Living In The Central Valley Of Costa Rica: Expat Guide

All you need to know about one of the best places to live in Costa Rica - the renowned Central Valley, and what expat life there is like.

The Central Valley of Costa Rica is right where you guessed it!  In the central region of the paradisical country surrounding the outskirts of Costa Rica’s bustling capital of San Jose.

The gorgeous Central Valley offers a small-town friendly atmosphere with some of the best climates in the country and even the world.

To know if this mountainous and idyllic countryside is the quintessential destination to live out your expat days, here are some of the best must-know facts about the Central Valley. 

Sit back and relax, reading on to see if you can envision your mornings with your fresh Costa Rican brew looking out into the green hillsides of Costa Rica’s refreshing Central Valley.

1. Diverse international community

With more than a third of all of Costa Rica’s population living in the Central Valley, you will find plenty of expats residing within.

Expats have discovered ideal locations creating culturally diverse communities throughout the region and finding new friendships and connections.

Orosi hills in the Central Valley of Costa Rica
Orosi Hills in the Central Valley of Costa Rica.

Just post on one of the many social media pages of Costa Rica, and you will be more than surprised how many expats are actually in the area scattered throughout the hills and valleys. 

2. All modern conveniences are available

The Central Valley offers you the conveniences of both of your favorite worlds: living out your pura vida days peacefully in serene small-town charm with the luxury of everything you need not far away. 

Upscale malls and plazas, urban centers, and the comforts and familiarity of home are only 30 minutes away.

Head into Alajuela, San Jose, or even Escazu to stock up on those must-haves and retreat into the slow pace of life for the rest of the day. 

Walmart, PriceSmart, name-brand clothing and shoes, all those essentials you still want are right there in one quick trip to the city.

3. It is centrally located near Costa Rica’s natural playground

Jaco is the closest beach town having you at the Pacific Coast in just a short drive. It is an easy trip for the day to walk the black sand beaches and enjoy some surf and waves or enjoy the chill vibes of Playa Hermosa.

Living in the Central Valley of Costa Rica - Playa Hermosa
Playa Hermosa

Explore Poas Volcano and its stunning crater in the Central Valley or hike one of the many National Parks, all within one easy day trip, returning to the comforts of your own bed for the night. 

4. The unforgettable and stunning views 

Living in the hillsides of the Central Valley may have you spending most of your days just in your backyard. 

The breathtaking views of Costa Rica’s captivating landscapes are something that you will never grow tired of. The rolling green mountains of rooftops lining the scenic countryside are priceless.  

5. Great travel connections

The Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO), is one of the only two international airports in Costa Rica and is a short distance away. Heading home to see loved ones is quick and effortless.  

Even better, why not have them come to see you? Picking them up at the airport is direct, and you will be in and out in no time at all.  The bus stops right in front of the SJO airport.

6. Never a dull day when looking for some excitement

The Central Valley’s convenient location to San Jose means that you can revel in your quiet days in the surrounding regions and still get to everything you need quickly and easily. 

National Theatre of Costa Rica in San Jose
National Theatre of Costa Rica in San Jose

You will be close to the National Theatre, museums, galleries, outdoor concerts, and festivals with art, culture, and nightlife all in neighboring proximity. 

Sports events, casinos, clubs, and all the exciting destinations are within the Central Valley. The Central Valley is essentially the hub and pivotal destination for the country.

7. Top-rated healthcare is easily accessible

With the best public and private hospitals in the country close, you have easy access to the top healthcare in the country.

One of the most popular private hospitals for expats is right in San Jose at Hospital CIMA.

Hospital Clinica Biblica has plenty of English-speaking staff, and Hospital La Catolica is within a short driving distance from many of the Central Valley communities.

Hospital de Ninos (Children’s Hospital) is less than an hour away in the capital. 

If healthcare access is an important variable in your decision, then the Central Valley is a must as it is the epicenter for all the private hospitals in Costa Rica.

When it comes to healthcare options, many expats opt for international health insurance. To ensure you get the best value for money, compare international health insurance options from various providers to find the best deal. 

8. The best places to live in the Central Valley

If you love the urban lifestyle, then living in San Jose is for you. It’s a true urban jungle, vibrant and lively, set against the backdrop of the country’s lush green mountains.

The Central Valley view.
The Central Valley view.

But if you are after a more peaceful lifestyle, the following locations might be worth your attention:


Gorgeous contemporary homes and ranches are sprinkled throughout the mountains with stunning views of the Central Valley.

