Escazu Town

Escazu for North Americans who prefer the higher elevations, Escazu is the premier retirement and residential location. Only 8 kilometers from San Jose and fifteen minutes or less driving time, depending on traffic, the town of Escazu is far removed from the city hustle and bustle. Nestled at the base of magnificent ancient volcanic mountains, Escazu has always drawn the affluent and those seeking tranquility away from the city. Somehow this area has managed to preserve remnants of the peace and beauties of its agricultural past yet provide a modem backdrop for suburban living. As one hotel advertises, ?Close to the capital, but worlds away?. Of all the suburbs where foreigners choose to live, Escazu is the most popular and is well stocked with English speaking expatriates.

Three mountains hover over Escazu. The tallest is Cerro Rabo de Mico, at 7,770 feet, the most spectacular is Pico Blanco, at 7,250 feet, with a dramatic, sheer rock face that has challenged the skill of many a mountain climber. Residential streets on the edge of town ascend the mountainside bravely, presenting an even better view with each gain in altitude.

The total population of the Escazu area is said to be 40,000, but it doesn't appear nearly that large. It looks more like a cluster of sprawling villages, with quaint old adobe buildings painted in a traditional two color motif. Incidentally, the 3 foot colored stripe you'll see painted along the bottom of a house is believed to ward off evil spirits and witches. It must work, because I've encountered few evil spirits or witches during any of my visits.

Escazu is actually divided into three separate towns: San Miguel de Escazu, San Rafael de Escazu, and San Antonio de Escazu, each having its own church and patron saint. The red-domed church in San Miguel de Escazu was constructed in 1799 and has survived numerous earthquakes since.

As San Jose grew and spread out, artists and those in search of serenity began moving to Escazu. No longer the peaceful retreat of yesterday, the area retains a reputation as an artists' colony as well as a retirement center. Escazu's higher elevations are ideally suited for those who think that San Jose's climate is too warm. It is also high enough that the occasional light smog that sometimes touches San Jose remains far below. For these reasons, a large number of North Americans choose Escazu and the surrounding towns as their place of residence. Here is where the U.S ambassador's residence is located. Two famous country clubs provide the area with golf, tennis, and a focal point for the society set. Escazu is the center of much of Costa Rica's social life.

An odd sounding place for newcomers to go for orientation and assistance is Escazu's very active American Legion Post. This is the largest such entity outside the United States and is combined with a VFW post, making it even larger. More than just a veterans' organization, this group reaches out to all foreigners and Costa Ricans, offering ?a socially active, bilingual fellowship of warm, interesting, international people?. You needn't be an American Legion member or even a veteran to be welcome; this may be the only American Legion post in the world in that respect. A Lions Club, a Rotary Club, and several other service organizations also make their headquarters in this picturesque setting. All these organizations welcome nonmember visitors. The clubhouse is a popular stop for newcomers seeking a welcome and introduction to the community of Escazu and the neighboring town of Santa Ana. I always recommend clubs and charity associations as valuable windows of opportunity for making friends and building a network of social contacts.

Escazu (and its environs) has a sophistication that makes it stand out among San Jose's suburbs as a prestige address. Although it admittedly has some of the more expensive places to live, modestly priced homes and apartments are also available throughout the community. Those who choose to live here say they wouldn't think of settling anywhere else. ?We have the best of all worlds?, explained a couple that owns a small house on the slope of Pico Blanco. ?We live in the country with a gorgeous view of the city below, yet we are just five minutes away from stores, restaurants, or whatever we need?. They pointed out that although they are close to San Jose, they rarely go there on other than essential business. Well stocked supermarkets, shops, doctors, dentists, and a first class health clinic serve the community's needs quite well. Restaurants of all descriptions abound, including European, barbecue, Chinese, and even a Cajun restaurant for the Yuppie trade.

Although new homes are sprouting on the fringes of Escazu, the municipality requires that construction near the town's center conform to colonial or traditional style. Most buildings are one-story, two story at most, fulfilling a sense of rural, Costa Rican countryside living.

?Property here is probably the most expensive of anywhere in the valley?, explained one of Escazu's many real estate agents. ?Everyone wants to live here. You can pay $95,000 and more for a nice three-bedroom home that you could buy for $65,000 elsewhere, but this is a quality area?. He pointed out that there is no real ?foreign colony? in Escazu, because gringos tend to spread throughout the community, interspersed with Ticos and other foreigners. Although some prefer to live in "sealed-in" developments-compounds with high walls and twenty-four hour guards- more folks live in ordinary homes or town houses, a two- or three-bedroom condo in one of the exclusive compounds might start at around $90,000 and go up from there (way up), whereas a similar place in an ordinary building might start at $70,000. Those who choose to pay more for the security feel it is worth it, since they can comfortably leave their places unoccupied for months at a time while they return home for visits, Others rely on neighbors and friends to take care of things while they are gone.

Writen by John Howels

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