PA - Ocean Contemporary

RIU to open its first RIU Palace in Guanacaste

COSTA RICA - September 25th, 2012 - / Based on Press Release / - On November 2nd of this year RIU Hotels & Resorts will open its second hotel in Costa Rica and the first of the Riu Palace luxury range: the Riu Palace Costa Rica.

This elegant resort will be situated in the beautiful region of Guanacaste, famous for its natural beauty, just next to the Riu Guanacaste Hotel. Within three years of opening, this hotel has become one of the favorites amongst RIU guests. Testimony to this is the recent 'Crystal Apple Award' for the 'Best Staff and Service' in Central America awarded by the major US tour operator, Apple Vacations, thanks to the opinions of its guests. The Riu Palace Costa Rica extends and complements the range of hotels RIU has to offer in the destination with its luxury service and facilities.

Situated on the seafront, the Riu Palace Costa Rica will offer 538 rooms with free Wi-Fi internet and 24 hour room service. Its range of high quality cuisine consists of five restaurants: the 'Arenal', which will offer a buffet of international cuisine with dishes cooked to order, and four restaurants with à la carte specialities: the Japanese 'Tokio', the Italian 'L'Anfora', the 'Papagayo' Grill-Steakhouse and the modern 'Krystal' restaurant. Guests can also choose from five bars, including the new 'Lounge 24' bar, to sample RIU's vast menu of cocktails as well as national and international drinks, not to mention coffees and fine pastries in the 'Capuchino' patisserie.

The luxurious 5 star resort will boast four pools, one of which will have a swim-up bar and a children's pool, as well as a miniclub for kids and entertainment programs operating day and night. The resort also includes the street 'El Poblado' where guests will find boutiques, a kiosk, souvenirs and photographic shop, as well as a fully equipped Renova Spa where guests can enjoy free use of the gym, sauna and jacuzzi. On the same street, you will find the casino, the 'Pacha' nightclub and the complex's Conference Center.

The Future is Bright - Liberia Airport Arrivals Skyrocket in 2012

Posted on October 15th, 2012

The new Liberia International Airport opened in January 2012, which involved some major upgrades. Prior to the new improvements, the original Liberia International Airport was small, outdated, and unable to keep up with the growth. Now it is a state of the art, large scale international travel hub. This is an infrastructure improvement that only bodes well for real estate values in the Guanacaste Region of Costa Rica, and especially the nearby beach town of Playa Hermosa and Playas del Coco. How's this for growth - Passenger arrivals are up over 26% from 2011, 45% from 2010, and over 71% from 2009.

Additionally, more passengers have arrived into Liberia Internationa Airport in just the first 8.5 months of 2012 than ALL of 2011. The future of tourism and real estate is bright in our area with an ever-increasing number of new visitors and home owners. The numbers don't lie. Now is the time to invest in Costa Rica, especially the Gold Coast of Guanacaste.

Tourism Recovered in 2011

The Tamarindo News dated March 8, 2012

  • It surpassed the 2 million tourists of the last season.
  • Tourist arrivals at Liberia Airport grew by 31.4% in December.

Last year was a year of growth for the tourism industry. The country recorded the arrival of more than 2 million international tourists in 2011; this implies an increase of 4.6%, about 97 thousand tourists more than the previous period.

The data are based on statistics from the Department of Immigration (DGME) released by the Costa Rican Board of Tourism (ICT).

Allan Flores, Minister of Tourism, said the dynamism the tourism industry is showing after the economic crisis is the result of the intensive work of public and private sectors to encourage an influx of visitors to the country and the positioning of Costa Rica as an innovating destination pioneer in sustainable tourism development.

Most visitors came to the country by air, which represents a 70% of total arrivals recorded last year. Approximately, 1,200,000.00 arrived at Juan Santamaria International Airport and almost 270,000.00 at Liberia's.

Every time, there are more Europeans visiting. In 2011, this market grew by 4.8%. North America closed with an increase of 3.9% and visits from the south of our continent experienced an important development with an 8.2% growth in visits.

The High Season Begins

With the start of the high season, December saw a sharp increase in visitation. Some 217,743 foreign tourists entered the country through all our ports, so presenting a 7.6% growth over the same month in 2010 (15,347 tourists more).

The opening of the new passenger terminal at the Daniel Oduber International Airport in early season increased the visitation figures by 31.4%. In December, 35,121 tourists entered by Liberia.

