After researching Costa Rica in the pages of International Living and seeing the country featured in real estate TV shows, Victoria, 67, and Larry Torley, 65, were ready to check it out for themselves.
And it didn’t take long for them to find a new home.
“On that trip we checked out Jaco,” says Victoria, referring to a popular Central Pacific coast resort town. “But the beach areas are too hot and humid. So we drove up here to Arenal on a Saturday morning. By 5 p.m. we had made an offer on a house.”
Though the couple withdrew that original offer when they found a better deal later in the trip, they knew that the Arenal region, with its centerpiece 33-square-mile lake, was for them. Just three hours from the capital San Jose, this area is becoming increasingly popular with retirees and other expats for the same reasons that drew the Torleys.
“I’m so happy here. The green hills, the blue lake, the great climate—no AC needed…it really is perfect,” says Torley. “When we came here that was the end.”
The couple, from the northeastern United States, moved down in March 2012 and took up residence in their 11-acre property, complete with 20 chickens that provide fresh eggs and grazing cattle (their neighbor’s). Their house is 1,200 square feet. But they spend a lot of time enjoying the lake view and year-round, spring-like climate from their 700-square-foot outdoor space.
“Our furniture is made from trees we had on the property that had fallen down. It would have been three to four times more expensive to have pieces like these made in the U.S.,” says Victoria.
And they’ve saved in other ways. By shopping for fresh produce and avoiding imported American foods, they save on groceries. And medical and dental care has been high-quality and low-cost. An MRI at a private clinic in the large city of Liberia about two hours away was $180. And some upcoming dental work that would have cost $55,000 is going to be just $14,000 with their Costa Rican dentist.
They’ve also found a supportive and active expat community. Victoria founded the Arenal Gardeners soon after arriving.
“I’ve always gardened. But when I moved here I was totally ignorant about what to do. So I started a club. We gather and share information. We have over 100 people. If they all show up for a meeting…God help us,” says Victoria, laughing. “We have coffee, cacao, Surinam cherries, orchids—you can find them by the side of the road—passionflower vines, poinsettias, heliconias… With 11 acres you have room for anything you want to grow.
“Aside from the gardening club, the couple is active in the twice a week community breakfasts, book club, and other groups. And Larry is starting to sail on the lake, a favorite activity from childhood he’s taken up again.
“There’s something in the air in Arenal. The people who move here are inquisitive…more open…more vibrant,” explains Victoria. “I am more active here than I ever was in the U.S. I have a big circle of friends. And I don’t think it’s just because we’re retired.”