In Pictures: A Tour of our Favorite Places in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has long been a popular retirement destination, and a favorite among International Living readers. Its affordability, laidback lifestyle, and wonderful scenery continue to draw in huge numbers of expats from the U.S. and beyond.

From Caribbean beaches, to secluded mountain towns, Costa Rica has a place to suit everyone. So, to help you get a better sense of what this country has to offer, we asked our people on the ground to share some of their favorite places with you.

Jason Holland, IL Roving Latin America Editor
If you’re looking for a laidback life by the sea…you can’t go wrong with the funky beach town of Dominical, on Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast. This region, officially called the Southern Zone, is known for its untamed beaches, wildlife-filled rain forest, and focus on natural living. This is Dominical’s “main drag” paralleling the beach, lined with shade-giving palm trees—the perfect place to hang your hammock. Craft vendors offer their wares on one side, and on the other you have open-air beach bars where you can enjoy a cold drink to beat the tropical heat.

Lake Arenal, in Costa Rica’s Northern Highlands, is 33 square miles of unspoiled beauty. It’s surrounded by hills of a thousand shades of green that rise gracefully from the shore, covered in pasture, farmland, and forest. There is rarely boat traffic to disturb the quiet. You can enjoy panoramic views and a year-round spring, so you can live outdoors…just perfect.

1-Dominical 2-Arenal 3-Tamarindo-sand 4-Rainbow 5-Central-Valley 6-Waterfall
Many expats who settle in the mountainous Central Valley enjoy hiking along its many trails, taking in breathtaking scenery as they go along.

Jackie Minchillo, IL Tamarindo Correspondent
Nothing compares to being at the beach for sunset in my home town of Tamarindo. It’s a favorite pastime and captures the essence of “Pura Vida,” which the people of Costa Rica, particularly in the coastal towns, live and breathe. Also known as the “social hour,” even if you make it for sunset every single day, it never gets old and the sky puts on a unique show each time.

Often when people think of beach towns they think of surf and sand, but also Tiki bars, scooters, and palm trees. One of my favorite things about the Guanacaste region, where I live in Costa Rica, is that even when you’re at the beach, you’re closely surrounded by mountains, farm land, and wide open spaces. Any time my husband and I have to drive to another town, I always look forward to the scenery and unexpected delights that the varied terrain in this area brings.

Greg Seymour, IL Central Valley Correspondent
One of the most wonderful things about living in the Central Valley of Costa Rica is just that—I am living in one of the country’s major valleys and am constantly enveloped by mountain views. Just about every town I travel to in the Central Valley has incredible views—there’s even a great one from the backyard of my home just outside of Grecia.

I don’t know what the best part about visiting Catarata del Toro (Waterfall of the Bulls) is. It could be because it’s Costa Rica’s tallest waterfall, dropping an incredible 300 feet into an extinct volcanic crater. Or maybe it’s the incredible scenic drive an hour up into the mountains from the Central Valley town of Sarchi. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s not well known and not touristy. All of these reasons, and more, make this one of my favorite places to visit.

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