Welcome to our RetireForLessInCostaRica.com Mid-Month Newsletter!
In this special San Ramon issue:
- What Really Grabs Us
- The Things We Love – Living Outside
- Feature Article: “The 10 Reasons Why We Chose San Ramon de Alajuela”
- Where to Stay in San Ramon – Casa Amanecer
Our time here in Costa Rica kind of evolved “in a good way.” Maybe we’ve been lucky, but the #1 thing has been the relationships we’re developing, with both Gringos and Ticos alike. Every time we go to town, I get so excited because everyone is so friendly. Never in a million years would I develop relationships like these in the U.S. Socially, we just can’t keep up with it. The relationships just keep developing and Gloria and I are deeply affected. I just can’t get over it. We go into the food market and know many people by name, always making an effort to engage the Ticos in Spanish. It makes all the difference in the world. It really grabs us! And it happens almost every day, everywhere, with everyone. It’s the best part of being in Costa Rica. Yes, it really grabs us!
The Things We Love – Living Outside
One of the biggest reasons we came to Costa Rica was to “live outside.” This meant no need for air-conditioning or heat. We lived in Baltimore, Maryland before moving here and had high heating and air conditioning bills (over $300 per month). But it wasn’t just the expense – Gloria wanted to enjoy the outdoors. Back in Baltimore, we could rarely open our windows. Those days and nights when we could were a delight, but they were few and far between. We could go outside but the mosquitoes and too-hot or too-cold temperatures prevented us from truly living in the fresh air.
Being able to breathe fresh air, not just once-in-a-while, but all the time, contributes to our high quality of life in Costa Rica. In our cute little cabina, our door is open from 6am to 6pm, without the need for a screen door. Our windows, which are screened, are large and completely open most of the day. Even when we’re inside, we’re only a few feet from the nearest open window and that fresh air is pouring in all day. Quite often, we eat outside on our porch, by candlelight. Even at 4,000 ft. elevation, we still manage to live outside.
Because of our elevation (3,950 ft.) and our two cats, Tori & Laura, we close the door between 5:30 pm and 6:00 pm. Once they’re in, it’s dinner time for us all. Sometimes we start to close some windows earlier when it rains or if the temperature drops. Quite often, by 4 pm it’s 70° F and heading down. Usually we are able to keep at least one window open until around 9:00 pm. If it gets a little cool, we may put on a sweatshirt or light sweater, but still no heater is needed. It’s almost against our religion to use a heater, air-conditioner, or de-humidifier. All are unnecessary here and are large energy consumers.
If we had our druthers, we’d probably move a thousand feel lower to around 3,000 ft. elevation which, to us, seems ideal. But in the two years we’ve been in the cabina at almost 4,000 ft., we’ve gradually gotten used to the cooler temperatures. This morning at 6:00 am, when I opened the door and swept the porch, it was 62° F, but by 9:00 am, it was 70°.
Gosh, we love living this way – no heater, no air-conditioner, and doors and windows wide open!
Featured Article – “The 10 Reasons Why We Chose San Ramon de Alajuela”
People always ask us why we moved to San Ramon de Alajuela as opposed to other, possibly more popular, locations in Costa Rica. Our interest in San Ramon actually began before our first visit, just from doing research on the Internet and in the books we read. It was reinforced when we visited this westernmost coffee town of Costa Rica’s Central Valley on the George Lundquist Retire on Social Security Tour in January 2008. We spent the next two years making follow-up visits and deciding where we would start our Costa Rica adventure. Following are the 10 reasons, in no particular order, why we chose San Ramon.
The traditions & customs are unchanged from years ago. The culture is still intact. San Ramon is not over-run with Gringos. You can walk the streets & not even see a Gringo face all day. I don’t think there’s even one Gringo business in town — some places are loaded with them. In San Ramon, the ratio of Ticos to Gringos is incredible. The actual population of the town of San Ramon is just under 17,000, however, more than 82,000 Ticos live in and around San Ramon and use it as their principle town for shopping. In this same area, there are only about 200 Gringos. I can practice my Spanish, do my errands, & maybe meet some great Ticos along the way. That’s what we were looking for!