Visitors from North America continue to prove that they are lovers of our nature and that Costa Rica is one of their preferred destinations. The arrival of the North Americans had an 11.9% growth in total; Canada with a 17.6% and the U.S. with 11.4% (88,074 Americans arrived). Visitation of South American tourists increased by 7.5%. The growth of tourist visitation from Brazil, with 29.5% in December, is of particular importance as to this subcontinent.

The government has announced a series of measures to encourage the arrival of airlines that may connect destinations in Costa Rica with emerging economies such as those located in South America and Asia.

CIMA Guanacaste scheduled to open later this month

By Kayla Pearson of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

July 10, 2012 - The Hospital CIMA Guanacaste will open July 27 with six beds that will gradually grow into 20. The grand opening comes over a year after the groundbreaking, due to delays with licensing and construction, according to a summary by the man in charge. In addition:

  • The facility will have a 24-hour emergency room, operation capabilities and a full-service clinic, complete with a lab, radiology, and computerized tomography scans.
  • As doctors become more familiar with the practice and the cliental grows, the hospital will expand into another building.
  • All the medical staff will come from Guanacaste. Since these doctors are specialist, the Hospital CIMA Guanacaste staff will not do complicated procedures such as heart surgeries. Those patients will be referred to CIMA San José.

"We expect to be busy there, but we will refer a lot of patients here," said Paul Mouritsen, director general and CEO of the Guanacaste facility. He was speaking at Hospital CIMA in Escazú Monday.

On occasion, to save cost for the patients, elective surgeries that require physicians from San José will be scheduled together, and the doctors will travel to Guanacaste to perform the procedures, he said.

Costa Rica has promoted itself as a tourist destination with a portion of visitors here to get medical attention. For example, CIMA San José has recently seen an influx of people coming to get bariatric surgery to help with obesity.

"Medical tourism started in Costa Rica with cosmetic procedures and dental procedures — those procedures that are not normally covered by insurance. Very few people come here just to have something done, then go back. But I think that's going to change," said Mouritsen.

"What we think will happen is people will come to hotels and visit the surf shops and the beaches. Some will get sick and need attention. Some will get hurt and need attention. After visiting our hospital, they will get brochures and information and spread the word," he added.

As world spreads, the corporation hopes that CIMA hospitals will become a preferred destination to mix in hospital visits with vacations.

"Most of the people who come are retired. They can come get a hip replacement, spend a week in recovery, then do rehab on a beach for a month. Why not do that?" said Mouritsen.

The facility is in Pacific Plaza west of the Daniel Oduber international airport in Liberia.

CIMA, which stands for Centro Internacional de Medicina, has locations in Mexico, Central America and Brazil. It is owned by the International Hospital Corporation headquartered in Dallas, Texas. The hospitals provide privately managed and owned services in areas that are traditionally underserved, and is recognized for having quality standards, the firm said.

The public hospitals in Costa Rica are operated under the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social and are overcrowded with limited resources. CIMA is another alternative for both tourist and Costa Ricans without insurance with the Caja, said Mouritsen.

Mouritsen took over as CEO for the Costa Rican hospitals five weeks ago. Before he served as CEO of CIMA Hermosillo in Sonora, Mexico. Since arriving in the country, he said he has worked to maintain the companies values of quality, sustainability and ethics.

Mouritsen said he has made sure the hospital employees adhere to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. He said he fired staff members who were taking bribes from vendors and terminated contracts with companies that weren't being ethical.

American and International insurance such as Metlife, BUPA, and Blue Cross Blue Shield International are accepted by CIMA.

Is Guanacaste medical tourism's next hot spot?

Friday, May 06, 2011 - By Matt Levin of Tico Times

At Costa Rica's annual medical tourism congress, businesses emphasized a the soaring potential of the country's northwest province. A $125 million CIMA hospital set to open before the end of this year looks to be the cornerstone of Guanacaste's medical tourism future.

A Healthy Future: A model-sized version of Clínica Bíblica's future Guanacaste hospital, a $40 million project, was on display at the Medical Travel Summit this week at the Hotel Ramada Plaza Herradura, north of San José.

Medical tourism companies, doctors, hotel managers and tour operators piled into the Hotel Ramada Plaza Herradura for two days, touting Latin America's medical tourism benefits from the industry's most popular site, San José.

