Dec 01 2016

Retire for Less in Costa Rica – December 1, 2016

Welcome to our Retire For Less In Costa Rica Newsletter

Paul and Gloria

In This Issue: 



Our October 2016 Costa Rica Cost of Living

We were traveling almost the entire month of October, and a few days into November, on our yearly trip to Mexico. That meant lower than usual Costa Rica living expenses for the month — just over $1,000. (You can read about what we spent on 30 days in Mexico below.)

Costa Rica Fixed Costs

As you would imagine, many categories of our Costa Rica expenses totaled zero or next to nothing. Such were Groceries, Transportation, Meals Out, Pets, Other Household, Personal Care/Clothing, Entertainment, and Miscellaneous.

There were only three categories where we spent close to normal. The first is “Healthcare.” Even though we were away for almost the entire month, we still had to pay our monthly Caja payment and still needed the same medications. We stocked up on some vitamins and supplements we would need during our trip, which came to $51.79. And we bought a couple more essential oils from doTerra ($73.00).

And since our rent still needed to be paid, as well as the monitoring on our home security system, phone, and Wifi, our “Rent/Phone/Utilities” category was also close to normal. We also paid the electric and water bills since they were for service in September. There are two reasons the total was a bit lower. We had wonderful house/pet sitters while we were away (thanks again Barb & Bill!) and they paid for any propane they used (for cooking and hot water) and for the cost of our housekeeper who comes four hours every week.

Our “Entertainment” expenses were low normal. We spent our usual $10.59 for NetFlix and purchased a couple of Kindle books, one for $2.99 and the other for $.99.

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:



What it Cost Us to Spend a Month Traveling in Mexico

2016-mexicoIn past years, when we’ve spent a month in Mexico, we were lucky enough to get our airfare and about five days food and lodging paid for by International Living. However, in 2015, IL held it’s last conference in Mexico for the foreseeable future. So this year, for our 30 day trip to Mexico, we paid all of the expenses on our own which significantly increased the cost of our trip.

As you can see in the graphic to the right, we spent a total of $3,417.98. Of that, hotels accounted for almost $1,000 and airfare for both of us was $617.46. If you figure that we normally spend about $2,000 per month to live in Costa Rica, the 30 day trip to Mexico really cost us an additional $2,400. We’re happy with that! So, let’s break it down.

One of the things worth noting right off is the great exchange rate we got. Last year when we visited Mexico, the U.S. dollar was worth just over 14 pesos. This year, it was up to over 19 pesos to the dollar, so we got a lot more for our money. When we charged expenses on our travel card, we got the full 19+ pesos exchange rate. To save ATM fees (which are 3% of the amount withdrawn at Bank of America), we brought cash in USD and changed it for pesos at currency exchange booths at the airport and in the towns we visited. The exchange rates we got there ranged from 17.63 to 18.2 pesos to the dollar, still good, and a lot better than 14+ pesos to the dollar.

Transportation – $860.70

Our transportation costs break down like this:

  • Airfare: $617.46
  • Buses (city to city): $128.97
  • Taxis: $97.51
  • Buses (local): $12.05
  • Colectivos: $4.23
  • MotoTaxis: $0.57

Our number one mode of transportation (and least expensive)? Walking! We walked everywhere, and where we couldn’t walk (or were just too tired from all the walking), we took buses, taxis, colectivos, and even one mototaxi.

Public transportation is very inexpensive in Mexico. Colectivos are taxi’s the run a specific and regular route from outlying towns into Oaxaca City and back. The usually cost 10-15 pesos (about 55-80 cents) per person with a total of 6 people, including the driver, along for the ride so it’s a tight fit in the small sedans. Sometimes people pay for an extra person so that the driver doesn’t fit a 3rd person in the front seat. They pick up and drop off riders along the route as well.


Paul getting into a colectivo

Mototaxis are often available within the outlying towns and are basically a motorcycle with a cart attached or built-in. Our cost for a mototaxi was 10 pesos (57 cents).


