Living In The Arenal Area Of Costa Rica: 10 Things To Know

Embrace your expat days in an outdoor retreat feeding your mind, body and spirit in the Arenal region of Costa Rica.

Arenal is the the destination that you think only exists in the movies or a painting.

With its vibrant and lush rainforests, hot springs, famous lake and its main star of Arenal Volcano towering over the area in all its glorious presence, Arenal is a nature lover’s paradise.

Here are the 10 facts you need to know to help guide you in deciding if Arenal’s outdoor playground is the right destination for your ultimate expat life. 

1. Arenal is actually underneath the lake

When the water levels become low on Lake Arenal people say you can see the rooftops of the homes that used to make up the towns that lie beneath the lake.

The natural lake was extended in 1973 flooding the existing towns Arenal and Tronadora. A new Tronadora and Nuevo Arenal were created for the relocated residents. The lake became Costa Rica’s biggest lake and one of the largest natural attractions in the country. 

2. Arenal is one of the most affordable expat areas 

The Arenal area is yet to explode in pricing in comparison to some of the beachfront tourist areas of Costa Rica.

This reflects strongly in the monthly rental prices on the market and in turn, gives you a wide range of beautiful homes to choose from as your next expat dream home. So don’t wait too long and sit back on our dream!

living in the arenal area - the view
The view!

In the paradisical region of Tilaran within a gated community, you can find a rental for only $500 a month for a renovated 3-bedroom home. For $750 a month you can rent a 3-bed property with enchanting views of the lake itself. 

Nuevo Arenal, Tronadora, and Tilaran are all destinations around Lake Arenal that will give you spectacular views looking out into Costa Rica’s wonderland. Anywhere from $500 to $2100 can be an expected budget for this region depending on the desired lifestyle.

3. One of the best places to live for an active lifestyle

Arenal is a mecca for eco-tourism with its sprawling Lake Arenal and all its water sports.

Living in the arenal area
Boats on the lake

Windsurfing, foil surfing, SUP, paddle boarding, kayaking across its warm freshwater, – you name it, we have it here.

Local sportfishing attracts people from around the world, its rainbow bass (guapote) being especially popular.

Living in the Arenal area lands you right in the center of some of the country’s most desired attractions.

Arenal Volcano fiercely reigns over the area and is the ultimate backdrop for expat living. Walking through its rainforest terrains leads you out to lava trails of its 1968 eruption. Don’t worry though, homes are far enough away to keep you safe and lava free!

Mistico Hanging Bridges take you up above the canopies of the forests with a birds-eye view of the miles upon miles of unspoiled nature.

Then there are hot springs!  Hot springs dot the foot of the volcano, on the thermal Tabacón River and hot spring bathing is a very popular pasttime.

As a local you will soon discover all the best places to bathe. Just head towards the Tabacon hot spring building and make your way down to the Tabacon River.

4. Choose your microclimate

Living alongside the lake brings a different type of climate than living in the Central Valley or along the Pacific Ocean.

Lake Arenal views
Lakeside houses with the best views.

One of the benefits of living around the lake is your affordable electricity bills as many become acclimated quickly not needing air conditioning or heat. 

This area is full of various microclimate pockets and even being on either side of the lake will bring different weather. If choosing to live on the south side of Tronadora you will tend to experience less rain than if living on the Nuevo Arenal side of the lake. 

There are stronger winds at times, during the summer season, which is one of the reasons windsurfing has become so world-famous on Lake Arenal.

March and April are the hottest months during Costa Rica’s summer season and this area is generally hot and humid with an average of 84 F that tends to remain relatively consistent. 

If your home is laid out right, you will definitely benefit from the refreshing winds blowing right through your home cooling you off during the hot humid days. Another plus is that they will blow all those pesky mosquitos and bugs away!

5. Fresh produce in abundance

You won’t find your big shopping centers in the Arenal area but you aren’t moving to Costa Rica to live the same life at home, are you?

living in the Arenal area - the walks
Hanging bridges in the Arenal National Park

The Arenal region has escaped the commercialization and urbanization still maintaining its roots in Costa Rica’s outstanding beauty. It is one of the many reasons why Arenal is so truly special.

