindo (home to Witch’s Rock from the classic surf film Endless Summer) and on the Caribbean coast Puerto Viejo is also a great spot for digital nomads who love to surf and listen to lots of reggae.
Budget: $800-$1200 a month
Wi-Fi: Decent but nothing amazing.
Best Time of Year: November to March
Costa Rica has, probably, now become over-priced as a retirement destination and the government is slowly dismantling the Retiree Benefits offered 20 years ago.
My Initial Thoughts…
- Anywhere on the Pacific Coast
- Playa Samara
- Playa Montezuma
- Playa Jaco
- San Jose
- Playa Dominical
- Playa Puntarenitas
- Anywhere on the Caribbean Coast
- Puerto Vierjo
Costa Rica doesn’t sound like me but I need to go through it on my way to Panama… so there’s no harm in having a look.
The next stop in my journey will be Panama.