Digital Nomad Life in a Costa Rican Beach Town
My love affair with Costa Rica started 20 years ago. Trudging through the snow in Boston to the office of my first job, I peered into a fogged-up travel agent’s window and saw an ad for a last-minute tour to Costa Rica. It was my first and last organized tour—I hated being on someone else’s schedule—but I fell in love with Costa Rica. I still clearly remember walking on the sort of beach I’d only seen in postcards, while delighting in the antics of monkeys and sloths climbing in the lush jungle growing right out of the sand. It felt like paradise.
In the subsequent years, I visited Costa Rica several times, always as a temporary escape from the stress of my “real” life back in California. I worked in management for Google in Silicon Valley, the kind of job that many people aspire to but which tends to suck up every waking minute of your life. My husband and I talked endlessly about escaping to Costa Rica full-time, even researching the cost of living, visas, quality of schools, etc., until finally we committed to quitting our jobs in late 2017.
We outfitted an old van with beds, a sink, and a stove, and started driving south toward the promised land. After six months of meandering through Mexico and Central America, we arrived in Costa Rica and explored the country looking for a new hometown. We wanted to find that jungle wilderness feeling that we’d loved on our vacations, but with a good school and vibrant expat community. Ultimately, we found what we were looking for in the small beach town of Guiones.
Guiones has a diverse expat community of 40-somethings and above who’ve left behind traditional lifestyles in the U.S. to raise their families and/or start businesses abroad. These friendly people, combined with the welcoming local Costa Ricans, make for an entertaining, engaging place to live. You can enjoy live music at one of the local hotels, sign your kids up for countless nature-themed and sporting activities, and attend yoga classes in the jungle. And as the light fades every day, you can join the throng of locals and foreigners alike on the beach marveling at the incredible sunsets over the warm water.
Throughout my time in Guiones, I was constantly enchanted by the contrasts between the jungle, beach, and town. Our daily routine started like a regular morning back home getting ready for school, but we’d step outside into another world. Walking down our driveway, we’d peer up at the monkeys living in the tree next to our house. Turning left onto the main road, we’d dodge the bright purple pincers of Halloween crabs scuttling by, and watch monkey families commuting overhead on the power lines. After dropping my daughter at the school bus, I’d walk along a jungle trail and pop out on the other side of town at a French bakery, which is surrounded by elegant women’s clothing stores. Guiones is such a diverse place.
The natural beauty and wonderful community of Guiones do come with a higher price tag than elsewhere in Latin America. We paid top dollar, $2,500 per month, for a house with a pool several blocks from the beach. However, there are cheaper options. Friends living a few miles from the beach were paying significantly less. And while rents can be high, the general cost of living is surprisingly affordable. A meal out for two people is generally $20 or less, but varies wildly depending on whether you’re ordering gallo pinto (rice and beans) at a local restaurant up the hill, or a kale smoothie and sushi rolls from a tourist restaurant nearer the beach.
To help fund our lives in Guiones, my husband and I started to dabble in freelancing—he’s advising startup companies back in California, and I’m working part-time as a recruiter. Some of our expat friends in Guiones are also working remotely for companies back in the U.S., while others are running local businesses like hotels or restaurants. Working from a small town in the jungle means dealing with the occasional power outage, but the internet is relatively fast, and it is very convenient to work from Costa Rica’s time zone, which is the same as U.S. Central Standard Time.
Living in Costa Rica was like fulfilling a dream of 20 years. It was incredible to swim in the warm ocean at sunset every day and live amid the beautiful jungle wildlife. It was also rewarding to realize that we could make a new life for ourselves in a foreign country. Although my husband and I are digital nomads at heart and so ultimately decided to move on (we continued south and are now in Argentina), we found so much to enjoy in the stunning beachfront lifestyle on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. It’s a perfect place to make a fresh start and explore the expat life.
By Mary Hollendoner
Photo image ©Kathleen Evans