8 Best Places to Live in Central America

by Flora
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Thinking of moving to Central America? I’ve checked out its busy cities and quiet beach towns. I’m here to share the best places to live in Central America, with tips to make your move easy. Let’s find your new home together!

Central America is a dream for expats. Why? Because it’s affordable, beautiful, and brimming with culture. As we move into 2023, people are catching on that moving to Central America means great photos for your social media and quality of life. Forget just scraping by – here, your dollar stretches, and so do your smiles.

Living in places like Tamarindo, Costa Rica, you’ve got the beach as your backyard, and in Antigua, Guatemala, history comes alive right outside your door. This is everyday life. Plus, with the rise of remote work, choosing between career and paradise is a thing of the past – you can have both.

What’s more, you’re never a stranger for long in Central America. The community embraces you, making far-off places feel like home. It’s about thriving. Healthy living? It’s a given, with fresh produce markets, local wellness practices, and an environment that encourages you to live your best life.

If you’re ready to ditch the mundane and embrace a life of adventure and fulfillment, you’re in the right place. I’ve crisscrossed Central America, finding towns and cities that aren’t just places to live, but places to love. Dive in to discover the best places to live in Central America!

The best places to live in Central America  right now
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Best Places to Live in Central America

Thinking about moving to Central America? Here’s the quick lowdown:

  • Best for Digital Nomads: San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala
  • Best for City Living: Panama City, Panama
  • Best for Historical Exploration: Antigua, Guatemala
  • Best for Eco-Friendly Living: Tamarindo, Costa Rica
  • Best for a Relaxed Seaside Life: Placencia, Belize
  • Best for Lakeside Living: Atenas, Costa Rica
  • Best for Small-Town Charm: Escazú, Costa Rica
  • Best for Surfers and Beach Lovers: San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

Intrigued to learn more about what makes each of these Central American places ideal for your next move? Let’s dive deeper!

1. Atenas, Costa Rica

Located in the heart of Costa Rica’s Central Valley, Atenas boasts what many call the ‘best climate in the world.’ It’s this perfect balance of sunny days and cool nights that has expats and retirees flocking to this peaceful haven. Yet, the delightful weather is just one of the many draws to one of the best places to live in Central America.

Picture a life where the vibrant capital city of San José is a quick drive away, yet the tranquility of small-town life surrounds you. That’s the beauty of Atenas. With its population just over 5,000, this town offers a sense of community that’s hard to find. You’re not just a face in the crowd here. You’re part of a family, embraced by locals who are as warm as the climate.

The Atenas weather is just one of the numerous attractions in one of the finest Central American places to reside.
The Atenas weather is just one of the numerous attractions in one of the finest Central American places to reside.

Atenas is a dream for the eco-conscious. It serves as a gateway to Costa Rica’s stunning natural beauty, with national parks, waterfalls, and the gorgeous Pacific coast all within reach. Sustainability is a way of life here, from the farmers’ markets filled with organic produce to the community-driven conservation initiatives.

Despite its small size, Atenas doesn’t compromise on modern conveniences. With reliable internet connectivity, it’s becoming a popular spot for digital nomads in Central America. The town also hosts an array of dining options and local festivals, ensuring you’ll never run out of things to do.

What’s more, Atenas is known for its affordability. While Costa Rica can be costly, Atenas offers a cost-effective alternative without skimping on quality of life. For those seeking a cost-friendly, engaging lifestyle in a close-knit community, Atenas, Costa Rica, might just be your ideal destination.

2. San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

If you’re dreaming of sun, surf, and laid-back living, look no further than San Juan Del Sur, one of the best places for young people to live in Central America. This coastal gem in Nicaragua is the ultimate escape, offering a relaxed lifestyle with a side of adventure. Once a sleepy fishing village, San Juan Del Sur has transformed into a haven for beach lovers and surf enthusiasts, all while maintaining its quaint charm.

Life here is as vibrant as the colorful boats lining the shore. Start your day with a leisurely beach walk, soaking in the serene views, before the town comes alive with bustling markets and sun-seekers. The local dining scene is a lively mix of residents and travelers, all sharing stories over mouth-watering dishes.

If you crave sunshine, beach, and a relaxed lifestyle, San Juan Del Sur is among the top destinations for young people in Central America.
If you crave sunshine, beach, and a relaxed lifestyle, San Juan Del Sur is among the top destinations for young people in Central America.

What sets San Juan Del Sur apart is its perfect blend of leisure and convenience. Living options cater to every taste, from traditional homes nestled in quiet streets to modern residences with stunning sea vistas. And it’s not just about the surf. The town boasts excellent healthcare, schools, and a variety of shops and restaurants.

