Last Update: 05-NOV-2016
Broke this trip up into three parts to aid in page loading.
This was our third trip to Costa Rica and second multi-day trip. We stayed almost two weeks back in April - Costa Rica and before that we visited Puerto Limon for a day on a cruise. We will be back to Puerto Limon in March of 2014 on another cruise.
We continue to research the Atenas, Costa Rica area as a possible retirement destination and wanted to go back to stay in another part of the area. AARP called the Central Valley one of the top retirement destinations in the world in 2010-and featured Atenas heavily. And the climate is ideal. T-shirt weather all the time. Turns out one of the best places to find small-town America is in Costa Rica.
We flew US Air from BWI to Charlotte. Had to go thru customs so we had to show the passport at this point. Unlike the last flight down where the plane was close to empty, this plane to San Jose was full but the flight was on time and we had no issues.
On the way back like the last time, security in Costa Rica was quick. This time we knew not to arrive so early still we had a few hours to kill. The airport is very modern and had US chain restaurants in it. Like last time some of the security checks were strange. When you board the aircraft they don't allow you to take any drinks on, even the ones you bought after security. Also, they did a quick visual search of all of your carry-on luggage even though you went thru the x-ray machines when you went thru security.
When we arrived in Charlotte, we then had to get our luggage and then go thru customs. I assume that TSA does not trust Costa Rica screening so we had to go thru it again. But, it was generally quick.
Like back in April, Aad Veltman, from Bunki Tours, picked us up at the airport and drove us to the house after stopping in Atenas for groceries.
Atenas (ah-TEN-nahss) is the capital city of the canton of Atenas in the province of Alajuela in Costa Rica. It is also the name of the distrito (district) that includes the city. The district of Atenas covers an area of 3.44 square miles and has a population of approx. 27,000 inhabitants.
The city lies at an elevation of 2290 feet above sea level on the western edge of the Central Valley (Valle Central), 15 miles southwest of the provincial capital city of Alajuela, 12 miles from Juan Santamaria International Airport, and 21 miles from the national capital city of San Jose.
The town is surrounded by mountains and coffee plantations. It is located in a prosperous agricultural area which hosts a weekly farmer's market on Friday mornings. The town center features an immaculate, white church and a picturesque park lined with palm trees. There is a community health center, pharmacies, doctors, dentists, tennis court, fitness center, swimming pools, parks, banks, shops, bed-and-breakfasts, and restaurants in the village.
Atenas is a popular place for North American retirees.
There are three major real estate developments with existing homes and building lots: Roca Verde, Vista Atenas and Hacienda Atenas. There are other real estate developments in various stages of completion.
We have used VRBO to rent houses three times in Florida and once in North Carolina. We find it safe, easy and generally we know what we are getting into well before we go.
This is the house we rented The Only One with Spectacular Views of Mountains and Pacific Ocean and like the last house we recomend it to others but would not rent a place this high again down here (at this time of the year). We rented this house back in April (no longer listed as of NOV-2016) Off-the-Beaten-Path Paradise and enjoyed our stay but it was a bit too warm for us.
The fact that Costa Rica generally has no addresses we had some issues in actually finding the house on a map, but we eventually found it with help from Aad who is the manager for this house.
This is the second time that the house we rented was located out with the locals. Like the first time, we had no issues at all as everyone seemed friendly. We do want to give the gated community a try in a future rental.
Conclusions of the trip.
Driving - Except for driving at night and having to deal with people & dogs laying in the road, road surface issues and people passing, it really was not that bad to drive. We came back from Jaco at night on CR27 and had no issues at all. In fact I would not have an issue in driving back from Manuel Antonio if needed. Just be careful and alert and you won't have a problem. Also, you have to consider where the clouds come in at night. We liked to drive RT 3 from Orotina / San Mateo to the house as it has very little traffic, but it was very cloudy from sunset till around 8 or 9 pm.
