Lake Arenal is one of the most beautiful, bio diverse, peaceful places on planet earth, but here are some suggestions and information to make your life here easier and more comfortable.
Utilities in Costa Rica are dependable and relatively inexpensive. The telephone and electricity companies are government owned monopoly called ICE. Costa Rica produces excess electricity through wind, hydro electric and geo thermal and exports electricity to Nicaragua and Panama.
Satellite TV service is available via Direct TV and other systems which provides TV coverage throughout the world. Payments for Satellite TV may be paid at the Banco National and they will deduct the cost from your account if you make arrangements with them.
Electricity and phone may be paid through a local bank by setting up an account, where they will receive your statements and pay your bills.
Water in the Lake Arenal area is abundant and clean, in the towns and on most of the main public roads it is supplied by the municipalities. If you are in an area not serviced by public water lines there are springs everywhere and if not you can drill a well with almost certainty of finding water.
Garbage is picked up in and near the town of Nuevo Arenal once a week. The fee for garbage service is added to your property tax and is about $25 per year.
Sewage is disposed of in this area via septic tanks and drainage fields, which if adequately designed and built will almost never need care.
ZONING, BUILDING CODES
The Arenal region is in an agricultural zone and thus has particular rules and regulations pertaining to development. There is no zoning as such, so that land may be used as you wish, without special permit. The law regarding the sub division of land is as follows. If you are within 60 meters (roughly 200 feet) of a public road, you may sub divided into whatever lot size you wish. Beyond 60 meters you are restricted to a minimum lot size of 5000 meters, or approximately 1.25 acres. A licensed engineer is needed to sub divide land and register the new parcels with the government, a process that is normally very quick and trouble free.
Another important factor of note is that there exist areas that are designated primary forest. If a property includes land designated as such, it may not be cut or used for any purpose and shall remain in effect park.
Building codes do exist and it is advisable to have a licensed architect draw your plans and submit them for permitting. For residential purposes this is normally very quick and easy. The fees for such work are set by the government, but may be negotiated somewhat.
CONSTRUCTION AND LABOR
The current rough rule of thumb for construction cost in this area is about $85 per square foot for quality construction. There are numerous reputable contractors available. If you wish to build or renovate yourself labor costs are between $1 and $2 per hour and there is plenty of willing skilled labor available. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the local laws pertaining to the health insurance you must provide to your workers while they are working for you.
INSECTS AND ANIMALS
There is a tremendous variety of flora and fauna to be found around the Lake. Yes there are snakes, but luckily you very seldom even see them. And surprisingly insects are not a problem either. There are virtually no mosquitoes, or sand flies.
With up to 150 inches of rain annually, there are some months that get more rain than others. Generally December and January are rainy months here, but the rainfall varies significantly in the various micro climates surrounding the Lake. Ask for a copy of the rainfall map to get a clearer picture.
The climate around the lake is for the most part pleasant and cool and there is no need for air conditioning, with the average mean temperature about 75 degrees, and never gets oppressively hot and dry as is common in the coastal areas. There are many homes in the area in fact that have fireplaces and the temperature in the winter can get as cold as 60 degrees.
The Costa Rican people are for the most part warm, open, helpful and friendly. However the lake region is experiencing a real estate boom and things are changing rapidly. There is more work, more prosperity and more opportunity than ever in the history of the area. Opportunistic petty crime does exist and it is not advisable to build or live in a remote area without either a full time caretaker, or an alarm system, as robberies do occur when you are away from your home. If several of the gated communities do not appeal to you, then be sure to make other arrangements, so that you will not have any surprises. Otherwise there is little or no violent crime in the area and you can live here in peace, harmony and tranquility.
The town of Arenal has several small grocery stores which are adequate for everyday shopping. For more variety and availability the residents around the Lake make weekly trips to the nearby town of Tilaran, which has several large supermarkets, several pharmacies and a variety of other stores which are not available in the smaller towns. Many residents of the area make periodic trips to San Jose to shop at Price Mart (similar to Sam's Club, or Cost U Less), Office Depot and others for more intense shopping, as well as some very large supermarkets which sell almost all products found in supermarkets in the U.S.
Arenal has a local clinic that provides service for most emergency medical needs. If more is necessary there is a larger clinic in Tilaran. There is ambulance service available in Arenal. 20 minutes from Tilaran in Canas, is a new modern state of the art hospital which is fully equipped and staffed.
There is a huge new state of the art medical complex under construction at this time in Libeia, one and a half hours from the Lake consisting of two hospitals, one owned by Baylor University which will offer assited iving, golf course, condominiums and hotels and be the largest medical complex in Central America. There is a detailed article about this on my blog.
Health insurance is available to foreign nationals once you become a resident for about $50 per month for full coverage eyes, teeth, all medications and no penalty for pre existing conditions.
TAXIS, TRUCKING, BUS SERVICE AND CAR RENTAL
Inexpensive taxi service is available in Arenal and arrangements can be made for airport pick up or even day trips to the beaches and San Jose. There are several trucking services available that will pick up or deliver cargo from San Jose for a reasonable fee (check the hardware store in Arenal). Regular bus service is available in Arenal with connections throughout Costa Rica and even to Nicaragua and Panama.
Bus service is also provided to and from the International Airport in San Jose.
Car Rental Agencies are available in Fortuna about 45 minutes away and can be delivered to the Lake through our arrangement with Adobe Car Rental where we can offer discounts to our clients:
ADOBE RENT A CAR
Call Orlando Aray
Phone: 506 2542 4800; Cell 506 8918 3009
GPS and Cell Phone rental also
An important subject in Costa Rica, and not to be of concern if you are aware and precautious. In the Lake Arenal region and throughout Costa Rica for that matter there does exist petty crime and theft, usually petty crimes of opportunity. Never leave anything of value in your car and always lock it where ever you go. If you are considering buying or building a home not in a gated community or a close knit residential community, we strongly advise you have a full time live in house keeper/caretaker, either in an apartment in your home, or in a small cottage on your property. This will prevent any unfortunate problems which can easily be prevented. Just remember you are seen as wealthy foreigners moving into what had been a poor rural farm community. The people are happy to see you as you are providing jobs and opportunities that did not exist before, but be aware of the criminal element that exists in all societies and you will be fine.
THE LAKE AND THE RIVERS
Lake Arenal is a 50 square mile unspoiled and unpolluted fresh water lake at an elevation of approximately 1500 above sea level. Fishing in the Lake is excellent and it is famous for its very good eating Rainbow Bass, or Guapote. Boating, sailing and windsurfing are also popular and growing. There are numerous beautiful bays and islands that offer peaceful, private vantage points to view the exotic and abundant wildlife around the Lake. ICE, the governmental monopoly that provides electricity and phone service in Costa Rica also controls the Lake. They have a set back that varies in width within which you cannot build or develop. You may apply to cross this set back for access to the lake, or to apply for a dock. The rules and regulations pertaining to the uses and access to the lake are being written right now and will be available soon.
Before the Lake was expanded, public roads which ran into what is now the lake remain as public access points to the lake and may be used by all for access and to launch boats. Several small marinas exist and there are many larger ones planned and in the permit process.
If you are lucky enough to have a river or stream running through your property there are several rules and regulations you must abide by. You may not stop the flow of the water to the adjoining land. If you wish to build, you may not build closer than 15 meters from the stream. You may build a pond or dam as long as the flow is permitted to continue.