Over the past several years we’ve been fortunate enough to spend some time in this beautiful country and so I thought it would be appropriate to make a list of the things we love and the things that leave a little to be desired about this country (my opinion of course). If you follow any other expat blogs you’re certain to find a bunch of mixed reviews, the good, the bad, the ugly..and truthfully I think the experience for everyone is different.
Ten things I love about Costa Rica
The country is stunningly beautiful (even though we’ve really only seen a tiny portion of the country so far). To see this part of the country (Guanacaste province) go from brown to incredibly green and colourful between the two seasons (dry and rainy) and this transition happens almost overnight is simply amazing. It’s incredible what even just a little bit of rain will do after a couple months of 100% sun with zero moisture.
The locals…this may sound corny and you’ll hear a lot of people talk about how nice the locals (native Costa Ricans) are. I’m not naive, I know anywhere in the world you travel you’ll find an array of nice and not so nice people…but there seems to be something intrinsically different here and the only way I can explain it (without sounding too cliche) is that people here are really living the Pura Vida lifestyle. They live a seemingly laid- back life and simply enjoy life day by day, the way they know how to. People here aren’t focused on chasing what we know to be the classic American dream trying to compete with the Jones’ and stay one or two steps ahead of their neighbours - at least not that I’ve seen anyway.
The simplicity of the food. One thing we’ve noticed over the years is that their food is so simple. Yes, their staple food is rice and beans…pretty simple, but you know what, as simple as it is they do it well, and it’s really not the only thing people here eat. The variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that you can get here (not by importing from another country) is incredible. Fruit here tastes like fruit is supposed to taste...for instance, you buy a pineapple in Canada (imported from Costa Rica or Hawaii) really doesn’t typically taste like much because it was harvested too early. On the flip side, you buy (or grow) a pineapple in Costa Rica and it is amazing the flavour profile that you get out of it…they are harvested at the right time for local consumption and they are truly amazing. This goes with the majority of fruits and vegetables here. Ideal growing conditions make for great quality produce.
The weather is like no other (especially coming from a place like Canada). Every morning I wake up knowing that’s it’s probably somewhere between 27 and 30 degrees outside at six o’clock in the morning. Can you get that in Canada - not really (maybe for a few days of the year).
The resourcefulness of people here. I can’t get over how people here are incredibly resourceful. I’ve watched landscapers use a ratty old teddy bear, tied it onto a pole, doused it with fuel, lit it on fire and used it to scare away bug nests/hives, instead of just throw the old teddy bear away. Or a contractor needing to apply silicon but not having the proper silicon gun to use, so found a stick that would fit just right at the end of the silicon tube, and start applying silicon just like anyone else. Did it do as good of a job as though they had used a proper silicon gun - yep…did it cost them anything - nope…a contractor anywhere else would have stopped the job and gone to the nearest hardware store to buy a twenty dollar tool.
No daylight savings. The sun comes up at the same time here 365 days a years, and same for the sunset - it does take a bit of getting used to. Knowing that at 6:30pm it’s dark outside is a little weird to get used to, but on the flip side knowing that the sun is up just before 6am every day is pretty cool, and having about 12 hours of sunshine is a nice treat.
Healthy lifestyle. I never thought that the significant change in my diet would result in feeling so much healthier as quickly as it did. The combination of healthier food (way less preservatives than what we’d come accustomed to) and the hot weather that makes you sweat like you’ve never sweat before is a wonderful weight loss program. And just to be clear, We are not depriving ourselves of the odd junk food or cheat day.
Cost of living. This one seems to be a hot topic with everyone that writes about the cost of living in Costa Rica. Like everything else you need to compare the cost of living here with the cost of living where ever you are currently from. In our case the cost of living is noticeably less in Costa Rica than it is in Western Canada. Food is less expensive (unless you insist on always having your brand name American products), but considering your in Costa Rica perhaps you should adapt to what is eaten here…you won’t be disappointed (yes there are some foods that I miss dearly from Canada, but I can live without those, and indulge once I’m back in Canada)…The cost of internet and cellphones is a fraction of the price that I’ve been accustomed to in Canada. The cost of water is ridiculously cheap, however the cost of electricity offsets the cheap water…again, when you compare the cost of living here you need to do a fair comparison with the cost where you currently live, and also need to factor in a change of lifestyle (if applicable). If you come down here and expect to live the exact same lifestyle you have been accustomed to in Canada, you may see that the cost here is much more than you expected it would be…so do your homework, ask questions, and experience it yourself. I have more details on cost of living on my website.
Waking up to the sound of howler monkeys…this one is pretty self explanatory I think. It doesn’t happen every day, but on occasion the sudden loud howl of the monkeys in the area gets you up and out of bed…it sure beats waking up to an alarm clock.
