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Help! I’m Moving to Costa Rica… Where Should I Live?

When you first began thinking about moving to Costa Rica, you likely had an idea or vision in your head. Start thereAlways there. Because that vision represents your dream and, while not all Costa Rican dreams start where they began, they are a good starting place. 

What does your dream Costa Rican life look like? Get a good picture in your head. Then, read on to discover five relocation regions and see which one(s) come closest to that dream.

North Pacific (Guanacaste)

moving to Costa Rica North Pacific Guanacaste

This is my stomping ground, so I figured we’d start here! Costa Rica’s North Pacific, which is almost entirely housed within the province of Guanacaste (save for a section of the Nicoya Peninsula, which belongs to Puntarenas province) is one of Costa Rica’s most popular areas for relocation, thanks to its spectacular weather, incredible beaches, and world-class services.

From south to north, this region includes the major relocation towns/hotspots of: 

  • Sámara & Carrillo
  • Nosara
  • Tamarindo & Hacienda Pinilla
  • Playa Flamingo & Brasilito
  • Playas del Coco & Playa Hermosa
  • Papagayo

If you’re researching moving to Costa Rica, then you’ve probably heard of some (or a lot) of these towns. That’s because for years or decades, they’ve been booming. But keep in mind that our diverse province is dotted with small towns and even mountain towns, including Nuevo Arenal, which I will detail separately (it’s distinct enough to be its own category!). So, as always, your mileage may vary

The North Pacific May Be Right for You If…

  • You love the beachy lifestyle. When you think of “moving to Costa Rica“ and “living at the beach,” you likely are thinking along the lines of “living in Guanacaste.” Our year-round warmth, miles of beaches, everyday surfing and swimming, and Costa Rica’s driest climate (a wonderful thing, in the high rainy season!) typify the beach lifestyle. 
  • You seek a sense of community. The North Pacific, and especially the towns above, have some of the best communities (both gated and not) in Costa Rica. Here, you can find pedestrian-only communities, family-friendly communities, retirement communities, and a lot more. 
  • You love amenities. Speaking of communities, the community amenities in Guanacaste cannot be beaten. Our resort communities are unparalleled for their luxuries – everything from multi-million-dollar beach clubs and golf courses to tennis courts and hiking/biking trails

There’s a ton more to touch on, and I promise to highlight each region in a separate post, but this gives you a sampling of Guanacaste’s flavor!

Central Valley

Central Valley living Costa Rica

The majority of Costa Rica’s population (including my parents!) live in the cool, mountainous Central Valley. It’s comprised of sections of San José, Heredia, Alajuela, and Cartago provinces and climbs from warmer, lower elevations into coffee-covered hillsides, volcanic slopes, and towering mountains. 

From west to east, the Central Valley includes the major relocation towns/hotspots of:

  • San Mateo
  • San Ramón
  • Atenas
  • Grecia
  • Alajuela City
  • Santa Ana
  • Escazu
  • Heredia Mountains
  • Heredia City
  • San José
  • Cartago
  • Turrialba

Years ago, you would have read mostly about Escazú and Santa Ana but in 2022, again – you’ve probably heard of some (or a lot) of these towns. That’s because the Central Valley is forever growing and expanding, carving out new communities, including international enclaves (if that’s your thing) that blend Costa Rican and expat communities

The Central Valley May Be Right for You If…

  • You love cool(er) weather. There is absolutely nothing like the cool weather of the Central Valley! Located high in the mountains (the higher the elevation, the cooler the weather – generally), you’ll experience mild summer to cool spring-like temps year-round: about 70-85ºF (21-30ºC) by day and down as low as the mid-50s (12º C) at night.
  • You want the modern Costa Rican experience. Costa Rica’s tech-forward professionals, students, and young families (and working parents) are most concentrated in the Central Valley, due to its abundance of jobs, public and private schools, universities, and other cosmopolitan accouterments of life. 
  • You prefer mountains to beaches: If you love views of the mountains (not the ocean) and long, cool hikes (not surfing) on weekends, then the Central Valley might be calling your name!

That’s just the very surface of it, of course, but there’s your Central Valley starting point!

Central & South Pacific

live in Central and South Pacific Costa Rica

When people talk about moving to Costa Rica and “the Pacific,” they’re most often talking about Guanacaste and the North Pacific. It’s easy to forget that there are another two-thirds of the Pacific coast still to love! Welcome to the quieter, more bohemian, and often remote side of Costa Rica. 

From north to south, the Central & South Pacific includes the major relocation towns/hotspots of:

  • Jaco & Playa Hermosa (South)
  • Quepos & Manuel Antonio
  • Dominical
  • Uvita & Ojochal
  • Sierpe
  • Osa Peninsula (Drake Bay & Puerto Jiménez)
  • Golfito & Pavones

The Central & South Pacific May Be Right for You If…

  • You want to get away from the crowds. Yes, there is still plenty of “undiscovered” Costa Rica left to enjoy! If you want to live in the true wilds, with sloths as your backyard neighbors, where the roads are still often crafted from dirt and gravel, and where there are fewer “expats,” then this region (especially further south) could be perfect. 
  • You crave the barefoot beach life: Don’t get me wrong – the North Pacific is definitely beachy. But if you’re looking for a more laid-back, barefoot, almost bohemian beach lifestyle, the Central and especially South Pacific delivers. 
  • You can’t live without lush & abundant rainforest. If you love the beach but also want to be surrounded by rainforest, almost year-round green, and all the accompanying wildlife, then the lush Central and South Pacific, rather than drier Guanacaste, deserve serious consideration.

