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I stepped onto the vertigo-inducing third-story glass balcony of an 8,000-square-foot mansion on a mountainside in Camaronal, and I felt like Jack on top of the beanstalk. It’s quite a climb to get up here, but the rewards are magical.

I took in a panoramic view of a cobalt-blue bay, with a peninsula to the left that looked like a crouching dragon, the setting sun to the right, and a huge expanse of broccoli-green trees on the slopes below.

The owner, Jordan Heilweil, is a 62-year-old electronic security expert from New York who recently built his house at La Reserva Camaronal, a 100-acre gated community 30 minutes east of Sámara that I would call the most unspoiled property I’ve ever seen for sale in Costa Rica.

There are multiple places
where you can gaze in any direction
and see no sign of human habitation.

 

“I told them I wanted something that was different and unique and made sort of a statement,” Jordan said, recounting his conversations with the father-and-son architect and engineer, Hugo and Oscar Vargas.

The dream home he built, Casa de Los Sueños, has a master bedroom, a room for the two kids and four guestrooms with their own bathrooms. It has a dramatic, transparent spiral staircase in the middle of the house, and the infinity pool in front is an ideal space for entertaining.

“Amazingly, I had the house built in pretty much 24 months,” he said. “I came down every six weeks. I didn’t have one argument with the builder. It was a very good experience. I have no complaints, no regrets. I think it would have been tougher to build in New Jersey.”

One of the owners of La Reserva Camaronal said he showed some lots to a client who called this property “my hopes and dreams on steroids.”

The backstory

I was visiting my brother Paul Collar, who is the administrator at La Reserva Camaronal, to renew my acquaintance with what I consider Costa Rica’s best-kept real estate secret.

Paul took me on a tour of the property, explaining that Reserva Camaronal is inscribed under “horizontal condominium” law as a full-service gated residential subdivision, with access, power and water in place for most of the lots. There are actually three horizontal condos here — Montaña, which is active with 75% of the lots served with utilities, and Playa Norte and Playa Sur, which are constituted horizontal condos but lack utilities and are for sale as projects.

(But do not make the mistake of picturing “condominiums” that all look alike — these are individual homesites where you can build any kind of house you want, within certain limits.)

Montaña is the best place to buy an individual homesite, as the steep hillside ensures an ocean view for virtually all of them. There are about 45 lots for sale here, priced from around $80,000 to over $200,000.

Right across the public gravel road from Montaña are the beachside Playa Norte and Playa Sur, which the owners want to sell as a whole rather than piecemeal. Playa Norte has 12 titled lots on 3.2 hectares, with water and power, priced at $725,000.

Playa Sur has 25 titled lots priced at $1.5 million. There is also a 1.8-hectare titled corner lot with its own well that is outside of the condo and ideal for a commercial project — a hotel, restaurants, convenience store, surf shop, you name it — priced at $750,000. It’s a short walk from here to the popular surfing beach at Playa Camaronal, where there is also a wildlife refuge that rescues turtle eggs and releases the hatchlings.

The “Glass House” is one of just a few structures on the entire property.

The nature

The on-site caretaker, a man from Hojancha named Marcos Castillo Acosta, said he has seen white-tailed deer, peccary, coatis, white-faced monkeys and howler monkeys on this property. I myself have seen scarlet macaws, green parrots, white-throated magpie jays and beautiful hawks called caracaras.

The dominant feature of Reserva Camaronal is its isolation — there are multiple places where you can gaze in any direction and see no sign of human habitation.

That’s why I’ve dubbed Camaronal “the land that time forgot.” And yet it’s within 30 minutes of the hopping beach town of Sámara, and within 15 minutes of the spectacular Playa Carrillo.

The builder

My brother’s roommate and business partner, Daryl Bonin, plans to build a spec home on one of the lots here. He described his pet peeve about Costa Rican construction: concrete homes with vaulted ceilings that have no way to vent hot air.

“If we opened that [ceiling] up and put in a little cupola, there would be continuous venting, so the hot air would go out and you’d create a current, and encourage air to come in here.”

Daryl intends to build a house not with concrete but with lightweight, strong galvanized steel, with insulated walls, a well-vented space between the ceiling and the roof, and long overhangs to keep the sun off the house.

“My buildings will create their own draft,” he said, “because I have this air space I just described, so any heat is going up and getting out.”

The surfer

Daryl and his 29-year-old son Nick, both of whom surf Playa Camaronal often, said what’s unusual about the surf here is that it breaks both right and left, and it breaks on both low and high tides.

“I would consider it a pretty forgiving break, although it’s definitely more of an advanced surfing break,” Nick said. “It is a majority local crowd out there, but they’re friendly, and the wave and break itself has multiple peaks. And if there is a swell, it’s very consistent, and so it’s easy to be able to hold the crowd, with plenty of waves for everyone.”

Nick suggested that it’s not a good wave for beginning surfers, but when I asked if you can do a face-plant and break out all your teeth, he said, “I mean, you can do that walking to the bathroom.”

Final word

Back to Jordan Heilweil, who looks out on all this beauty from the uppermost home at Camaronal.

“I think it’s breathtaking — you have the whole Blue Zone, it’s healthy, it’s stress-free, it’s extremely relaxing,” he said. “This is definitely a slice of heaven — it doesn’t get much better than this.”

I asked if he had any advice for people considering buying here.

He said, “Do it.”

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The Howler Magazine