Costa Rica History in knife metaphorI’d say that about 1/10th of my time spent with people looking to buy property in Costa Rica’s Southern Pacific zone is spent in the actual buying/selling of property. The other 9/10ths is a mix of conversations regarding what’s involved with living here, as well as discussing the business of real estate in Costa Rica.

At its core, the lack of an actual MLS (Multiple Listing Service) colors all aspects of the business here, and I’ll go into that later on in this series. To really understand the business of real estate here, I have found it helpful to go back in time and see the progression of events up to the present. This helps to not only understand the current market but also, to project what is to come.

Early days:
I got into real estate in Dominical in 2004. It felt like the day I got into real estate was the day that someone threw the on-off switch on the market. Since then I’ve heard some tales indicating that the market was already simmering and poised to boil.

I made a sale on my first day in the business. A $60,000 gorgeous ocean view property sized at around 2 acres.  The property featured Uvita’s Whales Tail front and center. That property has gone on to have a lovely home, guest house and pool built on it. It has been re-sold and enjoys a stellar vacation rental history (link to rental page on HomeAway)

Quick overview of The Zone:
The Zone is made up of a string of 3 towns with Dominical at its northern end. The northern boundary is not a hard line but is decidedly fuzzy, easily extending up to Hatillo and at times, up to Portalon. (link to Hills of Portalon Development).

From Dominical heading south on the coastal highway you get to Uvita and then further south, to Ojochal. The area between Dominical and Uvita has a nicely laid out mountain range that runs very parallel to the ocean. Hence the handle “coastal mountain range” This means that you can travel inland from the beach just a short way and get to elevation where it is breezy and cool and offers expansive views of the ocean and coastline, attributes which make this area extremely desirable to investors, relocators and migrators (part-of-the-year residents).

More History:
Before the incoming press of foreign interest in The Zone, the Ticos (Costa Ricans) owned all the land, and their land holdings were always in the multi-hectares (1 hectare = 2.48 acres. Think 2.5 to make it easy).

There was a time in the not too distant past when land in Costa Rica was nearly value-less. There were land-grant programs whereby a man simply had to be willing to take responsibility for a property and the government would “grant” him the land, with conditions.

At that time it was not known that “nature” had a lucrative aspect to it. Instead nature was largely viewed as “in the way” and needed to be tamed, subdued or eliminated. So, one of the conditions to receiving a land grant was to cut the trees down and raise cattle.

I suspect that this era may have coincided with the “McDonalds” explosion. This is an arguable point, so let’s just say it coincided with an extreme demand in the U. S. (and world) for beef.

After some time of cutting down enormous canopy trees and attempting to raise cattle in former rain-forest environs, there was a shift in our world’s appetites; nature became an important commodity. Granted, beef has continued to be an active commodity, but it was also learned that former rain forest land doesn’t necessarily make for the best pasture land.

Raising cattle in Costa Rica was a daunting struggle. The farmers found themselves up against nature. Having to maintain former rain forest jungle land in “pasture” condition presented its trials, as well as the fact that the beef business (exporting meat, bureaucratic inefficiencies, and 3rd world infrastructure or lack thereof) made a guy scratch his head and wonder if having all this land was such a good idea.

The Tico culture was/is multi-generational. These large, granted tracts of land, would end up being populated by the man who acquired the land, his now grown sons & daughters and their families, and the grand kids (soon to also have families.)

So despite having lots of land, a condition that in first-world countries equates to being wealthy, these farmers were subsistence. They lived off of what their land produced. As a child would grow to adulthood, Abuelo (abuelo = grandfather) would simply build them a house and apportion off some land (or not) and they would continue on contributing to the sustenance of the family. The land itself was not thought of in lucrative terms.

Abuelo just happened to acquire a land grant on, let’s say, 60 hectares of land that reaches from the inland side of the maritime zone on the coast up to the highest point of the coastal mountain ridge. He’s not thinking “oh boy! I’ve got some ocean view land here.” No, he’s thinking: “man I hope this land is fertile.”

Enter foreigner:
One day Bob, a tourist, is exploring the area and decides that he’d like to buy Abuelo’s property. Bob offers Abuelo $60,000 for the land. Abuelo has never even considered the remote possibility of maybe someday having such a sum. In fact, he’s never even seen that much money. He talks it over with his family and they (very understandably) feel that this would be a wonderful thing for them to do. So, they sell their land.

