Aug 22 2016

Retire for Less in Costa Rica – August 22, 2016

Welcome to our Retire For Less In Costa Rica Newsletter

Paul and Gloria

In This Issue: 



Our July 2016 Costa Rica Cost of Living

What a month we had in July! We took a 12-day road trip to Costa Rica’s Southern Zone, continued our focus on natural health, and even got married (for the 2nd time!) As you can see, we are way over our $2,000/month budget but that is to be expected with a 12 day vacation. It will all even out when we do our 2016 Cost of Living Summary in early 2017. It will all even out when we do our 2016 Cost of Living Summary in early 2017. Without the expenses for the road trip, but counting in all other expenses (including rent, utilities, housecleaning, & phone), we would have spent $2059.59 for the month of July.

Our Road Trip to the Southern Zone – $1,114.35

First off, let’s look at the road trip. For over a year now, I’ve wanted to travel to San Isidro de El General to see several friends who have settled there. And Paul has been wanting to visit Drake Bay, located on the Osa Peninsula. We’ve been living in Costa Rica for more than seven years & had never been to the Southern Zone, never south of Parque Nacional Manual Antonio. Plus, we now have three of our weather guys/gals in the southern zone. So, we decided to take a 12-day road trip to San Isidro de General, Drake Bay, San Vito, Uvita, and Quepos. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to experience this part of our beautiful country and to visit folks along the way.

You can read all about our road trip in our article, “Our 12-Day Road Trip to Costa Rica’s Southern Zone,” below. But for purposes of our monthly budget, here is the breakdown:


We kept our lodging expenses low by staying with friends for four nights and finding inexpensive, clean hotels for the remaining seven nights of our trip. We ate most of our meals (other than breakfasts) at restaurants, often only eating two meals a day. We ate when we were hungry, but restaurant meals are usually larger than what we eat at home, so we didn’t eat as often. The most expensive part of our road trip was a tour to Corcovado National Park ($180 for the two of us).

Transportation – Other

In addition to gas, tolls, parking, and public transportation for our road trip, we had a few other car-related expenses in July.

First off, Paul ordered new front seat covers for our 1996 Toyota 4-Runner from a local auto decoration business. He was able to get them in grey fabric to match our car’s interior. Once he put down a deposit and the order was placed, it took a little over a month to get them in. But they look great and only cost 40,000 colones (about $75 USD).

He also got an oil change at our regular place in San Ramón, which cost just under $50 USD. And, of course, the total includes gas, tolls, and parking for our time back in SanRamón.

Healthcare – $421.88

July was a big month for healthcare expenses. Here is the breakdown:


As I have written in past newsletters, we have increased the amounts and kinds of supplements we are taking. I know that this is a controversial subject, but we are experiencing positive differences, so we plan to continue on this path. I have also started seeing an alternative health doctor in San Jose. The initial consultation was 40,000 colones (about $74 USD).

Paul and I both had dental cleanings locally in SanRamón. Our dentist does the cleanings herself. She does not have a dental hygienist. The cost for each of us was 18,000 colones (about $33 USD).

Also included in our healthcare expenses for the month are our Caja payment, the cost of a prescription not covered under the Caja, and our pro-rated monthly expense for MediSmart.

Pets –  $64.82

Tori, Laura, and Paul

Tori, Laura, and Paul

Back in Baltimore, $64.82 might be a normal month’s spending for pet care, but here in Costa Rica, it’s high. In addition to cat food and litter, we needed to take both of our cats, Tori and Laura, to the vet. We noticed that their appetite was down and at least one of them (probably Laura) was throwing up once or twice a day. They’ve both been really healthy, and mostly stay indoors, so we couldn’t figure out what the problem might be.

Then we remembered that we bought cat food about a week before. Maybe we bought the wrong brand? On closer observation, the new cat food did look a little different from the old food (Cat Chow). So back we went to the store where we purchased the food and were told that the new food was, in fact, Cat Chow. But…the company had changed the formulation recently. The store took back the unopened bags we had purchased and I settled on a different food which I hoped would agree with both of our kitties.

