For several years now, I’ve had a dream. A dream of relocating, post retirement, to a place where the weather is warm year round and where the cost of living is such that my retirement dollar would stretch nicely. Costa Rica seemed to be that place!
Last summer, I booked a trip for the first week of March – specifically timed to escape the cold winter I must of had a premonition of. After one of the coldest February’s in recent memory, March 1st arrived and our vacation was underway.
We landed in San Jose and immediately reveled in the warmth. I think it was still in the teens when we departed Reagan National and all of a sudden we’re standing in 80 degrees. It felt like heaven :)
We booked a little home for the week outside of Nuevo Arenal, north of San Jose. We needed to arrive around 6pm in order to meet Henry, the grounds keeper to pick up the keys and get settled in – so we began our drive straight away from the rental car company.
On that note – I should advise if you plan to visit Costa Rica and choose to rent a vehicle – be forewarned – I used priceline.com to rent an SUV, as advised by our landlord (good call). I thought I had a great rate of roughly $250 for the week. This ended up being $660 based on the mandatory insurance coverages. You could probably get it for less, but the deal was they would put a hold on your credit card for varying amounts — up to $5,000 if you select a cheaper insurance option.
So that put me in a good mood as we started off on our journey. The mountains soon turned to elevated rain forest and through rain, and twisty roads, we slowly made our way up to La Fortuna and finally our destination – Nuevo Arenal.
The route from Fortuna to Arenal is a long winding two lane paved (for the most part) road that twists its way along the northern banks of Lake Arenal. I was heartened when I saw the signs saying it was roughly 30 kilometers to reach Arenal – but given that I was barely averaging 40 kilometers on the drive, it was bound to take a while.
The fun began the following day. We decided to head to The Springs for a day pass in their hot springs. I’d seen their website previous to the trip and fell in love with the swim up bar
We ended up spending 2 days at The Springs – their day pass included the next day free – which was a pretty decent deal :). If you get the opportunity – highly recommend visiting, though staying the night there is pretty pricey!
Next stop was the ocean – Playa de Coco. The beach was nice – and the Pacific was its usual cold self.
Me tentatively approaching the water…
The route to the ocean includes a stretch one Highway One from Canas to Liberia. On a map, you might assume it’s a four lane highway – in reality, though construction has obviously been taking place for several years, it’s still a work in progress. Reduced to a two lane highway while construction continues on the other side, it’s a constant game of leap frog hopping slower traffic.
So the roads suck – take it as a given, then add in wildlife
So I mentioned that the roads sucked – but it downplays just how bad some of the stretches were. The house we rented was roughly 2 miles off the main road – unpaved, predominately laden with rocks and potholes. Fortunately we had a four wheel drive – just for the clearance. Unbelievably, there were cars, and motorbikes trekking up and down this stretch.
After a week, I’m not sold on Costa Rica being the place I want to retire to. The weather was fantastic. Many great things to do – ranging from beaches to zip lining over the jungle and of course, relaxing in the hot springs. On the downside, it was a bit of a shock to see how expensive food was. Every restaurant we ate at was pretty pricey. After the first day, we went to the market and bought our own breakfast fixings and fruit. Even the supermarket prices were in line with what you pay in the U.S. When we were in Playa de Coco we stopped in to an Auto Mercado – one of the bigger chain stores comparable to a smaller Safeway or King Soopers – and many recognizable American brand items ran about twice as much as back home.
People we spoke with along the way mentioned that land and services are pretty cheap, but food, furnishings and vehicles can be pretty expensive.