The Northern Pacific Zone
The northwest region has vast plains and is drier than the Central Valley and
central and southern coastal regions. Nevertheless, some of the country’s
most beautiful beaches, breathtaking views, history, culture and nightlife can
be found here. The city of Liberia and the Tempisque Bridge are the entry
points to Guanacaste’s beaches.
The capital city of Liberia, located 125 miles north of San José on the
Pan-American Highway, is considered the heart of Guanacaste, and is a full service
city. Sometimes called the “white city” because of its architecture,
Liberia is the most colonial of Costa Rica’s cities. Due to the area’s growing
popularity, Liberia is quickly becoming one of the country’s largest and
most important cities, offering restaurants, hotels, several museums, good
shopping, a mall with movie theaters, a public hospital and the Daniel
Oduber International Airport. Liberia is a good place to visit while on
your way to Guanacaste’s many beaches. My good friend Bud from Las
Vegas owns a small farm in the Liberia area.
More good news! The Holiday Inn Express announced plans to invest
$10 million in the construction of a new 120-room hotel and mall in Liberia.
The new mall will house approximately 40 stores with parking for 450 cars.
Holiday Inn also plans to build a golf course near the hotel.
Another exciting development is the wild animal park, Africa Mía, a 100
-acre open-air zoo with free-roaming animals. Mario Sotela, the developer of
Africa Mía, also owns Libería Mía which is the town of Liberia’s soccer team.
Contributing to the development of this area are approximately 40 weekly
flights from the United States to Liberia’s Daniel Oduber International
Airport and better infrastructure than can be found around the beaches on
the southern part of Nicoya Peninsula.
A wide range of condos may be found on both isolated and popular
beaches. Prices range from $100,000 to $750,000 depending on location. A
number of nice gated communities and golf resorts are found in this section
of the country. Undeveloped beach and ocean-view properties can still be
found in some areas.
More than 50 spectacular beaches of all sizes, shapes and colors with clear
blue water are found all along the Pacific coast in the Guanacaste Province.
This area is sometimes referred to as Costa Rica’s “Gold Coast”. However,
a few of the adjacent beach communities may have too much tranquility for
some people or have too much of a resort atmosphere for others.
The area around the Peninsula of Papagayo has been the scene of recent
development. The spectacular, upscale all-inclusive Four Seasons Resort
on Playa Blanca is found in this area. It was selected as the best resort in
Central and South America.
The new $15 million 370-slip La Marina Papagayo is being built in
Manzanillo Bay in the Gulf of Papagayo. It will eventually have 370 slips
and will cover 100 acres.
AOL co-founder Steve Case is spending $23 million to build a new
200-acre upscale hotel at nearby Punta Cacique.
The next cove north of Playas del Coco is Hermosa. It has white sand and
offers some of the country’s best diving. It lies in the center of a string of
four major beaches, all within 30 minutes of each other: Hermosa, Playas
del Coco, Playa Ocotal and Playa Panamá.
The hillside that slopes down to the little bay and its long beach offers
plenty of opportunity for great views, and both condo and single family
home construction. Like Coco, the beach isn’t the prettiest you’ll find, but
the great views make real estate in this town a bit more upscale.
Ocean-view lots in the Hermosa area range between $250,000 and
$500,000. My good friend and realtor Les lives there with his family. Don’t
confuse this Playa Hermosa with two other beaches with the same name —
the one just south of Jaco Beach in the Central Pacific and the other one
near Dominical in the Southern Zone.
Playas del Coco
Coco is one of the most developed beach towns in the region but still
retains much of its fishing-village atmosphere. It is set in a deep cove with
consistently calm waters, making it a safe swimming beach.
This seaside town is surrounded by emerald-colored hills, offers a
variety of water sports and boasts a small international community. The
nightlife here is good and includes restaurants, bars, a disco and casinos
catering to those looking to have fun. A new marina is planned in this area.
Coco has the advantage of offering a greater availability of services
than the nearby growth areas of Hermosa, Playa Panamá and Ocotal. Most
people in the area go to Coco for their shopping, postal and banking needs.
The town also has several dentists, medical clinics and pharmacies.
