Over the last five years, Costa Rica has been transformed in some small ways we now take for granted. Living here will never be the same again. This list is a tribute to change, innovation, and the men and women in Costa Rica who make it happen.
1. Online National Registry
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that to get anything done in Costa Rica you need a piece of paper with a stamp on it. Before 2010, when the online service Registro Digital was launched, you had to stand in a long line at the National Registry or an attorney would bill you for the privilege. Now you can download a certificate from the comfort of your own desk.
2. Highway #27
The “Highway of the Sun”is the infrastructure project that everyone loves to hate. True, it did not win any civil engineering prizes and the private financing raised eyebrows. But we forget that a trip to the beach before 2010 was a military operation. Nowadays, city folks are an iPod playlist and five toll booths away from the delights of the Pacific. Brunch in Jacó, anyone?
3. 3G Cellphone Network
Before 2009, Costa Rica was in a cellphone Jurassic age. The network was fondly called TDMA. Getting your hands on a telephone line was a Herculean task. Multimedia referred to a txt msg that u hd 2 write like this. A smartphone was one with FM radio. Fast-forward through a lot of political blood-letting, the liberalization of the sector and some 3G towers, and here we are in a very different reality. How did we ever survive without WhatsApp?
4. SINPE Online Bank Transfers
SINPE is the catchy name given to the system, developed by the Central Bank of Costa Rica, that allows you to make a local bank transfer online. It launched a real-time transfer service in 2011. SINPE now processes more than 25,000 transactions a day. This phenomenon significantly reduced our exposure to psychological damage from visiting Costa Rican bank branches.
5. National Stadium
The chance of seeing a big-name concert or game in San Joséwas quite low before the new stadium opened in 2010. San Joséis now one of only a few Latin America stops on world tours of stars such as Paul McCartney, Pearl Jam and Lady Gaga. We should thank the People’s Republic of China for its gesture of selfless international diplomacy.
6. Craft Beer
It started with Segua in 2010 and quickly evolved into different tones, flavors and labels. There is even now an annual beer festival. Before the craft beer revolution in Costa Rica, when the bartender asked you which beer you wanted, it was a rhetorical question ironically suggesting that you actually had a choice. A night out with hipsters in San Joséwill never be the same again.
7. Apartment Towers
Glossy apartment towers started to dot the San Joséskyline only recently and have now become something of a fashion (read: bubble). Among the professional classes of San José, vertical has become the new horizontal. Sabana Park, if you close your eyes a little, is now the next Central Park. Career opportunities opened up exponentially for local elevator technicians.
8. Urban Train Service
Although many readers may not be regular users, the restoration of the cross-town rail network during the last five years is a small but important victory in the campaign for public transport in San José. The lack of any safety measures at crossings, thick clouds of diesel and the deafening horn all contribute to a feeling of disruptive innovation.
9. WAZE Navigation App
Number 9 in the list requires no comment. Since 2012, both Ticos and Expats have become devoted worshippers at the temple of Waze, grateful that their prayers were finally answered with a tool to make sense of the road traffic system of this fine country. It is also rumored to be handy on the day of your car license-plate restriction.
10. Brazil 2014
Forget independence from Spain two hundred years ago. When La Sele made it to the quarterfinals of the Football World Cup, Costa Rica came of age. Yes there was Italy 1990, but we didn’t have Facebook back then, so it was different. During June and July 2014, what Costa Rica lost in economic productivity, it gained several times over in happiness, self-confidence and sales of beer.
Theo Mills is an investment banker from London who has lived and worked happily in San José since 2008. For these and other reasons, he predicts San José is on its way to becoming one of the top cities of Latin America.