Relocation Hotspot: Arenal
Where can you live with views of an active volcano, windmills, gorgeous countryside and a 20,000-acre lake? Arenal, located in north-central Costa Rica. This region stretches from the town of La Fortuna west into Nuevo Arenal and over to Tilaran, hopping provincial borders (Alajuela-Guanacaste) along the way.
Though still moderately cool by local standards, La Fortuna (elevation 885 feet) is warmer and more humid than Nuevo Arenal (2,200 feet), which is located higher in the mountains above Lake Arenal. Average temperatures range from 67-88 °F, and frequent showers mean perpetual lush landscapes, even during the dry season months of December-April.
Arenal's designation as a tourism hotspot means you're always surrounded by plenty of activities and attractions: hanging bridges, whitewater rafting, Arenal Volcano National Park, hot springs, fishing, and ancient caverns, to name a few. The area's tourism dollars also bolster the local economy, so you'll find plenty of restaurants, bars, grocery stores and other amenities to satisfy year-round living. A small expat population is tight-knit, and the region's foreign residents enjoy active social lives.
Given the area's appeal and amenities, both La Fortuna and Nuevo Arenal are surprisingly affordable. Renting is a great way to test drive the area, and see whether you prefer a downtown locale or rural lakefront. For $1,000 a month, you can rent a beautiful 2-bedroom home with sweeping lake and volcano views. If you're on a smaller budget, $250 secures a modest 2-bedroom, 1-bath apartment just a short drive from La Fortuna.
Local real estate is also easy on the wallet compared to the rest of the country's tourist hotspots. You'll have your choice of Costa Rican-style homes in downtown La Fortuna and Nuevo Arenal. Or, if that's not your taste, consider one of the gated communities decorating the mountains and shores of Lake Arenal. Less than $100,000 purchases a Costa Rican-style 3-bedroom home, while $150,000 is enough to buy a 2-bedroom property built to U.S.standards. Lakefront homes are also a good deal: for under $400,000, you could own a large lot with a luxury home, guesthouse, and hot tub.
La Fortuna (population: 9,200) is the area's hub where you'll find the densest concentration of amenities and neighbors. Homes are more traditionally Costa Rican, and what you lack in acreage is made up for in convenience. While public transportation is not as frequent as in other urban areas, La Fortuna's gridded streets are perfect for walking or biking to your destination. If you'd prefer a combination of privacy and convenience, look a few miles outside the town's center. The road between La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano National Park is lined with hotels, and many of the residential communities have cable television, high-speed Internet and other amenities that are usually hard to come by in rural Costa Rica.
Nuevo Arenal (population: 2,200) is a quaint hillside town overlooking Lake Arenal and the volcano. Downtown homes are on the small side, while more spacious properties sit a couple of miles from the center. There are fewer amenities here than in La Fortuna, but Nuevo Arenal has all the basics: bakeries, restaurants, and grocery stores. With less emphasis on tourism, Nuevo Arenal moves at a slower pace and life is more traditional than its neighbor to the east – think Sunday afternoon soccer at the central park instead of hopping dance clubs.
Both towns have public schools, and you can visit your nearest pharmacy for minor medical concerns; pharmacists can diagnose most maladies and recommend medications. For big city amenities, like shopping malls or private hospitals, La Fortuna is equidistant (80 miles) to both San Jose and Liberia. Nuevo Arenal is just 60 miles to Liberia and 100 miles to the capital.