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August 2012

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Atenas is located it the central valley of Costa Rica, about 20 miles west of San Jose, the capital. Once an important stop on the coffee oxcart trail, Atenas has become a nice community where expats and locals blend to make a little country town bloom with activity.  

With the new highway built from San Jose to the coast, Atenas has been growing in popularity due to it’s location: 30-40 minutes to San Jose and 45 minutes to the closest beaches. Despite the growing popularity, Atenas is a tiny, sleepy town, most stores close their door at 6 pm and nightlife is virtually non-existent, except for the few bars in town.

Atenas, all rights A Kings Life

We came to Atenas in May of 2010 for a 6 month stay and ended up staying 1 1/2 years.  While there are cheaper places to live in Costa Rica, Atenas offers services and amenities that most North Americans are used to:  plenty of restaurants to choose from (although most are typical local fare), easy access to healthcare, plenty of public and private schools and a large social expat community.

In case you are considering moving to Atenas, here is a breakdown of typical costs.  These are based on our experience of being a family of 4.  All prices are in US Dollars.

Housing & Utilities

The cost of rent in Atenas varies.  There plenty of gated communities, country properties, little casitas (small houses) and neighborhoods close to the center of town.  Places advertised online are almost always more expensive than those you can find locally.

Atenas is a relatively safe place, but break-ins do happen.  Lots of houses will have bars on the windows and doors as an extra security measure.  There are a few small apartment complexes in Atenas, but the majority of housing opportunity is individual houses. 

Gated Communities

Most retired expats tend to live in the gated communities, where the cost of buying a house can be $300,000 on up to millions.  Rent of those houses varies, but usually is  $1300 per month plus.  Most houses in gated communities are built to North American standards and include a pool, a welcome relief during the hot day.

Houses Outside of Town

Just outside of town there are various barrios (neighborhoods) that offer small houses with more land.  Rents can vary from $400 for a typical Tico house to well over $1600 for a more North American house.

Houses near the Center of Town

We lived in a neighborhood near the center of town for the walkability factor.  Houses close to the center of town vary greatly in quality and rental price.  Most tend hover around $500 – $900.

What we paid:

  • 3 bedroom fully furnished house near the center of town:  $800/month
  • Electricity: $80/month
  • Water $8/month
  • We opted not to have cable television
  • Phone & 2MB Internet: $50/month
  • Cleaning:  house keeper 3x weekly for 8 hours each day $250/month

 

Transportation

Costa Rica has a really good and surprisingly on time bus system.  Most buses do not have AC and the twisty turns of Costa Rica mountain roads can make some (like me) sick.  If you opt to use the bus system, a trip from Atenas to San Jose will cost $1.25.  It’s cheap and efficient.

Having a car, particularly for families, makes life easier and more convenient.  Cars are more expensive in Costa Rica but tend to hold their value well.  Cars are registered and a mandatory insurance is required.  Additional insurance can be purchased, most is not needed.

Car Costs:

  • 2002 Diahatsu Terios in great condition $7500
  • Monthly Gas:  $100 (We walked everywhere in town, but did travel around Costa Rica extensively, this figure includes are cross country travels)
  • Yearly Marcharmo (Mandatory Insurance): $120
  • Yearly Retive (inspection): $20

Oxcart parade, all rights A Kings Life

Food

Groceries

Produce in Costa Rica is relatively inexpensive.  The variety leaves something to be desired, but is plenty for most.  We typically went to the Farmer’s Market once a week to stock up on the weeks produce.  For $40-50 we got an entire refrigerator full of fruits and veggies.

More American like foods such as cereals, American cheeses and maple syrup are more expensive, sometimes remarkably so.  Ironically, the staple dishes of Costa Rica, rice and beans, although fairly inexpensive, cost more in Costa Rica than in the US.  