Coco has always been a popular vacation spot for ticos and, more
recently, U.S. retirees living on a pension. These days the area has plenty of
cheap studio apartments, though not always of the best quality.
Land in the Coco area ranges from $20 to $200 per square meter.
Ocean view lots can be found for under $100,000. Grupo Mapache offers
condos for those retirees and tico vacationers for between $50,000 and
$75,000 depending on the size and amenities.
Ocotal is just south of Playas del Coco. This gray-sand beach area is much
smaller, secluded and laid-back than neighboring Coco. Ocotal is a base for
sport fishing and scuba diving. The main feature is the Ocotal Beach resort.
This small fishing village with its gray-sand beach is located immediately
north of Playa Flamingo and about a 30-minute drive from the city of
Liberia. Potrero does have its charm, boasting one resort and a few small
hotels. We have a friend who owns a couple of nice condos right on the
Flamingo is a hilly peninsula of beautiful million-dollar vacation homes
nestled among trees with splendid ocean views. It is situated in the province
of Guanacaste only 50 minutes away by car from the Liberia International
Airport. The fact that the area is a peninsula naturally restricts development,
however land is still available in the hills just off the peninsula. Flamingo’s
picture-perfect, mile-long, white-sand beach to the south of the peninsula
is one of the most beautiful in the country. (Flamingo was originally called
Playa Blanca because of this long mile-ling white sand beach.)
Flamingo is considered to be one of the finest resort areas in Costa
Rica. It is also Guanacaste’s sport fishing capital and offers some of the best
sailfish and marlin fishing in the world. Excellent skin diving and snorkeling
are also offered in this area. All of this plus good nightlife and several
restaurants have led some to call Flaming the “Acapulco of Costa Rica.”
Good news! Now that there is finally a company approved to build the
new Flamingo Beach Marina, there is a lot of excitement in this Costa Rican
coastal town. Initial plans will give the marina more than 440 boat slips that
will accommodate many different sizes of boats and yachts. For more info
There is an abundance of real estate in Flamingo, including condominiums
dotting the surrounding hills. Land prices range from about $150 to $350
per square meter. A 1000 meter square lot can be found for about $500,000.
Golf lovers are happy here, with three golf courses located nearby.
Flamingo attracts retired foreigners as well as people with children because
of all it has to offer. The Country Day School, one of the country’s most
prestigious private primary and secondary institutions, has a branch near here.
Neighboring Sugar beach has calm waters, ocean views and breathtaking
sunsets. Many foreigners reside around the neighboring areas.
Brasilito and Conchal
South of Flamingo, there are other beaches worth checking out. Brasilito
is a quaint tico beach town near the Reserva Conchal luxury resort. A
few other large resorts are planned for that area, but have been stalled by
environmental regulations and a loss of financing. The road from Brasilito
to the small towns of Surfside and Potrero isn’t paved. The area has seen
plenty of development recently, and prices aren’t as high as Flamingo.
Conchal is famous for its powdery sand, made of small white seashells
or conchas in Spanish. It is also the home of the all-inclusive 18-hole Playa
Conchal Golf Resort. There are a lot of high-priced condominiums and
townhouses for sale at the resort.
Tamarindo, often referred to now as “Tamargringo,” is a beach town
overlooking a long stretch of beautiful beach. It is a popular spot among
surfers. Most people seem to have a love-hate relationship with this epicenter
of northwest Guanacaste’s real estate boom. A lack of planning and regulation
and an easily corruptible former municipality have led to uncontrolled
development that is now threatening the surrounding environment.
Tamarindo has the most developed tourist infrastructure in Guanacaste
and it indisputably has the best services for miles around. The foreign
community has given birth to plenty of restaurants, clubs, bars, hotels and a
variety of stores for all tastes that line the main road. The town also has several
small grocery stores, a supermarket, many real estate brokers and property
management companies, plus a few strip malls with lawyers’ offices and title
insurance companies. An increasing number of banks are opening branches
there as well. Plaza Tamarindo is the town’s new mall. It will eventually
be the largest mall built in a beach community, boasting 50 businesses and
a couple of restaurants.
