Top Five Expats Locations in Costa Rica

Last updated on May 27, 2023
top places to retire in costa rica

Hey, folks! Don Mango here, and today we’re talking about the best places to live in Costa Rica. That’s right, this little tropical gem has become a hotspot for expats, with half a million of them making up 10% of the population. That’s like every other person you meet is a gringo!

Now, why are they all flocking here, you might ask? Well, it’s simple. Palm trees swaying in the warm breeze, while our northern neighbors are digging out of snow. And let’s not forget about the stable democracy and the fact that the military has been gone for over six decades. Plus, if you’re into natural food, outdoor activities, and affordable healthcare, Costa Rica is your dream come true. It’s a small country, but it’s got a little bit of everything for everyone.

Today, we’re going to explore five popular expat towns in different regions of the country. And let me tell you, there’s not a habitable corner of Costa Rica that isn’t touched by the influence of expats from around the world. You’ll find a network of English-speaking expats to help you integrate into your new life in Costa Rica. And all these towns have internet options, shopping, healthcare clinics, pharmacies, banks, restaurants, and activities to keep you busy. Plus, they’re all serviced by a regional or major airport well under an hour’s drive. And most importantly, they’re all safe places to bring your family.

Uvita and the Southern Zone

First up, we’ve got Uvita. This is the main town in the Southern Zone’s Costa Ballena (Whale Coast), and it’s a dream come true for nature lovers. The rainforest and deserted beaches make it look like something out of a brochure. You won’t find any towering condos or fast-food joints here. But you will find affordable housing, with two-bedroom homes for under $250,000, and more expensive ones from $1 million up in the hills. And, of course, you’ll find BM, the major grocery store, along with banks, restaurants, and small medical centers. And if you’re looking for some surfing action, it’s just a short drive to Dominical. 

Need a little fine dining? Head on over to Ojochal. And if you need something more substantial, just take an hour’s drive up the mountains to San Isidro de El General. The only downside? It rains a bit more here than other places, but hey, you can’t have it all.

Manuel Antonio and Quepos

Let’s talk about Quepos. This place has got it all, from a world-class marina to warm weather year-round. And you know what that means? No need for those pesky coats! You can find some sweet digs here, from basic to mansion-level, and it’s family-friendly to boot. Plus, the fishing scene here is off the hook. You’ve got anglers, deep-sea competitors, and seafaring yachts from all over the world flocking to this place. And if you’re on a budget, fear not – you can still snag a two-bedroom condo for a cool hundred grand.

Now, if you want some pristine beaches and breathtaking landscapes, make your way over to Manuel Antonio. This place is like a slice of paradise on earth. And, bonus, it’s home to the largest LGBTQ+ community outside of San José. So if you’re looking for some alternative lifestyle options, this place is worth checking out. Plus, the arts scene and restaurant selection are nothing to sneeze at. The only downside? Real estate prices have skyrocketed in recent years, so don’t expect any steals.

Playas del Coco 

Now, if you’re all about the sunshine, Playas del Coco is where it’s at. This place is consistently warm and hot, with temperatures hovering around 95 F. And get this – it’s only 30 minutes away from the international airport. You can literally go from plane to sand in no time. And while other towns along the Gold Coast have become super expensive, Coco has managed to keep its prices reasonable. There are condos available at all price points, from occasional $100k listings to more luxurious $750k homes with killer views.


The beach not your thing? Well, lemme give you the inside scoop on Atenas, Costa Rica.

Now, Atenas was known for many years as  “One of the Best Places to Retire in the World”. And let me tell you, the expats who live there are not wrong. Atenas has got it all.

First off, let’s talk about the weather. It’s like San Diego, but without the high prices. If you like your weather in the low 80s F and lows in the 60s F, then Atenas is the spot for you. And with an elevation of 2,290 feet, you get to enjoy not only the beautiful weather but also breathtaking views of coffee plantations, sugar cane, and lush greenery.

Located in the central valley, less than 45 minutes west of San José on a modern tollway, Atenas is the best of both worlds. You get the small town living, yet you’re close to everything the capital has to offer. You want concerts, ballets, museums, fine dining, shopping, world-class medical centers, and the bigger international airport? No problemo! Juan Santamaria International Airport in neighboring suburban Alajuela has got you covered. And if you’re itching for a beach weekend, Jaco is only an hour away. But if you want to stay in town, all the basics are at your fingertips.

And the best part? You can find plenty of housing options in Atenas. From million-dollar mansions in the hills to reasonably priced homes in town for as little as $150,000. And if you’re worried about expenses, fear not. Many expats say they can live on $3,000 per month, even with today’s inflation and higher expenses.

Now, let’s talk about the expat community. They are active and welcoming. You can find everything from art classes to Thai chi to water aerobics to yoga. And unlike the louder and touristy beach towns, Atenas offers a quieter pace that retired expats just love.

So there you have it, folks. Atenas, Costa Rica – a retirement haven that offers perfect weather, gorgeous views, and a welcoming community. What more could you want?

Nuevo Arenal

Let’s take a trip to the small and rural town of Nuevo Arenal. Now, don’t let the size fool ya – this place is packed with adventure and gorgeous views of the Arenal Volcano.

If you’re looking to escape the sweltering heat of the beach towns, Nuevo Arenal offers a cooler climate where you can enjoy the fresh breeze without the need for air conditioning or heat. And trust me, expats have been flocking to this place for decades!

Sure, it might be smaller than the other places on this list, but you won’t be isolated here. You’ve got all the amenities you need for your day-to-day living right in town – from gas stations, shopping, pharmacies, to banks. And if you’re feeling peckish, you won’t run out of options with the abundance of restaurants on the north side of the lake. You can choose from high-end cuisine to local sodas that serve scrumptious local Costa Rican cuisine.

The homes here are not like those large-scale developments you’ll find in other communities. Many of them have lake access or at least lake views, ranging from $300,000 and up. Plus, if you’re into fishing or any water activities, you’ll be thrilled to know that many homes come with a boat slip! And since the lake is not as busy as the coastal waters, you’ll enjoy a special kind of calm that you won’t find elsewhere.

But wait, there’s more! There are plenty of outdoor activities to keep you occupied in and around Arenal National Park. You can go zip-lining, horseback riding, hiking, and whitewater rafting. And if you’re looking for a relaxing soak, you’re in luck! Many of the streams around the volcano are heated geothermally by the volcano, so you can take a dip in the hot springs that are healthy for your mind, body, and soul.

Now, if you’re the type who enjoys the hustle and bustle of the big city, you might find it a little too quiet here. But for expats who live in and around Lake Arenal, the peace and tranquility of nature is all they need.

Just keep in mind that if you need major medical attention, you won’t find it right here. There are some small clinics in the area, and you can find larger medical centers in the nearby town of Tilarán. But if you’re facing a serious health issue, you’ll have to make the trek to Liberia (one-and-a-half hours) or San José (three-and-a-half hours).

So pack your bags, folks! Nuevo Arenal might be small, but it’s definitely mighty in charm and adventure.

So what are you waiting for? Get yourself to Costa Rica and check out these spots for yourself. And hey, if you happen to run into me at a beachside bar, buy me a drink, will ya?