Pineapples: $0.75 each  (and they are deliciously sweet)
Tomatoes:  200c/kg = $0.25 / lb
Papaya: 3 big ones for 1,000c  = $2. We make Papaya smoothies all the time.  They are SO yummy and so good for you!
Beautiful heads of Romaine lettuce: 300c = $0.60
Fresh White Beans 1,000c  $2
Carrots  500c/kg  = $0.50 / lb
Bell Peppers:  7 huge ones for 500c  = $1.00
Sea Bass:  3,500c / kg  = $3.50 / lb
Cucumbers:  300c / kg  = $0.60 / lb.
Onions:  800c/kg = $0.80 /lb
Potatoes: 400-1200c/kg = $0.80 -$1.20 lb depending on the season
 Strawberries (expensive here in CR):  800c/ pint = $1.60 for a little container.
Ground Beef: $5/kg ($2.50/lb)
Chicken Breast: ($7/kg) ($3.50/lb) Costa Rica has delicious natural chicken!
Cherrios Cereal:  $5
Can of Beer:  $1.20
Bottle of Coke:  $1.20
Local Coffee: $5/lb
Shampoo: $6

Eating out

There are plenty of restaurants in Atenas, most cater to the local crowd and serve typical Costa Rican dishes.  The Costa Rican staple is the casado: rice, beans, tortilla, a friend plantain and your choice of fish, chicken, pork or beef.  It’s the cheapest and most filling meal you can order.  Restaurant prices vary, but our favorite restaurant (The Guanacaste) was a great value for the quality of food.  Atenas does not have any street vendors.

Typical Casado: $5-$7
Fresh Fruit Smoothie: $3
Pizza: $10 for a  medium

 

Food Atenas, all rights A Kings Life

Daycare & Schooling

 

Primary & Secondary Schooling

There are plenty of public and private choices for schooling in Atenas.  For as small as the town is the number of schools is surprising.  

Public Schools

Enrollment in the local schools is an option.  Some schools don’t follow a predictable schedule and you may find that your child’s schedule changes day to day.  There are times when the teacher is absent and the students are sent home for the day.  There doesn’t seem to be a substitution system.  All public schools are Spanish speaking only.  Public schools are the cheapest option that cost a few dollars per month ($10) that includes a snack or rice/beans lunch for the child.

Warning:  See Homeschool section below.

Private Schools

The private schools are more expensive, but more consistent in terms of schedule and curriculum.  Many expat families choose private schools for this reason.

Homeschool

Costa Rica does not recognize homeschool as education.  If you choose to homeschool your children do not enroll them into the public school system at any point.  If you choose to pull them out for some reason and remain in Atenas, you may get a visit wondering what type of education your child is getting.  We know of one family that home schooled, but their child wanted to ‘try’ regular school.  So he did for a few weeks, deciding he didn’t like it and pulled out of the system.  They received a very unwelcome visit and eventually their child was forced to go to school, lest he be taken by social services.  (That family has since left Costa Rica).

So, if you choose to homeschool, just be aware of that.  

Otherwise, there are plenty of families that homeschool in Atenas that have not had any issues because their children have never been enrolled in public school.

Pre-school/Daycare

There are 3 major pre-schools available in Atenas for children 3 yrs +.  Each pre-school is 5 half-days per week.

Daycare

There are no daycare centers in Atenas, except for locals or expats opening their home and providing daycare. 

COST:

Public School:  $10/month
Private School: $150+/month depending on the school
Pre-school / Daycare:  $110/month

Activities

The local expat community has organized loads of fun activites for children and adults to do in Atenas.

The center for these activities is usually Su Espacio, near the CoopeAtenas & Gas Station, but classes are held all around the center of town.  There is karate, tai chi, rumba classes, yoga, dancing, painting and much more.  Most classes are offered for monthly ($40/month) or per class fees ($3-5 depending).  There are several soccer teams and volleyball teams in Atenas as well and 3 beach volleyball courts.

Food Atenas, all rights A Kings Life

Services

Labor in Costa Rica is still relatively cheap, so finding someone to do the things you no longer want to do, like mow your lawn or do the dishes is inexpensive.  So much so, that is almost doesn’t make sense to do the things that you don’t enjoy.

Lawn Mowing $8/hr
Gardening $2.50/hr
Housecleaning $2.50/hr
Babysitting $2.50/hr

Taking care of your body

Medical services and alternative health services can be found in town.  Doctors are well trained and the alternative medicine community is growing and becoming popular in Costa Rica. 

Acupunture Appt (in San Jose):  $30 for 1 1/2 hr appt
Massages:  $20/hr
Homeopathic Appt with Remedies:  $24
Visit to private doctor:  $60

Atenas is a beautiful little town that has the perfect mix of locals and expats. The wise variety of activities available (namely because of the varied expat population) makes it a great home base to discover the rest of Costa Rica from.

