Where to live

Walking on the beach in Jaco.

Walking on the beach in Jaco.

Our search for a retirement destination started in early 2011 when it appeared that my job was at risk. I started searching the internet for affordable places to retire, and Costa Rica kept coming up along with several other countries and a few places in the Midwest. We had never been to Costa Rica, and my main impression of it at that time was based on conversations with an old friend who had spent some time there in the 70′s. He frequently talked about how beautiful it was and how peaceful and kind the people were. I had also watched International Househunters on HGTV, but the prices of the homes they showed were way beyond what we would call affordable. Still, we were intrigued and wanted to learn more. We both love the beach, and Joe really wants to learn to search. We started learning as much as we could and making friends over the internet. We grew increasingly excited at the prospect of retiring in Costa Rica, and finally, in the spring of 2012, we visited Costa Rica to explore retiring there. We took George Lundquist’s Retirement Tour for the Non-rich followed by Jane Gregson’s Southern Add-on Tour. Then we checked out the Orosi Valley and southern Nicoya Peninsula on our own.

We started our exploration of Costa Rica intent on finding our ideal town. There are so many choices. It all starts with defining your criteria. We put our list together before our first trip to Costa Rica in hopes that it would help us stay focused and not get caught up in the excitement of the trip. Your criteria will likely be very different than ours, but if you’re interested, you can
view our list here.

Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself:

  • What temperature range so you enjoy most?
  • Do you see yourself living in an urban or rural setting?
  • Would you prefer living in the country with a beautiful view and travelling to do your shopping and banking or living in a town with neighbors nearby? Are you OK with living in a town that has little more than a church, a soccer field, a bank, and a grocery store? Or would you rather be close to a shopping mall or big box stores like Walmart and Pricemart (Central America’s version of Costco)? Or something in between?
  • Do you prefer dining out or preparing most of your meals at home?
  • Would your ideal town need to have a weekly farmer’s market (feria)?
  • How close do you want to be to doctors and/or hospitals, the airport?
  • Do you need to have a busy social life?
  • What are your preferences Tico-ness vs. Gringo-ness?
  • How good is your Spanish?
  • Would you be able to do your hobbies there? For example, if you ride bicycles, does the town have good roads for bicycling
  • What kind of lifestyle will fit your retirement budget? Generally speaking, it’s more expensive to live in the city than in a small pueblo.
  • Will you have a car or use public transportation?
  • How do you plan to spend your time in retirement? Do you like going to museums, concerts, the theatre, or shopping? Do you play golf? Or do you prefer hiking, bicycling, reading, gardening, or watching videos at home?
  • What are your biggest fears? Traffic and crime? Or snakes and bugs?

We want to live in or near a town that is large enough to meet our day-to-day needs, yet small enough that we can walk all over town to meet those needs. Our ideal town will have temperatures ranging from 65 to 85 degrees, decent roads for bicycling, a feria (farmer’s market), organic produce available, and be within 90 minutes from the beach. We also prefer a town where most of the residents are Ticos (Costa Ricans), rather than Gringos (Expats). Those towns tend to be more affordable, and we look forward to improving our Spanish and assimilating into the local culture. Many wonderful towns in Costa Rica meet most of our criteria, so it all comes down to gut feel. We’ve narrowed our short list down to Palmares, San Marcos de Tarrazu, Tilaran, and somewhere between San Isidro de el General and Dominical. We’ve featured those place along with seven other popular expat towns on our Featured Towns page.