San Jose West

Costa Rica’s capital has a broken heart. Once a vibrant capital made beautiful by the profits of coffee barons, most of the colonial buildings have been demolished, leaving the center a hectic mêlée of stained concrete structures interspersed with a few stunning examples of colonial architecture struggling to be noticed. The upper and upper-middle-classes have in recent years moved further and further from the center and built more in outlying areas like Escazú, Tres Ríos, and Belén, in some ways mirroring the American flight to the suburbs during the second half of the 20th century. The members of those classes who do live in the city can mainly be found in the western neighborhoods of Sabana and Rohrmoser, or the eastern ones of Los Yoses, San Pedro and Curridabat. More central neighborhoods like Otoya, Escalante, and Amón have maintained much of their architectural attractiveness and social cache as areas inhabited by Costa Rica’s premier families, and today those neighborhoods are seeing something of a renaissance, though a patchy one. 

Despite the flight for the fringes seen over the last few years, San José maintains a large middle class by Central American standards. Southern neighborhood Desamparados and working-class neighborhoods Luján, Tournon, and Zapote are still very much populated by the kind of educated, hardworking people that have made Costa Rica a great place for foreign investment. The same is true for other neighborhoods like Sabanilla, San Pedro, Vargas Araya, Sabana Sur, and others. They’re certainly not pretty, but lots of professional Ticos and Ticas live there with their families. 

As for the center, the San José municipality has been taking steps – aided by funds from the European Union and Japan – to make it more pedestrian and family friendly. There has been some success, but there’s a long way to go. The center of San José is still good for a couple of things. For one, you can visit the central market, a maze of hallways connecting stalls in a vast, warehouse-like building. It’s a fine place to go grocery or souvenir shopping, and the Tico food served in the market’s little sodas is among the best in the country, and cheap. Toward the northeastern corner of the center there is quite a bit of prostitution and a few casinos. Some of the parks have become quite nice, with the advent of the Tourism Police, and if you stay alert the center isn’t any more dangerous than other populated parts of the Central Valley (though like any city, there’s some parts you should never enter – proceed with caution).

As far as real estate, the part of the center most popular with foreigners is the Amón/Otoya neighborhood, where many have bought historic buildings, refurbished them, and turned them into hotels, shops, restaurants, or residences. There are restrictions on what you can do with historic buildings and you should check with the San José municipality before buying one.

Sabana and Rohrmoser are middle class Costa Rican neighborhoods, which are generally pretty safe. Its residents are predominantly Tico families, along with a few expatriates. Several embassies are located there, as is the house of President Oscar Arias the light traffic and the area’s multiple parks make it safer for children to play outside. The neighborhood is also within walking distance of the enormous Sabana Park, with its forest of eucalyptus trees, stadiums, and jogging track. Rohrmoser also has several small strip malls, a Mas por Menos and Automercado supermarket, and plenty of pharmacies, restaurants, beauty parlors and pastry shops. 

Almost all the land in Rohrmoser has been built out, and buyers generally have to opt for an existing home. However, the houses in Rohrmoser are reasonably well spaced and many are quite large. There are also a few new condo projects under construction as of this writing. Many of the houses in Rohrmoser are inside high walls, which gives a sense of privacy and filters out some of the noise. A stroll around the neighborhoods is very pleasant. 

The cost of living here is similar to that of the Escazú area. There is a farmers market on Saturdays if you want to keep your grocery costs down. Costa Rica isn’t such an expensive place to live if you don’t go out every night, but frequent visits to restaurants – especially in that part of town– will substantially increase your living costs.

It’s also worth noting here that the area around La Sabana Park is undergoing something of a building boom. Some say this area will become the Manhattan of Central America. Overnight, it seems, about a half dozen developers began building towers of as much as 12 stories on all sides of the park to take advantage of the views. The condos in the mixed-use developments are pricey: $350,000 and up, for the most part, with penthouses selling for more than $1 million. The new developments are sure to attract more builders and homeowners, and of course, the new highway would place any La Sabana home owner only about a 2-hour drive from the coast. 

Properties in Central Valley

Daniel prop


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