We also brought them to our vet the very next day. She gave each of them injections to settle their stomachs, as well as their regular shots, and told us to give them 30% less food for the next five days, plus probiotic tablets which we were to break up and mix in with their food. Total cost for our vet visit, injections, and probiotics: 17,500 colones ($32.35). Luckily, we had a small bag left of the original formula Cat Chow, so I mixed it with the new food until it was gone. We were delighted to see that both kitties like the new food and there is no more throwing up!

Miscellaneous – $41.07

This category is a catch-all of donations, gifts, and anything that doesn’t fit anywhere else. The only expense of note was 12,000 colones ($22.18 USD) for me to sign up for CAA2016an 8-week Spanish Conversation Class sponsored by the Community Action Alliance. They offered Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced conversation groups, with each class lasting 1 ½ hours. I have to admit, I have forgotten a lot of what I learned in our previous years of Spanish classes. I can make myself understood, and can understand most of what Ticos say if they speak slowly enough. But I definitely need to devote more time to practice. When we eventually move into town, I will have lots more opportunities to practice my Spanish!

That’s it for July. As usual, to help put things into perspective, here are our expenses for the previous two months. If you want more information about a particular month, just click on the graphic for that month below:




Our 12-Day Road Trip to Costa Rica’s Southern Zone

San Isidro de El General, Perez Zeledon

When I first mentioned a trip to San Isidro de El General to Paul, it wasn’t high on his priority list. After all, we knew we didn’t want to settle there — it’s just too far from San Jose and the airport for us. And, you have to drive over the Cerro de la Muerte (“Summit of Death”) to get there! But, we wanted to visit our friends who live there, and I, frankly, wanted to experience the Cerro de la Muerte. After all, how bad could it be?

So off we went, driving to San Jose, then Cartago, then picking up the “Summit of Death” to San Isidro de El General. Instead of being a scary trip, it was a beautiful ride over well-maintained roads. Yes, they were curvy and hilly, but we’re used to that. But I couldn’t help thinking that, in earlier days, prior to the construction of the highway, it probably took several days walking or on horseback to make this same journey.

We stopped for lunch just past the highest point of the drive (about 11,300 ft. elevation), just outside of San Gerardo de Dota. As you can see in the quick little video below, we were in the clouds and it was definitely chilly but beautiful!

When we arrived in the town of San Isidro de El General, five hours after leaving our home in the western Central Valley, we found it to be a prosperous and busy town, with good stores and clean streets. San Isidro is the capital city of the cantón (county) of Perez Zeledon, with a population of about 135,000 people in the entire county.

Bea & Gordon

Bea & Gordon

The first stop was the house of our good friends, Gordon and Bea. Gordon is our weatherguy for San Isidro de El General. They live in Villa Nueva, which is 10 minutes NW of the city, at a altitude of about 800 meters (2,625 ft.). Their rental house is brand new and so cute. We stayed with them for two nights and got to meet several of their friends. They were great hosts and we enjoyed our time with them so much. We especially enjoyed eating Bea’s delicious meals on their porch. And we laughed…a lot!


Gordon and Bea gave us our first good look at the area and Paul made a complete 180 degree turn-around in his thinking. What a beautiful part of the country! Pictures just don’t do it justice. While we still don’t see ourselves living there at this point in our lives, we definitely want to come back to San Isidro de El General at least once a year.

After leaving Gordon & Bea’s house, we traveled south to Drake Bay and San Vito, then returned to San Isidro de El General to visit watercolor artist, teacher, and author, Jan Hart. We had met Jan in person once, many years ago and have been facebook friends with her since that time. We looked forward to getting to know her better and experiencing her beautiful corner of the world.

Jan Hart at Home

Jan Hart at Home

Its funny how comfortable you can be when meeting some facebook friends. That’s what it was like with Jan, like getting together with an old friend. She has a beautiful video on her website which was shot by a drone flying over her property and the surrounding valley. You can find it at this link.

