Alajuela the city
Although many foreigners live in the city of San Jose, the majority prefer one of the smaller communities surrounding
the city. These towns range from expensive to moderate places to live. For some mysterious reason, at least six of these
towns have the same name—San Isidro—which adds to the confusion of finding your way about Costa Rica! San
Antonio is another favorite place name which is scattered about like leaves in the wind.
One of the less expensive, yet pleasant places for foreigners to live is Alajuela. Situated on the
western edge of San Jose, this small city is convenient to the airport, just a 20-minute ride from downtown San Jose. Clean,
modern buses run every few minutes during the day, stopping at the airport on the way to and from San Jose.
Alajuela's focal point is a large park in the center of town (called the Parque Central, of course), a pleasant
place shaded by tall trees, with chess boards built into some of the cement benches that surround the park. If you would
like to meet North American retirees to ask information about Alajuela, this is the place to come; sometimes there seems as
much English spoken as Spanish. This is the place to find out about housing rentals, who is leaving for the States, who has a
car for sale, and who can recommend a gardener or a maid. A reputable money changer sits on a bench across from the
bank in case you want to deal with him rather than stand in line. In the evenings, a mixture of classical and pop music can be
heard by the park's bandstand where professional musicians entertain a couple of times a week.
A theater showing late-run Hollywood movies faces the park as does an open-front restaurant where 80 percent of the
conversations are in English. (Other common languages are German, Italian or French.) The restaurant is known as an
information center—a place to find rooms or houses for rent, for the latest scoop on what's happening about town.
It's operated by an American Family.Not Far From the Park is an Excellent English peaking dentist, a travel agency run by an
ex-Floridian, and several real estate agencies with North American personnel.
One interesting business, is the Alajuela Welcome Center. Operated by two long-time Costa Rica residents, the partners
offer to share their experience in agriculture, construction and property management with newcomers. The business is
affiliated with a travel agency and real estate office. This might be a good place to stop fora preliminary overview of Alajuela
as a place to live.
Alajuela has several rather attractive neighborhoods, none very expensive, yet classy in appearance. One area I inspected is
called Trinidad, about a 15-minute walk from the park. In 2004, I re-visited an American and his Costa Rican wife at their
attractive Trinidad home; three bedrooms, two baths, a maid's room and a garage. Two years earlier, he had estimated the
value of his home at $65,000. When asked what the home's present-day value might be, the owner, a retired orchardist
from Florida said, "Remember, I told you that property here is bound to go up. Today, I figure $80,000 would be a fair
price." In similar U.S. neighborhoods, it would cost triple that, at least. Another nice-looking neighborhood is near
the local sports stadium, with prices even lower. All have nice landscaping, some with wrought-iron fences.
Housing costs in Alajuela seem to be exceptional bargains, considering the quality of the area. Other places available during
my last visit: a two-bedroom, two-bath home for $49,000 and a four-bedroom place for $89,000. An interesting aspect of
Alajuela's housing market is that $250 to $500 a month can rent a satisfactory home, one that would sell for between
$40,000 and $80,000. This raises the question: is it better to rent or to buy? Some local people are convinced that
property will continue going up here, so they advise buying. Who knows?
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