Costa Rica Country Guide

Everything you need to know about moving to Costa Rica

Popular Towns for Expats in Costa Rica

Regardless of the type of community you’re looking for, Costa Rica has it all

Costa Rica has something for everyone. From the vibrant, urban towns and neighborhoods of the Central Valley, to the tranquil, picturesque beaches along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, there’s a destination to suit every taste. Whether you seek coastal living, mountain serenity, or urban vibrancy, Costa Rica’s diverse landscapes and communities offer an appealing range of expatriate-friendly destinations.

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The Central Valley

The Central Valley is home to the majority of Costa Ricans, and combines cooler temperatures than other parts of the country, easy access to mountain and ocean adventures, and all of the amenities of city living, including great restaurants and healthcare. The international airport in Alajuela, just outside of San Jose, also makes frequent travel convenient. 

The Central Valley ranges from between 3000 and 5000 feet, and is extremely fertile, meaning that fresh produce abounds. You can choose the type of life-style you want, from big-city living in San Jose to the more bucolic, laid back country towns like Grecia or Atenas. Cities like Cartago are gateways to some of the best adventure tourism in the country.

San Jose

San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, beckons expatriates with its unique blend of urban dynamism and cultural charm. It serves as the epicenter of the country, offering amenities similar to what you can find in the US and Canada, including diverse dining options, excellent healthcare facilities, and a thriving arts and music scene. San Jose’s central location makes it a strategic hub for exploring the country, with convenient access to both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, the lush Central Valley, and the surrounding mountains. 

While the city of San Jose itself is not a primary destination for expats, neighborhoods like Escazu and Alajauela are very common picks for expats looking for their new home.

Atenas

Atenas is 30-45 minutes from all of the amenities offered by San Jose, while offering a more laid-back, affordable, rural charm than the urbanized city.

This small town boasts a tranquil, idyllic setting, making it a haven for retirees seeking a peaceful, slower-paced lifestyle, and boasts good international schools for young families. Atenas blends a temperate climate with proximity to amenities, beautiful landscapes, and a relatively affordable cost of living. Atenas is also slightly closer to the beaches of the Central Pacific than most other popular Central Valley locations.

Grecia

“The cleanest town in Costa Rica” is about 40 minutes away from the international airport in Alajuela. Grecia is a hub for surrounding rural communities, and sits in the midst of impressive mountain ridges. 

Grecia’s scenic beauty, characterized by rolling hills and coffee plantations, enhances its charm, drawing expats who desire a peaceful and picturesque retirement haven in Costa Rica.

Cartago

Cartago is a historic city nestled in the Central Valley of Costa Rica, allures expatriates with its rich cultural heritage and proximity to captivating natural wonders. This city, once the country’s capital, boasts a unique blend of tradition and modernity. Expats are drawn to Cartago’s vibrant cultural scene, which includes charming churches, local festivals, and artisan markets. Its strategic location offers easy access to the stunning Orosi Valley, lush national parks, and the imposing Irazú Volcano. Cartago’s mild climate and beautiful scenery make it an appealing destination for those seeking a balance between cultural immersion and the exploration of Costa Rica’s natural beauty, making it a unique and attractive option for expatriates.

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The South Pacific

Nestled on Costa Rica’s southern shores, the South Pacific Coast beckons with its tropical rainforests cascading into pristine black sand beaches. Nature enthusiasts will find their haven here, with world-class birdwatching and abundant wildlife. This region has been slower to develop due to the recent paving of the national highway, preserving its unspoiled charm. As you venture between coastal gems like Dominical, Dominicalito, Uvita, and Ojochal, you’ll discover a sense of self-sufficiency that’s truly unique.

Approximately 3 to 3.5 hours from San Jose, this self-reliance fosters access to locally crafted delights, from artisanal cheeses to farm-fresh produce. The South Coast also serves as a gateway to the wild wonderland of the Osa Peninsula, one of the planet’s last untouched habitats. Property prices remain relatively reasonable compared to the Gold Coast and Nicoya Peninsula, although the allure of the South Pacific Coast is spreading fast as more adventurers uncover its hidden treasures.