But on Wednesday, the last day of Costa Rica's second-annual Medical Travel Summit, organizers opted for a change of scenery. Carloads of attendees headed to the northwestern province of Guanacaste on Tuesday night. There they received a four-hour tour of the Papagayo Peninsula, including Marina Papagayo, an elegant Four Seasons Resort and also a newly constructed CIMA hospital.

"This is an opportunity to involve different areas of Costa Rica in medical tourism," said Massimo Manzi, executive director of PROMED, a company that promotes medical procedures in Costa Rica. "Until now, the [Central Valley] is just having the benefits of medical tourism because this is where the hospitals are."

The excursion was an opportunity to promote a growing Guanacaste, which has new medical facilities, an expanding airport and a sprawling 900-hectare retirement community under development, called Sun Ranch. Even as the tour took place, a new luxury hotel, Sol Meliá Paradisus Resort, announced plans to open in Guanacaste in 2013.

The trip helped flaunt Guanacaste's glossy future to medical tourism leaders. It also showed potential tourists what Guanacaste is not - San José.

Costa Rica's grubby capital remains the leader for medical tourism in Central America, with its state-of-the-art hospitals and U.S.-trained doctors. But Guanacaste hopes for a share of that market. And for an obvious reason, industry insiders think it's possible.

"Let's face it," said Jerad Portner, marketing director for Sun Ranch. "If you have the choice to go to San José or the choice to do the same exact work by the same top professionals and you're a 15-minute drive the from the beach, I think it's a pretty easy decision to make." Guanacaste's medical tourism push highlighted the three-day Medical Travel Summit. The congress hosted more than 40 international speakers, 150 companies and nine countries from North and South America and Thailand.

Dental clinics outnumbered the rest of the booths at the conference. Medical suppliers, plastic surgeons and bariatric doctors also promoted why those looking for cheap, quality medical service should head to Latin America.

In 2009, 30,000 medical tourists visited Costa Rica. Almost all of them received their treatment in San José, and patients recovered through vacation packages that took them around the country. The medical tourism industry brings in $60 million annually to Costa Rica, and the projected figure for 2011 is a hefty $100 million, according to PROMED.

If Guanacaste can become the next medical tourism hotspot, the number will continue to rise. The key to the region's growth will be a cutting-edge $125 million CIMA hospital opening in the fourth quarter of 2011 (TT, Jan. 29, 2010).

CIMA hospitals are international medical facilities built in underserved parts of the world. Both locals and foreigners are treated at these hospitals. Approximately, 5,000 medical tourists were treated at the San José branch in 2009, Manzi said.

Joseph Barcie, president of CIMA Centralized Services, headquartered in Dallas, Texas, in the U.S., emphasized that a contemporary hospital can help develop a city. He pointed to the current CIMA building in San José, for example.

"When CIMA San José was built, around that entire hospital was nothing but fields and grass," Barcie said. "Now, 12 years later, Escazú is a hub and they're still building." He imagines the same type of growth in Guanacaste in the next decade. Nearby, in the province's capital city of Liberia, the Daniel Oduber Airport is adding a new terminal. The airport continues to add direct flights to the United States, making it easier to fly in and arrive at a hospital that's less than an hour from the beach. Other hospitals also have tentative plans to build in Guanacaste.

One hospital already settled in Liberia is adding a new wing that will serve medical tourists. Ronald Guerrero, administrative manager of Hospital San Rafael Arcángel, said the hospital takes in 90 percent Costa Rican patients. However, the hospital is equipping itself for the influx of tourist that could be coming to the region.

Guerrero has lived in the area for 15 years, and he deemed Guanacaste ready to make a big leap in the tourism market.

"[I lived in Guanacaste] when it was a small place," Guerrero said. "Well, now it's a little bit more people, more crowded, more noisy and everything but still a much better place to live and to recover from surgery than San José. A much better place."

Other businesses are banking on that attitude. The massive Sun Ranch community will include a $35-$40 million Hospital Clínica Bíblica, a $12-$15 million resort and a professionally designed golf course on its property. Portner said Grupo Do It, Sun Ranch's development company, has not yet begun heavily promoting the property, as they're waiting for more positive signs from the real estate market. Yet the land has piqued the interest of doctors.

Portner stood in front of an elaborate model of the Sun Ranch property in the Hotel Ramada exhibition room, as he explained that San José doctors have called him to ask about buying office space there. The doctors intend to semi-retire there - practicing medicine part-time and fishing and golfing the rest of the week. If CIMA turns Guanacaste into a medical tourism hub, then dentists and other physicians could see the coastal province as a place to open offices.

