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Expat Exchange - Best Places to See While on a Look-See Trip to Costa Rica (Plus, Itineraries) 2024
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Puntarenas Beach, Costa Rica

Best Places to See While on a Look-See Trip to Costa Rica (Plus, Itineraries)

By Betsy Burlingame

SJB Global
SJB Global

Summary: Considering a move to Costa Rica but uncertain about where to settle? Venturing on an exploratory trip to visit multiple popular expat destinations can be incredibly enlightening. Here's a list of recommended places to consider during your exploration of Costa Rica.

Taking a Look-See trip to Costa Rica is an essential step for anyone considering relocating to this beautiful country. Such a trip allows potential expats to explore various cities and towns, get a feel for the local culture, and assess the practicalities of daily life, such as healthcare, transportation, and amenities. It's an opportunity to connect with local expats, ask questions, and envision your life in a new setting. Whether you're a retiree seeking a tranquil haven, a digital nomad in search of inspiration, or simply looking for a change of pace, a reconnaissance trip can help you make an informed decision about where to settle down in Costa Rica.

Recommended Itineraries

For a 10-day trip, consider starting in the Central Valley, home to the capital city of San José and surrounding towns like Escazú and Heredia, which offer a blend of urban convenience and suburban comfort. Then, head to the Pacific Coast to explore the expat-friendly towns of Tamarindo and Jacó. If you have 20 days, extend your journey to include the Southern Zone, visiting Dominical and Uvita for a taste of coastal living, and the Arenal area for its natural beauty and expat communities. In the Central Valley, add Grecia and Atenas to your list, known for their excellent climates and welcoming expat populations.

San José

San José, the capital city of Costa Rica, is a bustling urban center with a population of over 300,000. It offers a variety of cultural experiences, including museums, theaters, and historical landmarks. Expats and digital nomads are drawn to the city for its amenities, healthcare facilities, and vibrant expat communities. The cost of living can be higher compared to smaller towns, but the convenience of city life is a significant draw.

Travel Tip: While in San José, visit the Mercado Central for a taste of local cuisine and culture. This bustling market is a great place to sample traditional Costa Rican dishes and shop for souvenirs.


Escazú is an upscale suburb of San José known for its modern conveniences, shopping centers, and high-quality healthcare facilities. With a significant expat population, it offers a comfortable transition for those moving from abroad. The cost of living is on the higher side, but many find the quality of life to be worth the expense.

Travel Tip: Check out the Multiplaza Escazú, one of the largest shopping malls in Central America, for a mix of local and international brands, as well as a variety of dining options.


Heredia, often referred to as the "City of Flowers," is a charming town with a rich colonial history and a population of around 123,000. It's close enough to San José for convenience but maintains a more laid-back atmosphere. Expats enjoy the cooler climate, scenic beauty, and lower cost of living compared to the capital.

Travel Tip: Visit the historic El Fortín tower, a national monument that offers panoramic views of the city and its surroundings.


Tamarindo is a popular beach town on the Pacific Coast known for its surfing, nightlife, and international community. It's a hotspot for expats and digital nomads who prefer a more relaxed lifestyle by the sea. The cost of living is moderate, and there's a good balance between local culture and expat-friendly amenities.

Travel Tip: Don't miss the chance to take a surf lesson at Tamarindo Beach, a perfect spot for beginners and experienced surfers alike.


Jacó is another coastal town favored by expats for its vibrant community, beach activities, and proximity to the capital. It's known for its lively atmosphere, with plenty of restaurants, bars, and shops. The cost of living is reasonable, and there's a mix of housing options to suit different budgets.

Travel Tip: Explore the nearby Carara National Park, a haven for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts, where you can spot scarlet macaws and other wildlife.

Dominical and Uvita

Dominical and Uvita, located in the Southern Zone, are known for their stunning beaches, lush rainforests, and laid-back lifestyle. These towns attract expats who are looking for a quieter, more natural environment. The cost of living is generally lower than in the more developed coastal areas, and the sense of community is strong.

Travel Tip: Visit the Marino Ballena National Park in Uvita, famous for its whale tail-shaped sandbar and excellent opportunities for whale and dolphin watching.


The Arenal area, with its iconic volcano and lake, is a paradise for nature lovers and those seeking a cooler climate. The town of La Fortuna and the surrounding countryside offer a variety of outdoor activities and a growing expat community. The cost of living is moderate, and the natural beauty is unparalleled.

Travel Tip: Experience the Arenal Volcano National Park, where you can hike through lava fields and enjoy hot springs with views of the volcano.

Grecia and Atenas

Grecia and Atenas are small towns in the Central Valley known for their excellent climates, often described as "eternal spring." They boast tight-knit expat communities, affordable living costs, and a slower pace of life. These towns offer a blend of rural charm and essential amenities, making them attractive to retirees and expats seeking tranquility.

Travel Tip: In Grecia, visit the unique red metal church, Iglesia de la Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, made entirely of pre-fabricated steel plates.

About the Author

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.

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SJB Global

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SJB Global

Puntarenas Beach, Costa Rica


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