We spent the night at Jan’s, then continued southwest to Tinamastes to visit friends Bonnie & Joe, before heading to the coastal town of Uvita. Bonnie is our weathergal for Tinamastes and they live at 2,745 ft. elevation with their dog, Marley.  One of the great things we found about Tinamastes is the location. It’s only 20 minutes up the mountain from the beach at Dominical and 30 minutes west of San Isidro de El General. It is also home to the weekly Feria Organica Tinamastes (organic farmers’ market), which is located just down the street from their house. And what a view they have from their porch! Again, pictures just don’t do it justice, but here’s a pic.


Yes, we truly enjoyed our time in San Isidro de El General and surrounding areas. We can’t wait to go back!

Drake Bay, Osa Peninsula

After a couple of days visiting friends in San Isidro de El General, we continued our Southern Zone Road Trip with a visit to Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula. Drake Bay was named for Sir Francis Drake who, it is thought, voyaged here in the late 16th century. It is a great place for scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, horseback riding, bird watching, and hiking, especially in Corcovado National Park.

In the rainy season, you can’t drive all the way to Drake Bay due to flooding of some roads. The solution is to park in the town of Sierpe and hop on a boat, which travels down the Sierpe River into the Bay. Here is a video from the boat as we traveled down the Sierpe River to the Bay:

My best advice is to travel light if you visit Drake Bay! The boat makes a wet landing on the beach, so you step off the boat into the surf and carry your luggage onshore with the help of the crew.

Wet Landing at Drake Bay

Wet Landing at Drake Bay


Drake Bay

During our stay in Drake Bay, we took a day trip to Corcovado National Park where we hiked through the rain forest. And rain it did, for over half of the day, which limited our picture-taking. But we saw lots of birds and animals in their natural habitats — the most notable were all four species of monkeys — howler monkeys (locally called “congos”), spider monkeys, white-faced monkeys (Capuchin monkeys), and squirrel monkeys (locally called “titis”) — native to Costa Rica, the biggest tapir we’ve ever seen, and a pod of dolphins during the boat ride back to Drake Bay.

Hiking Through the Rainforest at Corcovado National Park

Hiking Through the Rainforest at Corcovado National Park

This was also the most expensive part of our road trip. For two of us to do the day trip to Corcovado National Park, the cost was $180 USD. And the hour-long boat ride itself can be challenging. You may, if you are lucky, have a seat back for the bumpy ride in open ocean. Or, like us, you may get a boat with only bench seats and no cushion. Ouch, our aching backs! The fee included the boat ride, a soggy bag lunch, plus a guided tour of the Park. To be honest, if you’ve experienced a lot of Costa Rica (like us), there may not be much new for you on the hike through Corcovado. But if you are fairly new to the country’s fauna and flora, it can be an incredible experience. One hint if you are planning to go: Be sure to bring or wear rubber boots as you often walk through tall grass, streams, and mud. And if you come during the rainy season, a rain slicker would also be a good idea.

CabinasPuraVida_DrakeBayWe had two priorities when booking a hotel in Drake Bay. First, it had to be inexpensive, and second, and more importantly, it had to have air conditioning! I do not do well in the heat. Cabinas Pura Vida fit the bill perfectly. We paid $142 for three nights, including taxes, so about $47/night. The location was quiet and a short walk from restaurants, convenience stores, and the beach. It was very clean and included access to the open-air kitchen and coffee throughout the day. We bought yogurt and fresh fruit for breakfast each and stored them in the fridge, along with bottled water.

Would we return to Drake Bay? I think if we were both divers (Paul is, I’m not, and he didn’t want to go without me), the answer would be yes. But as it is, probably not. It’s just too hot and humid for me to really enjoy.

San Vito

We’ve always wanted to visit San Vito, located just 40 minutes from the Panamanian border in the south of Costa Rica, at 3,268 feet elevation. It was only a 2-hour ride from Sierpe. The roads were great; no potholes or traffic, and it was so beautiful. In fact, riding through the whole Southern Zone was like that.

