Central America is a great place to visit. Packed with majestic landscapes, bustling cities, and stunning shorelines, it offers a little something for everyone. But what about the people who decide to make their stay more permanent? The explorers who decide to switch their backpacks and hostels for a moving van and a mortgage? Which of the region’s cities, towns, and villages will offer the best welcome? If you’re seriously considering making your next vacation the forever kind, don’t move a muscle till you’ve read our pick of the top twenty best places to live in Central America.
20. Taboga Island, Panama
If you dream of escaping the hustle and bustle of the city, you’ll find few better places to head than Taboga Island. The nightlife might be next to non-existent, but that’s just the way the residents of this idyllically calm, gloriously scenic, and eminently affordable little island like it.
19. Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Lake Atitlan is becoming an increasingly popular ex-pat destination, and for good reason. The communities bordering the shores of the lake are friendly, vibrant, and packed with charm. Amenities are plentiful, the health care is excellent, and there’s an exceptional range of accommodation options on offer. If all that wasn’t enough, it’s also got one of the lowest crime rates in the country.
18. Escazu, Costa Rica
Lying just outside the border of Costa Rica’s capital is Escazu. It’s a small, charming town that packs a much bigger punch than you’d believe from a place so small. Amenities are plentiful, and there are plenty of recreational opportunities to keep you entertained. The price of living is attractively low, with a median home price that comes in at just a fraction of the US average. If you’re looking for somewhere fun, friendly, and stunningly cheap, Escazu could be your town.
17. Matagalpa, Nicaragua
The northern area of Nicaragua is a place of mountainous peaks and rugged beauty. Blessed with a temperate climate, welcoming communities, and sublime scenery, it’s a haven for outdoor lovers. If you want to enjoy the beauty of the rural without sacrificing the comforts of the urban, you might want to consider the northern city of Matagalpa. Known by the nicknames “Pearl of the North” and “Land of Eternal Spring,” the city is a busy but charming metropolis that ranks as one of the most commercially active in Nicaragua. Surrounding the city are enough lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and mountains to keep even the most avid nature lover happy.
16. Cuidad Vieja, Guatemala
Lying just 15 minutes from the popular town of Antigua is Cuidad Vieja, a quiet city with a lot to recommend it. The property prices are incredibly attractive – expect to pick up a three-bedroom rental for around $100 a month. The crime rate is just as low as the cost of living, while the range of amenities won’t disappoint. If you can’t get by without a regular caffeine fix, you’ll be delighted to learn that Cuidad Vieja is considered the Coffee Capital of Guatemala.
15. Antigua, Guatemala
Antigua is a small-ish city of around 35,000 people set about 45 minutes away from Guatemala City. With scores of restaurants, a cosmopolitan vibe, a sizeable ex-pat community, plenty of activities and clubs to make newbies feel at home, and an incredibly low cost of living, it’s a great destination for people looking for a town that offers every comfort and convenience at a price that won’t break the bank.
14. Boquete, Panama
As liveandinvestoverseas.com says, Boquete is the mountain town that has helped establish Panama as a viable ex-pat haven. The weather is mild and pleasant, with a year-round spring-like appeal. The community is diverse and welcoming, and it’s one of the few places in Panama you can get by without speaking Spanish (although it’s still a good idea to learn the basics if you can). Although it’s a little more expensive than some of the surrounding areas due to the ex-pat influence, it’s still within reach of most budgets.
13. The City Beaches, Panama
The City Beaches consists of a collection of three beach communities that border Panama City. Each weekend, workers from Panama City leave the crowds behind and head to Chame, Coronado, and Nueva Gorgoan to enjoy the sights and attractions of the shoreline. Popular with ex-pats for the fine yellow beaches, proximity to Panama City, and easy lifestyle, the City Beaches make a great home for people looking to enjoy the quiet life while still being within easy reach of the amenities and conveniences of the big city.
12. Los Santos, Panama
As panamarelocationtours.com notes, Los Santos is widely considered to be one of Panama’s most vibrant cultural hotspots. It’s home to a scattering of attractive communities, including Las Tablas with its Carnival and traditional Pollera festivals, Pedasi with its gorgeous beachfront and its booming ex-pat community, and Playa Venao and Santa Catalina with their pristine beaches. The cost of living is low, the amenities are plentiful, and it’s easily one of the most attractive places in the country.
11. San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Pocket Sense has named San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua as one of the best small towns in Central America for retirees. Foreign retirees aged over 45 years old on an income of at least $400 a month qualify for generous incentives, including tax exemptions on all foreign income. But it’s not only retirees that will get a kick from this small, coastal town. The cost of living is delightfully affordable. The healthcare is excellent and the real estate prices, while on the rise, are still more than reasonable.