I did have my own GPS (garmin) and I purchased (from Amazon.com) the Trackit SD card and the coverage was excellent. We got back into some really rural areas and it had all the roads. I really did not try the routing as I generally reviewed where I was going before we went. I also had a hand held garmin Oregon 450t that I had the trackit card in for backup. Lots of discussions on the web talk about driving in CR. We rented a Rav-4 4x4 from Thrifty, Went thru Aad (safer this way vs. the airport) Got ALL the insurance and for 11 days it was appx 1K but worth it. With the GPS we had no issues at all.
We were really surprised at how close everything was. I drive almost 180km a day round trip to/from work. So, 30km to the beach is not an issue. We put close to 2,000 km on the rental and except for the fact that the rental had a hard life before we rented it we had no problems. We never had issues with traffic. The gas prices are in the $5-$6 per gallon range so it keeps the people off the roads.
Rent or Buy - One thing that makes me wonder is that every darn house seems to be for sale. We came to the conclusion that renting is the only way to go. Just too much inventory and a messed up legal system that has some expat rights issues. I would be very concerned to spend $300K-500K down here when I can rent something for a few K a month, and not have to worry about anything when I am not here. Like I said in April, this is what we are thinking as of now. But, will see. Moving permanently ? Well, we will have to see how bad it gets in the states.
House and house location - We went up appx. 800 feet in elevation with this rental. We did not realize the temperature difference we would see. Yes, different times of the year have different conditions but it was colder than we wanted it to be. At this house at 3,343 feet it would get to 84 or so during the day and upper 50's at night. This was great sleeping weather but the pool was almost unusable. Yes, it had a solar pool heater and it would get the pool up to 80 or so but that was it. At the house we rented in April we had a pool that would get into the low 90's every day and was very comfortable to swim in even at 10pm. We never went in the pool after the solar heater went off and the "adjustment period" when you got in was long and painful. Again its the time of the year and the elevation. We are learning.
The view from the house was amazing and I spent many hours just watching the coast, clouds and the lights at night. Also, it was a bird watching paradise but, the clouds that came in almost every night became old after a few nights. We only had a couple of sunsets that we could see. It would clear out a few hours after sunset which was nice.
The quality of this house was excellent. It was well taken care of and we had everything we needed. It even had a microwave unlike the house we rented in April which was strange. Having Aad & Marian as the managers was a plus. They helped us when we asked and we even had dinner with them on one of the nights.
The owner of the house lives in Baltimore so it was easy to coordinate with him. He was very responsive to any of our requests.
The security situation at this house was excellent. I did not feel at risk at any time. In fact I never felt at risk at any time on this entire trip. Rare for me, as I usually carry a weapon for protection and can be relaxed as I have that for backup. The gardener lives on the property in a small house next to the gate. He or his family would always look at us when we came and went and I am sure that his family kept an eye on the place when we were out.
Internet - At this house had some issues. The router was either old or misconfigured. The first couple of days it was a major problem. My phone would connect but the tablets that Dave and I had were not working right and would drop off and remain off for hours. I finally figured out if I left internet radio streaming 24/7 it would not time out and go to sleep. So, it generally worked. It would have been nice to get the admin password to the router to see what the errors were but the request was not understood. I decided that ALL future house rentals I will bring my own wireless router. If having issues I will simply unplug the house router and add my own. It will work and cause no issues. The next trip, I may add international roaming & data to my phone so this may be less of an issue.
Update - 27-JAN-2014 The internet problem was fixed as it had a bad antenna.
Comfort Level - We have decided not to come back till the spring of 2015. Ken felt it was dangerous to come back sooner as the Atenas area was feeling more like home than where we currently live now. No need to hurry on our retirement winter decisions. We just signed up for a cruise in March that will take us to Puerto Limon so we will be able to stock up on some of the Costa Rican foods we like.
Like others have said, this part of Costa Rica is like the United States back in the 1950's It's very hard to express how it is down here. Perfect weather (depending on elevation), very low stress. Very low media exposure as most news is bad and I don't care. I like the style of driving as they have limited laws or the laws are not enforced. You can pass a school bus and nobody cares. The people seem to be more alive and in touch with what counts. Healthy living as I lost over 10 lbs in 14 days and I ate very good. I could go on and on but I feel that in most aspects the United States has lost its way. I will spend some serious time down here in the not too distant future.
Broke this trip up into three parts to aid in page loading.