Parked mototaxis waiting for riders

Local buses are another bargain; we paid only 6 or 7 pesos (about 35 cents) per person, depending on the town. Regular taxis within the city limits cost 35-50 pesos (about $2.00 to $2.80).

Our city to city first-class buses were, understandably, more expensive. We traveled from Mexico City to Puebla, Puebla to Cholula, back and forth to Atlixco, and to Oaxaca, then Oaxaca back to Mexico City. All on first-class, air-conditioned buses with movies, a bathroom, and rest stops. All that cost only $128.97 for the two of us. You can see the route we took in the map below. Just click to enlarge it.


Our bus route map – CLICK TO ENLARGE

Hotels – $988.91

We traveled around Mexico from October 4th through November 3rd, a total of 30 nights, and spent an average of $32.96 per night. And believe me when I say that we didn’t suffer. We had private rooms with private bathrooms everywhere we stayed. All the rooms were clean, quiet at night, and had comfortable beds and hot water. Here’s the low-down:

Mexico CityMesicoCityHostel

We stayed a total of 7 nights at Mexico City Hostel, located right in the historic center, just 1 ½ blocks from the Zócolo. We stayed 5 nights @ $27.57 and 2 additional nights @ $31.00, including breakfast each morning. They accepted credit cards, so we used our travel card to get the best exchange rate possible. Our last two nights (right before our flight home) were more expensive because they were during the country’s Day of the Dead holiday.

The Zócolo was full of  people and activity due to Day of the Dead celebrations.

The Zócolo was full of people and activity due to Day of the Dead celebrations.

This is our second time at this hostel and we will keep coming back. The video clip below is the view from the little balcony in our room, overlooking the busy street. It was noisy during the day but quieted down at night.

Mexico City Hostel is located in the center of everything and just a quick walk to restaurants, the National Palace, and the beautiful Bellas Artes theater.

Bellas Artes and the Latin American Tower

Bellas Artes and the Latin American Tower


The Hotel del Capitán de Puebla was the most expensive of our lodgings, but it was worth it (and more). We stayed 4 nights @ $39.52, not including breakfast. We were able to pay by credit card.

Entryway to our room on the right, with beautiful Talavera pottery full of plants.

Entryway to our room on the right, with beautiful Talavera pottery full of plants.

There was a little coffee shop around the corner where I got my morning coffee and Paul was able to get his breakfast smoothie. The hotel was lovely, service was first-rate, and the location was an easily-doable 8 block walk to Puebla’s Zócolo.

Puebla's Zócalo at Night

Puebla’s Zócalo at Night

One of our favorite parts of our stay here was the 360 degree view from the hotel’s rooftop terrace. On one morning, we were even able to see the smoking Popocatepetl volcano.

The Smoking Popocatepetl Volcano

The Smoking Popocatepetl Volcano


In Cholula, we stayed at the Hostal de San Pedro. We stayed for 4 nights @ $26.48. We were able to pay by credit card. Breakfast was included, however you had to make it yourself and do your own dishes. The room was clean, though we did not have daily maid service.

Our room at Hostal de San Pedro in Cholula

Our room at Hostal de San Pedro in Cholula

The hostel didn’t have any restaurants and stores close by but it was walk-able to Cholula’s Zócolo and it’s many restaurants.

Sidewalk Cafes in the Portaliis in Cholula's Zócolo

Sidewalk Cafes in the Portales in Cholula’s Zócolo

The main reason we were in Cholula was to attend Paul’s university reunion which was held at University of the Americas and nearby restaurants. There were 10 events over four days and we attended each one. For all except one, we had to take cabs to and from our hotel.


We returned, once again, to Hotel Las Mariposas, which has become our home away from home in Oaxaca city.

Entrance-way of Hotel Las Mariposas, partially decorated for Day of the Dead

Entrance-way of Hotel Las Mariposas, partially decorated for Day of the Dead

Las Mariposas is clean, relatively inexpensive, environmentally friendly, and in a great location. We stayed for 15 nights @ $35 including a light continental breakfast (coffee, bread & jam, cereal). We paid cash, in U.S. dollars, in order to get this discounted rate for a studio apartment. We had a separate bedroom with king-size bed, bathroom, and kitchen/living room area complete with a refrigerator and cook-top, so we were able to make some meals there, most often breakfast and snacks.

