Overseas: Natural beauty

Costa Rica is a wildlife-lover's paradise, with its exotic flora and fauna, two stunning coastlines, lush mountains and pristine rainforests. By Laura Latham
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The Independent Online

South and Central America have opened up hugely to tourists and second-home owners in recent years, thanks to increased political and economic stability in the region and demand for exotic destinations among well-heeled travellers. Now, close behind Brazil and Panama, the charms of Costa Rica are causing a stir.

With two stunning coastlines, a lush, mountainous interior and diverse flora and fauna, the country made its name as a destination for surfers and eco-tourists, with over 1.9 million foreign visitors last year. However, its nature reserves, friendly locals and laid-back lifestyle are encouraging investors to put down roots.

"More overseas buyers are realising Costa Rica is a beautiful country and that there's so much they can do here," says Becky Clower of local agency Bluewater Properties. "It's also stable and democratic, and people can have a higher standard of living on less money than in America or Europe."

Clower says the most popular locations for overseas house-hunters are on the Pacific coast, around areas such as Guanacaste and Jaco Beach, and the Central Valley, near the capital, San José.

Costa Rica has seen an increase in direct flights from the US and Europe, though flights from Britain are only available in high season. Although property prices have risen by around 15 to 20 per cent this year, homes remain good value by UK standards.

A two-bedroom apartment with sea views will cost from around £120,000, with three- or four-bedroom villas starting at around £150,000 to £250,000.

For cheaper property you should look at the Central Valley, which, despite its proximity to the capital, offers homes for at least 50 per cent less than the Pacific coast. British ex-pat Scott Oliver, whose company, We Love Costa Rica, acts as an advisory service for British buyers, says the Central Valley suits many people better than the coastal zones.

"The further you move from San José, the less infrastructure there is and most of our older British customers prefer being close to the best medical care and facilities," he says.

If you're looking for something really swanky there are large numbers of exclusive villas in the hills from £1m plus. But if you want a managed environment you may have to wait as many top resort brands have only just moved into the country. Solid Property, for example, is selling homes in the Wyndham Resort on Jaco Beach from £165,000 but it won't be ready for two years.

Increased construction and visitor numbers has prompted fears that Costa Rica's special beauty. However, there are laws which prevent building on the coastline and in forested regions, and the US government has offered to wipe out the country's debts in return for protecting land.

Solid Property's Matt Thompson says further development is inevitable and places such as Jaco Beach will become resort destinations to rival Miami. Nevertheless, he claims this is a small percentage of the country's total area and argues that it's in everyone's interest to maintain the forests and biodiversity.

"A quarter of Costa Rica is national park and much of the rest of the country will remain unspoilt," he says. "Costa Rica has a stable future and will become an increasingly important destination for eco-tourism."



Bluewater Properties: 00 506 (813) 579 3350, www.bwpcr.com; Scott Oliver: www.welovecostarica.com; Solid Property: 0800 084 2294; www.solidproperty.co.uk



Buyers' guide

*Foreigners have the same rights of property ownership as Costa Rican nationals but need a residency permit or they can only stay in the country for three months at a time.

*Coastal land within 200 metres of high tide cannot be developed except under government lease. The rules are so complex it's often advised to avoid buying beach-front plots altogether.

*Many unqualified people claim to be sales agents, so be careful. For recommendations, see www.welovecostarica.com.

*Engage a reputable independent lawyer to check the property's title deeds, boundaries and any encumbrances prior to purchase.

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