Thursday, February 21, 2008

Puerto Viejo - The Other Side of Costa Rica

Here in San Ramon, people live by the wisdom of living in the mild weather of the Central Valley and vacationing at the beach. Most locals and tourists visit the Pacific beaches such as Samara, Jaco, Tamarindo or Manuel Antonio but the Caribbean beaches are a whole other experience … and worth the trip.

The Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica is not Latin, but rather settled by Black and Indigenous peoples. Much of the Caribbean feels like a different country with a culture and vibe in contrast to the typical Tico lifestyle in the rest of Costa Rica. Even the language is different with many locals speaking a Creole version of English, rather than Spanish. At the mid-point between the large port city of Limon and the Panama border to the south is Puerto Viejo, a laid-back beach town that lacks the megabuck development of the Guanacaste Pacific Coast. The lack of large-scale development, does not necessarily mean inexpensive (for Costa Rica), but the scale remains small and personal.

To make our trip to Puerto Viejo a real vacation, we left our car home and took the bus to mix with the other travelers. The bus from San Jose costs about $7.50 for the 4-5 hour trip, a bargain no matter how you look at it. Puerto Viejo is a walkable town so a car is not needed once you arrive. (

I was amazed by the changes in the 5 years since my last visit. Northern Europeans (German, Dutch, Swedish etc.) have bought many of the small businesses and make up an extraordinary large percentage of the visitors. Part of the color of the town has been lost, but it is still a cool place, full of surfers and young world travelers enjoying the lifestyle and natural beauty.

We stayed at Cabinas Agapi (, which is perfectly situated oceanfront just at the edge of town near Cocles Beach, which is THE beach in Puerto Viejo. Rooms and apartments are between $50 and $120 depending on the size and amenities. For the budget traveler, Rocking J ( seemed like a fun choice and is also beachfront. For $12 you can rent a tent on a 2nd floor platform with a mattress, pillows and sheets. It attracts a young crowd and is a good place to meet people.

There are loads of restaurants and bars, which can be discovered by just walking the small village of Puerto Viejo. Bread and Chocolate is a favorite with excellent breakfasts, desserts and snacks. Chile Rojo is another good choice for people watching, cocktails and creative fusion meals.

Playa Cocles is the beach of beauty and enjoyment in Puerto Viejo. Because of the coral formations, the beaches near the center of town are not suitable for swimming or surfing. Most people walk the pleasant shaded trail from the village center and the 10-15 minute walk is well worth it. Surfers, swimmers and sunbathers hardly make a dent in the space and it is surprisingly open and uncrowded even in high season. The heat of the beach is best enjoyed in the morning and late afternoon while limiting your exposure to the sun in the heat of the day.

Those seeking more nature or adventure can explore the nearby town of Cahuita and the Cahuita National Park, or travel down the coast to the Panama Border. If you are in Costa Rica for more than 10 days, the Caribbean coast is worth a visit. If you are planning a shorter trip, make the Caribbean your primary focus.

I loved my vacation. The heat, beaches and the tourist scene were great for a few days. It was a real break and contrast from my life in San Ramon. After 2 nights in Puerto Viejo, I was ready to return to my Tico life. They say one great part of going away is appreciating your home. When I saw the familiar faces on the San Ramon bus and felt the cooler breezes as we got close to home, my face lit up with joy and pride to live in a very special place.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Costa Rica Real Estate... San Ramon Style

While the economy has become more global in nature, real estate tends to reflect more local factors. The news from the U.S. is dominated by foreclosures, the subprime mortgage mess and home values plunging in many areas. Costa Rica on the other hand has a booming real estate market with strong demand as the world discovers this special country.

Until recently most of the boom was at the beach, especially the Guanacaste region on the Pacific Ocean and suburbs of San Jose like Escazu. The prices there started to look more like those in the developed world with little local culture to speak of. English and dollars became predominant and the international scene seemed like it could have been in any number of continents or countries.

This is my 7th year living in San Ramon and when I got here, I could count the number of English speakers around town on one hand. Having experienced every part of Costa Rica and every country in Central America, this Central Valley town clearly won my heart. In the last year or so, San Ramon has begun to be discovered by an increasing number of international seekers looking for the perfect place to invest and call home.

There are many reasons for the recent attention being paid to San Ramon. San Ramon has a rich history as the home of many of the architects of the modern Costa Rican state as well as the home of 4 former presidents. We have a good hospital, a branch of the University of Costa Rica, pure mountain water, and mild year-round weather. Being less than an hour from the SJO Airport and the Pacific, San Ramon’s central location is a real asset. And … it’s still quite affordable.

After years of mild real estate demand, prices have just begun to go up fueled by foreign investors. They come for the small city atmosphere that is friendly yet full of activity. And they come for the natural beauty. Just 10 minutes from the center of town there are sweeping ocean views, lush green mountains, and farms with fruit and coffee. After a vacation at Jaco, Tamarindo, Manuel Antonio etc., San Ramon is a breath of fresh air as a potential hometown.

In recent months, our company Paradise Management has sold property to buyers from Europe, India, Central America and North America. The newest Ramonense (locals) have been welcomed by this warm community and are excited to have found an authentic interesting slice of Costa Rica.

I have often gone to beautiful places and said I wish I had bought a house or land years earlier before the boom. This time ... no 20/20 hindsight. I have come to the right place at the right time. I got a little carried away and bought 4 properties. With the weakening dollar, volatile stock market, and sinking yet expensive U.S. real estate… San Ramon property seems like a safe smart move.

The most striking thing of it is … it’s a wonderful place to live in an often crazy world.