Reason #2: It’s convenient to the airport.
San Ramon is only 45 minutes from the International Airport outside of San Jose. This is important to us because we do airport pick-ups & drop-offs for folks in the Western Central Valley. It also makes it easier when friends and family come to visit, or when we want to take a trip.
Reason #3: It’s convenient to the beach.
San Ramon is only a 45 minute drive to the beach. Playa Doña Ana is the closest, nice beach with monkeys. It has shade trees on a clean beach, picnic tables with barbeque grills, clean bathrooms, showers, and changing areas. It’s a real Tico family beach, not a sterile tourist trap. There are no souvenir shops or expensive restaurants. Its natural beauty is its strength. We love Costa Rica but we grew to love it even more when we started to go to the beach on a regular basis, two or three times a month. Gosh, who wants to live in Costa Rica & never go to the beach?
Reason #4: It’s convenient to good hospitals.
San Ramon is only about 50 minutes from the BEST PUBLIC HOSPITAL in the country, Hospital Mexico. We found this to be important after Gloria’s surgery last year. The successful ambulatory surgery, done at our local San Ramon Hospital, necessitated follow-up with a specialist at Hospital Mexico. We went at least six times, for doctor’s visits, blood tests, and xrays. What we learned was that many of the doctors at Hospital Mexico also work at the BEST PRIVATE HOSPITALS in the country: La Cima, Catolica, & Clinica Biblica, which are located just 1 hour from San Ramon.
Reason #5: We don’t need heat or air conditioning.
Living in San Ramon, we save about $300 per month on our gas & electric bill. Click here for more about our cost of living. We are able to leave our door and windows wide open most days, allowing us to “live outside” like we never could in Baltimore. If we’re cold, we put on sweatshirts; if we’re hot (almost never) we put on shorts. And no more shoveling snow like we had to do in Baltimore!
Reason #6: Lots of volunteer opportunities and chances for community involvement.
Whether you are interested in education – teaching English, art, or computer skills — animal rescue, citizen security, the library, fund raising, environment, Red Cross, or playing with the kids at the orphanage, there’s probably something for you in San Ramon. Volunteering is FREE and can enhance your life in many ways. Some say volunteering is good for your health & can even save your life!
Reason #7: It has wide streets.
We immediately liked the wide streets of San Ramon, so as we drove or walked the town it presented a less cramped feel & was generally more attractive. The town is also clean & well-maintained. You can really see that now, at the end of the rainy season. Shopkeepers are painting their storefronts, the Municipalidad is re-paving the Parque Central and installing better lighting, and roads are being repaired. San Ramon is a town “on the move” with a new woman mayor, lots of new buildings under construction, and the hustle and bustle of foot traffic. Yet it’s still a small town, with a small town feel.
San Ramon’s mall is complete with a three-screen movie theater, three banks, a grocery store, a food court, and lots of taxis available. We’ve only been in it about 20 times in the past 2 1/2 years, but it’s good to know that it’s there. We went to a movie there once. The theater had stadium seating and the popcorn was good. It was much less expensive than in the U.S. Wednesdays are the best days to go because they have discounts. It’s a small mall…thank God for small favors.
Reason #9: It’s convenient to San Jose.
San Ramon is just a one hour drive from San Jose and accessible by bus for $2.30 each way — even less if you’re a ciudadano de oro (senior citizen) like me. We enjoy going to the theater, both the Little Theater Group’s English language plays and productions at the National Theater. We have also enjoyed San Jose’s museums, art galleries, restaurants, the pedestrian boulevards, parks, and the Central Market. Most of the time, we go on day trips, but have also spent weekends exploring all that San Jose has to offer.
Reason #10: It’s a University town.
This was one of our top reasons for choosing San Ramon. Education and culture is important here. The “city of poets and presidents,” founded by exiled free-thinkers and intellectuals from San Jose, would not settle for less. The University of Costa Rica has a campus here, and small branches of other universities are scattered about town. Because we have these universities, we have more cultural activities. We are regular visitors at both the Jose Figuerres Cultural Center for concerts, art exhibits, plays, and local cultural fests, and the Museo de San Ramon, run by the University of Costa Rica (UCR) which recently reopened after an extensive renovation.
