While Costa Rica has become a hot destination for tourists and property investors alike, Limon, one of the country's provinces, still remains largely undiscovered. It is not that Limon lacks the goods that can make it a vacation blockbuster. Endowed with beautiful sandy Caribbean beaches and impressive rain forests, it is indeed gorgeous.
Travelers who make it to Limon won't be bored, especially if they are the kind who enjoy nature and aren't bothered too much by lack of up to snuff infrastructure. Tourists can hang out on undeveloped beaches, hike in rain forests, surf, and fish. They can also visit Costa Rica's last remaining indigenous Indian tribes, the Bribri, the Cocles, and the Talamanca Cabecarv. Still, the province has yet to become a destination in terms of property development. "Limon has not been as popular for investment as the Pacific Coast," said Ellie Watland, a real estate agent from Costa Rica Tropical Paradise Properties.
The Costa Rican province of Limon has a population of approximately 340,000 according to a 2001 census and covers an area of 3,548 square miles. Not only is it remote and relatively under-developed, it is also culturally different from the rest of the country. For some travelers, these two factors can add to its appeal.
From a cultural perspective, the Jamaican population in the area gives it a different feel. "Limon is almost like another country because of its strong Jamaican influence. Years ago, Jamaicans were brought to the province to supplement the labor force," said Watland. As a result, you can hear 'patois' spoken, as well as Spanish. Carnaval is celebrated each year." Even the typical Limon cuisine is different from the rest of Costa Rica. "There is a strong 'Rasta' image to the area," said Watland.
Real Estate in Limon
"What makes Limón a desirable area to vacation or live in, is its laid-back lifestyle and lack of over-development," said Watland. "Beaches are plentiful and are not fringed with condominium developments. It is a popular area for diving because of the coral reefs. Many people enjoy vacationing in the northern portion of the province and take boat trips through the jungle near Tortuguero [National Park]."
However, the region's lack of development also means it loses out on attracting top of the line investors and property buyers who would rather put their money in well established areas. Also, let’s face it, the Rasta image of the area with all its drug related connotations, doesn't help either. "At present, there is very little action in the Limon area," said Brad Butler, owner of Emerald Forest Properties. "In the nine years we have been in business, we have only sold larger tracks there [including] palm plantations and other agricultural properties," he said. "Those investing in larger land masses love Limon for its lower property prices."
That said, Puerto Viejo and Cahuita are the most popular areas in Limon, according to Costa Rica Tropical Paradise Properties. There is talk of a new marina in Puerto Viejo and the number of restaurants and hotels is growing, albeit at a slow rate. There is also anecdotal evidence that investment is trickling in.
As for real estate costs in the area, "We have sold a 1,000 acres for USD 450,000 and 1,400 acres for USD 650,000, all for agriculture," said Butler. Smaller lots go for much less. A 7,534 square feet lot near Cahuita, for example, is listed for USD 26,000 at Costa Rica Tropical Paradise Properties and a 29 room hotel for sale in Puerto Viejo is up for USD 1,900,000. "We also have a private jungle development in Guácimo with lots from 52,011 - 88,586 square feet that are priced from USD 97,000-165,000," said Watland.
There are no restrictions on foreigners owning real estate in Costa Rica but buyers must do their due diligence when considering a particular property. Just as elsewhere, ensuring the title to an acquired property is clean and clear is of paramount importance. In addition, one must be aware of some of the limitations that apply to properties in certain areas. "There are government imposed restrictions on how close to the high water mark a person may own land or build," said Watland. Also, legally speaking, all beaches are open to the public - no one can own the beach or restrict access to it.
It is also important to have a good lawyer when buying property in Costa Rica. "This may seem obvious, but there is an over-abundance of lawyers who either do not know the law, skirt the law, or willingly commit illegal acts related to real estate," said Watland. Same goes for picking a real estate company, especially because of the lack of licensing and regulating procedures. Taxi drivers and people on the street may offer what sounds like a terrific bargain, but the land may be tied up in a court battle which could go on for years, not be titled, or not even be for sale!" said Watland. Buyers shouldn't assume the basic services are automatically available. They must make sure water and phone lines can be accessed. They must also check "the permitted land uses for the property under consideration."
Another issue to keep in mind is the fact that pinning down the actual value of a particular property in Limon is difficult due to lack of information. Buyers should take the time and get to know the market, according to Costa Rica Tropical Paradise Properties. "Just because someone says a property is a great deal, doesn't mean it necessarily is. It might be a good deal for the seller, but not the buyer." said Watland. Some sellers inflate their prices hoping to ensnare a buyer who has failed to do his homework on the area. "There is still so much land available and undeveloped, buyers should do comparison shopping."
Squatters can also be a problem in isolated areas. "If the land is not inhabited, the owner must ensure that no squatters take up residence on the property," said according to Costa Rica Tropical Paradise Properties. Owners must keep a close eye on their estates.
There are those in the real estate business who think it is inevitable that investors will turn to Limon as the Costa Rican Pacific becomes over developed and loses some of its character. "For the most part, Limon has been ignored in the past but people are beginning to open their eyes to its beauty and unspoiled nature. Also, prices are lower here than on the Pacific side so there are many bargains available," said Watland.
While some see an untouched, yet to be discovered Caribbean paradise in Limon, others disparage the place as hot, rundown, and a haven for pot smoking hippies. This, of course, is a problem that needs to be tackled if the province is going to attract international investors of all stripes. To do so, Limon needs to brand itself as the wild, unspoilt beauty that it actually is.