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15 Best Beach Towns in Central America

By Braden Wood and Betsy Burlingame

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Summary: People are flocking to Central America to enjoy a lower cost of living, the laid-back beach lifestyle and adventure. In this article, we explore 15 of the best places to live on the beach in Central America according to expats.

Best Places to Live - 15 Best Beach Towns in Central America

One of the most common questions asked by people on Expat Exchange is, "Where are the best places to live on the beach in ____?" The answer to the question is often the impetus that turns someone dreaming of living overseas into an expat. Central America is a popular region for beach lovers who are seeking the sun, sand and a laid-back lifestyle with a more affordable cost of living. Costa Rica, Panama and Belize are the most popular destinations. More adventurous types have found beach havens in Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador. In this article, we explore 15 of the best places to live on the coast in Central America according to expats.

Best Beach Towns in Costa Rica

Compared to other Central American countries, Costa Rica has the greatest number of beach towns and villages with housing, infrastructure, schools, restaurants and a sense of community. The Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, in particular, is dotted with dozens of beach towns and villages. Here are some favorites:

Costa Rica Beach Towns

1. Playa Hermosa and Playas del Coco, Costa Rica

Population: estimated at 1,000
Location: Guanacaste Province, Nicoya Peninsula on the northwestern Pacific Coast, 20-30 minutes from Liberia International Airport, 4 hrs from San Jose

Playa Hermosa Guanacaste Costa Rica

Playa Hermosa in Guanacaste Province is sometimes confused with Playa Hermosa de Jaco (aka Jaco Beach) in Puntarenas Province, which is a popular surfing town. Playa Hermosa in Guanacaste is just north of Playas del Coco. Lakeside International School is located 15 minutes inland from Playa Hermosa and Playas del Coco. One expat wrote, "I bought my condo in Playas del Coco. I really like the ocean and I knew that's what I wanted. We put window screens in our condo and we have ceiling fans and now that we are more used to the heat we only turn on one of the AC splits for a few hours during the night. I love walking on the beach and buying cheap red snapper. We also had to find local grocery stores where the meat is much cheaper. Most fruit we get from the fruit stand."

William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.

2. Playa Flamingo, Brasilito and Potrero, Costa Rica

Population: estimated at 1,000 - 2,000 (seasonal)
Location: Guanacaste Province, Nicoya Peninsula on the northwestern Pacific Coast, 40 minutes south of Playas del Coco, 55 minutes from Liberia International Airport, 4 hrs from San Jose

Playa Brasilito Guanacaste Costa Rica

"Brasilito, Playa Flamingo and Potrero. Excellent Expat communities but integrated with the local culture. Also they have two excellent accredited schools if you bring the kids. I would definitely check out Flamingo/Potrero," advised one expat. The schools mentioned are La Paz Community School and Costa Rica International Academy (CRIA). Brasilito is 15 minutes north of one of Guanacaste's most famous beaches, Playa Conchal. Playa Flamingo and Potrero are just a few minutes up the coast from Brasilito.

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Costa Rica's Guanacaste Province

Guanacaste is a province on the northern Pacific Coast with approximately 400 miles of coastline. Another popular inland area in Guanacaste, Lake Arenal is approximately 2.5 hours from the coast.
Provinces CR
One member described Guanacaste, "Guanacaste lies next to the Pacific Ocean, and its northwestern side is the most preferred due to its less population and better development compared to Limon and Puntarenas. It is quite famous for its breathtaking white sandy beaches, stunning coastline and its variety of wildlife. A simple walk under the jungle canopies with an accompaniment of howling monkeys, chirping of the exotic birds and the beautiful sceneries will definitely mesmerize you. Although the infrastructure is not as well developed, life on the Gold Coast is much more relaxed and friendlier than that of San Jose. It also has the most ideal climate of Costa Rica marked with sunny days most of the year. In fact, this place receives the least amount of rainfall in the country. Here, you also find a large population of expats and foreigners with a mixture of Ticos."

3. Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Population: approximately 6,800
Location: Guanacaste Province, Nicoya Peninsula on the northwestern Pacific Coast, 20-30 minutes from Liberia International Airport, 4 hrs from San Jose
More Info: Tamarindo Guide

Tamarindo Costa Rica

"On one visit, we took a side trip to Costa Rica to explore the beaches of Guanacaste. When we drove into Tamarindo, it felt a California beach town with a nice vibe. Over the next couple of years, we took a few trips to Playa Flamingo and Tamarindo to further explore the area and to look at condos for sale. We bought an ocean view condo in Tamarindo a couple of years before we retired, and then moved there full time after retiring," wrote one member.

William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.

4. Nosara, Costa Rica

Population: approximately 5,800
Location: Guanacaste Province, , Nicoya Peninsula on the northwestern Pacific Coast, 1.75 hrs south of Tamarindo, 2.25 hrs from Liberia International Airport, 4 hrs from San Jose

Nosara

"I would highly recommend going... to the gorgeous town of Nosara. Actually the beach is Playa Guiones. The way the town is built is really nature friendly. You will not see rows and rows of hotels and condos, but the businesses are all built between the foliage. And the beach is protected by tree line as well. My favorite beach south of Tamarindo," according to an expat.

Another expat recommended Nosara saying, "For a quieter area filled with expats try Nosara! By volunteering at the Wildlife Refuge or something, you will be able to meet others. It has a stronger community feel for expats than most others."

Costa Rica's Puntarenas Province

Puntarenas Province is the south of Guanacaste and is the largest province in Costa Rica. Puntarenas makes up the majority of Costa Rica's pacific coastline.
Provinces CR

5. Playa Jaco, Costa Rica

Population: approximately 10,000
Location: Puntarenas Province, Central Pacific Coast
More Info: Playa Jaco Guide

Playa Jaco, Costa Rica

Playa Jaco is a popular tourist and surfing destination and known for its party atmosphere. "Foreigners move to Playa Jaco for the beaches, fabulous sunsets, close proximity to an international airport (SJO) and convenient shopping. Additionally, the community has a relaxed vibe, full of great restaurants, plentiful beach access, recreational activities and other expats to socialize. Many beach locations in Costa Rica are expensive. However, Playa Jaco has a strong mix of locals and tourists which helps to keep the cost of living lower. You will find many types of housing here from single family, condominium complexes and beachfront homes in a multitude of price ranges to fit all budgets. The community has a local farmers market (feria) which is always a good deal to purchase locally from regional farmers. The price of fresh fish is an incredible value," wrote one expat living in Playa Jaco.

William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.

6. Ojochal, Costa Rica

Population: estimated at 1,000
Location: Puntarenas Province, 3.5 hours from San Jose
More Info: Ojochal Guide

Ojochal Costa Rica

In the Costa Ballena region of Puntarenas, you'll find the beloved village of Ojochal. "I just spent a month in Ojochal housesitting. It is a small village, with several nice features including a great ex-pat community, who pride themselves on contributing to the area and the people in many ways," remarked one expat in Costa Rica. "There's a large US, Canadian and French contingent there, but you can also find residents from every continent," added another. "Ojochal has a great international community with nearly every continent represented in restaurants alone. The geography in the area is stunning with the largest mountain backdrops closest to the coast in the entire country. Zoning laws have been strictly upheld in the area with limits on height so NO high rise buildings and less deforestation than elsewhere in the country," described one expat.

"I think before suggesting that all "beach areas" are alike - one might want to get in a car and drive down this way. Ojochal does not have tons of tourists or hotels lining their beaches or humidity that drains human body and the jungle is still in tact - for now! We live in the heart of the tropics where the area is one of the most Biodiverse, according to National Geographic. We have wonderful temperatures since it is rainier here. It rains in the rainy season about 4pm for a few hours everyday but sunny most of the day. Our insect population is controlled by - what a concept - other insects and birds and anteaters! How clever of Mother Nature! After the first rains hit the mosquitos show up for a short time but not long since the squadrons of dragon flies take them over and the bats and the swallows. We leave our doors open at all times. We are within sight of the beach here in Ojochal and that brings us pleasant ocean breezes and the mountain breezes at night," wrote one member in Ojochal.

Costa Rica has many more beach towns to consider. Our article, 17 Best Places to Live in Costa Rica, covers others such as Dominical and Uvita.

