Why San Ramón, Costa Rica?

by Andrew Mastrandonas

City of Poets & Presidents . . . and Organic Living

When people think about where to live in Costa Rica, they are often drawn to the white-sand beaches of Guanacaste or the party atmosphere of Jacó and Manuel Antonio.  Others like the hustle and bustle of San José’s tony suburbs such as Escazú, Heredia, and Santa Ana.  Through the work of various travel agencies, the Costa Rican government, real estate developers, and personal references, these areas have become havens for foreign professionals, retirees, and investors.

In recent years, particularly with a huge number of U.S. baby boomers beginning to retire and prices on the rise in the more traditional expat areas, people are discovering the country’s smaller cities and towns.  As they approach retirement and consider their options in Costa Rica, more people are looking to return to a less-hurried pace of life.  They value close-knit communities, a clean environment, and less crime. After a sometimes stressful life in their home countries, people want to live the “rich” lifestyle they have earned, while not breaking the bank.  With a year-round springtime climate, stable infrastructure and variety of important services, several smaller towns in the Central Valley are attracting the attention of those considering retirement today or in the next few years.

Overview of San Ramón

San Ramón, located in the province of Alajuela about 45 minutes northwest of San José, and 35 minutes from Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO), is one such town.  It is growing in popularity among expats but is still largely untouched by the foreign masses.  Its proximity to the “Pacific slope” requires only a 35-minute drive to the coast.  Residents enjoy a very comfortable climate all year, but may still take advantage of the beaches for day-trips or overnight adventures.  While barely noticed just a few short years ago, San Ramón has become the “up-and-coming area” for North American and European retirees who wish to experience the real Costa Rica but do not want to give up the activities and services important to them.

San Ramón has an historic past with some of this country’s most well-known political and literary figures having grown up or residing here.  Four ex-presidents are from this formerly sleepy town and the modern Costa Rican democracy was born here through the work of the country’s most famous statesman, Jose Figueres Ferrer (Don Pepe).

With roughly 70,000 people in and around this “City of Poets and Presidents,” at 3,400 feet above sea level, it is the economic and commerce hub for the western Central Valley, producing sugar cane, coffee, and a wide variety of fruit and vegetables.  San Ramón boasts a shopping mall, modern movie theater, cultural center/museum, and many supermarkets and restaurants.  It also has one of the largest outdoor markets in the Central Valley which comes alive on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings with vendors selling many types of food and farm-fresh produce.

There is a major hospital, many doctors’ offices, and the only branch of the University of Costa Rica outside of San José.   At night, particularly on the weekends, the city comes alive with a number of restaurants, bars and discos.  If the loud music of the club scene is not your thing, you’ll probably enjoy strolling through the town’s quaint park which is across the street from the imposing Gothic-style church.  While the park often serves as the central venue for a variety of annual events, it is also just a short walk from San Ramón’s museum that tells the story of the important role played by leading residents in the political and cultural development of the country.

San Ramón’s best-kept secret is its awe-inspiring views in some areas that are like no other in the Central Valley.  Because of the town’s high altitude and westward-facing position towards the Pacific Coast, a number of very close-in suburbs offer views that encompass a huge swath of coastline, all the way south to Jacó and north to Puntarenas and beyond.  Of course, with a direct view of the ocean, sunsets are stunning and the lights of several coastal cities come alive at dusk.

Properties

The expat population generally lives in communities surrounding San Ramón, primarily to its north and west, with a few more city-oriented people preferring downtown. The vast majority of foreign retirees are purchasing land and building homes in an area called Magallanes that offers mountain, valley or ocean views—and all three in many cases—while only a five-minute drive to the center of town.  This area is quickly becoming the “place to be” in San Ramón where expats are now building higher quality homes.  And, because San Ramón is still largely undiscovered by foreigners—there are perhaps 60–80 full-time retirees—real estate with “million dollar California” views is still available at a fraction of the cost in the U.S. or Europe.

Large tracts of land can still be found in the San Ramón area for reasonable prices if a hobby farm, horse farm, or investment in creating a residential development is of interest. Currently, the inventory of North American-style homes in San Ramón is not keeping up with demand, although there are a number of land/lot options for building custom homes.

