I have been coming to Costa Rica for about two and a half years now, and have been living and investing here for about two years. While this by itself does not qualify me as an "old-timer", my journey may be one that others choose too, each in your own way and to your own place. Mercifully for the reader, only two and a half years to cover.
First a confession. I did not come here for the real estate. My journey began wholly by accident. While living in Miami, I began dating a special Latina. It turned out that she had grown up in Cartago, on the south side of San Jose. I was retired and ready for a new adventure. So after a while we began flying frequently to San Jose, spending time with her family, and for me, getting to know Costa Rica. Luckily, I had taken Spanish lessons off and on over the years, spoke Spanglish, and was able to get by as long as whoever was speaking with me took their time.
My first impression of Costa Rica was of San Jose, or more accurately, its suburbs. Although the language is the same as Miami (actually, the Spanish here is a lot better), the culture and climate are totally different. I love it.
We settled in Bello Horizonte de Escazu, an older neighborhood in what for me is the best part of town. Others have their favorites, but I love the mountains of Escazu and of another suburb, Heredia. Mountains are hard to find in Miami.
The change from a warm humid climate to a warm fresh mountain climate was and is great. Eventually I moved to a place higher up in the mountains, above a terrific French restaurant and bar with sensational views called Le Monastere, which everyone insists on calling El Monasterio, just like we would call it The Monastery in the U.S., except in Miami where we probably would call it El Monasterio, too. Because it never gets very hot or very cold, my monthly electric bill runs around $30. Supposedly this is gringo central, but I speak 95% Spanish here, much more than at the beaches.
My impression of the culture can be summed up in two words: laid back. In Costa Rica, they say Pura Vida, or pure life. It has a multitude of meanings, depending on how it is used, but it always includes the idea of "laid back". Totally different than Miami.
What is not different is the driving. Here, Pura Vida sits in the back seat. Until you get used to it, this is one of the country's major negatives. Like Miami, it is a game of dodge'em, only conducted at slow speed. Probably more accidents here, but fewer fatalities. Not much road rage, either, just a cheerful attitude of "me first". My recommendation. Buy a big SUV. Really. Everyone buys a diesel because the fuel is cheaper. I like the Toyota LandCruiser.
The roads have multiple uses, one of which is for driving. Others include parking. The courteous driver parks in one lane on a two lane road, puts on his double flashing lights, and lets others go around him when oncoming traffic permits. The forgetful driver forgets the flashing lights. Also walking. This week pilgrims are walking from all over to Cartago to commemorate the miraculous appearance of the image of the Virgin Mary on a stone in Cartago some 500 years ago. Walking is done in family, three or four abreast, on the road. On weekend nights, it is done by friends going to or from a bar, still three or four abreast, on the road. Roads also are used for a cool game called dodge the potholes. The current administration of President Oscar Arias has begun taking some of the sport away by actually filling in potholes. If I had a vote, I would put him up for another Nobel Peace Prize just for this. But the residual left by years of benign neglect will keep the pothole game alive for a while longer.
Next installment........ getting around the country, and one man's slow descent into real estate.