The hotel is just ½ block from Llano park, with it’s Friday market and lots of families enjoying it everyday.


Llano Park, Oaxaca

It’s an easy walk to just about anywhere in the historic center, including the Zócalo, Santo Domingo Church and Cultural Center, and the Mercados Benito Juarez and 20th of November.

Sidewalk cafe in Oaxaca's Zócalo

Sidewalk cafe in Oaxaca’s Zócalo

Santo Domingo Church and Cultural Center

Santo Domingo Church and Cultural Center

Benito Juarez Market

Benito Juarez Market

Food, Marvelous Food – $676.29

We ate most of our meals in restaurants, neighborhood comedors, and from food-trucks and street stands. If you divide the total by 30 days, it comes to just $22.54/day on average for the two of us to eat in Mexico. The eating-out portion of our food expenses came to $623.74. But we also shopped a bit for groceries, especially once we were in Oaxaca and had a kitchen.

One of the many street markets in Mexico

One of the many street markets in Mexico

We bought yogurt and the nearby Pitico convenience store, fresh granola at a European bakery, fresh fruit at the markets, and jicama, chili, and salt for a typical snack.

Jicama slices sprinkled with sea salt and chili powder

Jicama slices sprinkled with sea salt and chili powder

Where to begin describing the food we ate? It was all so good, and so inexpensive. When describing food, we always think that pictures tell the story best:

Mole Poblano in Puebla - one of our favorite meals this trip!

Mole Poblano in Puebla – one of our favorite meals this trip!

A Chinese meal in Mexico City's Chinatown

A Chinese meal in Mexico City’s Chinatown

A tlayuda in Oaxaca's 20th of November market

A tlayuda in Oaxaca’s 20th of November market

A cemita in the 5 de Mayo market in Puebla

A cemita in the 5 de Mayo market in Puebla

Fresh grilled chicken from a vendor in Tlacochahuaya, Oaxaca

Fresh grilled chicken from a vendor in Tlacochahuaya, Oaxaca during our enVia tour

Tacos Arabe at Patio de las Ranas in Puebla

Tacos Arabe at Patio de las Ranas in Puebla

Mole Negro in Oaxaca

Mole Negro in Oaxaca

Carnitas and mezcal in a cantina in Mexico City

Carnitas and mezcal in a cantina in Mexico City during our Sabores Mexico food tour

Mexican street corn - just about everywhere!

Mexican street corn – just about everywhere!

Pan de Muerto (Day of the Dead bread) in Mexico city

Pan de Muerto (Day of the Dead bread) and cafe con leche in Mexico City

And, a couple of late nights, we ate freshly made tacos from the taco stand in Llano Park, just ½ block from our hotel in Oaxaca. They always had a line and the food was delicious! Here’s a look at the preparation:

Entertainment and Tours – $437.85

Food and Culture in Mexico City

In Mexico City, we kicked off our five-day stay with a food tour. We looked at the options and, by far, the best value was the Sabores de Mexico food tour of the Historic Center. The cost was $60 per person but we were able to get a 10% discount with a flyer from our hostel; with tax and reservation fee, the total for both of us was $131.28. The five-hour tour included a total of nine tastings across the city. We met our tour guide for the walking tour, which started at the Oaxaca En Mexico restaurant for mole negro, followed by three tastings at the Mercado de San Juan which features gourmet and exotic foods.

Edible Flowers

Edible Flowers

We sampled tapas at the Delicatessen la Jersey Gourmet, various insects (yes, I said insects) and a wild boar stew at El Gran Cazador, and edible flowers and herbs at Rosse Gourmet.

Wild Boar Stew

Wild Boar Stew

Our next stop was street food at El Caguamo Marisqueria where we had a highly seasoned shrimp broth and shrimp tacos. As we walked through the streets of Mexico City with our guide, he talked not only about the food, but about the history and culture around us. Next, it was time for a traditional cantina, La Mascota, where the food is free with the purchase of drinks. We ate carnitas with all the toppings, drank mezcal, and listened to the mariachi band performing inside the cantina. For a more modern cantina experience, we stopped in Pasagüero to sample their tapas and array of salsas which you can see in the video below.