In general, the place is very cosmopolitan, with residents from all over the
world adding a very exciting cultural diversity to the area. The Tamarindo
community is a mix of North Americans, French, Italian, British and other
Europeans, with a few South Americans thrown in the mix. Fewer ticos live in
the area simply because property prices have gone too high. The community
is young and active and most of its members are involved in the tourism or
real estate industries.
Property and everything else has become rather expensive in the Tamarindo
area because of its popularity. Condos and homes can cost from $200,000
to $700,000. Homes about five minutes from town can be purchased for
South of Tamarindo is Hacienda Pinilla Resort, which has a championship
golf course and offers every imaginable water sport.
This long white beach to the south of Tamarindo has, until now, been
a low-key backpacker and surfer destination with just a few small hotels,
residences, and surf schools. Although located adjacent to bustling
Tamarindo, the natural barrier of an estuary means it is only accessible
either by a 30-minute drive through Villa Real, Huacas and Matapalo, or
by a foot ferry which runs only when there’s enough traffic.
Its secluded location and the existence of Las Baulas National Marine
Park – which includes a large swath of ocean, as well as the sandy beach
50 meters inland to protect the nesting grounds of the endangered
leatherback turtle – has kept development to a minimum. Access to the
beach at night is closed to all but tour guides with visitors to watch the
turtles laying their eggs.
Playa Grande is a very beautiful piece of real estate, but its proximity
to the park has caused fierce legal battles that have yet to be resolved. The
government has been in the process for some time of expropriating land
along the beach, and landowners have countersued. Considering the high
prices that developments like Playa Grande Estates are asking, and the ever present
risk of expropriation that will not reimburse you nearly what you
paid, investing in Playa Grande is much too risky at this point. Once again,
it’s a fantastic location, but a smart investor would either wait to see how
all the legal battles pan out, or be prepared to spend a lot of money on a
very good attorney.
The Nicoya Peninsula Beaches
Junquillal is an isolated white-sand blue-flag beach which is starting to be
developed. The Ecological Blue Flag, is a distinction granted to beaches
with excellent or very high sanitation and cleanliness. There is a strong
ocean current here, so only experienced swimmers should venture out into
74 The New Golden Door to Retirement and Living in Costa Rica
the water. My good Costa Rican friend, Ricardo Lara and his two sons, are
building a small real estate development there.
Presently one has to drive along a dreadful (sometimes impassible) road for
about 45 minutes to reach the town of Nosara. A person really has to love
Nosara to get there. The main route is a gravel, mostly dirt road bisected by
runoff ditches and dotted with mud holes. The current gravel road cannot
be used during the rainy season or when there is high water in the many
rivers. Only buses and large trucks can traverse the route and drivers now
have to ford the rivers and streams. This road parallels the coastline.
Change is coming. Work has been started on the first stage of what
will become a paved road all the way to Nosara. Workers are grading the
road now, and preparing it for paving. This is only half of the story. In
the planning stages for the Pacific coast community is a new $60 million
highway project that will include seven bridges. The road will more or less
follow the path of another seasonal gravel road that leads from Sámara to
Playa Garza and Nosara. It will be about 40 kilometers or 25 miles long.
When this project is completed it will open up a section of Pacific coast
property that has been a backwater. Sámara, which is further south on the
Nicoya Peninsula Pacific coast is already connected to the business center
and community of Nicoya with an all-weather, hard surface road.
Despite the bad road, Nosara has developed much more quickly than
Sámara, though the pace of development is still much slower than in
Tamarindo or Flamingo. A small group of North Americans has been living
in Nosara for decades, so the town has a strong sense of community.
Nosara is an attractive area to live in if you are a nature lover. Years
ago, the area’s North American pioneers donated parcels of land to the
government maintain as a reserve, something that has helped keep the
area green with controlled development. The community is more family
oriented, so it’s not a party town. A flourishing expatriate community of
300-400 people gives the town a slightly California-like flavor.
The actual tico town of Nosara is located a few kilometers inland. Most
expatriates live either in houses in town with great ocean views, or around
Playa Guiones, away from town, where they’ve built a little enclave with
many day-to-day services and a construction supply store. Small U.S.-style
restaurants and services exist for the growing foreign community.
