On Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast is one of the country’s most visited tourist destinations. And it’s popular with expats too. It’s called Manuel Antonio, and its white-sand beaches, wildlife-filled jungle, and dramatic scenery of mountains looming over the blue ocean is the stuff of postcards.
Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast is known for its dramatic coastline of tree-covered mountains dropping suddenly to the ocean, empty beaches, and lush rainforest full of wildlife like toucans, howler monkeys, sloths, and dozens of other species.
There’s a steady breeze blowing. The sand is black—it’s volcanic—flecked with small crystals that twinkle in the sunlight. The sand is quite hot too in the heat of the day…best to wear flip-flops.
I was hurtling down a mountain, on a narrow two-lane road, surrounded by jungle…while avoiding the deadly scratches of a terrified animal. How did I get here? Let’s go back to the beginning. I had traveled to Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast to check out the expat communities there.
For Steve and Nancy Riley…it’s paradise. They live on a little over 12 acres of land on a hillside, with panoramic views of the surrounding forest and farmland thanks to the elevation of 4,300 feet. A former coffee plantation, they’ve transformed their property into a botanical garden with walking trails and thousands of tropical plants like heliconias, bromeliads, 550 different species of orchids, and more. It’s Nancy’s vision and passion, and with a helper, she works hours a day in the garden.
“It reminds me of the small town I grew up in. The people are friendly and pleasant,” says Mel Rosiechuk, 70, of his new home in Costa Rica. Like many northerners, Mel, who came to Costa Rica in 2008 from his native Edmonton, Canada, was motivated to move here because of the weather…and soon discovered other benefits as well.
I’ve enjoyed hammocks all over Central America. It’s a way of life in this region, standard home furnishing, and a pastime enjoyed by all. Truck drivers stuck at customs checkpoints string them under their tractor-trailers. Families on front porches take quick naps—nothing puts a baby (or anyone for that matter) to sleep faster than a gently swinging hammock.
“I love that our life is so different than I ever thought it would be,” says Pokey Sherman, 65. “I grew up in Pittsburgh. And my parents retired to Florida. I thought, ‘Is that all there is?’ I think the idea of retirement should be to change your lifestyle.” “It’s a real joy to wake up and come out here and realize what we’ve done,” she adds, referring to their fifth-floor balcony. Their condo is set on a hill overlooking a low-key beach town, verdant forest, the glittering Pacific, surfer-filled waves, and river to the north.
With 912 miles of coastline on both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea, Costa Rica has plenty of beaches. And you get a wide variety of looks, too. Some of these beaches are all natural, Robison Crusoe-style tropical escapes that you’ll have all to yourself. You can sit in the shade as you watch clear water lap against the shore on a lazy afternoon. Others are places to enjoy a cold drink in hand, toes in the sand, listening to music and people-watching. There are even large resorts and bustling beach towns with plenty of nightlife.
I’m looking out over the deep blue Pacific. Fisherman with nets wade out into the shallows, flinging them periodically to catch bait fish. There’s not a cloud in the sky, and the water, with the high midday sun, glitters with light.