But what truly defines San Juan Del Sur is its soul. The community is tight-knit, and cultural traditions are a big part of life here. Regular festivals fill the streets with music, and local gatherings are a common sight. Choosing San Juan Del Sur isn’t just a move. It’s joining a vibrant, welcoming community. My visit early this year confirmed it: the easy-going lifestyle, friendly locals, and sense of community make it one of Central America’s best places to call home.

3. Antigua, Guatemala

Any roundup of the top places to live in Central America would be incomplete without Antigua, Guatemala. This picturesque town is quickly becoming the destination of choice for history lovers, culture enthusiasts, and anyone who loves the blend of traditional Spanish colonial charm with contemporary conveniences.

For those working remotely, Antigua is a dream. With dependable internet, numerous cozy cafes, and a backdrop of stunning colonial architecture and volcano vistas, your workdays are anything but ordinary. After hours, unwind with a stroll along cobbled streets, enjoy local delicacies at vibrant eateries, or take in the rich history that’s evident in every corner of this UNESCO World Heritage site.

A list of the best places to live in Central America would be inadequate without including Antigua, Guatemala.
A list of the best places to live in Central America would be inadequate without including Antigua, Guatemala.

Antigua’s lively cultural scene, bustling markets, and diverse community make it an attractive spot for young professionals and creatives. The best part? It’s surprisingly affordable. You can enjoy fine dining, rent a colonial-style home, and partake in cultural events, all without straining your wallet.

Moving to Antigua comes with its quirks. The streets can get busy, especially during festival times, and the nightlife, while exciting, means the town rarely goes to sleep. It’s a place of energy and movement, so a certain level of hustle and bustle is part of the deal. However, if you’re someone who loves a dynamic environment, these small compromises are nothing compared to the vibrancy of living in a town as rich in culture and history as Antigua.

With its compelling combination of historical allure, modern amenities for remote work, and a thriving cultural atmosphere, it’s no wonder Antigua is celebrated as one of the best places to live in Guatemala.

4. Panama City, Panama

Panama City, how can one even begin to describe this metropolis? Though not expansive in territory, it’s a powerhouse of culture, innovation, and sheer excitement. It’s clear why Panama City is topping the charts as one of the best cities to live in Central America!

Craving the new and noteworthy? Panama City is your playground. Imagine skyline-defining architecture, trendy malls, and attractions that seem straight out of a sci-fi movie (ever seen the BioMuseo?). Not to mention, the public transportation here is top-notch — efficient, pristine, and unbelievably punctual. It’s no wonder Panama City is one of the popular destinations in Panama.

Seeking the latest and most exciting experiences? Panama City is where you can indulge your desires.
Seeking the latest and most exciting experiences? Panama City is where you can indulge your desires.

To all the foodies out there, prepare to be amazed! The city’s culinary landscape is a thrilling medley of roadside vendors, quaint bistros, and Michelin-starred establishments. The diversity of tastes mirrors the city’s cultural melting pot. On a personal note, do try the ceviche at the seafood market — it’s a flavorful revelation.

If you think it’s all skyscrapers and city streets, think again. Panama City is a “Metropolis in the Green,” abundant with parks, nature reserves, and urban greenery. Ready for a tranquil walk or an invigorating hike? There’s a verdant corner here just for you.

Here’s an insider tip: Panama City’s nightlife flies under the radar. As dusk falls, the city undergoes a transformation. Rooftop lounges, ocean-side nightclubs, elusive back-alley pubs — the choices are infinite. If you’re contemplating where to live in Central America and yearn for a locale that combines the hustle of a major city, the charm of a local town, and a sprinkle of intrigue, Panama City could very well be your next grand escapade!

5. Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Next on our exploration of the best areas to live in Central America is Tamarindo. This lively town is a dream come true for beach enthusiasts and surfers alike. Here, your days start with sunrises on sandy beaches, lead into afternoons catching waves, and wind down with sunsets in local eateries, enjoying fresh seafood.

Living in Tamarindo is about more than just its outdoor allure. It’s also incredibly practical. Residences here serve as comfy retreats from your sun-soaked adventures, all within a community of welcoming locals and like-minded expats.

Residing in Tamarindo offers more than just its outdoor charm.
Residing in Tamarindo offers more than just its outdoor charm.

Tamarindo is equipped with a range of supermarkets stocked with local and international products. If you’re a cafe enthusiast, you’ll love the local coffee shops, each offering a unique blend of local beans and cozy atmospheres. Plus, with a variety of restaurants, you can indulge in everything from traditional Costa Rican dishes to international cuisine any day of the week.

Here’s some good news: life here is affordable. While there are luxurious options, the general cost of living in Tamarindo is reasonable. You can enjoy the beach town life without the financial stress common in many tourist hotspots.

One of Tamarindo’s standout features is its fantastic weather. With its tropical climate, you get lots of sunshine all year round, perfect for those endless beach days or exploring nearby natural attractions. And even in the rainy season, the showers usually pass quickly.

