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 call the first-wave of intrepid and visionary investors – the Mavericks. We’ll continue on in the next article with Bob’s next steps and incredible gains on his visionary act.


The Most Precious Real Estate 4


I want to tell you the ocean knows this,         Yo os quiero decir que esto lo sabe el mar,
that life in its jewel boxes                                  que la vida en sus arcas
is endless as the sand                                      es ancha como la arena

As a teenager, I was as inspired by the poetry of Pablo Neruda. So much so, I decided to study English and wrote extensively during my college years in San Luis Obispo, California. I had the good fortune to rent a house on the beach with two friends, who were brothers. The younger brother would frequently bellow, “Thar she blows!” when he spotted a whale’s spout. His brother and I would always drop our books and run to glimpse one of Nature’s great spectacles.

Isla Ballena in the Parque Nacional Marino Ballena

Perhaps fueled by this touch of nostalgia and the fact that I spend almost everyday at the beaches in and around Uvita, I wanted to highlight some of the most precious real estate in Costa Rica— Parque Nacional Marino Ballena.

Parque Nacional Marino Ballena

Created in 1989, the Marino Ballena National Park was the first national marine park in Costa Rica.  It was created to protect the marine ecosystems associated with the beaches, mangroves, islands and a fragile coral reef that turns out to be the largest on the Pacific Coast of Central America.  The park itself stretches from the southern end of Playa Hermosa to the northern end of Playa Piñuela, and a triangular area reaching 9 miles out into the Pacific Ocean.  That triangle also includes the famous Uvita Whale’s Tail, Tres Hermanas (The Three Sisters) and Isla Ballena.  In addition to enhancing ocean view of property in the area, these landmarks are home to thousands of aquatic and terrestrial species.

Whale breaching in the Pacific.

“Ballena” means whale in Spanish.  That’s right… this area is visited every year, primarily between the months of November to early March, by southern and northern hemisphere female humpback whales.  They arrive to give birth and nurture their 14-foot?!! newborn calves in the warm, calm waters of Costa Rica.  Although there are daily whale sightings in the peak season, this majestic mammal is still on the endangered species list.  If you haven’t seen one up close, you might want to consider putting a whale-watching tour out of Uvita on your Bucket List.

Even if you aren’t into the idea of being on a boat in the open ocean, you can still enjoy the experience from land.  I vividly recall one morning at La Parcela (which used to be my favorite spot for breakfast until they stopped serving it!) when my parents were visiting.  We were enjoying our gallo pinto and eggs when a dark blue whale suddenly breached in the middle of the bay.  Over the next half hour, it continued to rise out of the water, twist, and crash down on its side at least 20 times.  It’s safe to say, this was the most memorable breakfast my parents and I have ever shared together.

Return Of The Ridley

The humpback whale is just one of many creatures inhabiting the marine park.  Sea turtles are another ancient animal that return to nest on these specific beaches every year.  Thanks to conservation efforts, Olive Ridley numbers are actually rising in the southern Pacific.  You can see them while snorkeling around the Whale’s Tail or one of the aforementioned islands.  But, let me tell you… if you haven’t seen a baby sea turtle dig out of its sandy nest and instinctively scratch its way to the water, you’re missing out on a truly wondrous experience.

Without question, the great outdoors, including the multiplicity of marine life found in Parque Nacional Marino Ballena, is at the center of this amazing life in The Zone.  It is one of the primary reasons tourists visit and why many of those tourists eventually invest in real estate and/or relocate in this part of Costa Rica.  The immediacy of wildlife in the southern Pacific zone, like a 50-foot whale breaching during breakfast, adds value beyond measure.


About Tigre

My first visit to Costa Rica was in 2002. I immediately fell in love with the warmth of the climate and people. After spending two weeks in San Jose, Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean side, and Tamarindo in Guanacaste, I knew there was a good chance I would return sooner than later. Sooner came just 6 months later when my uncle mentioned he was flying down to Costa Rica to close on a piece of property in the Southern Pacific Zone. On that trip I found my own piece of paradise above the small town of San Buenaventura, home to the San Buenas Golf Resort. Two years and 8 trips later, I decided to move to Costa Rica full time. Every day I am thankful for that decision.


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