When we asked around on Costa Rica Facebook groups about possible houses for rent in Costa Rica, it was about one week before the date we were supposed to arrive. Several people on one of the groups were extremely critical of our decision to wait until we arrived to find a house to rent.
“You mean to tell me that you’re coming in ONE week for THREE months with FOUR kids and you don’t have a house rental all planned out yet??” one lady asked, rudely.
Well, I was glad this woman knew her numbers (although I was disappointed she didn’t use her Spanish) but her point was lost on me. Everybody I’d ever talked to who has traveled abroad has said not to rent a long-term place online and sight unseen. This is a sure-fire way to get a “gringo discount” or to generally be displeased with the condition upon arrival.
So we decided to wing it and see what we could find once we arrived in Costa Rica. We had a place to go to once we arrived since I rented one week through airbnb for $500. Since we weren’t particular about finding an American-style home and, in fact, would prefer a local kind of house, we knew we’d have more inventory to choose from. Also, we’d researched many different places and knew we could settle in any number of towns or villages and be perfectly content.
And… it just always works out. There’s no point in worrying excessively before it’s time to worry.
So when we got into Grecia, we checked into our airbnb rental house (once we found it, haha) and started asking around. The Cilantro Cafe’s owner had told us the name of a guy that helped people like us find houses for rent. Geovanny Chavez. So we emailed him and he called us back in 10 minutes. He said he had several places to show us and could we meet the next day.
It was a long, hot 20 minutes. But we eventually found the house, which was in a condo development situated on the side of a huge hill. Kim was the current resident and she met us out in the brick-paved street and walked us down to the house. It was a spacious sort of house, not Tico in any way, other than the laundry sink in the back, outside the kitchen door. There wasn’t much of a back yard, and what was there was dirt.There was a garage but we don’t have a car. Three bedrooms were sparsely furnished but everything was clean and nice and the bathrooms were big.
Still, we didn’t feel like it fit. The aura was off. The neighborhood felt like any neighborhood in a Pennsylvania suburb. You could stand in the street and forget you were in Grecia, Costa Rica. Plus, the walk to any stores or activities was really long (and hot) and I don’t even know that the bus went out that far. They told us we could get a taxi for a few dollars, but that seemed like a pain in the you-know-where.
I didn’t like that it was in a “development,” because it felt so removed from regular society. But the one good thing about that was that the development had a pool, a playground, and tennis courts, all of which would have been fun for the kids. But it felt like our life there would have been mostly staying in our house and development and not often venturing out to town.
The next day, we caught the bus up to the small town of San Isidro, which is a 20-minute ride from downtown Grecia and is located on one of the ridges of the Poas Volcano. Geovanny met us on the bus since he himself lived in that area. He showed us three houses, although we could only get in to see two.
The first house was in San Francisco, near San Isidro, and was a boxy, 2-bedroom that was recently built. The woman who showed it to us was the mother of the landlord. She was pleasant but taciturn. The house felt as though it was in the middle of nowhere, but Geovanny assured us it was only a few minutes walk to a store and the school. It was also next to a hydroponic lettuce farm. The house was newly-built and so clean—but seemed way too small for our clan.
We walked from the house to the nearby tienda, which had milk and eggs and a small amount of other groceries. It was the size of a camp store and would mean we’d have to ride the bus down to town every time we needed to really shop. We bought a big Fanta to share, since we were all thirsty. Then we moved on.
The next house was owned by a man who apparently had lost his cell phone. So, although it looked pretty nice behind its gate and walls (we could only see the very tippy top of it), we weren’t able to go in to tour it. He said it was in better condition than the first house and a bit more spacious, but without seeing it, there wasn’t much we could do.
There was one other house Geovanny had to show us. He told us that an American friend of his said she would be mad at him if he showed this house to any expats—that nobody would like it. I thought that sounded rather snobby. We are not that particular. The house turned out to be a little dirty and way too small for the six of us. Even though it had three bedrooms, the rest of the place was three narrow rooms—kitchen, dining room, living room—all patched together. I think we would have been bumping into each other every time we were home. It felt like a camper.
At the end of our house search with Geovanny, we were no closer to finding a place than we were when we first arrived. And, to tell you the truth, walking around in the beautiful, cool San Isidro area made us wonder if we wouldn’t rather be up on the volcano rather than down in Grecia.
We rode the bus back down the hill, happy but uncertain where we should focus our search: on one of the ridges or down in town? Up on the hill it was beautiful with absolutely breathtaking views, but it felt quieter and would be more time-consuming to get to town. I felt like we might end up “hiding” in our house and not getting out and about enough. But, in town, the views are not quite as good (although still pretty good). It’s a bit noisier and hotter and more crowded. But we would be close to stores, park, church, and the buses to everywhere.
When we’d first moved into our airbnb, the owner met us at the house and answered some questions about the town for us. We liked the house immediately, so I asked if they’d consider renting it to us for our whole stay. Her son translated for her and then told us, “No, we will not rent the house. We like to use it on the weekends.”
On the day of our house hunting with Geovanny, however, I got a text from the owner asking us if we were still interested in renting the house. After a couple days of texting back and forth, we ended up making a deal. The house works well for us because it has some key things going for it: 1) we’re already here and we already know it suits us; 2) it is a great neighborhood full of really warm, friendly Ticos (most of whom are family to one another); and 3) it’s very walkable to everything we need.
So, we have a house! We are settling in. We can now focus on this business of learning Spanish and making friends. Oh, and maybe actually have time to see some of this country we’re planning to call home for the next little while. Waterfalls, volcanos, beaches… there is so much natural beauty here.
Oh, and if you’re ever in this area and are looking for a house rental, email Geovanny Chavez at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is one of the sweetest people we’ve met and is indeed a bridge between the local community and the new people coming to Costa Rica to live.
¡Hasta luego, amigos!