Expat Family Discovers New Life in Costa Rica

Expat Family Discovers New Life in Costa Rica

Those who worry about rising healthcare costs in the US may consider retiring oversees. The eco-friendly paradise of Costa Rica offers outstanding healthcare coverage at less than half the price of the US, which is why many families chose to buy real estate in anticipation of retirement.

David and his wife Christine planned at length before they made their move. They chose the Southern Zone of Costa Rica because of the many opportunities for cultural enrichment. Three of their favorite events included:

  • The Costa Ballena Whale and Dolphin Festival,
  • The Tinamastes Seed Festival, and
  • The local community weekend rodeos.


The Costa Ballena Whale and Dolphin Festival happens during the last two weekends in September every year. It celebrates the humpback whales’ annual return to the calving grounds just off the beach at the Ballena State Park. The many tour boats in the area combine to form a continuous beach shuttle. The boats leave every few minutes with 12 passengers eager for a glimpse of the mothers and their calves. The giants splash and cavort in the area beginning in September and stay a month or so, until the calves grow large enough to make the trip home to Antarctica. There are usually spotted dolphins and spinner dolphins in the neighborhood to complete the show, joined by the occasional sea turtle. An hour-and-a-half tour costs about $31, including the $6 park-entrance fee. Vendors line the street, selling souvenirs and shaved ice drinks (highly recommended). There are plenty of local cafés along the street to feed and water the festival goers.

The Tinamastes Seed Festival happens in August. It is a free festival where permaculture advocates in the area share their heirloom seeds, listen to expert lectures, and generally celebrate their love for Pachamama, the local term for Mother Earth. Local musicians keep the entertainment flowing, and there is a county fair atmosphere as everyone mingles at the booths and food sellers’ tables. Anyone interested in cultivating a garden in Costa Rica will find both expert advice and an array of local plants, fruits, and vegetables eager to thrive in the rich volcanic soil.

The oldest gatherings in the area are the traditional rodeos. Each village is responsible for raising its own budget for civic improvements. Community leaders organize weekend fundraisers throughout the year which combine great food, local music, and flashy horsemanship. The highlights are the horse races. Handsome and dashing caballeros (horsemen) compete on galloping horses, attempting to spear tiny rings suspended across the lane, using hand-carved skewers that look like chopsticks. The successful spearings are always astonishing. Horsemanship in Costa Rica is as good as anything you’ll see at any North American rodeo. These festivals go on year-round, so you can usually find one within a half-hour’s drive.

David and his wife wrote that the best part of all their outings was the opportunity to practice their limited Spanish while they interacted with the good-hearted ticos (the term Costa Ricans have for themselves). A smile and a “como esta?” is all it took to start a conversation. Frequently, conversations ended with invitations for dinner and newfound friendships, often involving three or more generations! Sometimes David and Christine were the only gringos (gringo and tico are friendly terms in Costa Rica) on a whale tour boat, but they always felt welcome. The ticos seize every opportunity to practice their English as well.

There’s a lot to love about living in the ecofriendly paradise of Costa Rica.

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