Costa Rica is off the list except as a tourist destination. The region of the country with the best climate, the central valley, now has air quality and a cost of living that are out of my comfort zones. The Pacific resort areas are too expensive. Going native is affordable but undesirable. Of course, all this is based on Internet research, so it must be true.
I have some interest in Nicaragua, though my impression is that the infrastructure quality is on par with the Philippines. Two towns sound interesting, sort of. Granada is on a huge lake, close enough to Managua airport to get to the states in a single day if needed, far enough away to not be in the metro area toxic cloud more commonly known as air. (No, I haven’t been to Managua. it’s a 3rd world city, what else do I need to know about air quality?) Depending on who’s blog one reads, Granada is either a vibrant town with interesting culture, scenery, locals, young people passing through on the backpacker’s trail and with some amenities for the growing numbers of North American tourists and retirees. Or it’s a transformed town where the locals were driven to outlying regions after retired men who could no longer afford Costa Rica came in and drove the prices up. Furthermore, two of their three main pastimes are drinking and gossiping. I like the first description, but the second view sounds like the places in Thailand that I’ve visited and then backed away quickly.
San Juan Del Sur sounds more appealing, a town of 20k on the Pacific, set in a half moon bay. The economy is based on fishing, tourism (foreign and local) and surfing. The foreigners buying up property apparently came slower and in fewer numbers than to Granada because the locals have realized what is happening and responded with violent crime against foreigners. Or so some stories say.
Also bothers me that some of the towns recommended on the Nicaragua expat forums receive essentially the same warnings in the tourist guidebooks: Don’t stay in rock bottom priced places, take a guide if exploring off-road, at night always carry a flashlight (as a weapon?) and always take a taxi. None of those precautions are needed in Hua Hin.