Playa Guiones has a medical clinic and dentist, a couple of pharmacies,
and some great restaurants and cafés. The beach also has a surf shop and
several surf schools that take advantage of the area’s great waves.
Nosara is a famous yoga center. The Nosara Yoga Institute is a
world-class yoga retreat located just outside of town. They specialize
in training yoga teachers; numerous celebrities have been known to take
Most properties on the market there are single-family homes, many
located on the steep hillside to take advantage of the gorgeous sunsets.
Construction quality appears high, and the area has an impressive variety of
architectural styles. Inland from Guiones, there are several farms for sale.
Gated communities and low-rise condominium projects are just starting to
get underway. The community doesn’t want high rises and will probably
do what it can to stop them. As development has picked up the pace, land
values have skyrocketed in the past six years, though there is still no zoning
plan in place.
Sámara and Carrillo
Sámara and Carrillo south of Nosara, are laid-back beaches really worth
exploring. Both beaches are located on bays that are good for swimming.
Property is still affordable since the area is not as developed as some of the
beaches to the north.
Sámara has a small fishing village-like atmosphere with a few good
restaurants, hotels and nightlife. Carrillo, the southern-most of the two
beaches is an exceptionally beautiful, palm-lined, white-sand beach on a
curved bay, yet it lacks the development of Sámara. A new asfhalt road
connects Sámara to Carrillo.
The area is popular as a tourist destination with both ticos and
foreigners, so there’s lots of room for tourism-related investment. Both
Sámara and Carrillo are perfect spots for families with young children, and
generally nice places to relax. Carrillo is more laid-back and doesn’t offer
many services you, so you will have to shop in Sámara which offers only
the basics you would expect from a small town: a doctor, a pharmacy, a few
shops and grocery stores, and (of course) real estate brokers. For your main
shopping, you head to Nicoya, the nearest service town.
Although there hasn’t been as much development here as in the
northern part of this region, it is only a matter of time before things will
change given the beauty of the area. There are homes and a development
scattered in the hills overlooking Carrillo where the views are incredible.
On a clear day you can see all the way to Cabo Blanco at the tip of the
South of Sámara and Carrillo
In the Southern Nicoya Peninsula there is a whole string of unspoiled
beaches. However, accessibility is a big obstacle because of the poor
condition of the road and several rivers that cannot be crossed during the
rainy season. But in the dry season you can make it all the way down to
Sámara is a laid-back beach town.
The word camaronal means a place where a lot of shrimp are found. The
place originally got its name for the number of shrimp that are found
around the area. Camaronal has a long beach that is good for surfing. I
visited there a couple years ago to look at a large piece of land a friend of
mine was going to purchase.
To the south of Camaronal is the isolated community of Islita. It is the
location of Hotel Punta Islita which is one of Costa Rica’s premier hotels.
It has been recognized by Condé Nast Travel and Travel and Leisure World
as one of the best hotels in the world.
Playa Coyote is another pristine beach in the area and lies between
Punta Islita and Manzanillo.
Santa Teresa, Playa Manzanillo and Malpaís
These towns are located about 3 kilometers apart on the Pacific side of the
Nicoya Peninsula. To the north lies Playa Santa Teresa. Its seemingly
endless beach is one of the best places for surfing on the entire Nicoya
Nearby Playa Manzanillo is also becoming popular with surfers and
expatriates. A German friend has lived there for several years and really loves
this part of Costa Rica.
Malpaís, immediately northwest of Cabo Blanco near the southern
tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, is a surfer’s paradise. The word Malpaís means
“bad country” in Spanish and is a misnomer because nothing could be
further from the truth. Nobody knows why or how this beautiful place
got the wrong name. There are several beaches at which to swim, dive and
snorkel, though the area’s main attractions are its unique conditions for
surfing. Malpaís has been featured in numerous surfing documentaries and
magazines and attracts surfers from all over the world.
This isolated area is becoming very popular with some foreigners
because of its scenery and incredible sunsets. The community is young,
close and very international, with large contingents of Israelis and
Argentines. The area’s residents make a living running businesses catering
to tourists and real estate companies, and the pace of life is slow but
active. Like many surfing towns, the schedules are set by the surf rather
than the clock.