Don’t worry, you won’t go hungry though! You are in the land of exotic fruits and fresh vegetables from the rich earth, Costa Rica isn’t called the rich coast for nothing.

Farmers’ markets, open-air markets of fruit and vegetable stands along with organic markets are scattered throughout the communities. 

Megasuper is one of the country’s chain grocery stores where you can find almost everything you need along with Maxi Pali for those extra items you don’t pick up at the ferias.  Which won’t be too much with ferias of fresh cheeses, bagels, fruit pies, pastries, and meat pies. 

6. Small-town living at its best

Arenal is rural and quiet with small-town vibes yet still has all that you need to be connected to the world.

It has continued to establish itself through the years creating beautiful gated communities amongst the backdrop of the sprawling lake, volcano, and towering trees.

The harmonies of the exotic birdlife will serenade you in your Arenal area home and some days you might see more wildlife than people. Monkeys, sloths, and plenty of Costa Rica’s exotic animals call the region home. 

7. Big malls are still within reach

An hour and a half scenic drive will have you arriving in Liberia, one of the country’s commercial areas where you can stock up on all those cravings and must-haves from home at Price Smart and Walmart.

living in the Arenal area - the volcano
The Volcano dominates all the views

Cuidad Quesada also has a Wal Mart about an hour’s drive. 

The capital of San Jose is about a 3- 4 hour adventure but makes for a fun overnight or weekend away to update your wardrobe, and missed flavors of the past. The drive will have you pulling over for never-ending photos of the vast valleys.

The central valley is where you will find the commercial centers, name-brand clothing stores, supplements, and some of the more specialized foods you may want to splurge on for that little reminder of home. 

8. It’s a safe place

Arenal region is a safer and quieter destination that doesn’t typically experience home invasions unlike other popular towns in the country.

The nearby busy tourist destination of La Fortuna is one of the few towns in Costa Rica that has a dedicated police force just for foreigners. The tourist police (policia turistica) wear white uniforms to help distinguish themselves from the country’s blue police. 

Like anywhere in the world, you will always have your petty theft and crimes of opportunity if you leave your vehicle unlocked especially at any of the high-traffic tourist locations.

9. Sense of family and community

The energy of living around the lake is one of seeking out happy days of peace and community. In the smaller expat communities, everyone gets to know one another quickly which helps to keep the friendly neighbor vibe. 

Living in the Arenal area - La Fortuna
Parque Central square in La Fortuna

Regardless of which side of the lake you choose to live, families reach out to one another bringing children together for like-minded activities. The small rural communities are very family-oriented and love to keep the children active and connected. 

There are dedicated social media groups just for the Arenal area where there are regular posts of upcoming activities and events.

It is an active community of outdoor life, meet-ups, and exchanges. Whether it be the fresh lake air or living in nature’s paradise, there is something simply positive in the air here in Arenal. 

10. High season can be busy

The nearby La Fortuna has over a million visitors passing through a year so you can expect this popular Costa Rican destination to be quite busy.

Living in the Arenal area - hot springs
Tabacon hot springs.

Living in Arenal you will come to know the busiest periods when it’s best to avoid visiting popular tourist attractions and La Fortuna itself. 

Unfortunately, with the increased demand means rising prices in La Fortuna. Eating out in many of the restaurants that feature international foods can be a bit pricier aimed toward the tourists.

Look for local sodas and simply enjoy a day out in the town.

Final thoughts on living in the Arenal area

Living in the tropics of Costa Rica and the lush environment of Arenal is taking your dream vacation and transforming it into your everyday well deserved expat life.

There is no need to work hard every week waiting for your next vacation, you can make every morning a holiday living in the beauty of Arenal. 

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Sarah Jordan
Sarah Jordan

Sarah is a freelance writer who has given up her criminal justice career to follow her passion for writing. After volunteering with the sloths and monkeys, she knew her heart belonged to Costa Rica and it has been her home since 2019. A proud mama to her rescue dog Coconut, together they enjoy the Pura Vida life.

She is a contributing writer for the Costa Rica news and loves to write about all things travel and wellness-related.

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