Best Beach Towns in Panama

Panama's most popular beach town is Bocas del Toro on Isla Colon on the Caribbean side of Panama. On the Pacific side of Panama, it's a mix of towns close to Panama City (Arco Seco Region); resort towns with golf and beach resorts, like Buenaventura; small villages in the midst of development, like Las Lajas; and remote, hard-to-get to beaches and islands. One member explained, "There are many islands on the Pacific coast, and they are fun to visit, although it would be quite inconvenient to live there. There are also hundreds of miles of unspoiled mainland coastline that are nearly inaccessible by land. You probably want to be somewhere that has a road to it, which further limits your options. Look at a good map and you will see what is accessible. If you don't see a road it's because there isn't one. There probably won't be any utilities either." Here are some favorites beach towns where expats live:

Best Beach Towns in Panama

William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.

7. Nueva Gorgona, Panama

Population: Approx. 4k
Location: Arco Seco region, 1 hr 15 minute drive from Panama City
More Info: Nueva Gorgona Guide

Nueva Gorgona Panama

"There are a lot of expats in our area in Panama and a lot of opportunities to join groups for fun or community serice. A retiree can be involved in as much as they want here or nothing at all. There is a wide variety of restaurants nearby and some nightlife. Panama City is about an hour away and has everything anyone could want. We occasionally spend a night or two in the city. We have water aerobics, game nights and various group activities. The expats are a good community here. We all help each other and especially help the new people. Paying it forward is part of the process," wrote one retiree living in Nueva Gorgona, Panama

Panama's Arco Seco Region

If you're considering a move to Panama and want to live near the beach, the Arco Seco region may be the perfect place to look. "If you need to be close to top notch medical care, chose the Arco Seco (The Dry Arch), a 50 km long stretch of beach communities from Nueva Gorgona to Buena Ventura, with many different residential areas, all relatively close the major shopping in Coronado, (near the east end of the Arco Seco) and about one and one half hours from Panama City," explained one expat.

8. Coronado, Panama

Population: approximately 5,000
Location: Arco Seco region, 1 hr 20 minutes from Panama City
More Info: Coronado Guide

Coronado, Panama

If you're looking for a beachfront community with an active expat community and amenities that's not far from Panama City, Coronado may be the right spot. It's right down the coast from Nueva Gorgona. One expat explained the history of Coronado, "Among Panamanians who reside in Panama City, the preferred beaches are those nearest by. Panamanians like to be able to leave work on Friday afternoon and reach their places on the water by dinnertime, and they are willing to pay a premium for that privilege. That's why property prices at these 'city beach areas' have appreciated in value dramatically over the past decade. Perhaps the most developed of these 'city beach' communities is Coronado. Development at Coronado began about 30 years ago, when this spot on the Pacific coast became a destination of focus among wealthy Panamanians from the capital."

Another member said, "Coronado--which has supermarkets, gas stations, shopping mall, restaurants, beauty salons, banks, homes, and beach. If you are looking for an American style city, forget it! But it has everything you need for day to day. Many expats go to Panama City about once a month for night life or an American style mall (Albrook Mall). I agree that the beach at Coronado is not for swimming--more a surfer's water--but the sand is NATURALLY volcanic grey/black and not pretty like the beaches in the Caribbean or the Gulf Coast of Florida. None of the Pacific beaches in Panama are white sand--that is only on the Caribbean side (Bocas del Toro). However, the expats in Coronado have monthly dinner/parties and get togethers, too. The activities are there--but you just don't see them unless you look and ask around."

9. Bocas del Toro, Panama

Population: approximately 12,500
Location: Island, Caribbean Sea
More Info: Bocas del Toro Guide

Bocas del Toro Panama

Bocas del Toro is a province on the Caribbean side of Panama. The Bocas del Toro Archipelago is a group of six islands that are popular with tourists, but also great for expat retirees. "Bocas del Toro is a back packers paradise and party town. Hostels & B&B's everywhere. Some nice hotels with pools as well. Transportation in downtown Isla Colon is by bicycle or skateboards. Bicycle rentals are everywhere. It is a group of islands that are a vacationer's paradise. Take boat tours and go out snorkeling or scuba diving. Whale and Dolphin watching in season. It has problems with petty crime, so keep an eye on your backpack. It is not clean and pristine, but rather rugged, rustic and relaxed," wrote one expat in Panama. Another expat living in Bocas said, "Besides the bars and restaurants, there are fitness classes, Spanish classes, dive lessons, Catamaran tours, Live music venues, the beaches, volunteer opportunities and just meeting people walking down the street."