We have never regretted our move to San Ramon. It has become home to us in so many ways. Soon, we’ll write a follow up article with the reasons we stay in San Ramon.
By Chris Panzer
Casa Amanecer is a quaint little Bed and Breakfast nestled in the hills just outside San Ramón. We built the house (featured in the March 2009 issue of Costa Rica architecture magazine Su Casa) with simplicity and efficiency in mind. Large, east-facing windows allow the morning sun to flood the entire house, warming it and gently persuading us and our visitors to rise and begin our day. The unassuming, natural colors of the teak, concrete and stone walls create a warm backdrop to the colorful life we have created here over the past several years.
Since the time we moved here permanently in 2001, we had slowly put down roots, making friends, creating community, and feeling right at home in this medium-sized Costa Rican town. When our employer at the time, Habitat for Humanity Costa Rica, pulled up stakes and moved their national headquarters from San Ramón to San José, we knew we would not be leaving our beloved town. Even after taking a year to think about it, visiting our respective home countries of the United States and Perú, we were only convinced even more to stay. As a matter of fact, we felt there was nowhere else in the world we would rather live and raise our children. It was a tough decision to have to part ways with Habitat, an organization that was dear to our hearts, but we knew it was time for a change in our lives, serving people in a slightly different fashion.
Now, for some, opening a tourist-based business in a decidedly non-touristy area such as San Ramón might not sound sensible. I mean, look at the guide books and the travel magazine advertisements that boast Costa Rican wildlife, beaches and volcanoes. Why not set up shop in a well-marketed tourist hot spot instead? We thought about that, of course, and soon realized we wanted to offer something unique—something that doesn’t appear in thick, pocket-size books or glossy magazine pages. What we wanted to offer was a genuine Costa Rican experience.
We imagined that Casa Amanecer, which means House of the Rising Sun, aside from being an inviting place with comfortable beds that would welcome guests from far-away places—some their first night in this wonderful country—would also become a sort of low-key clearing house of Latin American culture. It would be a place of books, music, food, dance lessons, impromptu Spanish classes and crazy, hand-drawn maps to point visitors to interesting, out-of-the-way places in the area. We would attend our guests ourselves, cook for them, sit with them over coffee and talk about their travel plans, often suggesting local activities such as cloud forest hikes, dance lessons, horseback rides to waterfalls, antique sugar cane mills, coffee tours, local zip lines and even Quetzal spotting.
We also imagined our B&B would also offer a taste of healthy living. Meatless meals with many raw-food options would be offered. Professional massages and morning yoga would also be offered to bring balance and a sense of well-being to our visitors.
So, here we are, going onto three years now running our B&B and we’re loving it. We appreciate this opportunity to be able to live and work in our own home with our children right here with us. We serve up local coffee and fresh, healthy breakfasts made mainly from organic ingredients that we purchase from the farmer’s market in town. It gives us a great sense of satisfaction to work hard and give our visitors the best that we have to offer: a warm, welcoming, peaceful place to land, as well as healthful meals and a glimpse into our own health-conscious lifestyle.
We are also grateful to be able to give our guests the opportunity to experience, firsthand, how Costa Ricans live and work, and how the truly happy ones tend to have less possessions and more time for family and friends. I think this is an important lesson, especially these days, when more and more people are forced into this very situation. Seeing how our neighbors have happily lived this way for generations can be an eye-opener for many foreigners. I’m sure that many of them have returned home with a new sense of appreciation for what they have and possibly a desire to create more time for their own family and friends.
Many people, those passing through on their way in, or on their way out of the country, comment that they wish they had planned to spend more time here. Our guests appreciate the genuine Costa Rican experience that we offer, as well as the genuine personal attention that we give them. We truly do love making other people feel at home in our place and in our lovely little town of San Ramón.
That’s all for now, but we’ll be back in touch soon! If you enjoy our newsletter, please share it with your friends. We hope to see you online!
Gloria & Paul Yeatman
San Ramon de Alajuela, Costa Rica