In Arenal real estate market, the lake takes center stage

April 27, 2017

NUEVO ARENAL, Guanacaste – If you build it, they will come.

When it comes to Lake Arenal and the beautiful properties surrounding it, the famous quote from the baseball film “Field of Dreams” frequently comes to mind. In the 1970s, the then-much smaller lake was enlarged by purposefully flooding the old town of Arenal. This made enough room for what is now Costa Rica’s largest lake to supply the country with a large percentage of its electricity.

The government then gave free plots of land around the new lake to the locals, mostly farmers, who had to give up their old land to create the lake. Those people then turned around and resold their lands to the few North American and European travelers coming here to set up land developments in the 1980s and 1990s.

That’s when, just as the prophecy in the movie foretold, everyone starting coming.

Arenal Real Estate

The miners, Juan Illanes and Raúl Bustos, were visiting Costa Rica Dec. 6 to give motivational speeches at the Universidad Latina in the capital’s eastern San Pedro neighborhood when they were robbed. Thieves took their passports and laptops.

According to Sonia Cornejo, who helped coordinate the miners’ visit, the passports were found near the Hotel Palma Real and returned, but the laptops are still missing.

Illanes and Bustos were trapped underground with 31 other miners for 70 days. In October, viewers around the world watched as rescuers lifted them to safety one by one.

Despite the robbery, Cornejo said the rest of the pair’s visit to Costa Rica went well.

Next week, a larger group of the 33 miners will visit England to see a Manchester United soccer match, the BBC reported.

Michael Krumholtz/The Tico Times


Costa Rica’s Greatest Places

In this series, Tico Times Travel takes an in-depth look at some of Costa Rica’s greatest destinations, with multiple articles exploring their appeal. In April, we’ll be looking at all the attractions of Arenal — adventure tourism, hotels, restaurants, real estate and of course that volcano and all those hot springs.

PART I: Valle del Sol
PART II: Quepos/Manuel Antonio
PART III: The Flamingo Coast
PART IV: Nosara
PART V: Arenal

Today, Lake Arenal’s real estate market is fueled by expat buyers.

Of the half-dozen homes on the market I visited during a recent trip to Nuevo Arenal, all had a few factors in common. One is that the market is almost solely driven by retirees from the United States and Canada. And two, the market is dominated by homes in the $200,000 to $300,000 range. That doesn’t mean there aren’t cheaper or pricier options: there definitely are. But real estate agents in the area were unanimous in saying that the quarter-million dollar price range is the hottest commodity in town.


On my first tour of homes in Nuevo Arenal, Vladi Sparrow of Arenal Guru showed me around. The Czech real estate agent’s company lists around 250 properties, including in La Fortuna, around the lake and as far away as Monteverde.

Arenal GuruV3


Arenal Real Estate

Sunday was mostly a quiet day, despite elections across Costa Rica to decide local mayors and other municipal officials. More than 72 percent of Costa Rica’s voters stayed home.

Still, it was a slight improvement over previous years (under 24 percent in 2006 and 23 percent in 2002).

“It’s a modest increase, but a significant one at the same time,” said Luis Antonio Sobrado, president of the Supreme Elections Tribunal.

“December is a month of distractions with the annual Christmas bonus, change of the seasons and other Christmas holiday events,” he said.

“Yet many Costa Ricans chose the correct path, which was to participate,” he said.

Compared to the presidential elections in February, in which 68 percent of the electorate turned out to vote, Sunday’s election was unmistakably quiet.

Evelyn Contraras, a poll judge working for the National Liberation Party (PLN), attributed the high absenteeism to a lack of campaign material in the streets. “But even when parties bring information to neighborhoods, people do little to become informed.”

As of 8:30 p.m. on Sunday, the PLN –  Costa Rica's dominant political party – won 58 mayoral seats. The Social Christian Unity Party won in eight mayoral races, the Accessibility Without Exclusion Party won two, the Citizen Action Party won six, and the Libertarian Movement won three. Two local parties – Curridabat’s Siglo XXI and Escazú’s Yunta Progresista Escazúeña – also were victorious in their local mayoral races.