Gated housing, vista communities, and private casas without a neighbor to hear – the selection is extensive in Atenas. It is one of the top expat destinations in the Central Valley with its mild and near-perfect climate.

To learn more about this town, its costs, and the lifestyle it offers, read our Living In Atenas guide.


Grecia is a lovely town 29 kilometers (18 miles) from San Jose International Airport. It is considered one of the cleanest towns with a mixture of country and suburban lifestyles.

Grecia is not very touristy and has a very pleasant family atmosphere. It’s perfect if you are looking for a city feel but do not like the hustle and bustle of San Jose.

Grecia is especially popular with American and Canadian retirees for its mountain views and fresh weather. It’s also a cooler place with pleasant temperatures.

Grecia is conveniently close to San Jose. If you are not a fan of driving, you have the option of taking a bus. Buses are pretty regular, departing every half hour from early morning to 8.30 in the evening.

La Garita 

Under an hour from San Jose, with mountainous landscapes of fincas, fruit trees, and upscale family homes, La Garita’s community is a notable place for relaxed living.

It doesn’t have all the busy amenities but is a quiet, small town where you can spend your days in peace and tranquillity. 

Several other areas worth noting are Escazu, Santa Ana, Tres Rios, Heredia, and even over towards the mountainous and cooler region of Cartago. 

9. Plenty of affordable and modern housing 

Renting is the ultimate way to see if your heart lies in a town and is the most affordable way to start your expat journey. 

Living in the Central Valley of Costa Rica - The Cartago area
The Cartago area

Less than 15 minutes from the SJO airport in La Garita, rentals can be as low as $900 fully furnished for two people, including all your utilities! Gardens, privacy, and modern living, all with the tranquillity you desire.

Upscale condos with up to 4 bedrooms, fully furnished, three bathrooms, private with a yard fit for a playground or a patio or ranch, can be as low as $1500 in Grecia. 2-bedroom casas fully furnished can start as low as $550.

As Atenas is a popular expat destination growing in its community size, rent can be a little more, but homes can come with several acres and views to write home about.

Just under $1,000, with all utilities included, can be enough for a two-bedroom home with a stunning terrace to look out into the hilltops.

You can learn more about the cost of living in Costa Rica in our Living In Costa Rica guide.

10. Arguably the best climate in the world

The Central Valley’s Atenas has been tagged as one of the best climates in the world for health.

Depending on whether you are in the valley or the mountains, the temperature, and heat can differ, with some boasting spring-like feels.

Sunset in the Central Valley
Sunset in the Central Valley

You don’t need to run your air conditioner all day long with temperatures ranging from the 70s to low 80s, typically 72F to 75F, with cool, comfortable evening weather. 

Living at the higher elevations in the Central Valley can make it a bit cooler, allowing you to pull out your familiar long sleeves and pants for a cozy evening. 

11. Refreshing winds to keep you cool

You will look forward to the balmy winds, mainly the Christmas winds that last at least a month, sometimes a bit longer.  A breeze and wind are a blessing in a country of high temperatures and humidity. 

There is indescribable magic as the winds flow through, swaying the tropical leaves as you sit back and feel the revitalizing energy.

12. International and authentic cuisine 

Dining out could be where you see much of your money going.

It is because you are in the hub of amazing international and delightful cuisine—pizzerias with seafood toppings, aromatic Pad Thai, salmon and steak burgers, and savory Indian dishes.

You may find it hard to stay in and cook! 

Don’t forget about the freshest and best strawberries from Poas or the endless fruit and vegetable stands of all the country’s flavourful exotic fruits. 

13. Coffee, coffee, and coffee!

Coffee plantations are prominent in the Central Valley, with rich volcanic soils and ideal altitudes and climates. They are stunning to see creating postcard-worthy visions.

Enjoy the gift of freshly brewed Costa Rican coffee right from your own region. 

Coffee plantations in the Orosi Valley
Coffee plantations in the Orosi Valley

Unlike the rugged terrains of many of Costa Rica’s roads, the Central Valley has plenty of paved and reasonably direct routes. You won’t need a 4 x 4 to get around. Just be cautious of Costa Rica’s notorious potholes.

The photographic mountains and lush rolling hills can have you weaving in and around on frightful heights, so night driving can be a bit scary if you aren’t accustomed to the terrain.

The positive is that the daylight hours have you looking out upon miles of breathtaking landscapes that you will never grow tired of. 

15. Safety of the Central Valley

Regardless of where you live in Costa Rica, it is typical to have some protection within your home. It might be choosing to live in a gated community, have a dog, strong doors with bolts, or a security system.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens in the San Jose area
La Paz Waterfall Gardens in the San Jose area

You won’t have the same petty thefts of opportunity as the tourist beach towns, but certain precautions are necessary.

