Fresh fruits and vegetables year-round; the best coffee ever; unspoiled, deserted beaches; stunning mountain vistas; lush jungle; and the friendliest people on the planet. We didn’t think we’d ever live such a life, but in Costa Rica, we found it easily.
The western shore of the Guanacaste Peninsula, where we now live, is filled with tiny tourist towns like ours, where you can buy fresh seafood, fruit, and vegetables at the soccer pitch “downtown” daily. Sometimes we go to the docks to pick out fresh fish as it comes off the boat, and we get a preview of what the local restaurants will be serving that night for dinner! It’s such fun walking the beach in the evening, before choosing an outdoor restaurant on the sand with live music, where a rock lobster dinner for two comes with a glass of wine or beer for just $25.
We enjoy fresh red snapper, jumbo shrimp, and tuna regularly. And my husband Tim loves to make smoothies from just-picked mango, pineapple, and passion fruit purchased hours earlier for less than $1.
It’s our slice of paradise, but our life wasn’t always like this. For decades we lived in rural Vermont, in the cold but breathtakingly beautiful mountains of the Northeast Kingdom.
Tim was a dairy farmer who actually broke his neck after working 80 hours a week for over 20 years. I worked in real estate until my first knitting book was published and I started my own online yarn company. Then I blew out my knee while working with one of our draft horses, and I needed surgery.
As winter set in, we did not even have enough firewood stacked ahead to heat our large, drafty farmhouse. My husband had a steel plate in his neck and I had a bum knee.
We were only approaching our early 50s, more than 10 years from retirement. I had a portable income as a writer and owner of an online company. Tim managed our farm and rentals. But winter is a slow time in farming—it could manage without him for a while. Could we consider uprooting ourselves to scout out a more temperate climate?
We knew we needed a change, but at that time we had no idea that we would end up living Pura Vida—the good life—in Costa Rica, with no snow ever and on a fraction of our budget.
We bought tickets, flew to San José, and rented a small four-wheel-drive vehicle so we could wander all over, seeking someplace that called to us. We found it in a small-town expat enclave in the Guanacaste region. That settled it: We wanted to live there. We went back to Vermont, and, bit by bit, started selling used farm equipment. We leased our cropland, too. And a year and a half later, we went back to Costa Rica with some funds and a purpose.
We bought an unfinished, custom house made of madre finca teak in the small beach community of Sámara, and hired a local construction company to complete it. Sound scary? We once thought so.
The job went smoothly, though, and, even on tico time, it took only three months. Now, in addition to the house, we have a casita and a rancho with outdoor kitchen and pool in the hills above Sámara. We love the privacy, but in truth, we’re just minutes from the town center and miles of unspoiled sandy beaches, where $1 can buy us fresh pipa fría (cold coconut juice) from local vendors with pushcarts.
All told, the project cost us $127,000.
Sámara is the perfect expat community for us, with a strong U.S. and Canadian presence and Australian, German, and Italian mixed into the tico culture. We favor an Australian sports bar called Outback, where everyone speaks some sort of English, plus it rents ATVs. There is also a well-known yoga school and community college where you can take Spanish and English language classes. At dusk, students stroll the beach, savoring the last rays of sunset.
From the beginning, we had an easy time communicating without speaking much Spanish, although we find we’re picking it up quickly. There is a special patois around the Peninsula. People throw words like “cool” and “gesundheit” into their Spanish.
Short-term renters come and go frequently in Sámara. It took us only a few days to realize there were more students, vacationers, and year-round renters in town than there were available rentals. Now we’re considering buying a vacant lot nearby and building two cabins for added income.
Best of all, we never worry about money or the cold. We can easily manage on $2,500 a month, including gas, electricity, water, and taxes. We even have a weekly pool guy and housekeeper.
We both work part-time, but we can take the time for a swim in the ocean before work or in the afternoon after the heat of the day has subsided.
Do we miss Vermont? Of course we do, but we have not abandoned it. It’s only a plane journey away, after all, and we can travel in off-peak times to save on tickets. We still own our business and still go back in summer to see friends and take advantage of the alpine lakes near our old farm up north.
Quality of life? It couldn’t be better. Pura Vida.
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