The Caribbean Zone
The 150-mile Caribbean coast extends from the border with Nicaragua in
the north to the border with Panama in the south.
The South Caribbean, as the area is known, is small, comprising a
handful of beach towns and settlements that dot the approximately 18
kilometers between Cahuita and Manzanillo. It’s about 250 kilometers and
a breath-taking four-hour drive from San José, through the rain forestdraped
mountains of Braulio Carrillo National Park, down onto coastal
plains with their road-side tico restaurants, and on to one of Costa Rica’s
most important port cities, Limón.
Puerto Limón is one of Costa Rica’s two important ports. It is the
cradle of the country’s Afro-Caribbean culture and its Creole language.
Few Americans live in this city.
A further half-hour drive south along the palm-fringed coast takes you
to the small but lively Afro-Caribbean towns of Cahuita and Puerto Viejo.
The South Caribbean is a lush part of the country, where jungle sweeps
down the hillsides, sometimes right up to the beach. More often, plains
about half a kilometer to 1km deep act as a buffer between the beach and
106 The New Golden Door to Retirement and Living in Costa Rica
the Talamanca foothills. The hills are also home to pasture land and farms
with ocean views.
The Caribbean coastal area offers many places to live. It is particularly
appealing to young people who like beautiful tropical settings, surfing, reggae
music and the Afro-Caribbean culture. A large colony of foreigners from
Europe and the United States live here.
Despite having some of the most gorgeous beaches in the country and
a more interesting local culture than most other areas of Costa Rica, the
area’s awkward location and reputation for crime and drugs has kept it off
the real estate map for the most part. In addition to the locals and the small
but visible expatriate community, the towns are a haunt for backpackers and
surfers, who come from all over the world to ride the waves at Salsa Brava.
Until a few years ago, the village of Cahuita, about 25 miles south of the
city of Limón, was a more popular tourist town. Its reputation as a drug
spot, however, provoked an exodus from the area. Since then, Puerto Viejo
has taken over as the spot to stay on the Caribbean coast, though these days
Cauhita has begun to make a comeback. Many Europeans own or operate
hotels in and around Cahuita.
Cahuita lies next to Cahuita National Park which has one of the best
beaches in the country. The park includes a strip of jungle that runs along
the bay and covers the point just to the south. The park is home to sloths,
white-faced capuchin monkeys, and all manner of birds and insects. The
park also includes a marine park to protect the coral close to the shore and
the more than 500 species of fish endemic to the reefs. Unfortunately, the
reef has begun to die out in recent years and the snorkeling isn’t as good
as it used to be. However, the beach that is part of the park is connected to
the town, very well cared for by the local park volunteers, and truly one of
the most consistently nice, safe, and accessible places to swim in Costa Rica.
The endangered leatherback turtle also breeds within the park, on the other
side of the point from the most popular beach.
Puerto Viejo, 12 miles south of Cahuita, is a funky town with a Jamaican-like
ambience. It is a great place for lovers of the Caribbean lifestyle and ocean
activities such as snorkeling and surfing. There are some lovely swimming
beaches with good waves and crystal- clear water. A large number of Europeans
and a few Americans live here.
Land prices start at about $100 per square meter and are rising in value.
Nice homes can be found for $150,000. There are no condo projects in this
arearea. However, there are plans for a 400-slip marina in Puerto Viejo. Plans
call for the marina to be built in a place called Playa Negra.
A few kilometers south of Puerto Viejo are Punta Uvita, with a gorgeous
beach for swimming, and the fishing village of Manzanillo.
The surrounding landscape is lushly tropical, and wildlife such as howler
monkeys and iguanas abound. This area is spectacular and undeveloped—but
it won’t be for long.
People are relocating to the South Caribbean and buying small plots of
land to build their homes, cabins or businesses. Others are buying turnkey
houses and more ready-built properties now, partly because of growing
interest from baby boomers. However, the majority of people purchasing
real estate in the area are couples, families and individuals, mainly quite
young, searching for a less hectic lifestyle. Serious investors who are already
buying up land in the area are doing so for the long term.
The Caribbean coast sounds very enticing; however, the abundant yearround
rainfall and humidity make most North Americans, Canadians and
other foreigners choose to live on the drier west coast.