Touring Costa Rica

245_010-Sign_at_El_RefugioIn the course of examining countless websites concerning Costa Rica I came across George Lundquist. George conducts a tour specifically designed to expose his group to places in Costa Rica where you can live reasonably, thus the name of his tour, “Retire in Costa Rica on Social Security.”
Because of impending proposed changes to the residency that would make it more difficult to qualify as a “Pensionado” or a retired resident of Costa Rica I had started the residency process and sent a small deposit to a Costa Rican attorney. I was having trouble communicating with the attorney and finally called George and asked for help. He checked it out and determined that the attorney was experiencing some major personal problems and suggested that I would be better off with an attorney he had used in the past. I took his suggestion and switched attorneys for our residency. This is a topic I will cover in a separate post, but dealing with George convinced me that we should take his tour, so we signed up for the September 2004 tour.
We consider George’s tour to be a pretty good deal. For a little over $1000.00 he picked us up Sunday morning and until Wednesday night all expenses were covered. That included a nine passenger van and driver; stay at a local B&Bs for three nights; meals; his guided tour and, although I don’t drink, it even covered the beer. And that was for the two of us.
We spent the first night at the Hotel Villa Bonita in Alajuela. This is a very nice B&B only five minutes from the airport. It is clean, secure and the rooms and food are excellent. It is also reasonable, around $40.00 per night. George picked us up at 7:00 am and we met the rest of the group at the Vida Tropical, also in Alajuela, and a popular B&B owned by Jose Pelleya.

That is where Mary met George, the monkey, and found out, as she tried to get George’s non-opposable thumbs out of her hair, that monkeys were not like cats.
It was a whirlwind tour. George gave us sheets on which we could rate each area we visited for those features we considered important, such as, proximity to hospitals and shopping; density of other Canadian-Americans; cost of housing and other living expenses; availability of rentals and homes for purchase; climate and scenic views; and any other points each person on the tour deemed important.There were six on our tour, two married couples and two single men. Each of us had many needs that were the same and some that were much different.
First we visited Randy and Rhonda Berg in Grecia and then we went to Sarchi, Naranjo and Zarcero before landing at Jose Pelleya’s Rancho Lobo on Sunday night Both Randy and Jose’s area had a lot to offer and we had a chance to discuss the pros and cons of each area.
On Monday we went through Atenas, which is billed as having the world’s most perfect climate, and also visited several other towns in the Central Valley until we wound up at the Las Alturas de Puriscal, a B&B owned and operated by a Canadian couple Bob and Patsy Melnuk. Las Alturas was magnificent and we fell in love with it as well as with Bob and Patsy. Of all the B&B owners Bob and Patsy are most perfectly suited for this difficult profession. They really make their guests feel like part of the family. Patsy manages the B&B, while Bob oversees the 315 acres that make up the ranch and estate. They have six rooms and a two cabinas that can be rented on a longer term basis. The finca has over 1200 orange trees, 4 ½ acres of coffee, a few hundred lime trees and is definitely a major operation. Bob and Patsy also own a beautiful home about 2K away that they built for their retirement home before they bought the finca. Their Casa plays an important part in our life as we now lease it on a long term basis, more about the Casa later.
We visited George’s property, Dos Vistas de Pacifica and several other properties in the Puriscal area. We fell in love with this area and when we left Monday night it ranked high on our list. As well as visiting various properties for sale or rent we also got to talk to Americans and Canadians who had relocated to Costa Rica and got a chance to hear the pros and cons of Costa Rica Living. Most was positive, but we did pick up on a few things that were going to require some adjustment. We will cover the negatives and our methods of dealing with them in another post.
On Tuesday we hit more towns and wound up at the Pico Blanco, high up on Escazu Mountain at around 4800 feet. I think any visit to Costa Rica should include a visit or stay at the PB. It is an eclectic hotel with a great restaurant, nice rooms, reasonable prices and probably the best views of the Central Valley around. We had a great time there and subsequently have stopped there during another trip.
George’s tour wound up on Wednesday with a tour of the Orosi Valley, which we consider another great place to visit. We had lunch at the Sanchiri lodge, another of our favorite places and stopped at the Casa del Soñodor (house of the dreamer) where you can buy figurines hand carved out of coffee roots very inexpensively.
After George’s tour was finished we spent Wednesday night at the PB and Thursday we took a cab back out to Puriscal and stayed two more nights with Bob and Patsy.
It was a jam-packed week. We visited over 20 towns, stopped at over 30 properties or houses and talked to over 20 different people in the Central Valley. George really gives you your money’s worth and we were pretty pooped so a couple of days of rest in Puriscal were definitely refreshing.
After looking, talking and asking a thousand questions the areas that fit our needs best were Sarchi, San Ramon and Puriscal. They all seemed to be reasonable places to live with nice climates and available housing either to rent or buy, but ranking highest on our list was the Puriscal area. It is a beautiful area within 25 miles of San Jose and the airport, and only has a few, 150 or so, gringos, with readily available shopping and housing. I guess what really put this area high on our list was the fact that Bob and Patsy and George and his wife Aija live here and we felt we would get a lot of help from them during our initial relocation. We definitely didn’t want to live in San Jose, and Escazu, Santa Anna, and Cuidad Colon were too expensive. Other places were too hot or cold or too windy or too congested. But in the final analysis there were several places in Costa Rica we felt could live very comfortably on Social Security. So George’s tour had met its goal.
After returning to Texas we started working on our residency and making the move to Costa Rica. We were committed, BUT before we got to Costa Rica I thought we were going to be really committed—–to an asylum