What happens when investors try to make cash in paradise?
I had the questionable honor to witness exactly that when I was living in Nosara. When I moved to this remote paradise on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, I found a quiet surf town with a beautiful community of yoga teachers, healers, and artists.
It was also affordable to spend time in paradise. I remember paying something between 400-600 dollars per month for a simple studio apartment. In 2022, the same places cost around 1,000 dollars per week.
What happened? And how does it affect the local community?
It’s basically the same dynamic we see in every place that offers cheap housing, a vibrant community, and business opportunities.
I saw that happening in the Eastern parts of Germany’s capital, Berlin, after reunification. Some of you might have seen it happen in Brooklyn, New York, or the Bay Area of San Francisco.
If a place is comparatively cheap, it will attract a certain type of people. These folks are usually trying to escape high prices for housing and long for a sense of community.
Often, these communities thrive, and folks from the outside want to join the party. And there is nothing wrong with that unless these folks start pushing out the ones who helped the community to thrive in the first place.
Back to my own experience in Nosara.
This town was known for its yoga community. People like me heard about it and wanted to be part of this. I took my yoga teacher training and was hoping to settle in paradise—and I wasn’t the only one.
In 12 years of teaching yoga, I never discovered a community with so many amazing yoga teachers. More and more people heard about it, and the town kept growing.
Until things changed in a pretty ugly way.
People kept coming to town, but they weren’t all about yoga and surfing. I remember joking with a friend in 2012 that Nosara is probably the only tourist destination with more female than male tourists. I also remember the local surfing community, let’s say “connecting,” with the yoginis from all around the world.
But then, all of a sudden, we saw an influx of rich men who I would describe as spiritual predators with a lot of money.
They invested money, tried to mix into the community, and changed the town forever. It wasn’t mainly about yoga and surfing anymore; it was more about dating, drugs, and dominance. And Nosara is by far not the only place where this is happening.
But nobody saw a problem because more and more money came to town. Unfortunately, the influx of money also created a lot of problems.
I started seeing creepy dudes who asked me where to get cocaine and hookers, told me about their latest investments, and crashed my yoga classes creeping on my female students.
Not to forget my favorite type of hypocrite: those who buy houses, rent them out on Airbnb, and then complain about gentrification. Really?
What did these people expect to happen when buying all the studio apartments that used to house yoga teachers, surf instructors, and others who made this community special? Did they really think that their favorite yoga teachers could stay in town when there is no place for them to live?
And then, people started complaining about an influx of crime. What exactly did these investors expect to happen when paying two dollars per hour to local workers while attracting some of the richest folks on this planet?
But instead, the local community of investors started putting money into local police, surveillance, and security guards (who, of course, got paid less than five bucks per hour). Unfortunately, that didn’t stop crime but gave everyone a reason to be suspicious toward Costa Ricans entering certain neighborhoods.
Today, this town is full of wealthy people from North America and Europe. There is a tourist town with million-dollar mansions, and locals live in shacks a few miles out of town.
And the ones in between, the original crowd of yogis and surfers who built this community, are pushed out of town. I left in 2020 when the pandemic started, and I keep getting messages from friends who are also giving up on what we used to call paradise.
At the same time, I see families asking for rentals by posting things like, “Looking for a two-bedroom apartment. Budget 5k per month.”
From an economic perspective, it’s a great plan to buy some land, build a few rentals, and make a lot of money. But what about the community?
And that brings us back to the examples of Berlin, New York City, and San Francisco. The moment vibrant communities start attracting rich folks, it usually doesn’t take long until prices go up. In the next step, people who can’t keep up with rising prices move away. And in the end, you have a bunch of hipsters who are complaining that “it’s not as cool as it used to be.”
Yeah, no sh*t Sherlock. That’s what happens when greed takes over.
And what happens when a beach town without a functioning sewage system attracts five times more tourists within a few years? Well, ask the surfers who keep getting ear infections because of pollution in the ocean.
What really breaks my heart is when former students send me messages asking about my yoga classes, then get sad because I am not there anymore—and then tell me about their latest investment and how they are renting out a studio apartment for 1,000 dollars per week. Congratulations.
Well, you can’t have one without the other.
And maybe one day, these investors will realize that a huge influx of money doesn’t automatically create a vibrant community.
Please check out this documentary covering what I just wrote about.
And if you are curious to hear more, please let me know in the comments.