If you gave me one word to describe the Lake Arenal region of Costa Rica, that would be it.
If I had a few more…
Verdant. Contemplative. Relaxed.
Although the area is increasingly on the radar of expats from around the world, it remains unspoiled and sparsely developed.
Homes dot the lush green hillsides that slope down to the lakeshore. Development on the lake itself is restricted, so the shoreline remains largely untouched—no big condos or resorts.
For such a beautiful waterway, you’ll rarely see any boats.
A few fishing charters stalk the guapote, or rainbow bass. Ferries take tourists from one end to the other. And a couple dozen private owners keep their boats at small marinas. But of the half-dozen times I’ve visited, I’ve seen at most three or four boats on the water at the same time. Not many for a 33-square-mile lake.
The perimeter road that skirts the shore is almost worth the trip to Arenal. On either side you’ll find restaurants serving everything from steaks and BBQ to German cuisine to the local fare of rice and beans, as well as eco-lodges and family-run B&Bs.
It’ll take you about an hour to make your way from one end to the other, a bit more if you stop to take photos and admire the view, observe wildlife—coatimundis are frequent sights—and browse the small art galleries.
I’m prone to pulling over frequently myself. I’m a bit of shutterbug. And when the light hits just right I can’t help but snap some photos. I’ll tell you one of my favorite spots. The photo above was taken from just west of the La Mansion hotel.
You get a view of just about the whole length of the lake. Just watch the shoulder, the tall grasses hide a pretty steep drop.
Most expats live on either side of the town, which has markets, hardware stores, banks, and all the necessities. There’s also the local expat hangout, Rumours Bar and Grill. Check it out at happy hour on Friday for the local gossip—and the inside track on real estate.
Homes here maximize outdoor space with large patios and porches. It’s the best way to enjoy the always spring-like weather, mid-70s to mid-80s year-round (it can cool off a bit at night, enough for a light jacket or sweater), and the serene views of Lake Arenal. A two-bedroom home with lake views can be had for under $150,000. Homes without views start at $50,000.
If you’re in Costa Rica, I definitely recommend a trip here. It’s about three hours northwest of the capital San Jose and the international airport there. You can also fly into the country’s other international airport in Liberia. The lake’s western shore is about two hours away.
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