10. Heredia, Costa Rica
International Living ranks Heredia as one of the best cities for ex-pats in Costa Rica. You don’t have to dig around for long to see the appeal. Home to around 120,000 people, Heredia is a fun-packed, vibrant city crammed with things to do and see. Located just outside of San Jose, it’s perfect for people who prefer the thrills and spills of the city to the quiet tranquility of beach life (although in fairness, you won’t have to drive for long to find a beach). Thanks to its strong ex-pat community, it’s got some great international schools, making it a popular choice for families. Factor in a scenic landscape (it’s not known as the “City of Flowers” for nothing), a comfortable, year-round climate, and a friendly, diverse community, and it’s easy to see what makes it one of Costa Rica’s most popular destinations.
9. Placencia, Belize
Once upon a time, Placencia was a rustic, sleepy little fishing village that no one outside its borders had ever heard of. Those days are gone. Since its transformation into one of Costa Rica’s top eco-destinations, it’s become a hot address for anyone with a passion for the great outdoors. If you want to spend your days trekking through rainforests, kayaking, deep-sea diving, or indulging in any other outdoor activity you care to mention, it’s ideal. Property is affordable, the vibe is upscale bohemian, and the cost of living is mercifully small.
8. Corozal, Belize
Belize offers ex-pats a number of great benefits. For a start, it’s the only English-speaking country in Central America. Secondly, it enjoys a stable government. Thirdly, goods can be imported tax-free and the dollar is welcomed. On the downside, foreigners aren’t permitted to own property. If, however, you’re open to the possibility of renting, it makes a great option. Of all its towns and cities, Corozal ranks as one of the most attractive. Located on the northern tip of Belize near the border with Mexico, Corozal is described by International Living as a ‘pretty little town that’s made all the more attractive by its extremely low cost of living.’ If you want to live in the kind of place blessed with stunning beaches and an amazingly affordable cost of living, it’s a no-brainer.
7. Isla Colón, Panama
If you’re looking for an idyllic island getaway that won’t break the bank, you might want to take Forbes’ advice and head to Isla Colón. By their reckoning, the little island is one of the cheapest in the Caribbean sea. Head for the main hub of Bocos Town and you should be able to get comfortably by on as little as $1400 per month. Even leaving aside the very attractive cost of living, Isla Colón is still a great place to call home, with colorful buildings, gorgeous beaches, and a delightfully low-key charm.
6. Roatan, Honduras
If you’re looking for a beachside home that won’t leave your bank account begging for mercy, look no further than Roatan. A two-bedroom beachside home in one of the city’s best neighborhoods can be snapped up for around $175,000. Cast your net a little further afield and it gets even more bargain-tastic. Other than being appealingly affordable, Roatan has a number of other very attractive perks, including excellent infrastructure, great healthcare, and a laid-back, serene vibe that’s managed to stay mercifully untouched by the effects of mass tourism.
5. Tamarindo, Costa Rica
Tamarindo is small, safe, and blessed with more natural beauty than any one place has a right to. Despite its small size, it’s packed with amenities, with plenty of shops, restaurants, and bars. Its beaches provide plenty by way of outdoor recreation, as does its surrounding countryside. On the downside, it’s relatively expensive by Central American standards. But if you can cope with your wallet taking a beating, you won’t be disappointed.
4. Utila, Honduras
Utila is a small Bay Island with a population of around 4000. According to Expat Exchange, it ranks as one of the best places to live in Honduras. With a low-key charm, a welcoming, friendly community, a large English-speaking population, and a landscape that’ll take your breath away, it’s a great alternative to the more touristy likes of Roatan. Just be aware that the vibe is rustic: if you come here expecting self-cleaning toilets and a Starbucks on every corner, you’re going to be disappointed.
3. Dominical, Costa Rica
If you’re considering moving to the Puntarenas province, you’ll find few better places to head than the gorgeous city of Dominical. With its appealing blend of modern amenities and rustic charm, it’s the perfect home for people who want to enjoy the simple life without sacrificing the comforts of the 21st century. The landscape is incredible, with lush green mountains sweeping directly onto the golden beach. It’s one downfall is that unless you work in either the fishing or tourism industries, you’re going to struggle with job opportunities. If you work remotely or are planning your retirement, on the other hand, it’s hard to pick a fault.
2. Bocas del Toro, Panama
If you dream of escaping the rat race, head for the stunning beachside town of Bocas del Toro. Its miles of pristine beaches, acres of tropical forest, and relaxed, slow pace of life make it the ideal destination for world-weary souls looking to enjoy the quiet life. The cost of property is very reasonable, as is the overall cost of living. Its location on the sublime Azuero Peninsula, meanwhile, makes it a great place for checking out the region’s stunning landscapes and charming small towns. If all that wasn’t enough to tempt you, maybe the fact that Panama consistently ranks as one of the countries with the highest well-being in the world just might.
1. Ambergris Caye, Belize
Escapeartist.com describes Ambergris Caye as a “beach-lovers paradise.” They aren’t wrong. Bordered on all sides by the Caribbean Sea, the island’s miles of pristine beaches make it a prime destination for surfers, divers, snorkelers, and sun-worshippers. The island’s main (and, in fact, only town) is San Pedro, a previously sleepy little fishing village that’s managed to retain its quaint charm while fully embracing all the mod cons and comforts of 21st-century living. Best of all, it won’t cost you a fortune to live here.