Winter escapes from NYC

By Roich Mann, travel writer and consultant

Ms. Roich Mann is an avid world-wide traveler. She has traveled for more than two decades, visited four continents and developed many exciting itineraries for herself and her fellow travelers. She specializes in custom travel and loves to send her clients to one-of-a-kind destinations based on theirs interest. Not only she can point you toward less known destinations, local food gems and colorful festivals, but she can also get you in excellent but affordable hotels, spas, and rentals.

Lately, Roich decided to share her travel experience and has launched her travel writing career. We are privileged to have her as a contributor to our publication.

She would be happy to assist you with your own travel plans as a travel consultant and can be reached at  roichtravel@gmail.com

The summer is almost over and while we are to enjoy beautiful colors of fall, the winter is coming in 12 weeks – hard to believe.

Oh, how do I dread the prospect of shoveling the snow off my and my parents houses, how do I hate putting on layers of clothes and still be cold, how do I resist driving while my window shields stuck with the wet snow in the middle of the Belt Parkway…

Many of my friends, who also have tired of winter weather, have become snow birds and started to spend winters in Florida. They were luring me over there for a long time and finally I spent a few weeks in Miami Beach last winter. Very quickly I realized that  this is not my cup of tea – the population is rather matured, the drivers do not go over 20 mph, the supermarkets have very limited choice of  local produce and the healthcare yet to become on par with NY.  Most importantly it is sooo boooring!

Winter in New York

Instead, I started to dream of the places where not only I wake up to a breathtaking view, but also can afford great health care and a maid, eat well and enjoy the finer things in life, like sightseeing, art shows, concerts, outdoor life,  and education.  Having easy access to the beach and snorkeling, to local markets and reliable public transportation, having a little or no chance of hurricane with the average temperature of 70-80 degree – all within 3-5 hours flight from JFK will make it a perfect winter retreat and potentially a place to retire one day.

After weeks of research on the internet and in the library, I narrowed down my list to four countries: Costa Rica., Belize, Ecuador, and Panama. While it is attractive to settle in English-speaking countries like Belize or buy a second home in Ecuador, which offers some of the best-value real estate in the world, the lengthy flights with mandatory stopovers are not for me. I have to be able to keep up with my family and friends and the convenience of air travel is a must. This left only one feasible choice of Costa Rica. I was aware of CR as a travel destination but never before considered it for a lengthy stay. As I continued to dig in, I became more and more fascinated by what CR can offer – rich culture, variety of climate zones, great healthcare, superb beaches, endless hiking trails and picture perfect scenery. Not to mention nightlife, theater, concerts, and museums in San José. Costa Rica’s peaceful history  makes it the most stable democracy in Latin America. And having no army means bigger budget for healthcare and other social benefits.

If I decide to retire there eventually, I can start enjoying Costa Rica’s generous Retiree Program – I only have to show $1,000 monthly income per couple and to stay in CR for four months out of the year, which is my plan anyway. CR’s national health system considered one of the best in Latin America .The average cost is less than $100 per months for two. I also would think about purchasing private insurance for a fraction of its cost in USA. Or perhaps purchase travel health insurance form AMEX for $30 per person a month. The private hospitals Cima San José and Clinica Biblica in San José are accredited by the United States’ Joint Commission.

San José is Costa Rica’s capital city

So I was ready to experience it firsthand hence I booked a four-hour flight from JFK to San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital for less than $300 and landed in San Juan airport (SJU) next week.

I decided to split my time between Costa Rica’s Central Valley, Lake Arenal, .and Central Pacific beaches, as swimming and snorkeling is number two on my priority list. These areas are usually passed through by tourists, which makes it even more attractive to me.

Central Valley’s area of small towns like Heredia, Grecia, and Atenas is located on the hills (3000 feet altitude) with cool lush mountain forests. It has perfect 75 F weather all year round (warm but not hot!), little precipitation and 30-45 minutes easy drive to the capital (hence culture), hot springs and airport. These towns offer spectacular views, river valleys, and friendly expats and locals.

Nearby college town of San Ramon is a hub for art and cultural events (jazz and classical concerts by renowned musicians, art exhibition of local and overseas artists, various education programs for adults, including Spanish courses for non-native speakers).

The cost of living is a fraction of what it cost me back in NYC. The monthly rentals with breathtaking views are from $400 – 800 for fully furnished 2-bedroom apartment in excellent condition in prime location. The choices for great food and drinks are endless and cost for a gourmet dinner can be as low as $15 per person. The monthly budget for comfortable living with a maid ($2-3 per hour), including utilities and transportation is less than $2000 per month for two people. Some folks live on much smaller budget and still have a very comfortable and happy life.

Excessive local markets, great public transportation system, easy access to doctors and hospitals made it a very attractive destination.  The only major drawback for me was an hour drive to the beach.

Next to Lake Arenal  – to be continued.

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