Bos is a visionary. He sees what is likely coming and so he stakes his early claim. Now, keep in mind that there is no electricity to this property, the access is horseback and the water is from a nearby spring that is bubbling out of the ground. Abuelo has run a pipe from the spring to an elevated storage tank near the family homes. Bob’s a visionary in that – what foreigner in their right mind would possibly want such a remote and forbidding piece of land?

To understand this is to understand the element that is credited with making the world go round. We all have different likes and dislikes. I wonder at the likes of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Paul Allen’s level of focus on the personal home computing idea at the time that they had that focus. I’m not of this ilk and so my hat is off to such ones. I view the early investors here in The Zone as being made of the same stuff.

In looking back over the history of the first wave of investors here, I marvel at their foresight. My then wife and I looked at some Whales Tail view property in Uvita around 2002 and, despite its being gorgeous and nicely priced, I felt that it was simply too remote. This was in the same area where 2 years later I sold my first property.

Ok, so I said that to understand the real estate market here in Costa Rica, it helps one to know a bit of the history. Granted, we’ve gone back to what I appropriately call the first-wave of intrepid and visionary investors – The Visionaries. We’ll continue on in the next article with Bob’s next steps and incredible gains on his visionary act.

Sierpe Del Pacifico – On The River, Off The Grid 2

Writing a blog about Costa Rica real estate has its perks. We’ve got readers out there who are doing some pretty creative projects and we don’t even know about them… until they get ready to go to market with their project. Such is the case with Sierpe Del Pacifico (SDP). Fred and his son Cassidy approached Rod & I about a month ago to tell us about their project in Sierpe. I think that this type of inquiry wouldn’t normally have much interest to us Guys, but Fred had written such an eloquent and well crafted introductory e-mail that we were intrigued.


Sierpe is a bit out of the way, on the fringe of “The Zone”. I’ve also heard that it is hot and buggy. I’m not much for hot and buggy, but in truth I couldn’t speak from personal experience regarding the place, so I kept an open mind.

What Fred & Cassidy have done is they have formed a father & son team and are passionately developing a piece of property that offers what, I suspect, a lot of readers of this blog are looking for: a truly unplugged, solar powered, bio-digesting, boat access project, surrounded by some of the best fishing, both fresh water, brackish and deep sea, in the… country? World? I don’t know, but you always catch big, tasty fish when you go out with them.
We met in Sierpe where I parked my car and looked a little hesitant at Cassidy when he said to just leave it there as we started walking towards the boat. He saw my concern and said that Sierpe is one of the most crime free areas he’s ever seen.

We walked past the Sierpe jail, which had no door on it. They said that on the rare occasion that there is a resident there, and he needs to use the nearby bathroom, he stands in the door and waves at whoever may be nearby, and they have the community responsibility to escort the “prisoner” to the baño and back. If the prisoner were to just go it alone, he’d get in some kind of trouble.

This feel of community, safety, and security permeated our day along the Sierpe River.

Guillermo is the man in charge of pretty much everything having to do with SDP. Lean and clear eyed, Guillermo was born and raised in Sierpe, and is one of the pillars in the local community. He works full time for Fred & Cassidy, and has nicely interfaced the necessary connections between the cultures there. Gringo’s and Ticos, working together with a common interest in preserving some of the most profoundly natural terrain on planet earth.

We got in the boat and were expertly glided down the Sierpe about 10 minutes to the private dock that services SDP. All residents of SDP get their own slip included in the purchase of a property there. The prices in the project range from $40,000 to $225,000, depending largely on the river views. This compares nicely with a project up in Quepos where just the slip alone will run you $175,000.

The ocean tide is what affects the flow of the river. Sierpe has a constant floating bio-mass of what the locals call “lechuga” which translates to “lettuce”. It isn’t edible, but just looks a bit lettuce-like. There are some flowering lilies as well – gorgeous. The effect is that you can tell whether the tide is coming in or going out by what direction the lechuga is moving. When we got there in the morning, it was all moving inland. When we returned in the afternoon, it was all flowing towards the ocean.

The fact is, that waters around Sierpe are teeming with fish of all kinds. Red Snapper, snook, sea bass, robalo (not sure what the translation is of that) and more. The crocs, birds, and people are all well fed thanks to the larder provided by the earth.

