Archive for October, 2013

Top 10 Costa Rica stops for first-timers

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Dreaming of a trip to Costa Rica, but not sure where to start? With volcanoes to hike, legendary surf, miles of beaches, and endless wildlife spotting, Costa Rica rewards repeat visits. But if you’re just starting your explorations of one of Central America’s most beautiful countries, these 10 stops will steer you in the right direction:
1. Monteverde and Santa Elena


The neighboring towns of Monteverde and Santa Elena, which edge iconic cloud forests, are the birthplace of the country’s ecotourism movement. Here you can go trekking at high altitudes, search for rare resplendent quetzals and straddle your feet across the continental divide.


2. Volcán Arenal




By day you’ll hear it rumbling and quaking, and if the smoke clouds above clear, you can gaze precariously at its near-perfect conical shape. But it’s during the night that Arenal reveals its true power with almost constant eruptions of red-hot lava and tumbling avalanches of flaming rocks.


3. Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio




One of the country’s most famous national parks, Manuel Antonio, is the Costa Rica you imagined in your dreams. Here you can watch all manner of monkeys bounding through the forest canopy as you take leisurely hikes along palm-fringed shores lapped by tropical waves.



4. Reggae in Puerto Viejo




Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is where you can feast on coconut-scented rice and spice-rubbed jerk chicken, then burn off the calories while dancing the night away to reggae beats. This is the so-called ‘other Costa Rica,’ where English trumps Spanish, Rastafarians praise I and I, and Afro-Caribbean culture thrives.



5. Parque Nacional Tortuguero




One of Costa Rica’s unrivaled eco-destinations, Tortuguero is an elaborate network of narrow canals that wind their way through pristine jungle and coastal wetlands. From the safety and comfort of your own canoe, you can paddle along these shrouded waterways in search of hidden wildlife.


6. Mal País & Santa Teresa




At the tip of the Península de Nicoya is this destination duo, which offers some of the country’s best surf. Mal País and Santa Teresa were once far-flung locales that took serious determination to reach, though better road access and improved tourist infrastructure have brought about an increasingly sophisticated scene.



7. Central Valley thrills




The tiny town of Turrialba in the Central Valley might not look like much on the map, but the surrounding area is home to some of the most intense white-water rafting in the whole of Central America. If you’re searching for a serious adrenaline rush, a day of fierce paddling should definitely be on your agenda. If you prefer caffeine to adrenaline, visit Café Britt Finca in Barva if you want to drink some high quality Costa Rican coffee right from the source.



8. Playa Sámara




Among the country’s most picture-perfect beaches, Sámara is an angelic strip of powder-white sand that lies between gently rolling turquoise seas and a string of trendy restaurants and cafes. An ideal destination for vacationing families in search of a quiet retreat, Sámara is peaceful yet sophisticated.



9. Montezuma




A terminally relaxed, hippie beach town at the tip of the Península de Nicoya, Montezuma is the sort of place you work hard to get to, then quickly dismiss the idea of ever leaving. Days here revolve around a blissful cycle of sea, sun, sand and sleep. If this is your first stop, you might just scratch the other nine off the list and leave those for your next trip.



10. Cerro Chirripó




From the lofty heights of Costa Rica’s highest peak, Cerro Chirripó, you can bask in panoramic views of both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Of course, if you want to enjoy this visual feast, you’re going to have to endure the arduous – but highly rewarding – slog to the top.


Costa Rica Real Estate Development – Positive Conditions Returning?

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Costa Rica Resort Trend – Demand for Moderately-Priced Condos Meeting Lower Land Cost and Competition in Construction to Create Opportunity!

It has been a number of years since the incentives to develop resort area property in Costa Rica have looked as positive as they are today. The first niche of opportunity is for moderately-priced, ocean view condos – and that goal may not be as impossible as most would expect.

Demand is strong…. for a basic 2 bedroom, 2 bath, furnished condo, priced under $250,000 (up to $200,000, if unfurnished), that offers attractive features for vacation rental clients. A wave of buying at that price point, since the end of 2012 has virtually cleared some markets. In global vacation destinations like Tamarindo, there are almost none available near beaches, except those that would face challenges attracting vacation rental business because of one or more negative elements.

Some sort of ocean view or walking proximity to beaches is a must.

Land prices are lower…. than they have ever been since the financial crisis began. Many investors in land, who may have held it for the last 5 years, are losing their patience, and are offering great deals. And, holding costs like property taxes are minimal. In the vast majority of Costa Rica, the property tax rate is 1/4 of 1% which translates to just $250.00 per year on a $100,000 real estate investment.

Construction pricing in resort areas can be competitive…. especially since real estate development has not been a driving force for several years. At the same time, reliability and performance of the contractor are crucial in any project, and using the best in Costa Rica would be worth a premium.

