Where to Live in Costa Rica

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Deciding where to live is as unique as you are.  There is no one location that is “perfect” for everyone – some like it hot, some prefer cooler climates, some like the jungle and some prefer the conveniences of urban living.

The good news is that Costa Rica offers a wide range of climates and environments so it is possible to find a location that is perfect for you.

Considerations:

  • Access to healthcare, including a large hospital.  Age and health factors may determine how far you want to be from a major hospital.  While every province has at least one hospital in the public health care system, the primary private hospitals in the San José area are CIMA, Hospital Clínica Bíblica and Hospital La Católica.  Liberia is home to a Clínica Bíblica Medical Center and recently opened CIMA hospital.
  • Distance to major shopping centers and retail outlets.  These are primarily located in the urban centers of Greater Metropolitan San José and surrounding areas, Liberia in Guanacaste, and San Isidro del General in the south.
  • Climate.  Factors such as heat and humidity or cooler and more dry, and the amount of rainfall, can influence your choice of location.  Generally speaking the higher the elevation the cooler it will be, but it can also mean more fog and rainfall and challenges with mold and mildew.
  • Environment.  Jungle living along the coast offers a lush and vibrant environment that can be invigorating and good for the soul, but it also means learning to live in harmony with the abundance of wildlife – including an enormous variety of insects.  If you are a clean freak or have a phobia with bugs, snakes and spiders, the coast may not be for you.  It’s impossible to avoid nature in a tropical climate, but the coasts are full of life in all its forms.
  • Internet access.  Many people rely on the internet for work, entertainment and keeping in touch with family back home, so access to reliable high-speed internet can be critical.  The availability of reliable internet varies around the country but is continuing to improve as fiber optic becomes available.  Be sure to ask if it’s available at your location and speak to others in the area to find out what speed they get and how much down time they experience.

Central Valley

The plateau between the Central Volcanic Range in the north to the Talamanca Range in the south is known as Central Valley, with an altitude of 3,000 – 5,000 ft.  It is home to some of the largest cities in the country including the capital San José, Alajuela and Heredia and the Juan Santamaría International Airport.  You can find some of the best hospitals and healthcare, schools, large shopping malls and cultural attractions in this area.  Some of the most popular expat communities include Atenas, Grecia, San Ramon, Escazú, Santa Ana and Ciudad Colon and surrounding areas.

Outside of the urban centers it is primarily agricultural.  Coffee and sugar cane plantations cover the landscape, as well as some cattle and dairy farms.  The land is lush and rolling and fertile due to the influence of the nearby volcanoes Poás and Irazú.

The climate in this area is very temperate and has clear and consistent wet and dry seasons.  Rainy season runs from May to November with transition months of April and November, and dry season from December to April.  The temperature averages 20 – 25 degrees C (68 – 77 F) during the day and 15 – 18 degrees C (59 – 65 F) at night, with cool coastal breezes making it much less humid and an ideal climate for many.

Image credit: ontheworldmap.com

Guanacaste

This area in the northwest is best known for having some of the country’s most beautiful beaches.  It is home to the popular tourist destination of Tamarindo, as well as other popular locations like Playa Hermosa, Playas del Coco, Playa Flamingo, Samara and many others.  The capital city of Liberia, located only 1 hour from the coast, is the urban and economic center.  The Daniel Oduber International Airport is located here.

It consists of tropical dry forest due to the hot and dry climate that persists through much of the year.  The area has 6 months with little rain and water shortages are common.  Daytime temperatures range from 30 – 35 degrees C (86 – 95 F) with nighttime temperatures of 21 – 24 degrees C (70 – 75 F).  Although it is not as humid as the southern coastal rainforests, the humidity is considerably higher than the central valley.

Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste

 

With the proximity to an international airport and the urban center of Liberia, the coastal communities of Guanacaste are a great choice for those who want to live at the coast and still have easy access to major conveniences.

Lake Arenal / La Fortuna

The area around Lake Arenal in the northern highlands is popular for both tourists and expats.  It includes the communities of Nuevo Arenal, Tronadora and the nearby commercial centers of Tilarán to the northwest and La Fortuna on the southeast, which sits near the base of the Arenal volcano.

This location is well known for its adventure opportunities which include zip-lining, windsurfing, mountain biking and hiking as well as soaking in the hot springs around La Fortuna.