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Hawaii is one of those iconic destinations that most families want to visit at some point in their travels. The beaches, the volcanoes, the scenery, the people, and the climate. They all call out to you from afar and it’s not long before plans start to form in your mind. But the reality of the cost of a trip to Hawaii can stop your planning right in its tracks. Particularly if you are travelling long term on a budget and as soon as you start googling Hawaii you get nothing but expensive all-inclusive-holiday links to 5 star resorts.

The Hawaiian Islands can certainly be costly for a family, but with the right strategies and proper planning, you can make it work well with your budget. Sure you may need to redefine the word ‘budget’. Doing Hawaii on a budget is not the same as visiting Thailand on a budget. But it doesn’t have to be package deals and 5 star resorts. From flights to accommodations to food and fun, there are plenty of ways that your family can enjoy their time on the islands without emptying your pockets.

Here are some of the top ways that you can save money on your Hawaiian adventure and get the best possible experience for the cost.

Fly for Less

The time of year that you fly, as well as the day of the week, can help you find cheap air fares to Hawaii or even cheap flight and accommodation packages. Most major US airlines offers reduced flights if you are traveling on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Flying during the off-season can help to save you money on flights too, typically during the months of February, May, September and October. It probably goes without saying but avoid school holidays if you want to avoid paying top dollar.

If Hawaii is a stopover on your route between the USA and Australia/NZ or Asia, don’t pay for separate flights. Find an airline that allows you to stop over for free in Hawaii. Don’t forget to check the budget airlines as well. Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia fly to Hawaii so if you are making your way from the USA to Australia or NZ, don’t forget to compare their prices with full fee airlines.

Honolulu is one of the busiest vacation cities in Hawaii, so it’s not hard to find low-cost flights to Honolulu that will fit with your budget. From the Honolulu International Airport, you can even take a flight to any of the other islands aboard Hawaiian Airlines.

Waikiki Hotels

Check All Accommodation Options

Depending on the time of year you travel, you can find lower nightly rates for hotel rooms on the Hawaiian Islands.

Staying at a resort can cost you a lot more per night, particularly in high season. Opt for smaller hotels instead and family run businesses rather than large global chains.

When you are looking at hotel prices, it’s well worth checking with hotel websites directly as well as aggregator websites that offer discount fees and even hostel booking sites. Many of the popular tourist destinations in Hawaii have great hostels with private rooms perfectly suited to families. A lot of the smaller, budget family hotels list on hostel booking sites as well so hostel booking sites can be the best way to find cheap accommodation.

You can also use websites like Flipkey, VRBO and AirBNB to find apartments and homes that are available to rent on a nightly, weekly, or monthly basis, which can save you a lot of money. Prices for budget family accommodation start from as little as $30 a night. Craigslist also has listings of vacation rentals and apartments to sublet. Couchsurfing is another great option to reduce your accommodation costs and meet locals. 

Buy the Hawaii Entertainment Book

For just $35, you could save hundreds of dollars on food, accommodations and entertainment during your trip to Hawaii. The Entertainment coupon book offers tons of coupons on restaurants, hotels, car rental, fishing trips, ice cream, and more. The Entertainment book can be purchased online. It’s well worth keeping an eye on the website as they will have specials from time to time selling the Entertainment book for as little as $10-15.

You Do the Cooking

One of the biggest expenses for a traveling family is food, particularly when you are exploring a popular tourist destination like Hawaii. Save money and choose to buy food that you can eat at your hotel or apartment.

If possible book accommodation that allows self catering, or at least a fridge.  Even if you don’t have a full kitchen, having a fridge means you can keep ready-to-eat ites like cereal and sandwich fixings so you can at least cut back on the number of times you are eating out.

Eat Like a Local

If you really want to have a meal out, ask the locals where they dine. You can also buy lunch or dinner from a food truck. They are much cheaper than a sit-down restaurant and the quality of the fresh prepared meals is excellent, not to mention the variety of offerings on the menu. If the kids need a snack during the day, don’t call into an overpriced mini-market. Look for a fresh fruit stand -it’s healthy and cheaper too!

Shop for foods like produce at a farmers markets, like the popular Hilo Farmers Markets. Just check the newspaper for when and where they will be set up. Also, shopping at stores like Costco will save you a lot of money since the cost at smaller grocery stores can be much higher.