Both Santa Teresa and Malpaís more or less consist of a row of small
hotels, cabins, restaurants, cafés, bars and houses lining the unpaved road
that winds its way up the coast.
The area’s reputation has attracted its share of celebrities. Matthew
McConaughey spent a week there surfing and partying with his buddies.
Even Leonardo DiCaprio went there to surf and relax before an Academy
Awards ceremony a few years ago. He ended up falling in love with
the place and purchased some land that he gave to his then girlfriend
supermodel Gisele Bundchen. She in turn married New England Patriot’s
star quarterback in a ceremony at their home in there area.
To date, the property market in Santa Teresa and Malpaís is dominated
by the sale of raw land and houses. The area’s first gated community was
under construction at the time of my research, and other developers have
begun building model homes, so there should be more residences for sale
over the next few years. A few large fincas are still available in the Santa
Teresa area, but most of the action now appears to have moved inland
toward the town of Cóbano.
Montezuma, a remote little fishing village near the southern tip of the
Nicoya Peninsula, has almost perfect beaches with clear-blue water just
right for bodysurfing. Tucked into the foot of a steep and wooded hillside,
Montezuma is a lively but quaint tourist town. Unlike almost every other
beach town on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast, Montezuma faces east, which
allows residents to enjoy the sunrise rather than the sunset.
There are miles of beaches with tide pools and even a tropical 50-foot
waterfall nearby. Fortunately, Montezuma and its surroundings have not
been destroyed by developers. The area is teeming with birds, monkeys and
all sorts of exotic wildlife.
Montezuma is a funky beach town. Jimmy, a 45-year old retiree from Boston,
told us he moved there 10 years ago and bought a small home because he found
living in San José too expensive. He gets by on about $1000 or less monthly—beer included.
This cozy town is a magnet for hip and Bohemian types interested in
alternative lifestyles. European backpackers, yoga enthusiasts and people in
search of something new visit here. In this town one can either hangout at
the beach or at a local restaurant. The Sano Banano is a vegetarian restaurant
where many locals and tourists congregate.
Actually the town really got its start as a popular hippy hangout.
During those times, the place was jokingly referred to as Montefuma – monte
being the tico colloquial word for marijuana and fumar being the Spanish
verb “to smoke.” Those days, while not entirely over, have certainly passed
their former glory. The hippie crowd has given way to a more sophisticated
profile of tourist and resident – possibly the very same clientele as before,
but grown up. They now have money and children, so they’re looking for a
more comfortable lifestyle that’s nevertheless off the beaten track.
The change seems to have resulted in a thriving little town that’s
popular with families who have imagination and a sense of adventure and
would be frustrated in Tamarindo or Jacó. The economy has come to rely
heavily on tourism and increasingly on real estate. Some beautiful houses
and villas are under construction on the cliff tops that ring the town and
offer fabulous views of the coastline.
The ocean, as always, is an attraction for expatriates, and it is here that
Montezuma’s difference with its neighboring markets is most pronounced:
Montezuma doesn’t have any surfing beaches. The sea is usually calmer
than in Malpaís and Santa Teresa, and therefore more attractive to families.
As with many other places in Costa Rica, many more families are moving
to the area to relocate permanently, a fact reflected by a new demand for
schooling in the area. Montezuma is also attracting the first wave of baby
boomers, a group that will probably keep demand for property in the area
high during the next few years.
Montezuma’s community is an interesting mix of ticos, North
Americans, Germans, Italians, Swiss, and other Europeans. Most expatriates
moving permanently to Montezuma work in real estate or construction, or
run tourism businesses. Despite its size, Montezuma has some wonderful
restaurants thanks to the European and hippie influences.
The town doesn’t offer many services like banks or grocery stores.
However, the town does have an organic vegetable market once a week,
and Cóbano – with its banks, supermarkets, and high-speed Internet, is just
7 kilometers up the hill. For shopping and going to the movies, you’ll need
to either hop the ferry to Puntarenas or Jacó or, better yet, go to Tambor
to catch a flight to San José. Construction supplies can be found in Cóbano
or Paquera, though as in other coastal areas you’ll probably want to ship in
your furnishings from either San José or North America.