Choosing Tamarindo means you’re in for an unbeatable mix of affordable living, great weather, and a strong sense of community. It’s an easy choice for anyone looking for a relaxed beach lifestyle in one of the best places to live in Costa Rica.

6. Placencia, Belize

Considering a move to a peaceful Caribbean retreat? Placencia, Belize awaits. Known for its exquisite beaches and unhurried life, this village offers a unique blend of relaxation and local culture. Without a doubt, it’s one of the best places in Central America to live.

In Placencia, daily life is as soothing as the gentle waves. Residents often start their days with sunrise walks along the coast, followed by visits to local markets for fresh produce and seafood. The community here is tight knit. Don’t be surprised if your neighbors quickly become friends, inviting you to barbecues or beach clean-up events.

Contemplating relocating to a tranquil Caribbean hideaway? Placencia, Belize is ready for you.
Contemplating relocating to a tranquil Caribbean hideaway? Placencia, Belize is ready for you.

But life in Placencia isn’t just leisure – it’s practical, too. The village is home to various amenities essential for comfortable living, including grocery stores, banks, healthcare facilities, and schools. For those working remotely, the local cafes offer not only delicious coffee but also stable Wi-Fi. It’s perfect for digital nomads!

Moving to Placencia is relatively straightforward. Real estate options ranging from affordable apartments to beachfront homes. While Spanish is the official language of Belize, English is widely spoken, making the transition easier for English-speaking expats.

As the sun sets, the village’s social life shines. Casual dining spots serve dishes infused with local flavors, and live music can often be heard at beachfront establishments. Community events, whether they’re local festivals or art shows, provide rich opportunities to immerse yourself in Belizean culture.

Living in Placencia is like finding your forever beach family. Life here is about savoring the small things and letting nature’s beauty fill your days. And don’t worry, this gem among Central America’s best places has all the essentials you’d ever need.

7. San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala

Nestled on Lake Atitlán, San Pedro, Guatemala is a vibrant cultural hub that calls to those seeking a deeper connection with nature and indigenous traditions. This town, one of the most beautiful places in Central America, offers a tranquil yet stimulating lifestyle. It’s the ideal spot for artists, writers, and anyone yearning for inspiration beyond the conventional.

Life in San Pedro is about immersion. You’ll find yourself part of a close-knit community where traditional customs thrive, and ancient Maya culture is alive in every colorful textile and local market. The pace is slow, ideal for those looking to escape the frantic rush of modern life. Plus, with its affordable cost of living, your budget stretches further, allowing a quality of life that’s hard to match.

San Pedro, Guatemala, beckons nature and tradition enthusiasts with its vibrant culture and deep connections to indigenous heritage.
San Pedro, Guatemala, beckons nature and tradition enthusiasts with its vibrant culture and deep connections to indigenous heritage.

The natural landscape is San Pedro’s masterpiece. Imagine waking up to serene lake views, with volcanoes in the backdrop creating the perfect setting for reflection or creative pursuits. It’s not all quiet contemplation, though. The surrounding area is a playground for the adventurous — think hiking, kayaking, and exploring hidden trails. It’s no wonder this spot is a highlight when considering where to live in Central America.

Moving to San Pedro is a smooth transition, thanks to the welcoming local population and a growing expat community. English is widely spoken. Rental options are plentiful, from modest apartments to lakeside houses.

Why choose San Pedro? It’s one of the most stunning spots I’ve ever seen in Central America, and living here? Well, it’s like stepping into a dream every single day.

8. Escazú, Costa Rica

Imagine finding a spot in Central America that offers the perfect blend of urban living and untamed nature. That’s Escazú, Costa Rica, a standout among the best cities to live in Central America. It’s a unique city offering a taste of jungle adventure, and it quickly became a favorite of mine.

What sets Escazú apart is its vibrant community. Here, locals and expats mingle effortlessly, sharing stories and forming connections that turn a simple location into a home. After years of travel, I can tell you that this sense of belonging is a rare find.

The natural surroundings in Escazú are a treasure. Residents have direct access to some of Costa Rica’s most beautiful places, perfect for hiking, zip-lining, and endless exploration. The thrill of adventure is a constant companion in this city, keeping the spirit of discovery alive.

Escazú, Costa Rica, is a standout among the finest cities to reside in within Central America.
Escazú, Costa Rica, is a standout among the finest cities to reside in within Central America.

Escazú excels in providing modern comforts without compromising its close-to-nature appeal. Residents enjoy reliable internet, diverse housing options that cater to various budgets, and a reassuring sense of security. It’s these essentials that make day-to-day life worry-free and enjoyable.