And we finished up the day at a typical Mexican sweet shop, Dulcería de Celaya. It was a totally delicious day! Oh, and we didn’t need dinner that night.

Visiting Indigenous Women in Oaxaca

The other especially notable tour we took was in Oaxaca with enVia. The enVia Foundation uses the profits from the tours to give interest-free loans to women to start or grow their businesses and provide free education programs in the communities that they visit. On the day of our tour, we visited two communities, San Miguel del Valle and Tlacochahuaya.


Weavers in San Miguel del Valle and some of their beautiful rugs

In San Miguel, we saw two weavers and a woman who makes chocolate and traditional cocoa drinks. You can see how Mexican chocolate is made as well as the traditional preparation of chocolate caliente (hot chocolate) in the video below. Teresa is explaining in Spanish but everything she says is translated by the enVia guide.

In Tlacochuhuaya, we visited a woman who sells roast chicken and a woman who breeds rabbits and has a comedor where we had a delicious lunch.

Rabbit stew, one of the options for lunch from the woman who also raises rabbits

Rabbit stew, one of the options for lunch from the woman who also raises rabbits

The tour cost 750 MXN pesos/person (a total of $81 USD for both of us or $40.50 per person) and included the all day tour, lunch, and transportation. This was one of the high-points of our trip as we got to see how indigenous women live and earn an income.

Cemeteries, Mole, and Mezcal



Our third tour was also in Oaxaca, a cemetery tour to experience Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead). Day of the Dead isn’t actually just one day; it’s a celebration that lasts from October 31st through November 2nd (All Souls Day) and beyond in some communities. The people believe that their loved ones who have died return to be with them during this time. So, they go to the cemeteries to greet them with their favorite foods, drinks, and other things they loved.


Pan de Muerto de Oaxaca

The tour began with a presentation about the traditions and cultural significance of the holiday, and a meal of mole rojo enchiladas, mezcal or beer, and pan de muerto. They we were off to visit three cemeteries, each very different from the others. We talked to families who were celebrating at the graves of their family members, listened to music, and even drank with the families when offered. This video was taken about 1:30am at the third cemetery we visited. You have to see it to believe it:

The tour cost 450 pesos per person, about $51 USD for both of us, including transportation, a meal, and all the mezcal we could drink.

Celebrating the Past and Making New Friends

The last entertainment expense I will mention in more detail is the Gala event for his University of Americas reunion. Alumni who attended the University during the 70s and 80s came to this year’s reunion. When we arrived, Paul only knew a few people; when the four-day reunion was over, we both felt like we had made many new friends. The Gala was a semi-formal event on the last night of the reunion. For both of us, the cost was about $66 USD.

Gloria and Paul at the Gala

Gloria and Paul at the Gala

The other events took place on the University campus as well as at restaurants and bars nearby. Those expenses are reflected in our “Meals Out” category. But one thing you have to see is Paul and the rest of the group enjoying the music at one of the restaurants. We just can’t get that song out of our heads!

Other than these four bigger entertainment expenses, we also:

  • Went to the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City – $6.78 admission
  • Paid Mariachis to sing us two songs at Salon Tenampa in Garibaldi Square, Mexico City – $5.59
  • Visited the National Museum of Art, Mexico City – $5.59 admission
  • Saw the Ballet Folklórico de México at the Bellas Artes – $31.28 for two tickets
  • TuriBus tour of Puebla at night – $8.94
  • Walking tour of the town of Atlixco – $5.49
  • Trolly tour of Puebla (one of the events for Paul’s University reunion) – $16.48
  • Two tickets for a musical entitled “Catrina” for Day of the Dead – $28.36

Everything Else

Healthcare: We both came down with bad head colds by the time we got to Oaxaca. There was an Farmacia Ahorro about two blocks from our hotel so we asked them what they recommended. They sent us next door to the doctor who works there six days a week. He examined Paul, whose cold was about two days ahead of mine. The doctor wrote prescriptions which we filled right next door at the pharmacy. The charge for the doctor: $0. One of the medications we asked for was a vitamin injection of B-complex (they didn’t offer vitamin C injections, which we would have preferred). The schedule was one injection each day for five days. Two days later, when I went to see him, I also got a five-day vitamin kit. So, every day for a total of seven days (Sunday excluded) we stopped by for our injections. Total cost for the doctor: $0. In total, we spent $56.36 for the vitamin injections, cough medicine, and an antihistamine for each of us, plus a bottle of vitamin C tablets.

