When potential expats hear about Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, the first thing that usually comes to mind are the many islands of the Caribbean with their beautiful white-sand beaches. Unfortunately, Costa Rica’s Caribbean side is very different for a variety of reasons. In the 27 years that I have been conducting relocation tours I have not had one client move there.
The South Caribbean, as the area is known, is small, comprising a handful of beach towns. Cahuita, about 30 miles south of the city of Limón, and Puerto Viejo, to the south, are the most suitable places for living.
Cahuita, was a more popular town, but Puerto Viejo has taken over. The main attractions are watersports such as snorkeling and surfing and the Caribbean lifestyle. A number of Europeans and Americans have found their slice of paradise living here.
So why don’t I recommend the Caribbean to expats as a relocation destination?
1. Medical Care
First and foremost is medical care. As one ages, good health care is of paramount importance since in some cases it can mean the difference between life and death. Hospital Dr. Tony Facio Castro is the only major medical facility on the whole Caribbean coast and is located in Limón, the areas major city.
It is a public medical center and is often overrun with patients like most of its counterparts throughout the country. The best public and private hospitals in the country are located in and around the city San José in the Central Valley.
2. Living Options
The 150-mile Caribbean coast extends from the border with Nicaragua in the north to the border with Panama in the south. So, it not as nearly long as country’s 630-mile Pacific coast and thus offers fewer options for living.
The Caribbean is also the most crime ridden and violent part of the country, mainly due to the presence of the drug trade. Consequently, the province of Limón has a mostly drug-related homicide rate of 34.5 per hundred thousand inhabitants. This figure is notably higher than Costa Rica’s national average of around 12 per 100,000.
Gangs are always vying for control of the local drug market with most homicides being the result of vendettas and fighting for territories. There are few extremely violent neighborhoods in Limón where gangs operate, like the infamous Cieneguita. Fortunately, this crime wave hasn’t affected many expats directly, but it is something to be aware of in order to stay out of harm’s way.
Another factor to consider is that it’s about 160 kilometers (about 100 miles) and four-hour drive partially over an often-treacherous mountain highway from San José, through a rain forest down to the coastal plains, the port city of Limón and to the southern Caribbean area.
Finally, potential residents should be aware that shopping and other services are not up to par with those in the Central Valley. So, at times one is faced with making long drive to obtain certain hard-to-find items.
The purpose of this article is not to spoil anyone’s dream of living on the Caribbean side of the country but to make future expats aware of some of its shortcomings. Indeed, due diligence and research are important while trying to decide where to settle in Costa Rica. Making the right choice can be the difference between success and failure when moving here.
About the Author
Christopher Howard Costa Rica’s foremost relocation expert and has been conducting monthly relocation/retirement tours to Costa Rica for over 30 years. See www.liveincostarica.com. He is also the author of the one- of-a-kind bestselling, New Golden Door to Retirement and Living in Costa Rica — the official guide to relocation and “Guide to Costa Rican Spanish,” that may be purchased through: www.costaricabooks.com or www.amazon.com