Always leave valuables locked up at home, and don’t leave them out on display in your vehicle. Take the time to know your neighbors.

Common sense is one of the best forms of prevention.

Final thoughts on living in the Central Valley 

Living in the Central Valley brings a sentiment that truly feels like home.

It is one of the best places to live in Costa Rica, where you instantly feel a part of it without needing much adjustment. You won’t miss much when relocating to this paradise.

The less humid temperatures, the magical winds, the vibrant morning skies, and the twinkling lights of the homes through the valleys and mountains can sometimes feel surreal.

It is one of Costa Rica’s never-ending gifts that keeps on giving all through your glorious expat days. 

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  1. Thank you so much for your information. My husband and I are thinking of a long term rental somewhere in the Central Valley. We will be making a trip there in June and would love to find someone to drive us around for a day and show us the different towns and explain the advantages and disadvantages of each. Can you recommend anyone to do so? Thank you, Lynn

    • Hi Lynn,

      The Central Valley seems like a great choice. I am going to email you contact details of Paola, Costa Rican expert and relocation adviser. Get in touch with her; Paola can organise exactly what you ant. Good luck with your trip.

  2. Hi Sara, my wife and I are looking at the Central Valley as a possible retirement destination, Climate and cost of living are our top reasons for moving from Texas. We are planning a trip in April of 23 to scout out the area. Our plan would be to rent for possible a year, then buy. The Grecia area seems to fit our lifestyle. We have subscribed to International Living so we have some information. Does this sound like a reasonable plan?

    • Hi Rickey,
      The climate in the Central Valley is one that is desired by so many and is a great choice! Along with cost of living being more affordable than many of the tourist beach towns, Grecia is a destination that is central to have access to amenities as well as beautiful day trips.
      Renting first is an absolute must, it will give you a test run to see if it suits you and your wife’s lifestyle. Another great idea besides the articles here on Expatra would be to search out an expat group on social media for Grecia, Costa Rica, which I believe they have. The community/town expat groups in Costa Rica are often very supportive and will even post rentals and get togethers/events.
      Have a wonderful time in April! Pura Vida!

    • Hi Laura,
      You will definitely be welcomed by the people here in Costa Rica at any age. It is one of the best destinations to live as a senior with so much to do or as little as you want to do and enjoy the pura vida way of life without any judgement.
      There are also endless friendly gated communities to feel safe in with a mixture of both expats and locals. If you have any questions about a particular location please feel free to ask.
      Having small dogs will make moving here a lot easier for both yourself and your furry babies. There are forms required to be completed by your vet prior to moving to ensure requirements are met. Depending on the airline some will allow your pet in a carrier beneath the seat in front of you or a regular seat. Also Pet Lounge CR is a popular company that many have assist them.
      If these don’t interest you, there are also social media groups now Private Air to Costa Rica, (dogs allowed) where like minded people are flying charter together in order to safely relocate with their dogs big or small. They are regularly arranging flights.
      Thank you for your comment and I hope this helps to inspire your planning. Pura Vida!

  3. Hi Sarah
    I’m single woman looking to move to Costa Rica but not sure what to do.
    I’m going to a International Living conference 29-31 of July not sure how long to stay after to check things out. Any advise?

    • Hi Rosemary, Thank you for your comment. Its a perfect idea to take advantage of already being here in Costa Rica and using that time to scout out different areas to see if they align with your life.
      The first thing is to make a list of all the amenities you want to have close by in your ideal town and what is important to you. (i.e. hot beach days, cool mountain air, centrally located, city life, healthcare needs etc) Secondly, think about if you would have a vehicle or access to one after you make the move to Costa Rica or if you are comfortable with learning the bus system. This will help determine the areas in the country that you should consider seeing during your extended visit here.
      If you are able to allot yourself a minimum of two to at least three weeks and the luxury of renting a vehicle it will allow you to travel more efficiently maximizing your time here. Finding a hotel or airbnb throughout your stops won’t be difficult as you aren’t visiting during prime season. Often some towns sound ideal at first until you experience them first hand and realize they are better off as a vacation or weekend away.
      After visiting and having a general idea of what resonated with you, searching out social media expat groups in Costa Rica will help you to become acquainted with what life is truly like in the town.
      If you don’t see a town that is matching what you are looking for in the present Expatra articles for Costa Rica feel free to reach out again and I would be happy to help suggest a few more to stop and consider.
      Pura Vida!

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