Costa Rica’s inland neighborhood of Escazu has become a new development hotspot

Small coffee plantations still dot the surrounding hills

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Escazó, about 5 miles west of downtown San Jose, Costa Rica. But this old-money area, once considered a rural outpost, has become a magnet for upscale development.

“Everything happens in Escazó,” said Alexandra Masses, an agent based in the area with Costa Rica Sotheby’s International Realty. “The money is here. We have great shopping centres, amazing gastronomy, corporate headquarters, big retail players. It has become an important place for people to invest in.”

Escazu is “by far the wealthiest and most sought-after area to live” around San Jose, the capital of this Central American nation of 5.2 million, said Todd Cutter, an agent with 2CostaRica Real Estate in Escazu. “Foreign buyers, in particular, can find the cultural amenities and lifestyle they are accustomed to, but with Costa Rican culture where life can slow down.”

Because Escazu occupies the central valley of San José, “we are surrounded by mountains, with protected green areas and stunning views, including the San José skyline,” said Clary Vega, LX Costa Rica agent in Escazu. “It’s a small area with access to the best of everything.” The city of Escazu was officially established in 1848, and was settled by indigenous Huetar tribes in the 16th century. Its name means “resting place” in the local dialect.

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Escazó occupies just 4 square miles in Costa Rica’s Central Valley region, bordered by mountains to the west, the Sabana neighborhood to the east, and National Route 27, Costa Rica’s main highway, to the north, Cutter said.

Two rough halves make up Escazu: “the old money hills, with the estates and compounds and the ranch overlooking the city, and the flat Escazu area, where all the development is taking place,” said Bob Davey, managing director of Christie Costa Rica. “Avenida Escazu, in the flat area, is Costa Rica’s Rodeo Drive, home to two Marriott hotels, theaters, upscale offices, retail, and a foodie scene.”

Price range

Most real estate transactions in Costa Rica are done in US dollars. Detached homes in the mountains surrounding Escazu start at $1 million for unrenovated properties, and go up to $18 million for modern properties “with lots of land and amazing views,” said Vega of LX Costa Rica. In upscale gated communities such as Vistas del Sol, Cerro Real and Cerro Alto, prices start from around $600,000 for a “simpler house” to around $8 million for a larger property on a wider lot.

Apartment prices in Escazu start at about $800,000 — “for empty space where you have to add finishes” — and go up to $4 million or $5 million for a penthouse in a new building with amenities, Vega said. Apartment towers, the fastest growing sector there, include upscale projects such as Monte Plata, Zena, and 402 Avenida Escazu.

Because land throughout Costa Rica is so expensive, and demand is so high, “it becomes more expensive to build or buy projects,” said Maces of Costa Rica Sotheby’s International Realty. “Because we’re in a seismic zone, we also have a lot of regulations that make construction more expensive. It can take a lot of concrete and a lot of time.”

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Escazu’s housing stock falls into three categories, said Cutter of 2CostaRica Real Estate. He said: “The independent real estate homes, mostly spread around the Escazu Mountains, are chosen for their privacy, uniqueness and abundance of land, in addition to the wonderful views overlooking the city.” “Many of them are older, with classic Spanish Colonial details like tiled roofs, although more are being updated.”

Newer, more modern homes predominate in gated communities, although most occupy smaller lots, he said. The prices of “vertical residences” in residential towers can be compared to detached houses. You are sacrificing land for a very safe environment. He added that building designs in Escazu often look similar “because they are mostly by a small number of local architects.”

While Spanish Colonial design once dominated, “with classic dark woods, marble and lots of detail,” a more modern style has emerged over the past 20 years, said Vega of LX Costa Rica. “It’s a more modern aesthetic, with clean lines and lots of white.”

Costa Rica Christie’s Davey also noted strong demand for modern homes. “All new construction is modern. Everyone wants a bright, white open floor plan.” In fact, he said, “Selling older buildings is a challenge now because of the pace of new construction. It’s hard to (sell) those when people want fresh and new.”

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Luxurious amenities

Without having to leave the neighborhood, Escazó offers fine dining, world-class restaurant brands, shopping, medical services, and some of the best schools in Costa Rica, including the Lincoln School, the British School, the Country Day School and the Pan American School, Cutter Off said. 2Costa Rica Real Estate. Because there are so many businesses in the area, “commutes are very quick for residents who work nearby,” Cutter added. Escazu is also home to one of the best private medical facilities in Costa Rica, the CIMA Hospital, he said.

Masis of Costa Rica Sotheby’s International Realty said Escazó’s thriving restaurant scene attracts foodies throughout the capital. Highlights include the Peruvian-influenced Zonna Gastro Bar from Cordon Bleu-trained Chef Regis Molina and the Peruvian fusion at Chef Marco Antonio Januzza’s acclaimed restaurant Divina Comida.

Costa Rica’s first private members’ club, the “ultra-exclusive” Costa Rica Country Club, opened in Escazu in 1940, and continues to attract the capital’s elite, Maces said.

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What makes it unique

Escazó’s moderate climate is a major attraction for both Costa Ricans and foreign buyers who choose to call it home, Macis said.

“Escazhu’s climate is usually moderate, which makes it comfortable all year round,” she said. Likewise, the relative safety of the area has become an attraction. “Escazu is generally considered a safe place to live, with a lower crime rate than some other areas in San Jose and Costa Rica,” Maces said.

Among its cultural attractions, the neighborhood includes the National Stadium, a sports and concert venue built in China, and the Museum of Costa Rican Art.

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Who lives there

Escazó’s residents include “former presidents, diplomats, successful politicians, CEOs, business owners and high-level managers from Fortune 500 companies,” according to Cutter of 2Costa Rica Real Estate. “And if a celebrity isn’t buying on the coast, Escazu is where they’ll go.” He added that the Escazu market is “70% driven by local residents and 30% by foreign investment.”

However, the “advantage of Costa Rica” is that “you can be in the more upscale society here,” and find a modest house a block away, said Vega of LX Costa Rica. “So you’ll find the US ambassador, the executives, the expatriates, but also the person who waited at your table.”

Notable residents

Notable residents include former Costa Rican presidents Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echeverría, José María Figueres Olsen, and Laura Chinchilla Miranda, the country’s first female leader. and Claudia Paul Ahrens, an Olympic medalist on the Costa Rican swimming team, according to Macy’s of Costa Rica Sotheby’s International Realty.

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Because Escazu has not seen the same “dramatic price increases” as Costa Rica’s coast, “the area still represents quite a valuable opportunity,” Cutter said. “The market will remain a buyer’s market or at least a stable market.”

Vega, from LX Costa Rica, agreed. “The market has been strong and more active since the pandemic,” she said. “However, there is a lot of inventory. We are seeing a lot of sales, but at market price. There is much more value placed on properties that are finished, ready and even furnished. It used to be at the beach, not in the city. Buyers want to bring their toothbrush, and that’s it.” She noted that the price increases are “mostly due to significantly higher construction costs.”

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