It’s hard to resist the pull of Costa Rica’s chill lifestyle and welcoming locals. Many visitors, like Karen Young, simply surrender to it. The Canadian arrived 26 years ago to work on a master’s thesis in environmental studies. When she discovered the then sleepy beach town of Esterillos Oeste in Puntarenas she felt an immediate connection. “I loved the community and found myself coming back every weekend,” she says.
Today, she’s considered the unofficial mayor. Over the years, she’s helped facilitate everything from new roads and a recycling center for the village to fundraisers for school supplies and holiday toy drives. And Los Almendros, the restaurant she runs with her Costa Rican husband, Chiri, has become the community social hub. “I may not be from here, but I feel such an affinity for the people and culture,” she says. “This is home. The community is my family.”