The northern portion of the mountain chain, has one of the best potentials for growth of any place in Costa Rica.
Certainly that's my opinion and one shared by many other North Americans who are
buying property around Lake Arenal as quickly (and quietly) as they can. Those who know about Lake Arenal would love to
keep it a secret, but truth will be out! The character of this region is so different from other parts of Costa Rica that it's
difficult to believe The Lake Arenal district is in the upper end of the same mountain chain, but that's as far as the similarity
with other highland areas goes. As I understand it, the mountains dip lower at this position in the chain to form a low break
or window in the Cordillera. This interruption in the mountain ridges permits a reversal of wind patterns, allowing strong
easterly winds to bring moist air off the Caribbean with an abundance of rain. There is no such thing as a
dry season in the Arenal area; it's a year-round
wonderland of greenness and lush vegetation. When I asked one long-time resident how much it rained, she replied,
"On the average, about 14 months out of the year."
Before the government started to work to build a dam to create the wonderfully scenic lake, very few people lived here.
The project required several thousand workers and support people and 16 years to complete. Roads were cut into the area,
opening it up to Costa Rican settlers who started farms and small villages. After the lake was created, many workers elected
to stay on in the company housing that was built during the construction stages. The population here is still very scanty, but
it is growing daily, particularly in the numbers of foreigners who have "discovered" Lake Arenal.
To get there via paved road, the quickest way is by turning off the Pan American Highway at Ca?as, an extremely hot, dry and dusty place during the dry
summer season. Were it not for the ample irrigation water coming from Lake Arenal, Caftas would be more like a
desert than a rich agricultural region. An air conditioned auto and lightweight clothing are necessities here. Yet just 18
kilometers away by a tortuously winding road, the air conditioner is shut off and car windows roll down to take
ad?vantage of the delightful fresh air.
By the time you reach the little town of Tilardn, only 23 kilometers from Caftas, a sweater
might feel comfortable when the sky happens to be overcast. The countryside changes from pool table-flat to steep-sided
hills, from dusty-dry to bright green. The road climbs gently now, as the fields seem to become greener with every curve,
past fat cattle grazing fetlock deep in richly grassed pastures and?where land hasn't been cleared for cattle or
agriculture some astonishingly heavy stands of tropical forest. Just about every imaginable kind of tropical tree or crop thrives
here, from bananas to macadamia nuts.
Suddenly, the view of Lake Arenal bursts upon you, one of the prettiest lakes in the world. The fact that it is artificial is
something that fades in importance when the total beauty is considered. Windsurfers claim this is the second-best place in
all the world to enjoy their sport. What the first place is for windsurfers, I don't know, but it surely can't be any more
beautiful than Lake Arenal.
Almost all residents in this area live on or near the drive that skirts Lake Arenal. The paved portion of the road has a
scattering of European-type homes, chalets and an occasional commercial unit such as a pulperia ( grocery store ),
those community store-tavern combinations so common in rural Costa Rica. Most homes are obviously recently
constructed, giving evidence of their newness in a developing land. This somehow doesn't seem like Costa Rica. Were it not
for the colorful bougainvilleas, flowering oaks and luscious yellow Cortez trees, this countryside would look like an
exaggerated version of the Tennessee or Kentucky hill country, or perhaps the lower elevations of Switzerland in the
summer. Of course, the banana plants and broad-leaved philodendrons quickly dispel this notion.
A few neat, prosperous-looking villages are spaced along the highway, which has a surprisingly good paved surface.
However, once you drive past the town of Arenal, the road turns into graded clay and occasional pavement , with
astonishing potholes the size of bathtubs rather than pots?but entirely passable in an ordinary rental car. If and when the government gets around to paving
this stretch of road, the Arenal district will be quickly accessed from the Meseta Central, and should grow at an even faster
rate. For those living or working in San Jose, this could be a wonderful site for a weekend getaway.
Arenal itself is a surprisingly prosperous-looking place, with neat little houses interspersed with expensive-looking ones. The
town sits high on the sloping bank of Lake Arenal, with most homes and businesses situated with a lake view in mind.
Streets are well-paved, and more are in the process of being paved in oddly unfinished look, with newly paved streets,
vacant lots with neatly trimmed lawns, but just an occasional house. The center of town has the inevitable soccer field, but
with spectator benches curiously pointed towards the street, away from the soccer field, as if the soccer team is so bad
that locals would rather watch the traffic, scarce as it is.
Arenal obviously was a development planned by the govern?ment during the dam's construction phase. Many of
today's homes here are left over from that era. Unlike the traditional Latin American residential style?built close
together and against the sidewalk to allocate space for interior patios?Arenal homes have real lawns,
ample and neatly mowed, looking much like a typical, affluent U.S. suburb! This adds greatly to Arenal's strange, non-
Latin American look.
Because of the area's beauty, the temperate-tropical combina?tion climate, and because of the low cost of real
estate, Lake Arenal is undergoing a buying frenzy. Buyers from Canada, the United States and Europe are furtively looking at
property and investing. Germans, Swiss and Italians appear to be the biggest sharks biting off chunks of the land as quickly as
they can. They try not to appear eager as they snap up bargains, and they try their best to keep this place a secret, lest
hordes of other foreigners descend upon paradise and ruin their scheme of being the only ones there.
Prices have risen appreciably since early 2000 , time, a livable three-bedroom place, built of reinforced cement and stucco,
could be bought for as little as Twenty million colones (about $40,000); you'd have to double that amount today.
When asked if there were many North Americans living in Arenal, the lady indicated that yes, there were. When asked
what they do here, she shrugged her shoulders and said, "They are here buying property, of course!"
It's not surprising that prices are going up on property around Arenal. It's a very desirable area. Still, it's hard to conceive
that inflation could be anything like that along the beaches. But in the meantime, this is one of the few places where
inexpensive waterfront property is still available. Another favorable circumstance: since this is lake front property, it doesn't
fall under the complicated and restrictive laws that regulate ownership and construction by the ocean. Waterfront property
is owned outright instead of 99-year leases from the municipality. You can build pretty much what you like and wherever you
care to without fear that someday in the future the government will begin enforcing the coastal building laws more
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