The property featured below represents the kind of opportunity outlined above. The per unit land cost could be less than $9,000 for condos with 1) an ocean view setting, 2) adjacencies to attractive beaches, and 3) a location in an emerging exclusive area near to a very desirable mega-project being marketed globally. The potential is definately there to take advantage of the demand for moderately-priced condos, which has been evident for the past year.

If you have been among those who have assumed the time is not right for development in Costa Rica, you may want to give this property, and others like it, a closer look.


Lakes of Montebello, Mexico

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Less than an hour’s drive from Comitan, on the border with Guatemala, are the Lagos de Montebello (Lakes of Montebello).

There are over 50 lakes here, one of which is half in Mexican territory and half in Guatemalan territory; around eight of the lakes are easily accessible via some roads and lots of vehicle tracks that run through the forest surrounding the lakes.

At the western edge of this lake district you’ll find the impressive and worth-while Mayan Ruins of Chinkultic: see the Mexperience Guide and Photo Gallery for details.

You can arrange a tour of the lakes from Comitan or (further away from here)San Cristobal de las Casas, although if you have a rental car, you can explore this area most effectively, take your time in the areas you want to see more of and travel at your preferred pace.

The lakes themselves are well worth experiencing; they all reflect turquoise blues and greens, and coupled with the scenic backdrop of the surrounding mountains and forests, the area is great for a whole day’s exploration.

You can bring your own food and drink, or eat locally at one of the many food stalls, cafes and restaurants dotted around the main lakes.

Small boats and makeshift rafts (made from tree trunks tied together) are available for hire at most of the larger lakes, in case you want to go out on the water and get a view from the lakes themselves. Ask locally for details and barter your price as fees are not fixed.

It’s an easy day-trip from Comitan, although if you’re not staying in Comitan, you may want to consider staying there or at nearby Museo Parador Santa Maria to really have enough time to enjoy the lakes fully during daylight hours and make your journey less tiring.

You are allowed to bathe in the lakes, so if you like swimming in natural waters, pack your swimming gear, although changing facilities are limited, so you’ll have to ‘rough it’ in that respect.

If you’re traveling in this area, the Lakes of Montebello are well worth a day trip. The lakes have a calm, serene and relaxing atmosphere; the air is sweet and pure, and even during busy times, because of the expanse of the area, you’ll always be able to find a quiet corner to just contemplate, surrounded by some of nature’s most wonderful creations.




Beware of Land Without Water

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In developed countries, potable water piped into a home is often taken for granted.  When you buy a house in Phoenix, for example, you’d expect drinking water to flow into the property’s pipes without any second thoughts about the matter. When you’re buying property in Mexico, whether it’s a built home or land upon which you intend to build your dream home, it’s vital to know exactly what the water supply arrangements are, because it may not be as straightforward as you might expect.

In Mexico’s well established towns and cities, water is most usually piped directly to the property from the water mains, routed through a water meter by which you pay according to your consumption.  Mains water is relatively inexpensive and, although it is usually fine for washing, bathing and cooking, it may not be directly potable.

The issue about whether water from the tap in Mexico is potable is moot: some say it is, others say it is not.  It probably depends upon where the property is situated and whether your digestive system is ‘accustomed’ to any local bacteria which may become present in the liquid between the reservoir and your home.  In any event, most expats living in Mexico filter their mains water, or buy bottled water for personal consumption.

If the property you are planning to buy is not served by a mains water supply, then you must establish–in certain terms–what water supply arrangements are in place.  If the property’s water is sourced from a local well, you’ll need to find out who owns the well, and what legal and contractual arrangements exist which allow the property to take from that well.

Don’t take anyone’s word or hear-say about this matter.  The water source should be clearly stipulated on the deeds or related covenant and this should be checked and verified by the lawyer and Notary Public dealing with your property transaction.  If there is any doubt about the property’s water supply then you should consider carefully whether or not to purchase it – however attractive the location or home may be to you.

You might be able to get a property served by the town’s mains water supply, if it is not already.  This procedure can be time-consuming and expensive.  You should consult with a good local architect about the possibility as well as your lawyer and Notary Public.

Modern Realty Developments in Mexico are served by all utilities – including water.  If the water is sourced from a well, a good developer will have made sound legal arrangements for the development to be properly served by that water source.  Once again, ask your Notary Public to check this detail.

Some realty developments, like Estrella del Mar near Mazatlan, have a contractual lease with the local government to source water from wells at the foot of the Sierra Madre mountains; and they have gone a step further: they have installed a state-of-the-art water purification plant at the development, so that all properties on the estate enjoy potable water which has been sourced from a natural well and then undergone a five-stage filtration procedure.