Laundry Services: When traveling for a month, we only bring enough clothes for 7-10 days. Public laundries are readily available and they are inexpensive. They charge by weight and the clothes come back clean and neatly folded. We had our laundry done six times in all for a total cost of $24.41.

Paul getting a shoe shine in Oaxaca

Paul getting a shoe shine in Oaxaca

Shoe Shines: Paul loves to have his leather shoes shined when we are in Mexico because they do such a good job and it’s so inexpensive. He had it done twice, once in Puebla and once in Oaxaca. Total cost: $2.22

Phone: When we arrived at the Mexico City airport, we bought a Telcel chip for one of our phones. It included enough minutes to last almost our entire trip. Total cost: $10.89.

Hair and Nails: Paul got a haircut at a barbershop near our hotel in Oaxaca for 50 pesos ($2.76) and I got a pedicure at a hair salon for 230 pesos ($12.71).

Purchases for ourselves and for friends: A trip to Mexico always means bringing back wonderful things for ourselves and to give as gifts. For a total of $229.22, we bought:

  • One of the pairs of new shoes for Gloria

    One of the pairs of new shoes for Gloria

    3 shawls

  • 2 pairs of shoes and 3 pairs of socks
  • a leather belt
  • a sunhat
  • 2 UDLAP caps and 1 shirt from Paul’s university
  • 2 woven blouses from Oaxaca
  • a DVD of the Ballet Folklórico de México
  • a CD of over 1,000 photos taken during Paul’s four-day University reunion
  • 8 woven wool coasters purchased from the weavers on our enVia tour

    Wool coasters being woven like the ones we bought

    Wool coasters being woven like the ones we bought

  • 3 containers of mole negro
  • 3 tin Christmas ornaments
  • 4 pairs of earrings
  • 3 refrigerator magnets
  • a hummingbird alebrije (brightly colored Mexican folk art sculpture)
  • an incense burner and two kinds of copal incense
  • a decorative map of Mexico City

We packed a lot into our 30 days in Mexico. We had a great time, and we ate so much wonderful food. This newsletter barely scratchs the surface in describing it. We hope you enjoyed the pictures and videos of our trip and that you saw how we “travel the retire for less way.” Thanks for coming along!

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Tranquil Rental in San Ramón – $900/month with 6-8 month lease


Area: 11658 m2
Construction (under roof): 2000 ft

Bedrooms: 3
Bathrooms: 2
Years Built: 2010

Rent: $900/month, with a 6-8 month lease. Rent includes: Water service, security alarm monitoring service, gardener/caretaker, weekly housekeeping, and garbage pickup. Renter pays electricity, propane gas for hot water and cooking, phone, and internet service.


If you are looking to live in communion with nature, surrounded by wild life including monkeys, parrots, macaws and toucans, with an unobstructed view to the Gulf of Nicoya  and mountains, and with your own river and waterfall behind your property, then this is the place for you.


Secluded but not isolated on over 2 acres, in an area with a healthy mixture of locals and expats, a wonderful community only 5 kilometers (10 minutes) from downtown San Ramon, 45 minutes from the beach, 45 minutes to Juan Santamaria Airport and one hour from San Jose.


The home was built in 2010, is completely furnished (including dishwasher and washer and dryer), has three bedrooms and two baths, hot water throughout, high ceilings, lots of windows, laundry room, pantry and a wonderful, large roofed terrace overlooking the jungle where you will want to spend all your time. Other extras include alarm, exterior shower, ceiling fans and views from every room in the house.










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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