Ojochal

Ojochal, a tranquil village nestled along Costa Rica’s South Pacific Coast, exerts a magnetic pull on expatriates seeking a serene and natural haven. The community of Ojochal is not directly on the beach, but built up into the lush mountainside. It is a more expensive, “boutique” living experience, but has incredible views and vibes. Four hours south of San Jose, and about 45 minutes north of the truly wild Osa Peninsula. The village is renowned for its culinary scene, with a diverse array of restaurants offering an international fusion of flavors. 

Uvita

Uvita, a coastal paradise on Costa Rica’s South Pacific Coast, casts a spell on expatriates with its laid-back vibe and breathtaking natural wonders. It is a charming two-mile long town along the Coastal Highway. There are good grocery stores and amenities, but the real attraction is Mario Ballena National Park, where humpback whales can be spotted year-round.  Uvita’s famous “Whale’s Tail” sandbar, part of Marino Ballena National Park, beckons with its unique beauty and incredible marine life.

The town provides essential amenities, local markets, and a burgeoning arts scene, all set against the backdrop of lush hills and the Pacific Ocean. With opportunities for surfing, hiking, and wildlife-watching, Uvita is an ideal destination for expats in search of a tranquil coastal lifestyle immersed in the wonders of Costa Rica’s nature.

Dominical

Dominical is recognized as a first-rate destination for surfers. The town itself is small but charming, has a laid-back vibe, and access to amenities.

With pristine beaches and lush rainforests in every direction, Dominical offers endless opportunities for outdoor adventures, from hiking to wildlife watching. The town’s vibrant arts and culture scene, coupled with a thriving expat community, adds to its charm. Dominical’s fusion of natural wonders and a welcoming atmosphere make it a desirable destination for expats looking to embrace the pura vida lifestyle in Costa Rica.

San Isidro de General (Perez Zeledon)

For those looking for an area with cooler temperatures, more affordability, and a more local experience, San Isidro de General fits the bill. About an hour’s drive up into the mountains, this town is bursting with local culture and a relaxed pace of life. This bustling market town serves as the commercial and cultural hub of the region, offering a well-rounded lifestyle. Surrounded by picturesque mountains and dense forests, Perez Zeledon provides an ideal base for outdoor adventures, from hiking and birdwatching to exploring nearby waterfalls, as well as relatively good access to the incredible South Pacific beaches.

The town’s thriving expat community and a growing number of amenities, including hospitals and shopping centers, ensure a comfortable and connected experience. Perez Zeledon’s unique fusion of rural tranquility and accessibility make it an attractive destination for those seeking an authentic Costa Rican lifestyle with modern comforts.

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The Central Pacific

The Central Pacific region is a beloved gem in Costa Rica, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a place where you can witness remarkable wildlife, soak in stunning beaches, and explore a range of charming beach towns. Whether you crave the relaxed vibes of surf spots or the vibrant nightlife in Jaco, you’ll find it all just a short drive from San Jose and its conveniences. If you’re after that perfect blend of comfort and coastal charm, the Central Pacific is your ticket to paradise.

Jaco

Jaco offers a fusion of urban comforts and beachside living. At only an hour-long drive from San Jose, Jaco is one of the most popular beach towns in Costa Rica for expats and locals alike. Jaco offers beautiful beaches, vibrant nightlife, and plentiful amenities, with the convenience of being a short drive from San Jose.  For expats seeking a dynamic and engaging lifestyle, Jaco stands out as a prime destination along Costa Rica’s Central Pacific Coast.

Quepos

Quepos, nestled on Costa Rica’s Central Pacific Coast, captivates expatriates with its unique blend of natural wonders and a welcoming community. The town is a gateway to the renowned Manuel Antonio National Park, boasting abundant wildlife and pristine beaches. Quepos offers a relaxed pace of life, with a thriving expat population that contributes to the town’s diverse culture. Its accessibility to San Jose and nearby beaches makes it an attractive location for expats seeking a tranquil coastal lifestyle with a touch of adventure and vibrant community spirit.

Esterillos

Esterillos offers a serene escape from the hustle and bustle, where expats can unwind in a picturesque setting. Esterillos is renowned for its long stretches of untouched shoreline, perfect for leisurely strolls or world-class surfing. With easy access to larger towns like Jaco and Quepos, expats can enjoy a peaceful coastal lifestyle while still being within reach of urban amenities. For those seeking a quieter and more laid-back slice of Costa Rican paradise, Esterillos is an ideal choice.

