International Living Recent Article on the Caribbean and Limon

Costa Rica’s “Forgotten Coast” Could Boom

Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2008

Dear International Living Reader,

Every day it seems like Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast attracts more visitors—not just tourists from other countries, but also Costa Ricans themselves. Restaurants, hotels, nightclubs, and beaches are all surprisingly busy at a time of year when the pace usually slows down. Other parts of Costa Rica are certainly getting their fair share of visitors, but the Caribbean coast—especially the southern part of it—is more popular than ever.

Real estate prices already reflect that optimism. The property market on the Pacific has taken a slight hit from the downturn in the U.S. economy. Prices on the Caribbean coast, however, are rising at around 5% a year.

For the time being, bargains are easy to find around the Caribbean. In an upscale neighborhood of Cahuita, just north of Puerto Viejo, a two-bedroom house was recently for sale for $125,000. The residence is a five-minute walk from the beach. Closer to Puerto Viejo, a larger two-bedroom house on property with a tropical garden was listed at $168,000. Not far away, in the beachfront town of Cocles, a new one-bedroom house had a list price of $142,000. The house is a 10-minute walk to the beach and close to restaurants and grocery stores.

Puerto Viejo is a village on the coast known for its gorgeous beaches, superb surfing, and Caribbean music. At night, many of the streets are also crowded in the provincial capital of Puerto Limón, about 35 miles up the coast. In Limón, there’s often music in the streets, and hotels are doing a brisk business.

So what’s attracting people to the Caribbean? For decades, so many visitors have flocked to Jacó and Quepos on Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast that busy weekends in these towns can remind you of Ft. Lauderdale. While not as crowded, the north Pacific is getting the reputation of a “millionaire’s playground.” Whether the description is justified or not, the area has definitely become expensive.

The Caribbean, by contrast, is a bargain. Dinner for two at a fine restaurant usually costs less than $30. Most hotels in Limón charge less than $50 a night for a room for two. On the beach, an air-conditioned cottage for two costs about $80 a night during the summer and not much more during the winter, when temperatures are slightly lower and there’s less rain.

The Caribbean coast is easy to reach. It’s about two and a half hours by car from San José, and a flight from the capital to the Limón regional airport takes around 20 minutes.

When you visit the Caribbean coast, you’ll see a part of Costa Rica that’s not widely known. It’s home to many of the country’s native American residents, as well as those of Jamaican origin. As a result of the Jamaican heritage, the area’s cuisine, music, and architecture are very different from what you’ll find in other parts of the country. Moreover, English is spoken by a high percentage of the population.

But right now something else is attracting visitors to the Caribbean: curiosity. Costa Ricans and foreigners alike are eager to see the first stages of work on a multimillion-dollar project to enlarge the port near Limón and add important infrastructure to the city. The project, partly funded by the World Bank, is designed to make the Caribbean coast competitive with the Pacific. If the current surge in visitors is any indication, the Caribbean will easily succeed.

No one in the area thinks that deals like these will last. As one hotel owner put it, the Caribbean is hot—and he wasn’t referring to the climate.

Don Ediger
For International Living