Manzi said next year's Medical Tourism Summit could highlight opportunities in La Fortuna, Manuel Antonio-Quepos and Jacó. But the consensus this year is the next great destination for medical tourism will be in Costa Rica's northwest.

Said Manzi: "Guanacaste is absolutely ready to be a leader in medical tourism."

Take a Trip to the "Happiest County on Earth"

October 1, 2012 -

Who wouldn't want to travel to the happiest place on earth? The Happy Planet Index is an annual survey conducted by the New Economics Foundation, a British think-tank that aims to measure the level of happiness in every country throughout the world. A country's "happiness" is calculated by measuring its progress toward embracing a "sustainable well-being." The ranking system establishes an undeniable link between happiness and the environment or nature. Costa Rica has topped the list this year for the second year in a row, as its national conservation policies, small ecological footprint, high quality of life and life expectancy rate are all exceedingly above par. Embrace a carefree state of mind and appoint the ever-mellow Costa Rica as the next must-see destination on your travel list.

Why Costa Rica is "the happiest country on earth":

As one of the world's leading ecotourism destinations, Costa Rica was ranked as the "greenest country in the world" by the NEF in 2009. Costa Rica - which translates to "rich coast" - is an utterly peaceful country, so diplomatic in its ways that they indelibly abolished their army in 1949. The government announced its plans to become the first carbon-neutral country by 2021 and Costa Rica ranked as #1 in the Americas and #5 worldwide in the 2012 Environmental Performance Index.

Playas del Coco Boardwalk Open

August 11th 2011

Tourists and residents of Playas del Coco Costa Rica are now able to enjoy a leisurely stroll along the pristine beaches on their very own boardwalk! The Amor de Temporada (Seasonal Love) boardwalk extends for 420 meters along the sandy beach coast and offers visitors fantastic beachfront views of the surrounding landscape as well as the world famous sunsets seen from Playas del Coco Guanacaste. Resident artisans will be given permanent installations along the boardwalk to promote locally made Costa Rican arts and crafts.

The total investment for The Amor de Temporada boardwalk project in Guanacaste is an estimated $500,000 and is been completed in two stages. Almond, olive and palm trees are already planted for the first stage and an irrigation and underground lighting system has also been installed. The boardwalk also has small terraces, specially designed lampposts, picnic areas as well as a basketball court and two beach volleyball courts. A pier which leads out to the Gulf of Papagayo will be built for the second stage of the Amor de Temporada boardwalk project in Playas del Coco.

The Amor de Temporada (Seasonal Love) boardwalk is named after a song composed in 1930 by Guanacastecan Héctor Zúñiga Rovira, which is about a love story that begins in Playas del Coco Costa Rica.

Paradisus Resorts Announce Opening of New Luxury Eco-Resort

Brand's new five star all-inclusive luxury resort is scheduled to open July 2013, superseding the former Paradisus Playa Conchal in Guanacaste.

PALMA DE MALLORCA, Spain, May 4, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Paradisus Resorts, the five star all-inclusive luxury hotel brand owned and operated by Sol Melia Hotels & Resorts, announced today the development of a new property in Papagayo Bay, Costa Rica, scheduled to open in July 2013. The new build, aptly named Paradisus Papagayo Bay and constructed in partnership with SunVesta Holding AG a Swiss based Private Equity, Consulting and Development group, represented by their subsidiary Richland Investments Ltd. and their Costa Rican partner DIA S.A., supersedes the former Paradisus Playa Conchal in Guanacaste operated by the brand until April 30th, 2011.

The new property is part of the brand's master expansion plan, which includes the opening of two resorts in Playa del Carmen, Mexico in November 2011, and aims to solidify Paradisus Resorts as a leader in the luxury all-inclusive market segment.

Furthermore this new portfolio addition allows Sol Melia to capitalize on the tremendous recognition the brand has in the region, due largely to the 15 years of experience in the destination, while building significant equity on Paradisus' behalf.

"The introduction of Paradisus Papagayo Bay to the Costa Rican market is the ideal opportunity to continue elevating Sol Melia's portfolio, while embodying the vision of our brand as a hospitality leader in the luxury all-inclusive sector," said Alvaro Tejeda Schroeder, SVP of the Premium Portfolio and Operations for Sol Group's Hotels & Resorts in The Americas. "We had tremendous success as pioneers with Paradisus Playa Conchal and the superior product Paradisus Papagayo Bay brings to the region will continue the brand's successful development of Guanacaste as a luxury destination."