The attraction for us here is that the town was settled in the 1950’s by a group of Italian immigrants. Since all four of my grandparents are from Italy (Sicily), we were especially interested in learning more about the history of this town.

Our Cabina at Cascata Del Bosco

Our Cabina at Cascata Del Bosco

We stayed at the beautiful Cascata del Bosco (which means “waterfall in the forest” in Italian). See our full review below. We ate several meals at the hotel restaurant and found the food, prices, and service to be very good. Other than thoroughly enjoying our cabin and the surrounding grounds, there were two other high points for me.

The first was our interview with Eugene Crota. Eugene, now 78 years old, and his family were one of the 170 families who originally settled San Vito in 1952:

The second high point, for me, was eating lunch at Pizzaria Liliana, located in PizzariaLiliana2downtown San Vito. (Unfortunately, it’s the only Italian restaurant in San Vito.) We ate a delicious Pizza Margarita and a Caprese Salad. Delicious!


We were also able to take a look at a homemade book that the grandmother, Liliana, and her family had put together about the history of San Vito. Liliana and her family came from outside of Milan and were one of the 170 families who founded San Vito.

Here are a few of my favorite pics from their book (circa 1952):

Men at work in San Vito, cutting down trees, carrying them, cutting them to make wood to build houses and buildings:

Cutting trees, carrying them, sawing them to make wood to build houses and dwellings.


The first wedding in San Vito:



Translation for the following picture: The horse and the first buildings with the men, who in those days, were always working — familiar faces, wise men, and work as testimony to their manliness.



Uvita & Quepos

After our leaving Tinamastes, we continued our 12-day road trip of Costa Rica’s Southern Zone with a visit to Uvita. Located just 11 miles south of Dominical on the Costanera Sur, Uvita is home to pristine beaches and the Marino Ballena National Park. Our home-away-from-home in Uvita was the Big Bamboo. For $40 per night, this hotel was a great value. We wanted a clean, inexpensive room with air conditioning for two nights during the rainy season and this fit the bill. We would stay there again! Food in the restaurant was also very good.

Playa Las Ventanas, Ballena, Costa Rica

Playa Las Ventanas, Ballena, Costa Rica

While in Uvita, we went to Marino Ballena National Park and then to Playa Las Ventanas, located just south in Ballena, for some beach time. It was a beautiful sunny day, even though it was the rainy season. The rain didn’t start until 6 pm when we were back in our room. Las ventanas” literally means “the windows.” The “windows” are tunnel-like caves through the rocks that are windows to the ocean beyond.

One of the "windows" at Playa Las Ventanas

One of the “windows” at Playa Las Ventanas



Another highlight of our visit to Uvita was a meal at, in my opinion, the best Chinese restaurant outside of San Jose, The House of Ginger. They have delicious dumplings, spring rolls, and lots of main dish options.

If you’ve ever tried to find good Chinese food in Costa Rica, you know it can be a challenge. The House of Ginger was a wonderful surprise. We will definitely come here again!

After two nights in Uvita, we continued on to the last stop of our road trip — the town of Quepos — to visit our weatherguy, Lance, and his wife Mary. It was our first time meeting them in-person and they graciously invited us to stay with them. Their cute rental home is located just outside a huge palm oil grove and about 15 minutes from the beach. They showed us the sights, including the Quepos beach, nearby Manual Antonio, and the upscale marina.

Parasailing on the beach at Quepos

Parasailing on the beach at Quepos

Horseback Riding on the Beach at Quepos

Horseback Riding on the Beach at Quepos

I found the palm oil groves fascinating. The workers harvest the palm oil kernel pods from the tops of the African Palm trees and and transport them to trucks for transport by water buffalo. I wish I had been able to get a photo of the water buffalo drawn cart but I do have photos of a worker harvesting pods, as well as a close-up of a palm kernel pod.