For anyone considering moving to Central America and seeking a place that balances city conveniences with natural beauty, Escazú is a top choice. It promises an enriching living experience, filled with adventure and opportunities for genuine connections.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about the Best Places to Live in Central America

Do you have further queries about the best places to move to in Central America? Here are some common questions (and answers) I get asked a lot about Central America’s best cities and countries.

What is the safest country in Central America?

When considering moving to Central America, safety is a top priority. Costa Rica consistently ranks as the safest country in the region. Known for its stable democracy, excellent healthcare system, and friendly locals, it’s no surprise that Costa Rica stands out among the best places to live in Central America. Its low crime rate compared to neighboring countries makes it an attractive destination for expats and retirees seeking peace of mind.

Is it cheap to live in Central America?

Here are some general observations about the cost of living in Central America:

  • Housing: Renting a home or apartment in Central America is typically cheaper than in North America or Europe. However, in popular tourist destinations or expatriate communities, prices can be higher.
  • Food: Local produce, street food, and meals in local restaurants are generally inexpensive. However, imported goods and dining in upscale restaurants can be costly.
  • Transportation: Public transportation, like buses, is usually very affordable. Owning a car might be more expensive due to import duties and the cost of gasoline.
  • Healthcare: Medical care is generally less expensive than in the U.S., but it’s essential to check the quality of healthcare in specific areas. Some expatriates opt for health insurance or travel to larger cities or neighboring countries for specific treatments.
  • Utilities: The cost of utilities such as electricity can be higher in some Central American countries compared to the U.S., especially if using air conditioning frequently.
  • Communications: Internet and mobile phone services are widely available and are generally affordable, though the speed and reliability of internet can vary.
  • Visas and Residency: Some countries offer affordable residency programs, especially for retirees, but it’s essential to research the requirements and costs associated with obtaining and maintaining residency.
  • Lifestyle Choices: Living like a local, shopping at local markets, and using local services will be cheaper than maintaining a North American or European lifestyle.

In summary, while Central America offers a lower cost of living in many respects, the exact expenses will depend on individual lifestyle choices, the specific country, and the region within that country. It’s always a good idea to visit and spend some time in a place before deciding to relocate to get a realistic sense of the costs.

What is the most affordable country to live in Central America?

Nicaragua is often considered the cheapest place to live in Central America. The cost of living here is significantly lower than in many Western countries, offering great value without sacrificing the rich cultural experience. From housing to food, expats can enjoy a comfortable lifestyle at a fraction of the cost they’d incur back home.

Central America offers a cheaper lifestyle, but costs hinge on personal choices, country, and region.
Central America offers a cheaper lifestyle, but costs hinge on personal choices, country, and region.

Which Central American countries speak the most English?

While Spanish is the dominant language in Central America, Belize is the standout for English speakers. As a former British colony, English is Belize’s official language. This makes it one of the best places for young people to live in Central America who might not be fluent in Spanish. This ease of communication is a big draw for expats and digital nomads.

Do I need to speak Spanish when living Central America?

While it’s possible to live in Central America without speaking Spanish, learning the language makes daily life much easier and more fulfilling. In Central America, you’ll find that engaging with locals and embracing the culture is more accessible with some Spanish basics. Plus, it enhances the sense of community and belonging, which is a key part of the expat experience.

Where do most expats live in Central America?

Expats in Central America tend to gravitate towards communities with a blend of local culture and familiar amenities. Places like Atenas and Escazú in Costa Rica, Antigua in Guatemala, and Panama City in Panama are popular for their vibrant expat communities. These places in Central America offer a mix of urban conveniences, natural beauty, and established expat networks.

Best Places to Live in Central America: Recap

Central America, with its vibrant cultures, lush landscapes, and diverse communities, offers a unique blend of experiences for anyone looking to relocate. Each place boasts its own charm and potential for adventure, catering to a range of preferences. If you’re seeking a laid-back beach lifestyle, a culturally rich cityscape, or a close-knit community vibe, Central America’s got it!

Costa Rica’s peaceful ethos, Belize’s English-speaking ease, and Panama’s cosmopolitan flair highlight the region’s variety. Meanwhile, the affordability of Nicaragua and the historical allure of Guatemala’s Antigua provide further options for potential expats. Understanding what each destination offers helps in making an informed decision that aligns with your lifestyle, budget, and desires.

Remember, relocating is more than just a change of scenery. It’s about embracing a new culture, community, and way of life. It’s crucial to consider practical aspects such as safety, cost of living, healthcare, and language. Engaging with local communities, learning Spanish, and adapting to new norms and customs can enrich the experience.

In this journey, keep an open mind, be ready for adventure, and cherish the opportunity to create a new home in one of Central America’s best places. The region is waiting, full of life, ready to welcome new residents eager to start their next chapter.

The best places to live in Central America for all types of travelers
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