“Elections are like a national celebration for Costa Ricans, ... [with] children, adults and seniors out in the streets and really enjoying the day,” said Marco Ruiz, who ran successfully for vice-mayor alongside José Manuel Ulate in central Heredia. “We are very happy with the response,”  

(Courtesy of Arenal Guru)

We went through two homes that Sparrow and Arenal Guru currently have on the market. The first house was a brand new loft-style home with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and high wooden ceilings. The second was another lakeside home available for either residential or commercial use.

Sparrow said he’s only had expat clients in the relatively short time he’s been selling homes in Arenal.

“I’m surprised that nobody from Costa Rica is buying, but it’s never happened,” Sparrow said.

Arenal Real Estate

On Sunday night, at least 12,000 families remained isolated and 27 people were confirmed dead after last week’s rainstorms, which devastated Costa Rica.

Costa Rica’s National Emergency Commission (CNE) reports that 3,745 people were staying in 55 temporary shelters across the country on Sunday night.

On Sunday, helicopters and airplanes from the Colombian, Panamanian and Guatemalan armed forces – which arrived in Costa Rica on Friday night – transported food, water, and medical personal and equipment to 19 stranded communities throughout the country.

In the northwestern province of Guanacaste, a Hercules C-130 transport plane from Colombia transported 16,200 liters of water to Liberia international airport to be distributed throughout the province.

Helicopters carried 10,500 pounds of food and 6,000 pounds of drinking water to residents in Los Santos, a coffee producing region south of San José, where several communities remained isolated on Sunday night. The aerial transports also brought 35,000 liters of water to Acosta, a valley town on the other side of the mountains south of San José. 

As of Saturday, nearly 100,000 residents across Costa Rica remained without clean drinking water due to the rupture of pipes and the collapse of distribution systems during last week’s intense rain. In Aserrí, a mountain town just south of San José, residents filled up buckets and jugs from a cistern truck that the Costa Rican Water and Sewer institute (AyA) had sent to the community.

Air force supplies

Aerial vehicles from Guatemala, Panama and Colombia brought relief supplies to Costa Rica on Sunday after heavy rains battered the country last week, leaving Costa Rica in a state of emergency. Photo courtesy of Costa Rica's Security Ministry.

On Saturday, in Lourdes de Aserrí, where 10 homes were completely destroyed and dozens of others were damaged by a flash flood that stormed down the mountainside on Thursday, many residents salvaged items – furniture, appliances and clothes – from their shattered houses and moved in with family members in other towns.

Some have been promised a three month stipend for rent, food and clothing by Costa Rican’s Mixed Institute for Social Aid (IMAS). Most said they will not return to their homes in Lourdes.

The Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) restored electricity to 1,467 residents as of Sunday night and reported that 933 people remain without power.

The Costa Rican Public Works and Transport Ministry (MOPT) announced that 84 of the 123 roads that were closed last week have been rehabilitated. The Inter-American highway south has been opened from San José to San Isidro del General, the southern zone´s principal city. The ministry had closed the highway last week due to landslides.

The Costanera, a highway that runs along the southern Pacific coast, was opened to Palmar Norte.

Follow the latest official road updates in Spanish at:

(Courtesy of Arenal Guru)

Still, the market for foreign-only buyers must be pretty solid, judging by the competition alone. Going around the lake you’ll see a multitude of real estate signs, including Sparrow’s Arenal Guru. Another common sign is that of Moran Real Estate.

Moran Real Estate’s Bob Lux had been coming to Costa Rica for 20 years before finally setting down in Arenal in 2010. The former broadcasting salesman echoed Sparrow in saying that the market depends on people looking for homes under $300,000. Though there are luxurious mansions and homes over the million-dollar mark, Lux said that qualifying people for loans of that size and ultimately finalizing a deal becomes too much of a hassle.

Arenal Real Estate

Will Laughlin is running for peanut butter.

Yes, peanut butter. The 45-year-old from Boulder, Colo. is running 261 miles through the jungles of Costa Rica, all with the aim of bringing awareness to a product that’s saving lives of malnourished children.

His company, Nut-rients, donates a percentage of its profits to a foundation then provides "therapeutic" peanut butter – creamy peanut butter enhanced with nutrients – to people in disaster areas around the world. Aid workers and doctors now regard therapeutic (or fortified) peanut butter as the most effective treatment for severe malnourishment, he said.

