Pros and Cons of Living in Arenal
For such a small country, Costa Rica offers diversity when it comes to deciding where to live. Cities, countryside, mountains, beaches, and more. For those interested in living in the Arenal area, there are several things to keep in mind.
Located 880 feet above sea level, the main town La Fortuna provides a hot and humid entry point to enjoy the outdoors. It ranges from oppressively sunny to extremely overcast receiving nearly 140 inches of annual rainfall. Going beyond local weather (link to Best Time to Visit Arenal article), let’s get a glimpse of life in Arenal.
Access to Places
While not a beach town, La Fortuna has relatively easy access to both coasts. Just over two hours to Liberia means that Nicoya beaches are not far away. You can also journey to the exotic north Caribbean coast – like Tortuguero Beach – affording a contrast to the busy buzz of Guanacaste.
There is relatively quick access to both international airports from La Fortuna. A benefit for those with a frequent travel lifestyle. Cruise to Liberia’s airport generally traffic-free, or jet towards congested San Jose without having to cross the city center. Each option has you at the airport in about 2.5 hours.
Quality shopping is also accessible. A relief when needing household items, clothes, and specialty foods that are otherwise challenging to get in many parts. Within an hour, Cuidad Quesada offers a Walmart and several malls. In addition, Liberia houses another Walmart and is soon to host the only PriceSmart in the northern region.
Security and Cleanliness
When you walk, drive around, and hang in a La Fortuna neighborhood, you may feel a difference in terms of safety and cleanliness. The streets here are more maintained than most parts of the country. A local nonprofit – Development Association of La Fortuna (ADIFORT) – also manages the beautiful central park and local recreation center.
Local police maintain order by patrolling neighborhoods and otherwise making their presence known. This along with relatively high work opportunities and average livelihoods provide a general sense of security.
Farmers Markets & Groceries
Although it may not be the first thing on your mind, once in Costa Rica many learn to recognize the importance of quality grocers and farmers’ markets. Here there are several large grocery stores. My favorite is Super Rosvil; for it carries a broader selection of natural foods and personal care products.
There are also two weekly farmers’ markets. On Monday, there’s a small, welcoming organic market offering baked goods, vegetables, fruits, chocolates, and other random yummies. On Friday, an open market offers more products like household plants and homemade salsas.
Hiking & The Outdoors
As with most places in Costa Rica, you’re likely here because you love the outdoors. Arenal hiking and hot springing top the list.
Make sure you schedule time to enjoy local trails, like Arenal Volcano National Park. Grab a kayak or paddleboard and head to Arenal Lake. Just be aware the wind can ruin your chances of a leisurely experience.
What would Arenal be without hot springs? There are soaking spots for all budgets and tastes, including Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa and Termalitas del Arenal. Dare if you wish, there’s a popular free access location called El Chollin with limited roadside parking.
The Little Luxuries
Finally, there are those little things about living in Arenal that can seal the deal. For me, it was nice downtown gyms, yoga studios, reliable macrobioticas, and restaurant options.
Tons of Tourists
As a top tourist destination, one must come to appreciate mingling with international crowds that wander the streets, drive precariously, and join you at restaurants. This is not uncommon to life in Costa Rica; the difference here are the numbers.
La Fortuna receives more than a million visitors each year. As a result, the abundance of restaurants, hotels, and tour companies can be overwhelming.
The Prices You Pay (Cost of Living)
The cost of almost anything in Arenal & La Fortuna are expensive. While you can a decent 2-bedroom apartment for less than 200 mil colones, restaurants, local shops, and home products here are pricey.
Having a car is key; as are regular trips to Cuidad Quesada, Liberia, or San Jose for large food, household products, and clothing buys.
NOTE: Access to trails and hot springs can run high price tags. Make sure to include weekly recreational expenditures in your budget, as to not be shocked when spending $12 to visit Tenorio National Park or $20 at Baldi Hot Springs.
Climate: Hot Heat and Humidity
In Arenal, it’s always hot. Mostly. Relief comes from regular breezes, rainstorms, and nighttime activities.
Costa Rica overall is a humid country. Arenal feels muggier when compared to most of Costa Rica and your clothes, shoes, and bags will make it known. The battle against mold can be relentless; so keep your house and possessions squeaky clean.
Making the Most of Arenal
How do you get the most out of living in Arenal? Some may consider this a very personal matter. However, there are ways to maximize your time living in and around La Fortuna.
Several were already mentioned, like taking advantage of hiking, hot springs, and local farmers’ markets. Other ways are enjoying the highly walkable life in downtown La Fortuna as well as venturing to rural swim spots, discovering local sodas for authentic cheap meals, and getting outside to enjoy volcano-framed sunsets.
People most suited for living in Arenal are those ready to live small-town vibes shared with Ticos and tourists. The ex-pat community here is subtle and mostly family-focused. Arenal is also best for those that want to live somewhere between the beach and mountains, with ample opportunities to enjoy them both.
If nothing else, come for a visit. Who knows? You may find enough here to make you want to stay.