Town of La Fortuna

 

There are beautiful vistas surrounding the lake and it has a lush tropical climate, which also means there is a significant amount of rainfall.  May through October have the heaviest months of precipitation, with the least amount of rainfall from January through March.  Temperatures are quite moderate, generally around 20 C (70 F) at night and 26 C (80 F) during the day.

The road that travels north from La Fortuna around the lake to the communities of Nuevo Arenal and Tronadora toward Tilarán is extremely winding and hilly, and mudslides are common in rainy season.  Although it is only 45 km from La Fortuna to Nuevo Arenal the drive takes close to 1 hour under normal conditions.

It is approximately 2.5 hours from La Fortuna to Liberia and the same to the Juan Santamaría airport in Alajuela.  The drive to the closest beach (Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste) is close to 3 hours from Nuevo Arenal and close to 4 hours from La Fortuna.

Central/South Pacific

The Central Pacific zone runs from Jacó south to Manuel Antonio, and the South Pacific continues from Dominical south to Uvita which is known as “Costa Ballena”, home to the Marino Ballena National Park.  Just beyond is the increasingly popular Ojochal.  This area has vast, pristine beaches and lush jungle and has become very popular with expats.  It is also home to Manuel Antonio National Park, the smallest but most visited national park in the country.

The town of Manuel Antonio and surrounding areas offer altitude, an ocean breeze and gorgeous vistas with spectacular sunsets.  The neighboring town of Quepos has a bustling marina and is the economic center.  The local bus travels constantly between Quepos and Manuel Antonio National Park so getting around here is very easy and inexpensive.

Marina Pez Vela in Quepos
Marina Pez Vela in Quepos

 

At the southwestern point of the Pacific is the Osa Peninsula, one of the most remote parts of the country.  The area is known for its rugged, pristine wilderness and is home to the centers of Puerto Jiménez, Drake Bay and Golfito across the Gulfo Dulce.

This area has a tropical rainforest climate so expect heat and humidity, and it follows the Pacific wet and dry seasons.  There is an abundance of wildlife and popular activities include surfing, hiking and sportfishing.

Caribbean Coast

The eastern coast of the country is separated into two distinct areas and has a very distinct vibe and culture compared to the Pacific side.  The boat-or-air access only pueblo of Tortuguero and the commercial center of Limón lie to the north, and Cahuita and Puerto Viejo to the south.  This area is much less touristy and more remote than the Pacific coast so it’s an ideal location for those who want to get away from it all, but a lack of amenities may be a factor for some.

Puerto Viejo has a vibrant nightlife, with reggae playing at all hours and bonfires on the beach.  The culture here is very laid back, comprised of Afro-caribbean and the indigenous BriBri peoples and now includes expats from around the world.

There are 6 beaches that run along this southern stretch – they begin with Playa Negra on the north and continue south with Puerto Viejo, Playa Cocles, Playa Chiquita, Punta Uva and Manzanillo.  The area along the coast is quite flat and a very popular (and inexpensive!) mode of transportation is the bicycle, adding to the chill hippy vibe of this colorful coastal landscape.

Playa Cocles

 

The climate on the Caribbean side is equatorial rainforest so it doesn’t have the defined wet and dry seasons of the rest of the country but rather has more consistent rain throughout the year.  That said, the total rainfall amounts on the southern Caribbean coast are less than in many other parts of the country.  The driest months are September and October and again in February and March.  Temperatures are fairly consistent throughout the year, ranging from a high of 29 – 31 C (84 – 88 F) to a low of 21 – 23 C (70 – 73 F).

Feature photo credit: Nick Seagrave via Unsplash

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Carolyn M

    My partner and I recently purchased property in Costa Rica. We traveled much of the Pacific Coast to savor what each area had to offer. We chose Montezuma, where did you settle and why?

    1. Paula

      Hi Carolyn, that’s fantastic! There are so many amazing places to visit (and live) in this beautiful country! I’ve been to most areas during my several visits to the country in previous years. Since arriving in 2019 I spent a couple of months living in Nuevo Arenal and have been renting in Grecia for the past year. I haven’t decided yet where I would like to put down roots. I love the beaches of the South Pacific, Guanacaste and Caribbean but there are a lot of great things about the Central Valley too. It’s a tough decision, and my aging dogs are a big factor, so time will tell where I end up 🙂

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