Originally a fishing village of tiny houses wedged onto a narrow strip of
land between the ocean and a small cliff, Tambor is undergoing a massive
80 The New Golden Door to Retirement and Living in Costa Rica
transformation that will probably spell the end of the village and usher in
a number of large resorts, a marina, and a lot of real estate development.
It would be hard to find a more perfect location for an upscale resort
community. The sea is gentle and the golden-sand beach that stretches for
kilometers forms a perfect crescent across Ballena Bay. The deep circular
bay is good for swimming and other outdoor activities. Behind the bay,
level ground stretches back to a road, then rises to the farm town of Pánica.
The all-inclusive Hotel Barceló Playa Tambor is located here. The
nearby Delfines Golf Club also attracts many visitors. I know a few
Americans who reside in the Tambor area and there are some excellent real
estate buys. Most live at the Tango Mar development three miles southwest
of Tambor or in and around the newly developed Tambor Hills area.
Two of my good friends from California, have a beautiful $2,000,000
ocean-front home in the nearby Tango Mar development. They lived at
the beach for a few years but found it too laid back for them. They now live
in a beautiful condo in Escazú with a panoramic view of the Central Valley.
They rent out their beach home and can pay their expenses with the money
If it’s so perfect, why is Tambor still so sleepy? Two factors have
prevented a mad rush of development: Difficulty in accessing the area, and
the Spanish hotel group Barceló. As for the former, the road from Paquera
past Tambor to Cóbano was paved only recently, and visitors from San
Joseé still must endure several hours of driving time plus a ferry ride (if
you catch it in time). The nearest city is either Puntarenas, or Nicoya, the
road to which is still unpaved. More paved roads would certainly add to the
As for Barceló, in the 1970s the company managed to basically control
real estate development in the area by purchasing the seven kilometer stretch
of land fronting the beach (yes, it’s titled) reaching three kilometers inland
back in the 1970s. It built the Los Delfines Resort and Barceló Hotel, the
only large resort in the whole region and simply left the remaining land
unused. This resort has some villas and a 9-hole golf course.
Barcelo is starting to loosen its grip, however. A few years ago, the
group began selling parcels of land to developers, and now several large
resorts are under construction, with more planned.
Riverside Developers – the same ones who built Riverside Escazú and
the Sonesta Jacó Resort – are building two condotel resorts in Tambor, to
be known as Bayside and Ocean Whisper. Also under construction are a
five-story condominium project called Tambor Hills, and Terramar, a 72-
unit low-rise condo project. A mega project called Punta Piedra Amarilla
is also in the works. Supposedly this project will include a marina and
four boutique hotels, but as of the time of research it was still in the
permitting process. The developers are also hoping to bring in a new car
ferry to connect their facility with Port Caldera (which connects by the new
highway to San José).
In addition to all that, investors are buying up farms with ocean
views around the Pánica area. With those areas developed alongside the
condominium resorts that are under construction and planned, Tambor is
soon going to look like a very different place.
So what’s it like now – Tambor?
It consists of an upscale resort, a sleepy fishing village, and a row
of upscale single family homes on a strip of titled beachfront owned by
expatriates enjoying their retirement. There are very few services outside
the resort, just a tiny grocery store, a couple of restaurants and one or two
Just outside of the Barceló property is a strip of titled beachfront
property with single family homes and a bar, all worth in the high hundred
thousands and very likely to have appreciated more.
Locals and expatriates tend to mix because there are very few places to
go, but the budding retirement community is close-knit and has a Friday evening
jam session at a beach bar, as well as meetings to discuss what’s
happening in the area and to exchange experiences. It’s known as the TGIF
club. As you can see, there is very little to do right now in Tambor, so until
the amenities come, a quiet life would be your only option. For now, many
property owners live in the area permanently.
In addition to growing interest from retirees, there should also be
increasing demand from the yachting and fishing crowd once the marina
is up and running. Interest from families wanting a resort area with a safe
swimming beach should be on the rise as well, all of which will help keep
prices growing for some time to come.