Costa Rica tops the Happy Planet Index. It beat the U.S. and Canada…(with Canada trailing in at #64…and the U.S. a dismal #105…out of 151 countries).
It’s no surprise that Costa Rica scored so highly. It’s a peaceful, family-friendly nation with a relaxed pace of life. The locals live longer here and enjoy life more. It’s all about Pura Vida, the “good life”…
Costa Rica’s Southern Zone rates as our most popular Chill Weekend destination. Trips here fill up quickly, and sell out months in advance. Three years back, the developer ran seven or eight chill weekends a year. Today, he is running up to four a month…and he still can’t keep up with demand.
Now, demand is partly due to the beauty of this area. It’s a rich, lush wonderland of dizzying mountain peaks, virgin forest, and a sandy coastline. You can enjoy a relaxed lifestyle, a warm climate that’s perfect for beach-lovers and water-worshipers and a low cost of living.
But there’s another reason why this place is becoming so popular. This undervalued location is poised on the edge of a major boom.
You see, until 2010, this place was almost impossible to get to…unless you were adventurous (some would say foolhardy). It’s not that you didn’t have a choice of route. You did…you had three options, but none of them provided access that was even vaguely comfortable or convenient.
The first option involved bumping along one of the worst roads in the region for hours. I say road…but it was more like crossing a lunar surface…with its pockmarks, scars and giant craters. Rickety single-track bridges linked one sorry section of the road with another. It took an average of seven hours to navigate the bone-shaking, back-shattering, stomach-lurching road. And in rainy season, you weren’t going anywhere. The road was normally impassable.
The second option was a road that would suit cross-country fanatics, or those with a fetish for mountaineering. Reaching 11,322 feet high at one point, the road’s sharp twists, bends and turns make for…well, let’s say interesting driving. You can’t afford to lose attention here—not even for one second.
And the final option was to take the domestic flight option. But banish all thoughts of jumbo jets, duty-free and first-class lounges. What you get is an open-sided hangar…wooden bench seats…a tiny airstrip…and a tiny plane (12 or 18 seats) to go with it. Not quite VIP travel…
But thankfully, that’s all changed. A new coastal road opened in January 2010. It’s a joy…smooth, easy to drive, nicely surfaced…and it cuts the drive time from San Jose (Costa Rica’s capital) to the Southern Zone in half…to just over three hours.
So getting to the Southern Zone is now quicker, and more relaxed. And government plans call for an international airport. And we know what that means for property values…
History Repeats Itself
Back in the 1980s, Guanacaste (Costa Rica’s northwest Pacific coast) was a tough five-hour drive from San Jose on rough, potholed roads. Backpackers and surfers braved those roads, but mainstream tourists, retirees and second-home buyers stayed away. The local airport at Liberia only offered occasional international flights.
Then, the road was re-paved…and Delta started regular international flights to Liberia in 2002. The rest, as the saying goes, is history. In 2003, 50,000 visitors used Liberia airport. Today more than 500,000 passengers a year use Liberia airport.
More tourists traveling here meant that more tourists fell in love with the area…and wanted to rent or own a piece of it. Resort and residential developers snapped up land for hotels and private communities. The inevitable happened. Prime property in Guanacaste quadrupled in value in the three years after the direct flights started. Today, an ocean-view condo can set you back $1.4 million dollars…and an ocean-view lot $550,000.
Costa Rica’s Southern Zone is following the same path to success. It’s now open to mainstream tourism. More tourists means:
- More demand for accommodation. There isn’t much on offer in the region right now…just small family-run hotels and B&Bs. Your home here could earn rental income when you’re not using it. There’s also medium-term rental demand from owners currently building homes in the area, who want to supervise construction. One owner in Pacific Lots earned $88,000 in rental income – in just one year.
- Business opportunities to cater to growing tourist numbers. Today, new commercial plazas are springing up in the Southern Zone to cater to increased tourist traffic and the growing number of expats, retirees and second-home owners.
- Resort and residential developers chasing beachfront and ocean-view land to build hotels, tourist amenities and subdivisions. This is exactly the reason why property prices rose quickly in Guanacaste.
This is like turning the clock back 10 years. If you missed out on your chance in Guanacaste, you need to pay attention to the Southern Zone.
Let me tell you a little more about this secret haven. It is simply stunning. Sharp mountain peaks, covered in forest, drop sharply to the blue Pacific. Waterfalls cascade down sheer slopes. Up above, the deep growl of howler monkeys rings out across the tree tops. Underneath the canopy, anteaters move busily on the jungle floor…iguanas creep quietly along tree branches…and tiny tadpoles swim in a tiny pool of rainwater. Cool shade envelops the trees, broken by the gleam of a jade and cobalt hummingbird. The beaches run for miles…
The Southern Zone isn’t a forgotten wildlife outpost, though. A small group of expats have already set up shop here. Their little restaurants serve organic food, Indonesian food, Italian food…you can get wood-fired pizza, smokehouse chicken and crusty French bread. If the aroma of fresh-brewed coffee doesn’t tempt you, perhaps the wide selection of cheese, wine, chocolate or cigars in the local deli will…
An 85,000-square-foot modern hospital opened in April 2008. It’s a little large for the small population in the area right now…but should come in handy for the planned international airport.
In my top property pick here you can get lots with stunning ocean views for $85,000… Mountain-view lots are available for $40,000. There’s a wide range of lots available…with different views and settings…and prices to suit most budgets.