On Saturday, Laughlin will leave from Jacó, trailed by his wife, a paramedic and two therapists, for the five to eight day haul to the Caribbean. He’s following the famed Ruta de los Conquistadores, an internationally-recognized bike race, that travels from the Pacific to Santa Ana to Turrialba to Limón.

As far as he knows, no one has done it at a run.

“I can make it through the physical pain,” said Laughlin, who expects to run for twenty hours a day. “I am more worried about the mental discomfort and how the mind starts to work after that much sleep deprivation.”

Laughlin has run 150 miles through the Sahara Desert, 200 miles over the Rocky Mountains and 155 miles in China’s Gobi Desert. But nothing will compare to the tropical, muddy and mountainous course he takes on Saturday.

He trained by running 100 miles a week, sometimes he'd take two hour runs to pick up a hamburger, milkshake and greasy fries from a fast food joint, before turning around to make the two hour return trip. He said most of the trek is a mental game in which he focuses on the pain. Laughlin said he  “makes friends with (the pain) and becomes comfortable with it."

“I practice staying calm and present,” he said. “I am worried that 60 miles into this run, I’ll be tempted to think of the finish. It can be daunting to think of the end of the race when you are nowhere near.”

Laughlin spent 12 months in Costa Rica in 2001 helping to build a school. He later worked as a consultant for North American companies. 

“We consider it our second home,” he said. “We feel a real connection here. I wanted to explore more of Costa Rica on foot because that’s the most intimate way to explore anything ... Obviously, this is a more extreme way to do it.”

And his principle energy snack that will keep him going? A peanut butter bar.

You can track Laughlin online at

(Courtesy of Moran Real Estate)

Moran Real Estate is a representative for International Living magazine, which leads Lux to receive around 25 emails per day from people inquiring about the listed properties.

Lux said the market has been quietly picking back up since the crash nearly a decade ago. But in the next year or so, he said he expects the market to take the next step up. He is well prepared for any boost in sales, as he estimates he has more than 200 properties to offer.

“There’s so much real estate on the market right now that it’s unbelievable,” Lux said. “Not only in homes but in land. I don’t know how many listings I have, but there’s so much property for sale.”

Arenal Real Estate

Two of the 33 Chilean miners trapped underground for more than two months before being rescued in October visited Costa Rica this weekend. 

The two miners talked Sunday about their harrowing ordeal and also plans for a movie chronicling their ordeal are moving fast.

Miner Juan Illanes said during a visit to Costa Rica that discussions for the movie are "very advanced and we hope there are results soon."

"It's a business deal and when that's the case you want to try to find a way for everyone to profit fairly," Illanes said.

Illanes said his life has been "scandalously different" since he and his colleagues were rescued in October after spending 69 days trapped 2,300 feet (700 meters) underground by a cave-in.

Illanes said that prior to the collapse, he was "a normal worker" who would have never been able to afford a trip to Costa Rica. Illanes and Bustos were in the capital, San Jose, to host two private conferences about their experience trapped in the mine.

They will return to Chile before traveling Dec. 11 to England, where they've been invited to attend a Manchester United soccer game.

The miners have been inundated with gifts since their rescue.

"Why do they give them to us? I think that the joy that our rescue represented is now manifesting itself in gifts," Bustos said.

(Courtesy of Moran Real Estate)

Lux and other agents said that relatively few foreigners settle down in La Fortuna itself. Most of the land in the small town on the other side of the volcano is still Tico-owned, and the touristy vibe of travelers constantly passing through is usually a turn-off for expats wanting to live part- or full-time in Costa Rica, Lux said.

But looking around the idyllic lakeside town of Nuevo Arenal, it makes sense that so many people would want to settle down here. There are loads of outdoor activities, the climate is nearly perfect, and many of the homes here are separated far enough from neighboring houses to provide a sense of privacy and solitude.

So who wouldn’t want to live here?

If one thing is currently lacking from this little town, Sparrow said it is a strong public school. Sparrow, who puts his own children through home school because there aren’t any alternatives to the one-size-fits-all school in town, said that’s a major reason why retirees are almost exclusively the buyers here, as opposed to couples with children.

Arenal Real Estate
Araya voting

San José mayor Johnny Araya votes in Sunday's mayoral election. Araya won his re-election bid with about two-thirds of the vote.