Hilo Farmer's Market (1-6-10)

Find Low-Cost Entertainment

There are lots of things to do when you are visiting islands with such stunning natural beauty that doesn’t cost anything.

Beaches, of course, always hold the attention of the kids and they cost you nothing to go! Hawaii also has playgrounds galore. Better yet – find a playground at the beach! Your kids will be occupied for hours and declare it the best day ever without it costing you anything.

Take a hike in one of the national parks and have a picnic lunch by a waterfall. Visit one of the many lookouts and enjoy spectacular views while the kids explore. Visit Pearl Harbour or a museum, head to a local market or visit Hawaii Volcano National Park on one of their free visitor days. In summer you’ll even find free cinema movies on some of the most popular tourist beaches.

Also, the Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo in Hilo offers free admission into its 12-acre zoo. You can see more than 80 species of animal, including a white Bengal tiger and the endangered Nene.

Many of the local shopping centers will hold special events, such as lei making and hula lessons. Scour the local newspapers for upcoming events that your family can attend in the area.

Bring Your Own Essentials

When you are packing, be sure to throw in your sunscreen, swim suits, reusable water bottles and snorkel gear, since the prices of these items can cost more on the islands. Having your own water bottles will help save you from paying the $3 on average for a bottle of water when you are out exploring the area.

If you do need to purchase supplies like sunscreen and beach toys, avoid the souvenir shops. You can find the same types of items at larger discount retailers like Wal-Mart and Costco for a lot less.

beach bucket

With the right planning, you can easily find a way to make a Hawaiian adventure fit into your budget while still enjoying your time on the islands.

 

Well, it was that time of year again, the time to discuss and plan our family holiday. I like the sound of the words “plan” and “discuss”. They allow me a few moments to savour the possibility of a reasoned and friendly meeting of minds. 

Where on earth shall we go?

All of us, that includes, my wife and our three children, two boys, 11 and 14, and daughter aged 9, have great difficulty in agreeing to which supermarket to do the monthly shop at, let alone our annual holiday.

However, when the meeting took place, I was very pleasantly surprised. I suspect that my wife had the children on the side for some time. I said that we should go to Paris and everyone agreed. We would fly on a very good Budget airline and our flight would be from Manchester to Paris Beauvais. I went to work that day feeling on top of the world.

Little did I realize that the ‘problems of a travelling family’ were just starting.

Paris

Holiday transport

The first problem hit me when I looked at the map of France; Beauvais is 42 miles (68km) north of Paris! After a few frantic phone calls I found out there was a bus service from the airport direct to the center of Paris for approx 13 Euros per person. It was this or hire a car; the thought of driving in France made the choice easy, bus it was.

The problem with suitcases

Our next problem surfaced a week before our departure. No, not the passports, they were to my great surprise all OK. But the luggage, how many times do you check the suitcases? They just live in the spare room ready for duty.

Well, ours had seen too much duty and the more I looked at them the more I hoped they would go missing. So off to the store for five new suitcases. But the prices, they would cost nearly as much to buy as the flight tickets from the budget airline. As usual, my wife had the solution: we would use her parent’s suitcases. Another nail in my role as “provider”.

Crazy taxis

Well, the day came. The taxi (that I had booked for 8am) arrived at 9.30am, but the driver calmly told us that he knew a quick way to the airport. Oh, he knew a quick way, a quick way to the local accident and emergency unit. After a 30 minute ride from hell, we arrived at Manchester airport.

Musical seats

I was expecting all manner of problems; delayed flights, the wrong boarding cards our borrowed suitcases falling apart. I should not have worried. Everything went so smoothly that I was lulled into a false sense of near happiness. Silly me.

When the charming attendant showed us our seats disaster struck, we had four seats together and one eight rows back, when I pointed out that we wanted to sit together it took ten minutes of firm but polite discussion for us to be seated as a family. My wife views the events differently, but we decided not to talk about it anymore.

Healthcare issues

Thankfully the flight was smooth and uneventful and before long we had landed at Beauvais. I was sure everything was going to be fine. As the French police waved us through customs, one officer asked me if I had our European Health Cards I just nodded and mumbled NHS. When I told my wife of this bizarre comment, all she said was, that it was my job to get the health cards. “But we have the NHS”, I said. I cannot repeat what she said next.