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Andrea R. Vaucher

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Along For The Ride: Costa Rica Luxury Beachfront Living

Posted: 12/26/11 09:00 AM ET

On a recent trip to Costa Rica, where only four percent of the country is titled beachfront property, I was astonished to discover that you can buy a 2300 sq. foot beachfront villa -- with appointments of the quality you'd find in a luxury Malibu home -- for $129,000.

Of course, that price only buys a one tenth share in a villa at The Palms, a gated private residence club on Playa Flamingo in Guanacaste, but then, are you actually going to spend more than a few weeks a year in a vacation home? The way the club is structured, each owner reserves three weeks at the beginning of each year, plus has the opportunity to use the home any other time it's vacant. (Average usage is four to six weeks a year.) This means that until a majority of shares are sold, you could practically live there year-round! Sole ownership of one of the 34 villas will set you back $1.2 million.

In this very popular Latin American country, The Palms is the only upscale property of its kind that is right on the beach. There are eco-lodges and boutique hotels and places to buy with views of the beach, but nothing high-end where the sand is seconds from your door. Each two-bedroom, three-bath villa looks out on picture-perfect horseshoe-shaped Flamingo Bay with its warm turquoise water ringed with white sand. This translates into not having to pack a beach bag when you go for your morning swim. Just grab a towel -- no wait, you don't even have to do that, because the beach guy will grab it for you when he sees you coming.

Guanacaste, in the northwestern part of Costa Rica, has the best climate and the least rain in the country. It is also one of the least-developed areas since there was no airport here before the one in Liberia -- which now has direct flights from Houston, New York, Denver and Miami -- opened at the end of 2002. Previously, to get here you had to fly into the capital, San Jose, and drive hours across the country on a two-lane highway.

You can be sure this is the best place in the country to buy property: Why else would The Four Seasons have opened a resort just up the coast from The Palms on the Papagayo Penisula? The Four Seasons offers private residences with ocean views and has its own private residence club, but the villas there are all but sold out, though resales do become available.

The Palms villas boast top of the line marble kitchens with Viking and Sub Zero appliances. The indoor/outdoor living room has a jaw-dropping sea view (with acoustics to match!) and luxurious Tommy Bahama furniture. There's a third full marble bath downstairs. Upstairs, the sweeping master has a corner kitchenette and an over-the-top marble bath with Jacuzzi and a dramatic dark-wood walk-in closet with more drawers than you'd need if you stayed all year. There's another bedroom upstairs with a sleeping loft and an en suite bath.

The Palms is not all about the villa. It's also about top notch concierge service that can arrange anything from a car and driver (The Palms has the only white long wheelbase Escalade in the country) to zip lining tours (don't write this off as a touristy diversion; it's an incredible way to experience the country's diverse ecology!) to a chef (lobster dinner in your villa?) to airline reservations and just about anything else you'd need to make you stay smooth and relaxing!

There are lots of activities in proximity to Flamingo Beach. Besides kayaking, surfing, working out at the gym and daydreaming on the beach at The Palms, there's marlin fishing, catamaran sailing and scuba diving nearby. The Four Seasons, which offers a day pass that allows you to use their facilities, has an Arnold Palmer-designed golf course with breathtaking ocean views, and their spa features treatments like bamboo massage and aromatherapy wraps using locally created scents.

The private residence club concept has been making headway over the past half dozen years -- this is definitely not your daddy's time-share! Shares are seen as an investment that may be sold at any time at market rate or passed down to future generations. And time can be traded for similar accommodations around the world through a reciprocal club for the owners of luxury second homes. The maintenance fees are reasonable and cover all upkeep of the villa and the property.

Buying into a club like The Palms allows you to arrive in an exotic destination like Costa Rica -- one of the coolest vacation spots on the Caribbean and the Pacific -- slip on your flip flops and enjoy the pura vida lifestyle plus sleep in your own bed every night.