Vol 7 No. 20 - February 7, 2007

Costa Rica becoming the new Florida

By Louise Bolger
sun staff writer

I took a trip to Costa Rica last month, not really knowing what to expect. I wasn’t sure if there would be high-rise condos and hotels toe to toe up and down the beach with souvenir shops selling straw hats and stuffed iguanas, or if this part of Central America was still struggling to emerge from the rainforest. What I found was a little of both with some similarities to Florida many decades ago.

To say there is a real estate boom in Costa Rica would be the equivalent of saying the Florida real estate market has improved during the past five years – a gross understatement. Costa Rica is on the brink of becoming the new Florida.

Florida builders and real estate agents are doing a brisk business on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts of this small country, where only 100 miles separates the two coastlines. And aggressively marketing to, who else? The baby boomers.

Driving from the airport in San Jose three hours to the Manual Antonio region on the Pacific coast, you’ll pass signs for new condominium and single-family communities, not so different from Florida 40 years ago.

Mike Carter, one of Manatee County’s major commercial builders, is building two gated communities in Manual Antonio and you’ll see RE/MAX signs in the beach community of Jaco about an hour away. One of the new condos I looked at was beautiful, large and had a magnificent view of the Pacific. It started around $600,000, which is worth several million on Florida’s coast.

The builders and Realtors are marketing not only new construction at lower prices than Florida’s waterfront, but also a more exotic lifestyle appealing to the new generation of retirees’ sense of adventure.

Costa Rica has a stable government, and is very proactive in the area of conservation, in particular the rainforest, and has protected 25 percent of the land against development. In addition, property taxes are 1/4 of 1 percent of the purchase price.

Before everyone starts calling American Airlines and booking flights, Costa Rica has some unsettling issues. I found the humidity in January to be far worse than Florida in August, and even though your home or condo may be air conditioned, all of the restaurants that we ate in were open air, as was most of the shopping.

Although I felt very safe where I was staying, there are private security people everywhere protecting the open air businesses. You can purchase pretty much anything you need, but don’t expect American-0style supermarkets and pharmacies.

If the baby boomers are redefining 60 as the new 40, they may also redefine Costa Rica as the new Florida — maybe a good thing, maybe not. At any rate, it was an experience, and the monkeys are fabulous.

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