The Nicoya Peninsula

The Nicoya Peninsula is a true paradise for beach lovers. Nestled just below the famous “Gold Coast,” this peninsula boasts some of Costa Rica’s most secluded and stunning beaches. With a drier climate than the South Coast, the Nicoya Peninsula is known for its unique “dry forest” ecosystems. Beyond the beaches, you’ll have the opportunity to immerse yourself in incredible wildlife and explore national parks. Steeped in a rich history of Costa Rican cowboys and vast cattle ranches, the area offers exciting activities like horseback riding. Whether you prefer the resort ambiance of Montezuma, the laid-back beach vibes in Sámara, or the upscale expat communities of Nosara, you’re in for a coastal adventure. Plus, towns like Sámara are just a short 2-hour drive from the Liberia International Airport, adding to the convenience of this tropical haven.

Nosara

Nosara offers a perfect blend of upscale living and natural beauty. The town boasts stunning beaches, lush forests, and a friendly community of both locals and expats. Nosara is renowned for its wellness and yoga scene, making it an ideal destination for those seeking a holistic and healthy lifestyle. With an array of modern amenities, including excellent schools and healthcare facilities, expats can combine morning meditation at a world-class yoga center with a day in the world-class surf-breaks. About 2.5 hours from the international airport, Nosara is accessible and has the amenities you’re looking for.

Samara

Sámara, located on the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, is a magnet for expatriates seeking a laid-back beach lifestyle. This charming coastal town exudes a sense of tranquility, with pristine beaches and a warm and welcoming community. Sámara is well-known for its relaxed atmosphere, where expats can enjoy a slower pace of life. The town offers various amenities, from cozy cafes to yoga studios, making it an attractive destination for those desiring a peaceful and holistic way of living. With its accessibility to other vibrant beach communities and the Liberia International Airport just a couple of hours away, Sámara presents an ideal coastal escape for expats.

Montezuma

Montezuma’s isolated location has led to the development of a truly unique, bohemian community. This artsy coastal village is celebrated for its stunning beaches, incredible surfing, and a vibrant arts and culture scene. Montezuma offers a tranquil and offbeat lifestyle, making it an enticing destination for free spirits and creatives. The town is replete with yoga studios, organic markets, and holistic retreats, catering to those seeking a serene and mindful existence. With its alternative vibe and warm community, Montezuma provides an authentic and unconventional experience for expats on a quest for a different kind of Costa Rican adventure.

Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa boasts a unique blend of surf culture and serene beauty. This coastal town is renowned for its world-class surf breaks, drawing enthusiasts from around the globe. Expats are enticed by Santa Teresa’s relaxed vibe, where yoga studios, healthy eateries, and holistic practices are abundant. The town’s stunning beaches and lush jungles create an idyllic backdrop for expat life. Remoteness is part of the appeal, but Santa Teresa packs in all of the outdoor activities you could want, including great birding, with trendy bars and restaurants, and a growing party scene. Nearby Mal Pais offers a quieter town that’s especially good for surfing. 

The Guanacaste Coast

The stunning 400-mile expanse of beaches along Northern Guanacaste, affectionately known as the Gold Coast, is a magnet for relocating Americans. It’s no wonder, given the region’s incredible beaches, enchanting waterfalls, upscale hotels, diverse dining options, and a plethora of adventure activities. With a captivating blend of dry forests and lush tropical jungles, not to mention some fantastic waves, the Gold Coast offers something for everyone.

Whether you crave the convenience of well-established towns with all the amenities or prefer a more laid-back experience in the less developed northern reaches, you’ll find it here. Another perk is the proximity to the Liberia International Airport, making travel a breeze. While real estate in this area tends to be on the pricier side compared to other regions, you’re more likely to discover your dream property amidst this coastal paradise.

Playa Flamingo

Playa Flamingo is one of the more developed beach towns in Guanacaste, Flamingo. It  combines high-end amenities and hotels with great views, a stunning beach cove, and easy access to an international airport.  This coastal haven boasts some of the most magnificent beaches in the country, offering pristine white sands and crystal-clear waters. With a range of upscale amenities, including high-end dining, world-class marinas, and modern conveniences, expats can relish the perfect blend of luxury and natural beauty in Playa Flamingo.