Worker harvesting palm kernel pods

Worker harvesting palm kernel pods

This is a pod of palm kernels, waiting to bee picked up and transported by water buffalo

This is a pod of palm kernels, waiting to bee picked up and transported by water buffalo

While we have no desire to live at the beach ourselves (I can’t take the heat), we could see why Lance and Mary chose to live in Quepos. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

It was good to get back home after 12 days of being on the road and sleeping in six different beds. But we had a great road trip and can’t wait to visit the southern part of Costa Rica again next year!


Getting Married (Again) in Costa Rica

CRWedding3I have to admit, when more than 70 expat couples (among them, many of our friends) got married last Valentine’s Day in Atenas, I was mystified. I knew the mass wedding was to make legal matters in Costa Rica a bit easier, but I didn’t realize that we would soon need to do the same thing.

When my carnet (Caja membership card) was about to expire the end of July, we paid a visit to our local Area de Salud to renew. Officially, I am a dependent of Paul; we got our residency as Pensionados with his Social Security. I do not as yet collect Social Security and only have a small pension of $152.00. So, when my Caja came up for renewal, there was a lot of paperwork to complete to prove that I am still his dependent. We had to list our income and expenses, provide a copy of our cédulas (residency cards), a utility bill from where we are living. We also needed to present a current, apostiled copy of our marriage certificate. And, since apostiled documents were not required back in 2009 when we applied for residency, we couldn’t even try to get a copy from Migración.

“But, we are permanent residents in Costa Rica,” we explained to the lady at the renewal desk. “See, our cedulas say “libre condición” (free of conditions). Surely this doesn’t apply to us?” “It’s mandatory,” she told us in no uncertain terms. We had to have an apostiled copy of our marriage certificate.

Pat Wegner, who organized the Atenas event, explained on her blog,

A new certified copy of the original Marriage Certificate…has to be sent to the Secretary of State where they were married to obtain the Apostille guaranteeing it’s authenticity. When the certificate is presented as proof, it can’t be more than 30 days since it’s certification.”

Rafael Valverde, the attorney with Outlier Legal Services who set up the mass Valentine’s Day wedding ceremony, further explained on their website:

The CCSS (or CAJA as it is generally known) has a regulation called the Registration Handbook or Manual de Adscripción y Beneficio Familiar, as it is called in Spanish. The purpose of this regulation is to set forth the requirements and processes to register people with the system, whether it is a principal beneficiary or whether it is a dependent such as a spouse or children…Section 20.2 indicates that the marriage certificate (or birth certificate) must be no more than a month old. This requirement is not a problem for a Costa Rican. There are plenty of Registry offices around the country where they can obtain a marriage or a birth certificate for less than 50 colones…There are people from more than a hundred countries living in Costa Rica, and for every single one of them, it is a tremendous task to obtain a brand new marriage certificate, and in most cases, it is very expensive.

I looked into options for getting the document, none of which were easy or inexpensive. To get it done within 30 days, we probably would have needed to make a trip to Baltimore. I posted our dilemma on my facebook page and got a lot of responses and suggestions. Among them was brief message from our friend, Asdrúbal, asking us to stop in and see him where he works at our credit union, Coopenae. “Why don’t you just get married in Costa Rica,” he suggested. “I will make all of the arrangements; I’ll even pay for it. I would be happy to do this for you,” he told us. All of a sudden, a big problem turned into a huge blessing. Sure enough, he told us to be ready at our house on the 30th of July at 2:00 pm, only 10 days later.


We had a simple ceremony our patio, overlooking the mountains and the Gulf of Nicoya, with Asdrúbal and his wife as our witnesses, our other dear friend from Coopenae, Marco, and his wife, and the attorney. In an interesting twist, before the ceremony we first had to sign documents stating that we acknowledged that we were “single” in the eyes of Costa Rica so that we could be legally married here.

Before the legal part of the ceremony, Asdrúbal read some beautiful remarks he had written, in both English and Spanish. We got it all on video, just as we did our first wedding, and we plan to play it every year on our Costa Rica Wedding Anniversary.


