Searching for our Golden Years in Playas Del Coco, Costa Rica
We were told our Golden Years were before us and something to look forward to. But we could see very little gold in our future if we were to stay home in the US. The cost of living, taxes, and medical expenses would just be too high. And we are uncertain of the future for retirees in the US.
So, we began our search for an overseas retirement home. We started in Ecuador and fell in love with Cuenca. We plan to go back and check out a coastal area in the future. We then took our search to Belize and it left us somewhat unimpressed. Ambergris Caye was not the paradise we expected.
We next visited Costa Rica to see what it had to offer. Our destination was Playas Del Coco, located in the Gulf of Papagayo on the North Pacific Coast of the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica. It is a small fishing town that has become a favorite of expats from the US and Canada. There are no huge commercial resort developments but plenty of small locally owned and managed hotels, condos, and hostels.
Our visit was during the rainy season which generally runs May to November. We were there in July and were told we arrived in a mini dry spell, it only rained 3 of the 7 days during our visit. Mornings are usually clear to partly cloudy with the clouds and rain beginning mid-afternoon. And when it rains, it rains hard! This time of year, back home in Colorado, we would expect this thunderstorm to produce hail and we would run for cover. In Costa Rica the rain is warm and the thunder sounds friendly and non-threatening. When it stops raining the sun comes out and everything smells clean. The temperature stays in the upper 80’s to low 90’s and it is humid.
Probably our most fun adventure was our excursion, by golf-cart, to the nearby black sand beach of Playa Ocotal. Black sand is formed instantaneously by the rapid cooling and shattering of volcanic rock when it comes in contact with ocean water. It is comprised mostly of iron oxides and is magnetic!
This beach is a stunning sight with the waves hitting the sparkling sand but, the surf is full of large chunks of rough volcanic rock.
The real adventure began with our return to Coco. Driving our golf carts in the heavy rain, we missed a turn and ended up at the long winding drive to what appeared to be a private estate. There was a small river of clean warm rain water running down the pristine drive which our two grand-kids had fun lying in. Backtracking down the road to find our turn we were flanked by flows of what looked like chocolate milk on either side of the road. I told the kids “That must have been Willie Wonka’s retirement estate.”
Playas Del Coco is on the beach, however the mountains and rainforest are less than an hour away for the occasional change of scenery. There are many scenic waterfalls,
suspension bridges, hiking and horseback riding trails. We made a stop at the volcanic hot mud baths and coated our bodies with the nutrient rich warm mud.
After showering it off, it was time to relax in the hot tubs fed by natural hot spring water. It was interesting to see frogs living in the natural hot steam room.
We also met a very friendly toucan who followed us as we walked the trail to the mud baths.
Costa Rica has been described as the “Happiest Country on Earth.” This is said to be due to the healthy lifestyle, healthy eating, and the abundance of natural minerals in the environment; attributed to the black sand and volcanic ash. The ash is also used to make the concrete for construction.
We can vouch for the happy people. Coco is a small community with friendly people who all seem to know each other, always waving and honking as they pass on the roads. They seem to instantly know if you are new in town and make an effort to make you feel welcome and remember who you are. Nearly every drinking/eating establishment has a daily Happy Hour from 11AM to 7PM. The happy hour pretty much runs all day.
The relaxed lifestyle shows in the small signs often placed in office and shop doors, “Back in 15-30 minutes.” From when or where is anybodies guess, just be patient and do not be in a hurry, they aren’t. The locals common greeting, used for either hello or goodbye, “Pura Vida” sums it all up. It means “Pure Life.”
Another interesting note on the relaxed lifestyle, violent crime is almost unheard of and the country has no military. These are peaceful people.
We happened to run into an expat couple from New Jersey one morning at a local creperie for breakfast. This older retired couple have lived in the Playas Del Coco area for five years and are loving it. They are living on a budget of $1500-$1600 per month. Their rent is between $700 and $800 per month including gas and electric.
For medical, the couple has the freedom to mix-and-match the public healthcare program for routine things like prescriptions and the private system for more specific care. They stated all was more affordable than care in the US.
They own a car and two golf carts. The car is for the drive into nearby Liberia (about 38 miles) usually once a month for items that are not available locally. When the need arises for official business in the capital of San Jose (174 miles) they hire a driver.
When we asked what was the best thing to see or do, “Sit and watch the ocean,” was their reply. On the relaxed lifestyle the couple commented, “At the schools, if the teacher is unavailable on any day, for whatever reason, there is just no class that day. No substitute teachers.” She was a retired teacher herself.
For shopping in Coco there is no shortage of souvenir shops ranging from cheap to higher end goods. There is a clothing store, a hardware store, a pharmacy, bakery, and ice cream parlor. The Auto Mercado is an American style supermarket with a wide range of grocery, household, and personal products. The prices run the same to slightly higher than US prices.
The Luperon is a small Mini-Mart type of grocery with higher prices and limited selection. Both establishments carry beer, wine and liquor.
Dining options vary from Pollo Frito, a fast food fried chicken vendor,
to more upscale options. On the main street there is a Hard Rock Cafe and many local establishments. Our favorites were Papagayo Seafood, Villa Italia, Zi Lounge, Lizard Lounge,
Murphy’s Mexican Grill, and Coconutz, which also houses a micro-brewery, Angry Goats Brewery. Most all serve seafood, burgers, steaks, and Italian or Mexican style dishes. Prices in all restaurants run similar to US prices for the same meals. All have a limited selection of beer and wine and cocktails.
We had gone to Murphy’s one night for Mexican and again the next night to play some Ping-Pong on their table. The next day the bartender recognized us on the street and told us we had left a jacket on a chair. None of us remembered we had a jacket but, when we went to check, sure enough, our grandson had left his. These are truly friendly, honest people.
There tends to be quite a bit of traffic on the narrow main street. I did notice many newer model cars and trucks and not many old junkers. Also a lot of golf carts (mostly tourists like us) and ATVs.
There are many friendly dogs roaming the beaches and streets. Whether they are strays or their owners just give them free range I do not know. We did not see any cats, but did see a lot of green and black iguanas.
One bright green iguana was proudly sunning on a table near the sidewalk at Zi Lounge!The butterflies are beautiful and come in
many different colors, especially the bright blue ones. I saw a stunning large black butterfly and a shiny black dragonfly. Also a lot of colorful centipedes and spiders.
So, is Costa Rica going to be our choice for the future? The jury is still out on that final decision but it is higher on the list than Belize. We still want to go back to Ecuador and visit the Pacific coast before we make a decision.
I agree with those expats at the creperie. The best thing to do in Playas DelCoco is watch the ocean. The ever changing sand art as each wave rearranges the black sand mingled with the brown and gray is mesmerizing.