This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Understanding Costa Rica Real Estate

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.


The Latest News for Uvita, Costa Rica 1


What’s in a name? In the case of our company, I’ve heard comments about the name “Guys in the Zone” that range from: “not professional” to “that’s cool”. It all came about quite innocently. Spend any time at all in The Zone, and you’ll hear the term “The Zone” somewhere. We are a string of small towns and neighborhoods all along the southern pacific coastline of Costa Rica. From just north of Dominical, let’s say from Portalon south to Palmar Norte.

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The Zone: Where the mountains meet the Pacific Ocean.

The area around Dominical (named after a type of short banana called a dominico) caters to a large degree to tourism.  Dominical beach is world famous for its consistent break and is a challenge for the best of surfers.  So in Dominical you’ll find lots of surf shops, surf camps, surf schools and surfers from all over the world.  There are a few restaurants and gift shops as well.

There is a rather large-ish flat area around Dominical that is currently undefined.  I suspect that in time it will house various services and shops for the tourism industry: restaurants, hotels, shops, tours etc… But the area really isn’t that large. And, the area is finite.  It has the Baru river on one side, and it has the coastal mountain range running at an angle that pinches the usable flat area down to a configuration of a slice of pizza. There is room for growth there in Dominical, but not much.

The room for growth is in Uvita (meaning- little grape). The coastal mountain range that snugs up against the beach at Dominical, runs parallel to the ocean along the zone between Dominical and Uvita. At Uvita, the coastal mountain range angles inland and then comes back toward the ocean. This results in a triangular rim of mountains creating a bowl-like configuration around the flats that are Uvita. But that’s not all.

Right at about that point, where the ridge runs inland forming a triangle, there is a complimentary triangle of land jutting out into the ocean that is then adorned by Uvita’s famous Whale’s Tail. These two triangles of land, laying as they are, side by side, form a diamond, well – loosely speaking. But the point is (no pun intended) that the area around Uvita is vast in comparison to the flat usable area around Dominical, which leads us to the point (eh…) that Uvita gives all indicators of being the area where commercial, social and cultural happenings will be centered in the future.

This is important to the topic of real estate and investment concerns.  Early recognition of a trend can help to position oneself well for future payoffs.

Current News

Uvita is an interesting study in the melding of several cultures. European, Canadian and United States-ian cultures converge here with the existing Costa Rican culture.  I can’t say the existing “indigenous” culture since even the Ticos (Costa Rican’s) are European transplants, much like North Americans.

The Ticos seem to have an amazing tolerance for noise. Our Guys in the Zone office is located right in the heart of Uvita, on the coastal highway. The coastal highway is the main artery through Costa Rica now, connecting Nicaragua to the north, with Panama to the south. Consequently there are lots of trucks using this highway. Some trucks use the Panamericana Highway (which runs through the middle of the country), but most use the coastal highway through the main center of Uvita.  The trucks themselves are not the problem. What causes the problem is the fact that the drivers like to use their jake breaks as they pass through town, often at a higher than desired speed.

Now, to any civilized member of the human family, this borders on the ridiculous. These guys know that they are passing through an area of business, families going about their day and life in general going on – all of which is interrupted as we wait for them to pass through town with their truck blazing out the most obnoxious of noises.  This is what it sounds like:

GaaaghKaughhKhaaaKggggKKkkgggggggaghaghaha-KneeeeeeegheeeeeeeeeAhhhghaghggggggggg.

There’s even a “No Jake Brakes” sign hanging across the highway in Dominical, but truck drivers either can’t read it or don’t care.

Now, I’ll grant you that some of the more professional minded Ticos, such as the restaurant owners, will roll their eyes in frustration at the racket, but for every one of them that responds this way, there is someone whooping and waving to the truck drivers in greeting.

From where Rod & I sit in our front row office, Uvita could be one of the most beautiful little coastal hamlets in the world.  Everything grows here, especially the truly exotic varieties of flora that the Earth has to offer. Why the town resembles more of a strip mall than an exotic tropical oasis is a bit difficult to understand.  So, we weren’t surprised today when we received the request to post this announcement in our window:

“United We Can Achieve” – The Development Association of Uvita invites you to the Community Center of Uvita Costa Rica.  Important issues on the agenda:

  • Local control of ocean park entrances
  • The Boulevard – control truck speed & beautify the Costanera in Uvita

“The Boulevard” idea for the Coastal Highway is something that has got me a bit excited.  There is enough room to run a center area down the highway that can be planted with Almendra trees, that produce a type of almond. These are the type of trees that make lots of shade and are the main, if not the only, food for Scarlet McCaws.

    One of the strengths of The Zone is there are many people from different parts of the world.  We talk to most of them on a regularly basis, and to an individual, they want to create an active, beautiful life here.  Whatever growth Uvita experiences, moving forward, it’s nice to know that industrialization will be met with a vibrant and educated counter force.  That’s just some of the latest news for Uvita, Costa Rica.  If you want to know about all of the latest gossip and goings on, you have to take the plunge and make Uvita your home.


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.


One thought on “The Latest News for Uvita, Costa Rica

  • kathleen s.

    Hi Ben and Rod – I kind of stumbled on this site and even though we are no longer in the market for property, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your comments.  Thank you for your continuing contribution to the culture of Uvita – it is timely, interesting, and welcome addition to the public dialogue.  Thanks for taking the time to keep us informed. (Thanks also to “Tigre”. Kathleen S.