And there you have it: a quick look at the gorgeous, verdant, and isolated side of Costa Rica’s Pacific!

Arenal

moving to Arenal Costa Rica

Technically, the region known as “Arenal” is split between eastern Guanacaste (Tilarán/Nuevo Arenal) and western Alajeula (La Fortuna), but as far as expat living is concerned, most international relocation is centered around Nuevo Arenal and its lovely Lake Arenal, which offers a wonderful combination of mountain livinglake life, and water sports

From southwest to southeast, the Arenal region includes the major relocation towns/hotspots of:

  • Tilarán
  • Nuevo Arenal
  • La Fortuna
  • El Castillo 

The Arenal Region May Be Right for You If…

  • You love the mountains and the water. As you research moving to Costa Rica, you quickly realize that there’s beach living and there’s mountain living, but lake living? Only here, around Lake Arenal, where you can kiteboard, kayak, SUP, and fish, with a cool mountain breeze in your hair!
  • You seek an international community. The towns around Lake Arenal are wonderfully and surprisingly international, with an incredible mix of Costa Ricans, Americans, Canadians, Europeans, and more. French restaurants? Yep. German bakeries? Of course! Arenal is quite eclectic. 
  • You love changing seasons. You’re not going to get snow or showy autumnal leaves here, but you will get some seasons in Arenal. Here, instead of the rainy-dry dichotomy you’ll find in most of the country, you’ll get a more on-off-on-off tempo to your rain, which makes for almost year-round green and not so tiresome dry or wet spells.

Sound tempting? Then I’d say it’s time to dig a little deeper into the Arenal area!

The Caribbean 

living in Costa Rica Carribean

You may not think of Costa Rica as a Caribbean nation, but we have an entire coast bordered by this gorgeous sea! What’s more, Costa Rica’s Caribbean doesn’t get as much pomp or circumstance as the Pacific, when it comes to moving to Costa Rica, so here, you’ll have a little slice of yesteryear: fewer crowds, even fewer gated communities, plenty of backcountry, and a culture all its own. 

From north to south, the Arenal region includes the major relocation towns/hotspots of:

  • Tortuguero (almost exclusively a vacation destination, not a relocation destination)
  • Limón (not recommended)
  • Cahuita
  • Puerto Viejo
  • Manzanillo
  • Punta Uva

For whatever reason, Costa Rica’s northern and central Caribbean regions have not yet undergone a major overhaul; the towns here are small and, often, underserved – and I’m not talking in expat or international community terms, either. (Limón is also high in crime, as of 2022.) 

Bottom line: When it comes to moving to Costa Rica, the vast majority of Caribbean relocation is concentrated on the southern Caribbean, from Cahuita through Punta Uva.

The Southern Caribbean May Be Right for You If…

  • You want to live off the beaten path. The Southern Caribbean is a lot like the Central/South Pacific, only more so. Whereas the Pacific has been re-developed (or is in the process of being redeveloped) to attract bohemian communities, the Southern Pacific simply is. (FYI, wafting marijuana is a common scent on the streets.)
  • You love calm waters. If you want to swim in a giant swimming pool (and are willing to choose your home beach accordingly), welcome to the Caribbean Sea! Home to the calmest ocean waters in Costa Rica, this is the place to live if you want to float, splash, and bathe in waters that can be as calm as a bathtub. 
  • You want an almost guaranteed bargain. The Pacific is hot. The Caribbean is still somewhat (all things relative) undiscovered by the international community, which means that you can find beach-adjacent property for much cheaper than on the Pacific. The flip side, of course, are your services – and we’re not talking golf courses and beach clubs, either! Some Caribbean properties don’t even have internet access or water hookups, so buyer, beware (and do your due diligence!).

If Costa Rica’s last frontier is calling your name, then it may be time to call in and discuss the Caribbean. Speaking of which…

Want to Talk about Moving to Costa Rica & Where to Live? 

questions about moving to Costa Rica

Hi, I’m Rebecca Clower. (My friends call me Becky.) In 2006, I did what you’re preparing to do: I followed my heart and moved to Costa Rica. 

For nearly two decades, I’ve made my home here. I’ve founded businesses and volunteered my time. I’ve gotten to know my neighbors and have grown to love my community. I’ve raised my two boys here. I’ve been on international TV. I’ve given back to my community. I’ve taken on major positions of responsibility and authority. 

Along the way, I founded one of Costa Rica’s most successful independent brokerages. And for years, I’ve made it my job to help other people do the same. I offer real, honest advice and expertise to my clients. I promise not to sugarcoat the hard truths or gloss over the tough parts. I will tell you the whole truth, the full truth, and even the hard truths.

I hope that you’ll find the beautiful truths to outweigh them all. So, sign up for updates, download my free eBook, and get in touch. Let’s get started!

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