Relocation Hotspot: Liberia
Affectionately called "The White City,' Liberia is known for its quiet, dusty streets lined with stately houses bleached white from the fiery Costa Rican sun. The town is an important economic hub in the northern province of Guanacaste, which is reflected in its suburban development and abundant employment opportunities. Residents can now fly into Liberia's Daniel Oduber International Airport that has direct flights from major cities like Los Angeles and Atlanta.
One of Liberia's main draws is its central location -- some of the country's most exciting attractions are less than an hour away. On the weekends, it's easy to explore nearby hiking trails and waterfalls. The cascade outside of Bagaces is particularly stunning, and just 20 minutes from Liberia. My friends and I often take advantage of the easy day trips to enjoy the thermal waters at Miravalles Volcano, the phenomenal scuba diving in Playa del Coco, or the eerie caverns at Barra Honda National Park. By car, Liberia is three and a half hours from San Jose, two hours from Tamarindo, and less than an hour from Playa del Coco.
The city has a nice array of amenities including a three-tiered shopping mall, movie theater and fitness club. Bars and restaurants ranging from American chain restaurants to mom-and-pop eateries and chic New York-style lounges make for lively nightlife on the weekends.
You'll find many universities and several city parks in the downtown area. Everything is within walking distance, and a taxi anywhere in the city costs around $2. State-of-the-art medical facilities at the Clinica San Rafael Arcangel serve the general public. Doctors in nearly every specialty work side by side in this ever-expanding facility, which when completed will also include a maternity tower and emergency helicopter pad.
Families love the wonderful public education options available, as well as the variety of private bilingual and English-only schools close to Liberia. Within city limits, Academia Teocali has extensive sports facilities and a bilingual program, while Santa Ana provides a traditional Catholic school education. The Green Life Academy in Playa del Coco offers a U.S. homeschooling curriculum for pre-K through 6th grade.
Liberia's cost of living is relatively high in comparison to the Central Valley, but it's a reasonable tradeoff for the fantastic location. Rents typically range from $200-400 a month for a semi-furnished two-bedroom apartment. Electric bills for an air-conditioned residence will rarely exceed $30-60 per month, and $12-20 without air conditioning. Modern services like high-speed Internet, cable television and cell phone service are readily available throughout town.
Grocery stores in Liberia have prices similar to those in the U.S. However, you'll find endless bargains at the farmers' market by the stadium. Held every Thursday and Friday, you can stock up on exquisite fruits and vegetables, all locally grown and farm fresh.
Historically known as a ranch town, Liberia is best known for its cowboy culture and seasonal horse parades. Twice a year, the city shuts down for rollicking festivals. The Civic Festival is a traditional ten-day party at the end of February in celebration of regional customs and folk history. In July, the annexation of Guanacaste from Nicaragua is observed with rodeos and fireworks. Liberia is also one of the only places in Costa Rica outside of the Central Valley that attracts big-name musicians -- particularly at the biannual Espinar Brothers' bashes.
Expat Spotlight: Julia, age 25
1) Why did you choose Liberia?
Location! As a beach lover, I wanted to be close enough to the coast, but far enough away that I felt I was living in a real Costa Rican town. My goals were to 1) immerse myself in the Spanish language 2) make a living on my own and 3) get to the beach as much as possible. Liberia fits the bill for all three. Also, I was offered my first job teaching ESL in Costa Rica here in Liberia. Because it is such an economic hub, jobs are relatively plentiful and stable.
2) What are the positive and negative aspects about living in Liberia?
The best aspect about living in Liberia is that I have all of the comforts of home. While my friends in nearby beach towns periodically have water and power shortages, I rarely have this problem (knock on wood). Internet access tends to be more reliable here, too. Another plus is that I feel very safe walking around alone in Liberia -- even at night. There is little violent crime, and people really watch out for one another.
It took me some time to acclimate to the window bars that are on every house. It looks a bit gloomy, although you'll get accustomed to this quite quickly! Also -- and this only applies to people without a car -- sometimes taking the bus simply takes too long, and I find myself wishing the coast were a bit closer.
3) What's the expat community in Liberia like?
The expat community is rather small and well assimilated. We are a motley crew, ages 20-65, and scattered throughout the city. The most common nationalities are American, German, Italian and British. We all know each other through one mutual friend or another, and we generally frequent the same restaurants and bars.
4) What are Liberia's best neighborhoods for expats?
I recommend Barrio Condega for those who don't have a car, because it is right in the middle of everything. A wide variety of shopping, restaurants and parks are within walking and biking distance. Those on a tight budget might consider Barrio Victoria and places a little farther out.
5) Any tips or advice about moving to Costa Rica?
Make as many friends as possible. The better the support system you have, the easier the transition will be and the fewer problems you will encounter along the way. Talk to people, get advice, and don't allow yourself to dwell on things that may seem negative or different. Also, keep moving until you find a place that makes you happy. There are plenty of apartment options here, and it may take a while to find one that is just right for you.