Elsewhere, people often install filtration systems for water being delivered to the kitchen tap, so that all drinking and cooking water is sound.   In areas where the water is very hard, homeowners may also install a water softening unit, which filters and softens all of the water entering the house.


Spain Real Estate — Record number of foreigners bought Spanish property in second quarter of 2013

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A record number of non-Spaniards purchased property in Spain during the second quarter of 2013, new statistics have revealed. According to Spain’s Ministry of Development, 16.2% of the 80,722 properties sold in Spain in April, May and June this year were bought by foreigners.


This is a 28.4% rise from the number of non-Spaniards who bought property in Spain during the same period last year.

It constitutes a record high since the figures began being recorded in 2006.

Of the properties sold to foreigners during the second quarter – 13,632 in total – 1,086 were bought by non-residents of Spain.

Non-residents are non-Spaniards who spend less than 180 days per year within Spain.

Based permanently in another country, non-residents usually purchase houses or apartments within Spain in order to spend part of the year here, to rent their property out or because they plan to later move to Spain and register as residents.


The rest of the properties sold to foreigners (12,546) were bought by non-Spaniards actually living in Spain.

“It’s no surprise that house sales to foreigners are up,” said Mark Stucklin from information and advice service Spanish Property Insight.

“Most of the properties up for grabs are on the coast too, and that’s where foreigners want to live.”

He added: “There’s not much capital in Spain, and it’s very difficult to obtain credit to buy homes for Spaniards.”


Malaga province – which offers great-value properties in fantastic locations such as Marbella, Estepona, Casares, San Pedro, Gaucin and Benahavis – was among the top three provinces among the foreign buyers, along with Alicante and Barcelona.


Spain Travelling… Bilbao, Spain: Five free things to do

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After the industrial heart of the city collapsed, the Spanish city of Bilbao re-invented itself as a dynamic, artistic, cultural hub, with some of the world’s most distinctive buildings of recent years.

Here are five suggested ways of enjoying the vibrant Basque city that won’t dent your budget.


Take an Old Town tour


Many of the city’s best known sights can be appreciated on a stroll around the cobbled lanes of Bilbao’s Casco Viejo (Old Town). Buildings to watch out for include the Teatro Arriaga, an elegant building that hosts many of the city’s famed operatic events as well as theatrical performances; and the city’s Gothic cathedral (pictured above).

Be sure to pay a visit to the Art Nouveau design of the Mercado de la Ribera, a bustling market place stuffed with fresh produce.


Take in the sunshine on Bilbao’s beaches


Bilbao has an ample supply of beaches. Most accessible are those lying to the east of the city: the beaches around Sopelana for example, are an easy stroll from the Larrabesterra metro. If you are already furnished with a BilbaoCard (€6/10/12 for one/two/three days’ unlimited transport around the city), then head to Plentzia metro to the north of the city, where there are fewer crowds and generally more pleasant waters than by the shores closer to the city centre.




Stroll down the Rio Nervion


Ambling west along the river from the Old Town is a favourite Sunday afternoon pastime for locals – and with good reason, now the river’s pollution is largely a thing of the past. Make sure you wander up to the sweeping curves of the magnificent Puente Zubizuri, designed by the Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava.




Marvel at the Museo Guggenheim


Further west lies the building that has rapidly become symbolic of the city. There is no fee to marvel at the exterior of the astounding Museo Guggenheim, hailed by at least one architect as the “greatest building of our time”. Take in the full panorama of the building from the north side of the river, before approaching it over the Puente Pedro Arrupe.



Free cultural sights


The Euskal Museoa Bilbao makes a good starting point for an insight into the area’s proud Basque traditions, with displays on the region’s archaeology and ethnology. There is normally a €3 charge for entrance – but if you happen to be in the city on a Thursday, then it is absolutely free.

Its location adds to its allure – it’s in a tranquil cloister, away from the high-octane pace of regular city life.

On a similar cultural theme, the Museo de Bellas Artes is free every Wednesday.




Canada Travelling… Wine Regions in Canada

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Canada’s wines are known mainly to Canadians, who consume the bulk of their country’s production. Ask many wine lovers in the U.S. about Canadian wines, and you’ll probably get a blank stare in response.

The 1990s brought incredible growth to the Canadian wine industry: The number of wineries grew from 30 to over 400 today. Wine is made in four of Canada’s provinces, but Ontario has bragging rights as the largest producer, with over 100 wineries. British Columbia ranks second. Quebec and Nova Scotia also produce wine.

To identify and promote wines made entirely from local grapes (some Canadian wineries import wines from other countries to blend with local production), the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia have established an appellation system called VQA, Vintners’ Quality Alliance. This system regulates the use of provincial names on wine labels, establishes which grape varieties can be used, and requires wines to pass a taste and laboratory test.