The Pura Vida lifestyle. It’s a thing, and it’s kinda nice. Are things perfect here - no, are things perfect anywhere in the work - heck No. But taking a step back and taking the time to enjoy life and appreciate every minute of it is something quite extraordinary.
Ten things I don't Like about Costa Rica
Critters...and they have a lot of them. From several species of ants, hundreds of species of spiders, some of the largest beetles and grasshoppers you've ever seen, to species of snakes that are known to be some of the most dangerous in the world. Yikes...here's a tip, if your house is located in a jungle / forest - type setting and your not a fan of critters, do yourself a favor and hire a fumigation service for your home and property. You can also check out some of the do-it yourself tips to help rid your home of insects by checking out the Facts About Costa Rica section of my site.
The speed at which the locals speak Spanish...holy smokes it's fast. I find myself always asking them to repeat themselves or speak "lentamente"...slow down...It will get easier over time as I continue putting tremendous effort in learning the language as best I can...but in the meantime...LENTAMENTE POR FAVOR!"
The roads...wow...Despite having made some considerable improvements to some of the roads in the country, there are many places where you'd never know the roads were worked on. The rainy season wreaks havoc on roads, sometimes completely destroying them in a matter of minutes with large floods. So, when driving in Costa Rica make it a point to pay very close attention to the road ahead, looking for potholes, as well as animals. And if you are visiting during rainy season it may be best to rent a 4 x 4 to get around.
The cost of every day goods. The need to import almost everything into the country drives up the cost of goods. Being such a small country, it's impossible for it to be completely self-sufficient. Many materials and products required for construction, driving, etc all need to be imported from other countries. Needless to say, this has a downstream effect in terms of the pricing of goods for customers. Be prepared to pay very high dollars when it comes to purchasing vehicles, electronics, and construction materials (amongst other items of course).
Many foreigners visiting Costa Rica don’t respect the natural beauty of the country, but guess what, it seems a lot of native Costa Rican’s don’t either. The amount of garbage you may see lying around can be shocking. It makes you want to organize a volunteer event to pick up litter in the area - and actually many people do this in order to help clean up some beaches.
Many businesses seem to have the strangest business hours. On what we would consider a "normal business day" might not be such here. So be prepared to show up at a place of business only to see that it's closed or has very funky hours of operation.
Being on guard 24X7. Lets face it, Costa Rica is not a wealthy country, yes it's the wealthiest of the Central American countries, but that doesn't say much when comparing to Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, etc. So, sadly what typically comes along with poverty? Crime. There is a problem with a lot of petty crime in this country. You can't leave any valuables in sight, whether in your car or at the beach unless you want to part ways with it. Okay, so this is no different than anywhere else in the world, you should take care of your valuables, lock them up, remove them from plain site when you aren't using them. Here, the problem is amplified I think as a result of so much poverty. So, keep your guard up, and be smart. I can speak from experience on this one and you'll be able to read my story in an upcoming blog.
Driving. You'll notice that it seems that the mild mannered, laid back lifestyle of many people here goes out the window when they are driving. The aggressive nature of their driving shines through, as the speed limits seem to be only a suggestion and the road markings are mostly ignored. Be on high alert when you are driving for people passing you, or oncoming traffic with someone passing someone else in the opposite lane. And motor bikes, well, they weave in and out of traffic everywhere. Another tidbit of information is to avoid driving at night, as there are likely intoxicated drivers on the tiny windy and hilly roads.
People avoid confrontation like the plague. You may wonder why this made it onto this section of the list but it's there for good reason. For the most part Costa Ricans seem to be very non-confrontational, they just want to make people happy. They won't tell you anything bad for fear that you will blow up and have a complete meltdown on them. I experienced this firsthand during our construction build. We finished our home construction and identified some significant issues with it (leaky roof amongst a few other things) and the person managing our build completely shut down and disappeared. Rather than be around to answer some questions and help us work through some of the issues, she simply shut down completely and has stopped answering our calls for help. All we wanted was to be able to work with her to see what needed to be done to fix the problems but she's simply proven that she cannot handle the stress and possible confrontation.
Having to leave the country every 90 days for those who may not wish to apply for residency for whatever reason. Now I'm not saying that Costa Rica should just open it's doors to anyone for an unlimited amount of time, but for a "perpetual tourist" who is perhaps spending a large chunk of time and money in the country, it would seem that making people leave every 90 days (or 4 times per year) is a little silly. But alas, it is what it is and you either deal with it or you don't...after all it's not your country so abide by the rules and enjoy living that Pura Vida lifestyle.
All in all, being fortunate enough to be in a position to spend as much time in the country as I have, I find it remarkable how much I have learned and how quickly I have adapted to certain things and curtains ways of life. I can’t go without saying that living here is for everybody. There are many things to consider and you have to be open to change, be patient, and be flexible otherwise it’s likely not going to work out for you. Most of all, sit back, relax, and enjoy life - you’re only on this earth for a short period of time so enjoy it!