Tamarindo

Tamarindo is a major hub in Guanacaste. It features the largest beach town, plenty of restaurants and nightlife, several international schools, and is a bustling tourist destination. It is one of the most popular spots for expats to land in the country, and is a beginner-surfers mecca due to long-stretches of beach with gentle waves. Renowned for its exceptional surf, Tamarindo is a paradise for wave enthusiasts, drawing surfers from around the world. With a plethora of restaurants, nightlife options, and adventure activities, Tamarindo offers a lively and spirited expat experience. Its stunning beaches and the adjacent Las Baulas National Marine Park provide a backdrop of natural beauty, making it an attractive destination for those seeking an active and sociable expat lifestyle in Costa Rica.

Portrero

Potrero offers a laid-back and relaxed atmosphere, making it an ideal destination for those seeking a slower-paced expat experience. With its crescent-shaped beach and stunning sunsets, Potrero provides an enchanting backdrop for expat life. Proximity to the incredible Playa Brasilito and Playa Conchal offer easy access to some of the best beaches in the country. Expats in Potrero can enjoy a range of water activities, from kayaking to paddleboarding, and savor the peaceful ambiance of this coastal paradise. A great international school, and a quick drive to the amenities in Liberia, make life in Portrero very comfortable.

The Lake Arenal Area

Lake Arenal is an 85-square kilometer lake in the North of the country. It sits in the shadow of the Arenal Volcano, which dominates the view in the surrounding area. Stocked with machaca and rainbow bass, Arenal is a popular sport-fishing destination. Hikes around the lake abound, where you can catch glimpses of some of Costa Rica’s most famous animal inhabitants.

Water sports, like paddle boarding, windsurfing, and kayaking are accessible, and sunsets over the lake are breath-taking. Easy access to the Monteverde Cloud Forest, one of the most popular adventure-destinations in the country, is an added bonus. Thermal activity from the volcano also create thermal pools, so you can take advantage of the hot springs in the area.

About 2.5 hours from the San Jose airport and 1.5 hours from Liberia airport, you can still find good real-estate deals in Arenal. Although La Fortuna is quite developed at this point, towns like Nuevo Arenal and Tronadora have smaller expat communities that blend in more with the local feel.

La Fortuna

La Fortuna boasts a remarkable blend of natural wonders and modern comforts. Surrounded by lush rainforests and home to the iconic Arenal Volcano, La Fortuna offers abundant opportunities for outdoor adventures, as well as a vibrant nightlife. Residents can hike through the verdant landscapes, soak in natural hot springs, and explore the diverse flora and fauna. The town also provides access to various amenities, including quality healthcare, excellent restaurants, and vibrant cultural experiences. La Fortuna’s scenic beauty, coupled with its modern conveniences, makes it a sought-after location for expats looking to embrace the pura vida lifestyle.

Tronadora / San Luis

Tronadora is a charming town that holds a special allure for expats seeking a more tranquil and authentic Costa Rican experience. Situated near the stunning Lake Arenal, Tronadora offers a laid-back, close-knit community where expats can immerse themselves in the local culture. With easy access to the Arenal Volcano, Lake Arenal, and the Monteverde Cloud Forest, outdoor enthusiasts can explore the region’s natural beauty to their heart’s content. While it may not have the bustling amenities of larger towns, Tronadora’s serene ambiance, affordable real estate, and welcoming community make it an appealing destination for expats looking to connect with the pure essence of Costa Rican life. Only 45 minutes from the amenities, healthcare, and airport in Liberia, Tronadora / San Luis offer an excellent rural getaway while still offering access to the comforts of home.

Nuevo Arenal

Nuevo Arenal is a hidden gem that beckons expatriates seeking a tranquil lakeside paradise. This town offers breathtaking views of the Arenal Volcano and lush landscapes. Expats can relish a peaceful and close-knit community, ideal for those desiring a slower pace of life. This side of the lake receives significant rain, making the surroundings incredibly lush and full of birds. There are a number of good restaurants and a welcoming expat community. The town’s affordability, natural beauty, and serene atmosphere make it an appealing choice for expats looking to embrace the authentic pura vida lifestyle.

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