Though we are did it to make renewing my Caja easier, it turned out to be a celebration of our love and marriage. Thank you so much to our friends Asdrúbal and Giselle who made it happen. We even had a “first dance,” right on our porch. It was definitely a memorable day!

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El Castillo de Relajamiento Cabinas in Beautiful San Ramon, Costa Rica

Cabinas of Costa Rica

Cabinas of Costa Rica

If you’ve been reading our newsletter for a while, you may know that Paul and I lived at “the Cabinas” for our first four years in Costa Rica. If you will be visiting the Central Valley or are looking for a great place to land when you move to Costa Rica, this is the place!  Each picturesque cabin is approximately 550 sq ft (51 sq m), ideal for a small family.

Each cabin features one of the following 2 bedroom arrangements: both with queen beds, or one with queen bed and one with queen/single bunk set. Other features include a large living room, eat-in kitchen, hot water, satellite television, all utilities (including electricity), and wireless internet access.

Someone on the property around the clock, weekly housekeeping service and a full-time gardener are also provided.  Laundry facilities are available at no cost, and both bus (about $.35 one way) and taxi service (about $5.50 one way) into town are readily available.

Here is a video we made while we were living at the Cabinas:

OPENINGS ARE AVAILABLE NOW. To receive more information including rates and availability, contact the bilingual property manager, Cesar by going to this link and completing/submitting the contact form.


Our Ultimate CR Healthcare Tour

We are proud to offer the Ultimate Healthcare Tour of Costa Rica. When asked what he liked best about our healthcare tour, one of our guests wrote, “the wide variety of places we saw, the experts that Paul HCTOUR_030arranged for us to meet and talk with, and an emphasis on all aspects of health, not just doctors and hospitals. Mental health is just as important as physical, if not more so.”HCTOUR_008

We’ve lived in Costa Rica for over seven years and have used the Caja, Costa Rica’s public healthcare system extensively, as well as the private system, when needed. We’ve learned the system and have been referred up the ladder to see specialists in the maze that is the Caja system. Gloria’s even had surgery here.

Our blend of personal insights and on-the-ground experience combines to answer your questions about whether or not Costa Rica’s healthcare system could meet your individual needs.


But, while it is focused on healthcare, you will learn a lot more about living and retiring in Costa Rica’s Central Valley. Most of the second day of the tour takes place in the town of San Ramón where we live and use the services. And you will come to our home for lunch that day to listen to two presentations.

Our tour is designed to save you both time and money, packing a lot of information into a short period of time. Our goal is to show you the possibilities and to try to demystify Costa Rica’s healthcare system. Our tour lasts two days and 1 night and includes lodging, transportation, meals and non-alcoholic beverages.

Sample Itinerary

You’ll visit:

  • At least two private hospitals in San Jose area
  • Hospital Mexico, the largest and best public hospital (they even do open heart surgeries there)HospitalMexico
  • An insurance broker for a presentation on the various supplemental health insurance options, including public, private, and international plans
  • A senior living retirement community
  • CPI language school for a presentation about how learning Spanish increases your options for healthcare and some basic medical Spanish.
  • Our local hospital here in San Ramón
  • A local EBAIS (community clinic)
  • The office of our dentist in San Ramón
  • A local Seguro Social office where you would sign up for the Caja (national healthcare coverage)
  • A pharmacy
  • A local feria (farmer’s market) where you will see the abundance of fresh food available.
  • The local Cruz Roja (Red Cross) to learn about their services and programs.
  • A health food store (macrobiotica), and more!


You’ll learn:

  • If the Costa Rican healthcare system could meet your needs and put your mind to rest, once and for all, about this sensitive subject.
  • About the public system and how it works, about the private healthcare system, and how you can use a combination of both to your advantage.
  • About the EBAIS – where healthcare starts in Costa Rica.
  • Approximately how much you would pay for Caja.
  • About medical tourism in Costa Rica.
  • About home health care in Costa Rica.

Prices: $650 for a couple, $550 for a single.
Please contact us if you are interested in booking a tour. Space is limited.

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