In the U.S., something as beautiful as Lake Arenal would have a shoreline clogged with resorts and marinas and waters churned up by powerboats and jet skis. But in Costa Rica, this region retains its traditional agricultural heritage and staggering natural beauty...with nary a powerboat to disturb the lake.
The central Pacific beach town of Jacó in Costa Rica was long known primarily as a destination for sport fisherman, surfers, and backpackers. And Ticos—as Costa Ricans call themselves—flocked there around Christmas and Easter because it's the closest major beach to San José, the capital.
I'd never traveled with a celebrity before. When we arrived at the airport in Costa Rica, it was a madhouse. People kept coming up to take pictures with my companion. Customs officials rushed us through the line after a cursory check of our documents. Baggage handlers competed to grab our luggage.
I first visited Costa Rica's southern Pacific coast in 2005 on my honeymoon. Back then, it felt like a real adventure to get to what is officially known as the Southern Zone. The coastal highway was incomplete, with a long, bone-rattling section of rutted dirt and gravel. And the bridges looked like they might fall over in a stiff breeze.
Among the 2.6 million visitors who come to Costa Rica each year, a big percentage (maybe even the majority) head to the Pacific coast. For good reason: the country’s beaches are among the most beautiful in the world. And there is a large variety of types of beaches and beach communities too.
Costa Rica may be a small country—it’s about the size of West Virginia—but it’s incredibly diverse as far as the landscape, climate, lifestyle, and “feel” you’ll experience in its different regions. You’ll find plenty of lush rainforests filled with capuchin monkeys and sloths, and jungle-covered mountains cascading down to the glittering Pacific.
Turns out one of the best places to find small-town America… is in Costa Rica. I’m talking about Atenas, a village of 5,000 in the Central Valley region in the interior of the country. Expats that have made their home here—mostly retirees—say the warm and friendly locals and a very welcoming expat community remind them of where they grew up.
Even though Costa Rica is only about the size of West Virginia, it has a variety of climates and landscapes to suit every taste...and a choice of locations to suit every budget. One of the most popular areas of the country with expats is the Central Valley.
At the southeastern tip of Panama’s Azuero Peninsula is an up-and-coming beach community that has become a favored spot for surfers, beach-loving tourists, and entertainment-seeking expats.
You look out from your terrace over a vast tropical garden. You're surrounded by heliconias and bromeliads in shades of vivid red, bright yellow, orange, and combinations in between, along with orchid blooms. Banana and mango trees are heavy with fruit. It provides the perfect backdrop to a life lived outdoors, thanks to a year-round temperate climate—mid-70s F during the day, cooling off into the 60s F at night.