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Central Valley Living - By Miranda Abbott Wittman

Updated: Aug 2, 2023

Many people know me as a beach-loving, sun-loving, and heat-loving ex-pat who came to Costa Rica over twelve years ago. It’s true, I’m a familiar name in Playas del Coco. I loved to create community projects and was often organizing youth clubs, and classes, and facilitated a women's business networking group for about 5 years. I had a shop and a yoga studio and thought that I’d call Coco home forever.

So why am I now living in the Central Valley, 30 minutes from San Jose? Well, that’s a question with multiple answers. First, you’ll have to understand a little bit about me. I am a mother of four children, an ex-ballet, and a modern dancer, artist, and writer. I originally moved to Coco to buy land and live self-sufficiently. I wrote my first book while living there and I enjoyed my time at the beach very much.

However, there were always a few issues that didn’t sit well with me. Those issues surrounded my family life. I often had the feeling that I wasn’t giving my kids all that I could have. When I’d return to Canada to visit family, we’d hit up all the attractions and I felt a bit of sadness that there were some cool things my kids were missing out on. To be fair, there was a lot I was giving them, a life away from excessive screen time, less corporate America surrounding them, and, a carefree childhood filled with climbing trees and exploring the beautiful waters of the Pacific ocean. However, They were often saying goodbye to friends. The lack of established communities meant they didn't have a lot of freedom either. I did not think it was safe for them to bike the streets alone and so most interactions involved creating play-dates, which was fine in the short term but became harder to enjoy.

Education was also an issue in the back of my mind. Although there were both public and private schools in Playas del Coco, I felt they lacked the kind of school experience I was accustomed to. Before coming, I thought their school would be more ecologically friendly with loads of time for outdoor exploration. But, that was far from my experience. The curriculum in the private schools primarily focused on printed workbooks that were expensive and were a cookie-cutter education that I was trying to steer clear from. The school days were long with much of the time indoors. I taught for many years in Toronto and throughout Canada and witnessed the benefits of a well-funded school system. Although class sizes are getting too large and important programs may be losing funding, it’s still a much more complete curriculum than I found around my sweet beach town. Having offered educational programs there myself, I could see that it’s not the fault of any establishment but the problem lies in the nature of beach towns themselves.

Because beach towns focus on tourism there is a transient nature to the population. With a high percentage of people leaving the beach each year. In my experience this is not because they did not like it, quite the opposite, they loved it. However, families from abroad seem to make Costa Rica a stop before more of their global travels. Some made it a one to two-year adventure, while others simply did not find the opportunities they were hoping for. In my experience, most families committed to less than 5 years in the area. This causes uncertainty for schools, making it hard to grow, budget, and keep a steady teaching staff. Without long-term commitments, it’s difficult to have sports teams, clubs, and other needed programs.

For this reason, we decided not to leave Costa Rica, but to head for the city and the suburbs of San Jose where schools, enrichment programs, and extracurricular activities are plentiful. This decision even surprised me, but everything was pushing me in that direction, work opportunities, and other connections, I could no longer ignore.

Now that I’m here, I wish I had moved sooner! It’s the best of both worlds. The world in the central valley is a drastically different dynamic from Playas del Coco. It has modern malls, shopping, theatre, sports, and an extremely friendly and well-educated population. Rather than falling into an ex-pat bubble, my Costa Rican neighbors welcomed me right away. There is a strong middle class here and I’ve been able to give my kids, even in a short time, more friends, freedom, and community than I had in Playas del Coco. They have perfected their Spanish and have learned more in one year than almost ten in Coco. And to be clear, you do not have to live in downtown San Jose to have this. San Jose is connected to a variety of urban destinations which are closely linked, it's difficult to know exactly when you leave one municipality and enter another. So while I enjoy access to San Jose for musical events, theatre, ballet, and art gallery events, I live in a quieter suburb only 30 minutes away, nestled near a golf course and country club (which we thoroughly enjoy).

We still enjoy beach weekends. If we leave before traffic, we can be at the coast in 45 minutes. Beaches close to Jaco are about 1 hour and 15 minutes from home. When we first moved we used Kinto, a rideshare program that allowed us to scurry about without owning a car. Uber is also easy to use in the Central Valley. There is excellent hiking in the area and in 30 minutes we can be climbing Barva Volcano, enjoying to cool mountain air.

Costa Ricans are very family-orientated, incredibly peaceful, and patient people. It has been very easy to call the Central Valley home. Gated communities are popular here but do not feel cut off from society in any way. Their commonality makes them very affordable and practical. Facebook and Whatsapp groups are commonplace to meet neighbors and find locally made foods and other goods. There are many options for schools and loads of professional classes and clubs for the kids. My kids particularly like attractions at the amazing Oxygeno Mall and the rollercoasters at Parque Diversiones. We find beautiful places to hike and explore through Que Buen Lugar.

The best part of our little adventure into the mountains has also been the weather. At first, I thought that I would be cold and not able to lie by the pool and enjoy my Costa Rican sun. Again, I stand corrected, it’s warm enough to enjoy the pool and not too hot to sit in the sun, read a good book, or just enjoy watching the kids splash around. I no longer need to pay high electrical bills because it’s a perfect temperature in the afternoons, I don’t need A/C. My garden has plenty of water and I can wear pants again! Seriously, I missed some of my fashion. It’s so hot around the beach, so what you wear matters. Things deteriorate more in the salty air and mold faster so managing my home and the kids’ things have been easier too. No scorpions! (Need I say more?)

Rent is a lot lower in San Jose and the surrounding suburbs. Although they aren’t as convenient as rentals in Coco which are fully furnished, comfortable three-bedroom homes or Condos are around $800/month, and a two-bedroom is around $600. If you're looking for furnished, expect closer to $1000/month. A large family home in an area such as Cariari is around $1,400, and luxury homes in developed areas such as Guachipelin hover around $2,500.

Although our country of choice did not change, our long-term goals certainly have. We are pleased with the move and feel the area offers the best of all worlds.

If you’d like to know more about San Jose and the surrounding suburbs, please send us an email and follow our blogs. You can download a database of schools via our Information Hub

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1 Comment

Hi Miranda, I greatly appreciate your blog, it’s clear and precise.

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