Ontario vineyards


Ontario’s vineyards are cool-climate wine zones, despite the fact that they lie on the same parallel as Chianti Classico and Rioja, warmer European wine regions. Sixty percent of the production is white wine, from Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois, and the hybrids Seyval Blanc and Vidal. Red wines come from Pinot Noir, Gamay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and the hybrids Maréchal Foch and Baco Noir.

Ontario’s VQA rules permit the use of the appellation Ontario and also recognize three Designated Viticultural Areas (DVAs), listed in order of importance:

  • Niagara Peninsula: Along the south shore of Lake Ontario
  • Pelee Island: Eleven miles south of the Canadian mainland, in Lake Erie, Canada’s most southerly vineyards
  • Lake Erie North Shore: The warmest of Ontario’s viticultural areas

Because winter temperatures regularly drop well below freezing, icewine, made from grapes naturally frozen on the vine, is a specialty of Ontario. It is gradually earning the Canadian wine industry international attention, particularly for the wines of Inniskillin Winery. VQA regulations are particularly strict regarding icewine production, as it has developed into the leader of the Canadian wine exports.



British Columbia vineyards


The rapidly growing wine industry of British Columbia now boasts more than 70 wineries. Production is mainly white wine — from Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Riesling — but red wine production is increasing, mainly from Pinot Noir and Merlot.

The Okanagan Valley in southeast British Columbia, where the climate is influenced by Lake Okanagan, is the center of wine production; Mission Hill is a leading winery. VQA rules recognize five Designated Viticultural Areas, listed in order of importance:

  • Okanagan Valley
  • Similkameen Valley
  • Fraser Valley
  • Vancouver Island
  • Gulf Islands



Canada Real Estate – Property sales up in Canada, latest CREA index shows

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Residential property sales in Canada increased by 2.8% in August compared with the previous month, according to the latest index from the Canadian Real Estate Association.

Overall, actual, not seasonally adjusted, activity was 11.1% ahead of levels reported in August 2012 to run roughly in line with the 10 year average, the data also shows.

Sales were up on a year on year basis in about two thirds of local markets, led by double digit gains in Vancouver Island, Victoria, Greater Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, Calgary, Edmonton and Greater Toronto.

The national average price for homes sold in August 2013 was $378,369, an increase of 8.%  from the same month last year and CREA said that year on year price gains in recent months reflect outsized sales declines last year among some of Canada’s larger and more expensive markets as a proportion of national activity.

For example, Greater Vancouver’s long term 10 year average proportion of national activity is 7.4% on an unadjusted basis but it had fallen to 4.6% in August 2012. Since then, it has rebounded and now stands at 6.3%, its second-highest level in the past year. If Greater Toronto and Greater Vancouver are removed from the national average price calculation, the year on year increase is cut from 8.1% to 4.8%.
A better gauge of what’s going on with prices is the MLS® Home Price Index, which is not affected by changes in the mix of sales the way that average price is and year on year price growth picked up among all property types tracked by the index.
One storey and two storey single family homes saw year on year price gains of 3.45% and 3.61% respectively in August. Year on year price growth for town houses, terraces and apartment units remains more modest, with gains of 1.85% and 1.25% respectively in August.

‘Sales activity dropped sharply around this time last year in the wake of tightened mortgage rules and has improved since then, so a sizeable year on year increase this August was expected,’ said Gregory Klump, CREA’s chief economist.

‘Buyers who put off purchase decisions or who were otherwise sidelined by tighter mortgage rules and lending guidelines implemented last year were anticipated to return to the housing market. That said, the upward trend and levels for activity in recent months has been steeper than expected, but that may not last,’ he explained.

‘Recent increases to fixed mortgage rates caused sales to be pulled forward as buyers with pre-approved financing at lower rates jumped into the market sooner than they might have otherwise. That pool of home buyers has largely evaporated so demand may soften over the fourth quarter. The outsized year on year gains may persist, however, due to weak sales toward the end of last year,’ he added.



The index shows that some 325,180 homes have traded hands across the country so far this year, that is 2.9% below levels recorded in the first eight months of 2012. Notwithstanding the recent upward trend in demand, CREA still expects the 2013 annual sales figure to come in below the 2012 figure.

The number of newly listed homes rose 1.8% on a month on month basis in August and slightly more than half of all local markets recorded gains. As with sales activity, that list includes many of Canada’s most active housing markets.

With sales activity having risen by slightly more than new listings in August, the national sales to new listings ratio edged up to 54.6% compared to 54.1% in July. While the national housing market has firmed slightly in recent months, it remains firmly rooted in balanced market territory where it has been since early 2010.

The number of months of inventory, another important measure of balance between housing supply and demand, stood at 5.9 months at the end of August, down from 6.1 months the previous month.