Ronald Reyes | Tico Times

San José, (EFE) - San José Mayor Johnny Araya was elected to another term during Costa Rica’s municipal elections Sunday, a day marked by high voter abstention and a clear victory for the ruling National Liberation Party (PLN).

With 78.9 percent of votes counted in the capital, Araya, of the PLN, won 61.8 percent of votes, followed by Gloria Valerín, of the Citizen Action Party (PAC), with 16.2 percent, and Óscar López, of the Accessibility without Exclusion Party (PASE), with 15.6 percent.

San José’s voter absentee rate was even higher than the national average, at 81.7 percent, according to the Supreme Elections Tribunal.

With Sunday’s results, Araya will serve as San José’s mayor until 2016, meaning he will have served as the city’s top official for 25 consecutive years.

(Courtesy of Moran Real Estate)

For his part, Lux said the reason the market is so heavily inundated with retirees has to do with lack of available jobs.

“We’re in the middle of nowhere,” Lux said. “There are only farmlands around us and little towns.”

He said this puts a severe limit on who wants to buy in the area.

“Most of the people that come here are retirees, and a small group who work mostly online,” Lux said.

Arenal Real Estate

Opposition lawmakers this morning convinced the ruling Sandinista front to postpone for three days a series of three controversial defense bills that President Daniel Ortega submitted to the National Assembly Tuesday afternoon for urgent approval by Friday.

Congressman Victor Hugo Tinoco, head of the minority Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), said opposition lawmakers were able to postpone voting on the bills until Monday, Dec. 6.

Congress will break for year-end recess Dec. 15, not Dec. 3 as The Nica Times reported earlier.

“We have until Monday to study the bills, which are important measures dealing with national security and the border,” Tinoco said (see separate stories).

Despite the slight delay, lawmakers loyal to Ortega are expected to have the majority of votes needed to approve the bills next Monday. After the bills are passed in first vote, they would go to a second article-by-article vote, which is expected to happen the same day.

(Courtesy of Catherine Nicholas/Lake Arenal Properties)

Catherine Nicholas of Lake Arenal Properties and the bed and breakfast Chalet Nicholas sees Arenal as the perfect place to retire. After tiring of the rat race in Manhattan, she and her husband, John, moved to Costa Rica in 1991 and opened up Chalet Nicholas a year later.

Lake Arenal Properties Banner V4


The Nicholases host potential clients at the bed and breakfast before taking them on tours of homes. This offers a clear advantage when selling properties, Nicholas said, because she’s able to befriend her clients and get a feel for what they like and don’t like. Plus, she added, she’s going to do everything in her power to help someone who will potentially be her neighbor on the lake.

Arenal Real Estate

San José Speeders beware. The Public Works and Transport Ministry (MOPT) has 12 new eyes watching over Costa Rica's highways.

Traffic police will be capable of monitoring and ticketing unsafe driving with 12 recently installed video cameras, reported La Nación on Tuesday. The cameras were subjected to a two-month trial period and are installed on four different highways: General Cañas, Florencio del Castillo, Próspero Fernández and the San José metropolitan beltway.

Traffic law violators will be identified by their license plate number, and a notification of their offense and citation will be delivered to their residence.

In the near future MOPT intends to install more cameras along other high-traffic roads.

(Courtesy of Catherine Nicholas/Lake Arenal Properties)

“We make so many friends from this,” Nicholas said. “Everyone we’ve ever helped to buy a home ends up being our neighbors, so I’m not going to treat them badly.”

It’s clearly working, as Nicholas said in a mid-March interview that she had already sold three houses in 2017.

She has about 30 properties listed on her web site,, which she manages from the bed and breakfast, where the couple’s three Great Danes roam around. The homey feel of the chalet, along with John and Catherine’s hospitality, gives those who stay there a great glimpse into what life is like in Arenal.

Nicholas said she has a strict process for buying and selling homes, first of all making sure that it’s a home she would live in herself. She then becomes so attached to these properties and her clients, she said, that it becomes more about helping buyers start a new life than about making money from the deal.

“I don’t even think of it as selling,” Nicholas said. “It’s like I’m giving away a gift.”

Contact Michael Krumholtz at

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