Located on the Northern Province of Guanacaste, Paradisus Papagayo Bay is being developed on 21 hectares of dramatic landscape, complying with all five star resort specifications. The 381-room eco-luxury resort's design cascades to the beach below on one of the world's most stunning bays. Featuring breathtaking views from virtually any location on the property, its five restaurants and five bars will provide guests with multiple settings in which to enjoy food and beverage while admiring the region's natural beauty. The resort will boast many of Paradisus' brand assets including a YHI Spa and Health Club, the renowned adults-only "Royal Service" level of accommodations and the "Family Concierge" program. In addition to amenities that cater to the leisure guest, Paradisus Papagayo Bay will also feature 19,000 square feet of meeting facilities with the business traveler in mind.

"SunVesta and DIA are thrilled to be partnering with Paradisus Resorts on this project, where we will combine high-end luxury with a sustainable eco-friendly development concept, resulting in a world-class eco-luxury resort with the highest service standards," commented Josef Mettler, President and CEO of the SunVesta Group. "We believe in investing in prime locations and working with the best companies to achieve the best ecological and financial results, and this project couldn't be a better example of our credo."

"We are proud to be a part of SunVesta and Paradisus Resorts' extraordinary project at Papagayo Bay," commented Jose Manuel Aguero, President of DIA. "As SunVesta's Costa Rican partner our excellent local network will contribute to this development's great success."

SunVesta has enlisted the services of WingField Corporation Inc. as master developer of Paradisus Papagayo Bay. "This is a truly exceptional project," WingField President Henk Habers said, "It is destined to be one of Central America's premier resorts."

WingField was instrumental in the negotiations leading to the transaction realization in its capacity of advisor to SunVesta. "We are looking forward to the commencement of this project and to future cooperation with SunVesta and Sol Melia," said Dean Johnson, Chairman and CEO of WingField.

Paradisus Resorts, known for exuding sophistication and luxury prides itself on the no-hassle, premium service upscale vacation experience. In addition to Paradisus' existing five properties in the Americas, expansion plans include the opening of two resorts in Playa del Carmen, Mexico and the development of a property in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil in the next three years. Paradisus is projected to double its portfolio of properties by 2013.

About Sol Melia

Sol Melia was founded in 1956 in Palma de Mallorca (Spain) and is one of the world's largest resort hotel chains, as well as Spain's leading hotel chain in both the business and leisure markets. It currently provides more than 300 hotels in 26 countries on 4 continents under its brands: Gran Melia, Melia, ME by Melia, Innside by Melia, Tryp, Sol, Paradisus and Sol Melia Vacation Club.

About SunVesta

SunVesta is a Swiss based Private Equity, Consulting and Development group of companies, established in 2005. Its core competence is to evaluate, to finance and to develop lucrative and sustainable tourism real estate projects exclusively in the growing market niches of luxury mixed-use hospitality real estate, private residence clubs and fractional ownership industry.

SunVesta is listed at OTCBB and at the Open Market Segment at Frankfurt Stock Exchange.

About DIA Diseno Ingenieria Arquitectura Metropolitiana S.A.

DIA S.A. was founded in 1974 as a Construction and Real Estate Development Company in Costa Rica. Private homes, government buildings, gated communities in city, mountain and beach environments are all within their expertise. DIA S.A. is very well known in Costa Rica for having high quality construction standards and prime locations for its projects.

About WingField

WingField Corporation Inc. is a member of the WingField group of companies with offices in Brussels, Luxembourg and St. Paul/Minneapolis. Founded in 1994, WingField's activities are focused on three distinct sectors: real estate, hospitality and corporate finance. WingField has extensive experience in financial engineering, real estate investments and developments, corporate finance, hospitality and leisure. Within the real estate sector, WingField acts as developer, investor and financial arranger. Projects and investments are primarily focused in Europe with a growing number of projects in North America.

Costa Rica tops list of 'happiest' nations

  • Costa Rica beats out Dominican Republic as "happiest" place in world
  • Independent British group claims Costa Ricans have world's highest life satisfaction
  • Central American nation also praised for its environmental efforts

(CNN) -- Forget Disneyland!  Costa Rica is the happiest place in the world, according to an independent research group in Britain with the goal of building a new economy, "centered on people and the environment."

