I often get asked, "where to live in Costa Rica?" - RE/MAX, Hannah Fletcher
The answer for me is Jaco, but the answer for you may be different. RE/MAX has agents in most areas in Costa Rica.
10 things when considering where to live in Costa Rica.
1. Topography - Beach, Mountains, Plains.
2. Weather. Lots of rain or a little rain or between.
3. How is your health? How important is proximity to major hospitals & healthcare?
4. City Life, Arts, Theatre, Museums, Shopping Malls?
5. Temperature. Hot at sea level. Cool to Cold in the mountains at night.
6. Price Range.
7. Services and Infrastructure.
8. Population and Culture - Do you want to live in a small town, large, or in between.
9. Education - Do you have children? If so, what are the schools like nearby?
10. Language - Do you speak Spanish or are you willing to learn it?
Topography. Costa Rica consists of coastline, mountains and a few valleys in between. Do you want to live on or near the beach? Do you want to live on a mountain and if so at what elevation? How far or close to the city or beach. The Central Valley of Costa Rica, like its name, is a large valley. Most of the population of Costa Rica lives in and around this valley. This is inland and an hour from the Pacific Coast (if you live on the West side of San Jose). There are many mountains in Costa Rica. If you want a quiet life in the mountains, you will have many, many options to choose from.
Weather. When considering weather, you must first understand the seasons in Costa Rica. Costa Rica has two seasons; summer and winter or dry and rainy. Even though Costa Rica is only the size of West Virginia, there are many different microclimates to consider. The major climates correspond with six different areas.
Temperature. With weather and rain being a factor, the temperature may also influence where you live in Costa Rica. Living at the coast will mean warmer temperatures of up to about 95 degrees as the extreme high temperature and 70 degrees is the low temperature. Inland in the Central Valley in and around San Jose, the high temperature reaches 85 degrees and average low temperatures around 65 to 70 degrees, but in the rainy season that low temperature could drop to as low at 55 degrees, though not on a regular basis. The altitude in Costa Rica rises to around ten thousand feet. As you can imagine, the higher the altitude the low the temperatures. Areas around La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano often see more cloudy days which keep temperatures cooler, but there's nothing better than a dip in the hot springs on a cool rainy day.
Hospitals & Healthcare. Depending on where you live you may or may not have adequate healthcare nearby. In general, the healthcare in Costa Rica is excellent and affordable. If you are aging and have health issues, however, you may want to live closer to San Jose, where the best hospitals and doctors are located. If you are in excellent health, and aren't concerned about any major issues, then you may be able to expand your search into more remote areas that are located away from the capital city. The closest beach area is Jaco Beach, with approximately an hour commute on a new, modern highway. Helicopter ambulance service is also available with a 15 to 30 minute air commute from many areas.
Proximity to Arts and Shopping Malls. Do you need to be close to the arts, museums, theatres, music or shopping malls? There are artisans throughout Costa Rica and you can often find a gallery or two in most areas. If, however, you are one of those people who need your fix of the symphonic orchestra, need to go to a museum every week or two or need to go to a shopping mall on a weekly basis, then you will most likely want to be close to San Jose. Up and coming areas like Jaco and Tamarindo are adding arts programs constantly and smaller boutique shopping areas can also be found. In Jaco Beach, there is a new theatre and arts center for broadway type events, Villa Caletas and Los Suenos often host special music programs including jazz, tropical and Latina music. Jaco has several galleries and also hosts a couple of art fairs each year including ArtPrize Jaco.
Real Estate and Rental Prices. Costa Rica Real Estate and Rental Prices can vary as much as the elevation and topography. Prices are influenced by a number of factors like location, views and proximity to popular locations. It is best to first determine which criteria are important to you, then work backwards to find real estate in that area in your price range.
Services and Infrastructure. Services and infrastructure can vary greatly across Costa Rica. In general, the more remote areas will have poorer infrastructure and fewer services and the closer you are to civilization, the better. Areas like Jaco are small cities with most services and good infrastructure. Go down the road to Dominical and you will have some services and moderate infrastructure. For example, the main highway through Dominical is good, but off the highway, there aren't any paved roads. In many of these areas, internet is via satellite or cell service which can be spotty based upon proximity to a tower or during wet weather. Expect to be without electricity and water from time to time in many remote areas. Costa Rica is expanding infrastructure and has greatly improved its telecommunication network, but like remote areas in the US, you will have deficiencies.
Population and Culture. Do you want to live in a populated city, a big city or a small town? Costa Rica has a variety of cities, each with its own unique personality. If you live in a small, remote town or village you need to speak Spanish. Villagers will not speak English. Some people wish to live in areas with no expats or Americans others want a few and yet others who are highly social and lack language skills (i.e. don't speak Spanish) will gravitate towards more popular areas like Jaco, Escazu, Manuel Antonio, La Fortuna and Tamarindo.
Business Climate & Jobs. Are you retiring in Costa Rica or planning on living in and working in Costa Rica? Most of the coastal areas will be tourism types jobs, real estate or support services like property management, etc. In most beach areas in Costa Rica these jobs are going to be the most sought after and very competitive. A lot of people move down and open restaurants - another highly competitive area. A new trend is for foreigners living in Costa Rica and working via a online job such as graphic design, computer related, sales job, etc. with clients located outside of Costa Rica. If you are planning on living in Costa Rica while working, then this is certainly an important factor when determining where to live in Costa Rica. Most of the traditional jobs are available in and round San Jose and the Central Valley.
Schools and Education. If you have children, then the level and educational opportunities are most likely important to you. Schools in Costa Rica vary greatly from small town public schools with very limited resources to prestigious private schools with endless resources. The best schools are located in the Central Valley, but areas like Jaco and Liberia have improved greatly over the last few years as many Expat American's and Canadians have moved to these areas. Higher education is almost exclusive to San Jose with limited courses in Puntarenas, San Isidro and limited other areas.
Language. Do you speak Spanish? If you speak Spanish, your options for where to live in Costa Rica will increase. If you don't speak Spanish are either unwilling or simply language challenged, then you will want to look in areas that have other expats and English speaking populations.
To conclude, there are many factors that affect where to live in Costa Rica. Each person, couple or family have unique interests, needs and wants. Costa Rica is a small country, but rich not only in beauty, but also in diverse living areas. The factors above should help to get you thinking and should help you to eliminate several areas before starting your real estate or rental search.
RE/MAX Oceanside Realty offers a free, no obligation telephone consultation. We can help you work through these issues and help to ask you questions and give additional helpful hints that can and will save you a lot of time and energy when starting your search. Contact us today.
See you in paradise!
RE/MAX broker/owner and real estate agent