Premium building lots with Pacific Ocean and mountain views are located in the Magallanes section of San Ramón ranging from less than $40,000 to about $100,000.  Not many nearby Central Valley towns can make this claim for 1.25 acre lots.

San Ramón for Organic Living

San Ramón is becoming better known as a place for organic living and now has several residential communities underway that are being developed on existing or converted organic soil with oversight by one of the country’s leading experts in organic farming and living.  CR Communities (http://www.crcommunities.com), the leading builder of ocean-view properties in San Ramón, is spearheading this effort with all of its properties including Pacific Hills, Organic Views, and Organic Heaven either being built on organic soil or being converted to organic.

In addition to going organic, CR Communities has embraced a number of key environmental principles in all of its residential projects:

Protection of the land: Developing all projects in ways that minimize the environmental impact on the land including disturbing as few plants and trees as possible, utilizing the existing terrain to maximum benefit, and not impacting natural waterways.  In addition, chemicals will not be used in any aspect of its development project or to maintain common areas and flowers/plants.

Low density: Projects strive to have a limited number of home sites with projects ranging from only 8 to 17 lots.  By having less lots, most with over an acre of land, the company is committed to building communities that blend with the traditions of the area and the natural environment.

Efficient and environmentally responsible building: Home construction contractors are dedicated to doing everything possible to build homes in an environmentally responsible and efficient manner.  This includes using the natural grade of the land in order to not disturb plants and wildlife, efficient use of building materials and consideration of alternative construction products that are made from all-natural material and are more energy efficient.

For those interested in leading a healthier lifestyle in paradise, CR Communities has retained a leading organic farmer to serve as its property manager and to promote organic living within its projects.  Additional information can be found here: http://www.crcommunities.com/TheGreenMan.pdf

Enjoying the Area

For the active retiree, there are plenty of options in San Ramón for meeting other people, getting involved in activities, and visiting local attractions.  Many expats head to Café Delicias, a 10-minute walk northwest of the town square for a hearty breakfast or an afternoon coffee.  A number of groups regularly meet in the restaurant’s spacious dining area to catch up on local gossip or participate in a number of volunteer groups.  In the evening, things really get going at Mirador Los Poetas, a bar and restaurant offering nightly karaoke along with stunning views of the city below.  Other terrific restaurants include Bocaditos, known for its excellent fish dishes, and Mario’s Steakhouse, known for grass-fed, aged angus beef of the same quality found in the United States, Argentina or Brazil.

San Ramón has a terrific water park with multiple pools, water-slides, and a towering natural waterfall.  Las Musas, about 15 minutes west of town, is an inexpensive and great place to spend a sunny day with your family and friends—and its restaurant is a hidden gem.

For those wanting a “Monteverde-type” rain forest adventure, it’s not necessary to drive three hours to get a very similar experience—with many less tourists.  The Los Angeles Cloud Forest, only about nine miles north of town off the main road to the Arenal Volcano, is a terrific way to spend the day.  Due to the air coming in from the northern plains along with the humidity of the Caribbean basin clashing in this area, the result is a nearly constant cloud cover.  Beneath the clouds you’ll find a huge variety of plant and animal life that has adapted well to this climate.   You’ll see all types of plants including mosses, orchids and even wild blueberries.  With over 250 species of birds, it’s a bird watcher’s paradise.  You may also be lucky to see howler monkeys, sloths and tapirs living in the trees of this dense forest.  There are number of activities available here including hiking, horseback riding and canopy tours.  Expert guides supervise all activities and oftentimes you may have one these friendly guides all to yourself.  When your activities are over, consider having lunch or dinner at the upscale VillaBlanca hotel and resort, just a short drive directly up the road from the cloud forest.  It’s a great way to end your day.

If you need a place to stay in San Ramón, a variety of small hotels downtown serve tourists and business travelers, however, they tend to be in somewhat noisy areas.  For an alternative, consider Casa Amanecer (http://www.casa-amanecer-cr.com/) a quaint and reasonably priced B&B on the outskirts of downtown San Ramon.  The B&B is only a five-minute drive from the center of town, shopping and services, and its hosts Chris and Luisa will treat you well.

It’s nearly impossible to describe in a brief article all that San Ramón has to offer.  With its friendly people, stunning environment, peaceful lifestyle, numerous activities and affordable cost of living, it is worth exploring the area and finding out more about real estate options in this undiscovered gem.

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