In a report released Saturday, the group ranks nations using the "Happy Planet Index," which seeks countries with the most content people.

In addition to happiness, the index by the New Economics Foundation considers the ecological footprint and life expectancy of countries.

"Costa Ricans report the highest life satisfaction in the world and have the second-highest average life expectancy of the new world (second to Canada)," the organization said in a statement.

They "also have an ecological footprint that means that the country only narrowly fails to achieve the goal of ... consuming its fair share of the Earth's natural resources."

The Central American country, tucked between Nicaragua and Panama, touts its lush rain forests and pristine beaches. Its president, Oscar Arias Sanchez, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for trying to help end civil wars in several Central American countries.

This year's survey, which looked at 143 countries, featured Latin American nations in nine of the Top 10 spots.

The runner-up was the Dominican Republic, followed by Jamaica, Guatemala and Vietnam.

Most developed nations lagged in the study.

While Britain ranked 74th, the United States snagged the 114th spot, because of its hefty consumption and massive ecological footprint.

The United States was greener and happier 20 years ago than it is today, the report said.

Other populous nations, such as China and India, had a lower index brought on by their vigorous pursuit of growth-based models, the survey suggested.

"As the world faces the triple crunch of deep financial crisis, accelerating climate change and the looming peak in oil production, we desperately need a new compass to guide us," said Nic Marks, founder of the foundation's center for well-being.

Marks urged nations to make a collective global change before "our high-consuming lifestyles plunge us into the chaos of irreversible climate change."

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Environmentalism and Economic Growth Work Together in Costa Rica

Article Tools Sponsored By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Published: April 11, 2009

Liberia, Costa Rica

Sailing down Costa Rica's Tempisque River on an eco-tour, I watched a crocodile devour a brown bass with one gulp.  It took only a few seconds.  The croc's head emerged from the muddy waters near the bank with the footlong fish writhing in its jaws.  He crunched it a couple of times with razor-sharp teeth and then, with just the slightest flip of his snout, swallowed the fish whole.  Never saw that before.

These days, visitors can still see amazing biodiversity all over Costa Rica — more than 25 percent of the country is protected area — thanks to a unique system it set up to preserve its cornucopia of plants and animals.  Many countries could learn a lot from this system.

More than any nation I've ever visited, Costa Rica is insisting that economic growth and environmentalism work together.  It has created a holistic strategy to think about growth, one that demands that everything gets counted.  So if a chemical factory sells tons of fertilizer but pollutes a river — or a farm sells bananas but destroys a carbon-absorbing and species-preserving forest — this is not honest growth.  You have to pay for using nature.  It is called “payment for environmental services” — nobody gets to treat climate, water, coral, fish and forests as free anymore.

The process began in the 1990s when Costa Rica, which sits at the intersection of two continents and two oceans, came to fully appreciate its incredible bounty of biodiversity — and that its economic future lay in protecting it.  So it did something no country has ever done:  It put energy, environment, mines and water all under one minister.

“In Costa Rica, the minister of environment sets the policy for energy, mines, water and natural resources,” explained Carlos M. Rodríguez, who served in that post from 2002 to 2006.  In most countries, he noted, “ministers of environment are marginalized.”  They are viewed as people who try to lock things away, not as people who create value.  Their job is to fight energy ministers who just want to drill for cheap oil.

But when Costa Rica put one minister in charge of energy and environment, “it created a very different way of thinking about how to solve problems,” said Rodríguez, now a regional vice president for Conservation International.  “The environment sector was able to influence the energy choices by saying:  ‘Look, if you want cheap energy, the cheapest energy in the long-run is renewable energy.  So let's not think just about the next six months; let's think out 25 years.’”

As a result, Costa Rica hugely invested in hydro-electric power, wind and geo-thermal, and today it gets more than 95 percent of its energy from these renewables.  In 1985, it was 50 percent hydro, 50 percent oil.  More interesting, Costa Rica discovered its own oil five years ago but decided to ban drilling — so as not to pollute its politics or environment!  What country bans oil drilling?

Rodríguez also helped to pioneer the idea that in a country like Costa Rica, dependent on tourism and agriculture, the services provided by ecosystems were important drivers of growth and had to be paid for.  Right now, most countries fail to account for the “externalities” of various economic activities.  So when a factory, farmer or power plant pollutes the air or the river, destroys a wetland, depletes a fish stock or silts a river — making the water no longer usable — that cost is never added to your electric bill or to the price of your shoes.

