Nuevo Arenal (which will herein be referred to simply as Arenal) is a relatively pretty town on the northern tip of the lake that was built with government funding after the original town got in the way of the planned lake. The center of the town lies just up the hill from the lake and is on the main road linking Tilarán (and the main part of Guanacaste) with the Arenal Volcano. It’s therefore a route much traveled by tourists. The little community has a bullring and neighborhoods of prefab houses, each with its own unique garden, porch extension, colorful facade and ironwork. 

The town has the only marina on the lake – a makeshift structure that appears seldom used. A few fishing boats ply their trade on the lake, and at the other end near the dam you can hire canoes or go jet skiing. The lake has excellent windsurfing, of which experts in the sport will be well aware. 

The town is a typical one-of-everything small town, with a handful of shops and restaurants near the lake that are obviously aimed at tourists. The town has a bank, a post office, a couple of grocery stores and some construction supply stores. Like many places in Costa Rica, you will need to visit San José for furnishings, appliances, and nice clothing.

Despite the town’s location right next to the lake, there is little tourism, as the lake is rarely used for recreational purposes. A few hotels and one eco-resort sit up in the hills behind the town. The most time tourists spend in the town is for a quick meal or a occasional overnight stay. Increasingly, the town is waking up to the idea of leisure activities as a way of generating more tourism income. 

Nuevo Arenal has a mixed community of long-time expatriates and new arrivals who prefer the cooler mountain climate to the relentless sun on the beach. The expatriate community includes North Americans, Austrians, Germans, and Swiss, among others. Some work and some don’t. Some came here with the intention of not working and ended up doing so. Some stay for six months at a time, spending the rest of the time in their home countries with their grandchildren. Some came to retire but find themselves itching for something to do, while others are happy with the retired life. There is plenty of room for new tourism, real estate, and construction business, and more options will crop up as high-speed Internet becomes more available.

There’s a good sense of community in Arenal. Every Friday, expatriates and locals gather in town for a barbecue and drinks at about 5 p.m. It’s an opportunity for members of the community to get to know one another and make friends. Scott Robinson, a young real estate broker working in the area, says it’s common to hear two or more languages being spoken at any one table.

Expatriates living in Arenal contribute to the local school by donating equipment and facilities for the pupils. As far as civic participation, the community has an environmentalist group called Fuentes Verdes (Green Fountains) and a women’s group called Mujeres del Lago (Ladies of the Lake). 

The local community is of mixed European descent and Spanish is the main language. Close to Guatuso there is an indigenous reserve. Fishing the lake for tilapia and other species is common, as is spending the evenings in the few taverns in town, with both locals and foreigners bellying up to the bar. 

Along with the water sports that are allowed on the lake (windsurfing, jet skiing, canoeing), Arenal is an ideal location for hikers and nature lovers; hiking opportunities are endless. It’s not, however a good place for people who need their leisure activities organized. Entertainment here isn’t laid out on a platter as it is in certain developing areas of the Pacific coast. There are no cinemas, theaters, gyms or other urban recreation, and there are relatively few restaurants. That, however, suits the taste of those who chose to live there. They generally do so exactly for the tranquility and remoteness of the place.

Realtors say they are seeing more retirees interested in relocating in the area, something that has developers looking at building gated communities. Until recently all the expatriates lived in single-family homes or ran small hotels, but as more retirees seek the beauty and pleasant climate of Arenal, and more vacationers see the advantages of owning a home here, demand for secure homes that can be left unoccupied for months at a time has risen. 

One of the advantages of buying real estate in the area, from an investors’ point of view, is the limited amount of land available. The hot place to build around Arenal is the northern side of the lake, which is bordered by the volcano and its protected area on one side, the lake on another, the Tenorío National Park to the north, and the lowlands around Guatuso – which don’t offer great views and therefore are not very valuable for high-end home sites – on the south. 

The remainder borders the northern side of the lake and extends a few kilometers into the hills behind, where there are some gorgeous farms with waterfalls, rivers, forest and pastureland, with varying views of the lake, volcano, or both if you’re lucky. 

On the southern side of the lake, around Tronadora, there are quite a few properties also for sale, though they are proving less popular than the northern side because of the famously brutal wind that strikes the side of the house facing the lake (ie – your front porch). If you are thinking of buying in that area, it is a good idea to spend some time renting a place there first so you can experience the strength of the wind and decide if you want to deal with it for years to come. This area is much less developed than Arenal town and the roads less traveled, as Tronadora isn’t on the main tourist route. Both Arenal and Tronadora residents say they use Tilarán as their main service town rather than La Fortuna.

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