How to Make Friends in Costa Rica

In Costa Rica, you’ll find plenty of expat hangouts throughout the country. It’s usually a restaurant, café, or bar, often owned by an expat, that acts as a gathering place and meeting spot for clubs and groups. Saturday morning coffee and breakfast might be the big time… or Friday night dinner, it really depends on the place.

It’s a great way to meet people in your adopted hometown. And because you already have something in common (your desire to move overseas), making new friends is easy. As a newcomer you’ll be welcomed with open arms.

These hang outs are also invaluable sources of information. Not sure about the process to buy a car and insure it…or need to find the best mechanic in town? Ask an expat. Need help finding a great deal on a home? Expats know about stuff that’s not online yet or on any agent’s radar.

Even for things as simple as places to get some favorite brands from back home, expats will be in the know. And everybody is glad to help—chances are somebody else helped them when they first got to Costa Rica, too.

Where I live, in the town of Grecia in the Central Valley the local expats gather at Café Delicias, a coffee shop/restaurant right off the main plaza. Great French toast by the way. Saturday morning is the peak time. It’s market day and before heading down to the nearby farmer’s market (La Feria) to get the week’s fruits and veggies, expats stop in.

Another Café Delicias, this one in San Ramon about 45 minutes west of Grecia on the PanAmerican Highway, is also an expat hang out. A group of ladies head over there on Thursdays for coffee and conversation.

In nearby Atenas the hot spot is undoubtedly Kay’s Gringo Postres near the center of town, next door to the Red Cross. What Kay Costello and her husband, Tom, started as a small bakery and restaurant seven years ago is now a de facto community center. They have a small lending library, weekly spaghetti dinners, special events like a chili cook-off, and their open air building acts as a meeting place.

It’s mostly retirees but there are many young families as well. Sunday morning breakfast is the time to go. Everybody who walks in the door is either a friend or soon-to-be friend.

This sense of community is fostered by Kay.

As regular Laurel Carpenter told me: “She holds us all together. My son jokes that she is the Mayor of Atenas.”

Over in Arenal, about three hours drive from the capital, the Gingerbread restaurant is the place to be. On the weekends at dinner time, it’s quite a social scene. Gingerbread is just east of the town of Nuevo Arenal, on the main road that skirts Lake Arenal.

Downtown, try the bar Rumors. It’s popular with both locals and expats. But area residents tell me to be sure you’re there between 5.00 p.m. and 7.00 p.m. on Friday—that’s peak time.

When scouting a spot for your move to Costa Rica, I suggest you check in at the local expat hangout first thing. It’ll really help you get a feel for the area—and you can meet many of your potential new neighbors all at once.

If you’re checking out someplace not on this list, check out International Living’s Facebook page. Post where you’re going and ask the other members for the local expat haunt. There’s sure to be one.

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