Costa Rica took the view that landowners who keep their forests intact and their rivers clean should be paid, because the forests maintained the watersheds and kept the rivers free of silt — and that benefited dam owners, fishermen, farmers and eco-tour companies downstream.  The forests also absorbed carbon.

To pay for these environmental services, in 1997 Costa Rica imposed a tax on carbon emissions — 3.5 percent of the market value of fossil fuels — which goes into a national forest fund to pay indigenous communities for protecting the forests around them.  And the country imposed a water tax whereby major water users — hydro-electric dams, farmers and drinking water providers — had to pay villagers upstream to keep their rivers pristine.  “We now have 7,000 beneficiaries of water and carbon taxes,” said Rodríguez.  “It has become a major source of income for poor people.  It has also enabled Costa Rica to actually reverse deforestation.  We now have twice the amount of forest as 20 years ago.”

As we debate a new energy future, we need to remember that nature provides this incredible range of economic services — from carbon-fixation to water filtration to natural beauty for tourism.  If government policies don't recognize those services and pay the people who sustain nature's ability to provide them, things go haywire.  We end up impoverishing both nature and people.  Worse, we start racking up a bill in the form of climate-changing greenhouse gases, petro-dictatorships and bio-diversity loss that gets charged on our kids' Visa cards to be paid by them later.  Well, later is over. Later is when it will be too late.

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Second homes:  Living abroad never looked so good

By Larry Olmsted, Special for USA TODAY
January 10, 2009

Costa Rica has been one of the most popular retirement destinations for Americans abroad, and it has boomed as a choice for second homes.  No province is as hot for part-timers as Guanacaste on the northwest Pacific coast.

"Costa Rica's appeal as a second-home destination is even greater today:  For the first time since real estate began skyrocketing five or six years ago, prices have softened," says Barry Golson, author of Retirement Without Borders:  How to Retire Abroad.  "With gorgeous jungle, mountain and beach landscapes, Costa Rica continues to set the tourism pace in Central America."

Costa Rica put eco- and adventure tourism on the map, and Guanacaste is home to 98% of the world's rare dry tropical forest.  It sits in the hurricane-free zone, and has mostly dry, sunny days from November to April.

It is also home to Arenal, a large man-made lake (the volcano of that name is in Alajuela province), and the pink sand beach Conchal.  Outdoor adventure is a big attraction, especially surfing, sportfishing and, increasingly, golf.  The Pan American Highway passes through its center, and air travel is easy to Liberia, the provincial capital.  "When I came six years ago, there were three direct U.S. flights a week.  Now there are more than 50," says Luis Argote, general manager of the Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo.

Though many retirees and expat employees live in Liberia, virtually all vacation ownership property is on the coast.  Throughout Guanacaste, the cost of living is low, as are taxes.  "For many buyers, property taxes are less per year than they pay per month at home, like $3,000 a year on a $2 million home," says real estate agent Steve Grubba of Peninsula Papagayo.

Three Guanacaste Neighborhoods:

• Tamarindo:  This small former fishing village has long been a tourist magnet popular with surfers.  It boasts three beaches and is filled with restaurants and hotels.  It is also home to the Tamarindo National Wildlife Refuge, where visitors from around the world come to watch (supervised) leatherback turtles lay eggs.  Lots near the beach begin in the low $60,000s and new construction homes from just over $100,000.  At the same time, new luxury high-rise condominiums fetch about $500,000.

• Playas Flamingo & Potrero:  These twin beaches form a rustic but popular second-home and year-round-home community.  Flamingo is more heavily developed with luxury hilltop homes overlooking the sea, plus hotels, restaurants and a casino.  Potrero is quiet and secluded with a small village and more modest homes.  New homes in gated Potrero communities begin at $150,000, while Flamingo commands upward of $300,000.  In both, condominiums begin at slightly lower prices.

• Peninsula Papagayo: The country's highest profile development spans 2,300 acres with 15 miles of coastline and will be home to several resorts, golf courses, leisure facilities and residential communities.  Right now there is a Four Seasons hotel with its own residences (from $2.65 million), a wide array of lots for $600,000-$3 million, one golf course and more than 300 marina condos (some still under construction) from $250,000.  The peninsula is surrounded by Santa Rosa National Park.

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