Tip: If you're on a look-see visit to Bocas del Toro, take a 10 minute boat ride to Isla Bastimentos and check out Red Frog Beach.

AGS Worldwide Movers can move you to and from anywhere in the world. Presently the AGS Group has over 141 locations in more than 95 countries and has one of the largest networks in the international removals industry. We relocate 85,000 families every year. Free moving quote!
AGS Worldwide MoversMoving to Global Soon?

AGS Worldwide Movers can move you to and from anywhere in the world. Presently the AGS Group has over 141 locations in more than 95 countries and has one of the largest networks in the international removals industry. We relocate 85,000 families every year. Free moving quote!
Get a Quote

Best Beach Towns in Belize

People love the adventurous lifestyle, friendly and diverse locals and expats, low cost of living, beautiful beaches and ease of speaking English in Belize. But, Belize has some notable cons that may be an issue for you: access to quality medical care is limited, road conditions are poor, humidity is extreme and crime is a problem in some areas. Here are some of the best beach towns in Belize:

Best Beach Towns in Belize

10. Ambergris Caye, Belize

Population: Approx. 16.5k in San Pedro Town
Location: Caribbean Sea, Northeast of mainland Belize
More Info: The Cayes Guide

Ambergris Caye

"The two main cayes that expats like to settle on, which are also among Belize's main tourist attractions and sources of income for the government, are Ambergris Caye (pronounced am-BUR-gris or am-BUR-grease KEY) and Caye Caulker. These beautiful palm- and mangrove-fringed, idyllic islands lie just off the coast of Belize surrounded by turquoise seas and white beaches. There is a Caribbean feel to both islands, with wooden buildings painted in all the colors under the sun. The pace on the islands is laid-back and relaxed. There is a local slogan of ?no shirt, no shoes, no problem.? There is excellent diving, snorkeling, fishing, and all manner of other water sports at the Belize Barrier Reef," wrote Victoria Day-Wilson in her article, Living in Belize: Life in The Cayes

11. Caye Caulker, Belize

Population: Approx. 2k
Location: Caribbean Sea, Northeast of mainland Belize
More Info: The Cayes Guide

Caye Caulker Belize

In another excerpt from Victoria Day-Wilson's book, Moon Living Abroad in Belize, she describes Cay Caulker by saying, "Caye Caulker is five miles long and less than a mile wide. There are three main streets, known as Front Street (Avenida Hicaco), Middle Street (Avenida Langosta), and Back Street (Avenida Mangle). In 1961 Hurricane Hattie divided the island in two. Local word has it that the channel - known as the Split - was deepened and widened with a bit of human intervention too. With sandy areas and deep turquoise waters, the channel is the best place on the island to go swimming. Unless you go early in the morning, it is usually packed with visitors and some locals, and there is a bar that plays very loud music. There is no bridge over to the north side of the island and any travel between the two sides is by boat."

12. Hopkins, Belize

Population: approximately 1,500
Location: Eastern Belize, 2 hours south of Belize City
More Info: Hopkins Guide

Hopkins Village Belize

"Hopkins village is exactly what I was looking for in terms of living in Belize, beautiful seaside village, local culture, (Garifuna), friendly and welcoming people, fresh fish, small expat community, resort areas for the tourists. So many great dining options! In terms of healthcare there is a private ambulance service stationed at the Hopkins Road and highway junction should any emergency occur. The village has a rural feel with free range chickens in the yards and horses grazing at street corners. Many of the locals have farms to grow their local veg and fruits, cassava, plantain, and coco. Local shops are plentiful and carry a good variety of stock, although not clothing. Anything not found here can usually be found in Dangriga town just a 25 minute drive from here. There are two main vendors for fruit and veg although trucks do come around selling door to door as well. Bottled water, (5 gallon) is also available daily to your door. In my seven years here in Belize I have lived in three locations, Placencia, Seine Bight and now Hopkins and for me Hopkins definitely feels like home. ," remarked an expat living in Hopkins Village. "A beach community, with an ex-pat community and activities to do. We are only minutes from some major attractions that are inland and of course, we have a marina, fishing, snorkelling, scuba diving and other water-based activities. Mini-golf, an air-conditioned fitness centre, drumming centre, darts, music trivia, and oh so much more," added another member.