To truly unplug, this is the place to do it. You can grow some of planet earth’s tastiest fruits and vegetables on your property. You can hop in your boat and catch your protein needs for the day. Pluck a couple of mandarin limes off of your tree, catch a red snapper, and concoct your own signature touch ceviche.

We visited the model home, a rustic, well built 800 square foot villa on one of the lots. We enjoyed the air motion provided by the ceiling fan, and marveled at the LED 60 watt light bulbs that generated a normal amount of lighting needs for the living space – all solar powered. The view off of the elevated patio was of a virgin primary stand of rain forest where monkeys, parrots, parakeets, and all other manner of wildlife can be seen. The cup of coffee made on the propane stove was stellar. We found ourselves delaying departure even though we still had a good amount of property to walk.

The properties are gorgeous, and well priced based on their inherent amenities: view, building pad, accessibility. Oh, there are no cars in SDP. You arrive by boat, and you walk, or use a quad-runner, (ATV) to get around. All internal roads are narrow and couldn’t accommodate the passing of a car. The mangroves are a huge value-ad. We stopped and watched a family of about 25 pizotes cross our path up ahead. Toucans, woodpeckers and on it goes.

To live off of the grid, in self sufficiency, must be a wonderfully secure feeling. I’ve never personally experienced it, but I have certainly experienced the draw of the lifestyle.

We’ll be posting more about SDP as we come to know the project better.

2 thoughts on “Sierpe Del Pacifico – On The River, Off The Grid

  • Dhenley15

    Hi Guys–I was interested to read your review of Sierpe del Pacifico, as I am looking around for a sustainable development to invest in despite these down economic times. Their lot prices don’t seem discounted to me at all–225K just for a river view–wonder what you think of their deals?–A house w/ some sort of panels between framing seems cheesey and is priced over 300K! and everyhouse built seems to be for sale–people getting tired of needing to board a boat when they want to shop?.

    Anyway, my comment is this: I was surprised you showed no concern at leaving your car at the dock at Sierpe. While we waited to board a boat for Drake Bay w/in 3 ” of standing with and transferring our backpacks to the boat a small group of teens had already lifted everything they could from our bags from flashlights to penknives. They seem to have made aliving that way they were so slick. But that’s just a postscript: I wouldn’t trust leaving my car for ten minutes let alone an extended day. My impression of the S. Zone’s no-door jail w/ no prisoners is because there is no police to arrest them! Or even operable patrol cars! The one chkpt by Baru is the only presence I’ve seen and according to CAP, the last report had a couple people being tied up and robbed at shotgun point along the first ridge of homes in Dominical. Scared to buy now. Care to comment?!

    • Ben Vaughn

      Hello Dave,

      Many thanks for your thoughts. Crime here in Costa Rica is certainly different than anything I have experienced anywhere else.

      I have been the poster child for CAP and crime in The Zone, due to the fact that I was nearly killed by a thief after confronting him in the act of burglarizing my home, and then chasing him in my car and ending up getting a bat to the head.

      The repeated stories of thievery here can be a bit disconcerting. Personally, I find myself in a position of “picking one’s poison”. I have chosen to live in Costa Rica, and continue to do so, despite its negatives. When I look around at the world and consider where I want to live, I conceptually pick a spot, let’s say someplace in the US. I then consider the pluses and minuses of the decision, and I keep coming back to Costa Rica as having more pluses for me, AND less minuses, than elsewhere.

      The crime thing here is a definite booger on the quality of life, but I choose to live with this, and in fact believe that it is manageable. By being informed, and thinking about the prevailing conditions, wherever we are, we can avoid a lot of the problems. There seem to be boogers on life no matter where one goes. We humans have done a pretty good job of mis-managing the planet at large.

      My thoughts on Sierpe are similar to my thoughts on going to the beach:
      don’t leave anything in the car. Sometimes I even leave the glove
      compartment open and the doors unlocked. The roving band of punk thieves
      might take a quick gander through the car, but won’t do any damage, nor
      take anything since there is nothing to take. A sting would be a good
      idea. The video surveillance that CAP is putting up around Dominical has
      put nearly 15 of these guys in jail since its inception. While in jail,
      they evidently talk a bit and it would seem that word is getting out that
      The Zone is not the place to ply their trade and so they need to move on to
      greener pastures. Crime is currently on the decline here.

      I welcome this discussion and look forward to your response. Crime has had
      a HUGE impact on my life and I think that it is a service to my clients to
      openly discuss it.

      Ben Vaughn