13. Placencia, Belize

Population: Approx. 5k
Location: Caribbean Coast, Southern tip of Placencia Peninsula
More Info: Placencia Guide

Placencia, Belize

One expat described why he chose to live in Placencia, "We visited Placencia for the first time last spring and absolutely love it. The beaches are beautiful and much less crowed. Investing in Ambergris was probably a good choice, but not a fit for us long term. Because each district is so different, I would definitely recommend a visit to each before settling down. We loved the proximity to Mexico from Corozal area, but like the beaches and village atmosphere in Placencia better."

Best Beach Towns in Honduras

Like anywhere else, you should visit Honduras before moving there. One member cautioned, "Don't consider moving here until you can accept the many differences in lifestyle from a developed country like the US. Many of the everyday services that you have don't exist here. The pace is much slower, service in many businesses is poor or non-existent and you will only increase your own blood pressure trying to demand better service. Utilities that you expect to receive are sometimes non-existent or of poor quality, so make sure if you rent or buy that these are already in place, promises to install them in most cases will only lead to your frustration. You can live very well here on much less than you can imagine, and this is an ideal location for retirees on limited budgets and it's relatively easy to obtain a resident Visa." Here are some of the best beach towns in Honduras:

Honduras Beach Towns

14. Roatan, Honduras

Population: Approx. 100,000
Location: 30 miles offshore
More Info: Roatan Guide

Roatan Honduras

There are three primary Bay Islands in Honduras: Roatan, Utila and Guanaja. Roatan is the most well known. "I believe that Roatan, Honduras would be a great place for you to land to retire. English is spoken here even though Spanish is getting to be more spoken than English. And the reef is very close here to the shore and easy to swim to in a couple of minutes as there is no boat ride necessary to get to the reef. And retirees can get a residency easily," advised one expat.

"Roatan---is an island, well, a utopia rather, off the mainland of Honduras. We have been there many times to visit. On our last cruise, we were able to set up an appointment with a realtor due to previous planning who was most helpful/personable. She was an expat herself. Roatan has many English speakers, and many 'comfort amenities' that an expat would find attractive. One may have to travel to the mainland for some necessities, but Roatan is very much a thriving island/ primarily self-sufficient, and is expanding all the time. The beauty of this place cannot be put into words. I would definitely encourage you to check it out," added another expat.

15. Trujillo, Honduras

Population: approximately 60,000
Location: Caribbean city in northern Honduras, 100 miles east of La Ceiba (3 hour drive)

Trujillo Honduras

Trujillo is beautiful. Not very big and not over developed, yet. It is the beach spot for Hondurans living in the eastern portion of the country. We travelled to Trujillo overland from Juticalpa after a visit to Catacamas. Trujillo, where William Walker, filibustero, was executed by firing squad and where he is buried. Columbus landed in Trujillo on his fourth voyage. O. Henry wrote Cabbages and Kings while in Trujillo on the lam for embezzlement in Texas, and home of the Garifuna. The old Spanish fort is home to a hospital and a small museum. So lots of history. A Canadian outfit has built a beachside resort just west of town," said another expat.

About the Authors

Braden Wood Braden Wood is a writer at Expat Exchange. He is a high school student at Bernards High School in Bernardsville, New Jersey and enjoys playing lacrosse and traveling. In addition to researching and writing feature articles for Expat Exchange, Braden is involved with site development and design, photography and the launch of our new podcast.

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder and President of Expat Exchange and is one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Prior to Expat Exchange, Betsy worked at AT&T in International and Mass Market Marketing. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

Some of Betsy's articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Portugal, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama and 12 Things to Know Before Moving to the Dominican Republic. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.


First Published: Aug 23, 2022

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