What I love best about living in Atenas, Costa Rica, is how peaceful it is. The capital city of San José is only an hour’s drive to the east. But whenever I have to go there, like just the other day, I always breathe out a big sigh of contented happiness when I turn off the highway and onto the main road into Atenas where we live. Instead of concrete and asphalt and crazy drivers, there are cow pastures and leafy, green shade trees, small country roads and only a few houses dotted here and there on low hills to welcome me home.
In 2010, my husband, Rolando and I moved to the small coffee town of Atenas, resting in the mountains on the western edge of the Central Valley, after leaving our jobs working at a resort on Costa Rica’s Central Pacific coast. The intense heat common at Costa Rica‘s beaches had become too much for us and we sought cooler temperatures up in the mountains. Atenas has a mild climate with average daytime temperatures of 70 F to 85 F, and 55 F to 68 F at night depending on the season. This is due to its elevation range of 2,200 to 4,000 feet. My husband, who is Costa Rican, was happy to be back in his home province of Alajuela and to live only 30 minutes from the rest of his family.
We chose Atenas for a number of reasons. It’s a rural family-based community of 15,000 in the main town, expanding to 27,000 with the outlying neighborhoods. It is a popular place for international expats and about 1,500 live in Atenas full-time, most being retirees.
We wanted to be close to Alajuela, the city where Rolando’s family lives and where the Juan Santamaría International Airport is located. It’s only 30 minutes away. Any larger supermarket shopping that we need can also be found there, along with malls and cinemas.
We also needed work opportunities. Since Atenas is so popular with retiring expats, my general contractor husband has developed a flourishing home-building business using his fine construction skills. I turned my native English-language journalism expertise into a work-from-home business doing marketing, writing, and translations. San José is only an hour away if I need to visit clients there.
And we wanted affordability. Atenas is not the cheapest place to live in Costa Rica in terms of real estate, but it is more affordable than many suburbs of San José or popular coastal resort towns. Average home prices range from $150,000 up to $500,000-plus, depending on location (gated community or not), size, and level of luxury.
We hired a local real estate agency when we decided to move to Atenas. They helped us find a beautiful house to rent, which after living in and “testing out” for eight months we decided to buy.
At 2,150 square feet, with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and an office, on a half-acre of land, the price of $225,000 was a bargain. The entire property was fenced, which was important to us since we have dogs. We also have several fruit trees which we have since grown into a large orchard. We live in a rural Tico (as Costa Ricans call themselves) neighborhood a three-minute drive from the center of town.
The house had recently finished construction and the German owner-builder only lived there for six months before he suddenly needed to return to Germany. We had made friends with him during the rental period and negotiated an owner-financed mortgage on a third of the purchase price at a fixed 2% interest for three years. My family and friends in the States told me there was no way we would have scored that kind of deal back home in California. Legal fees and purchase taxes came to $3,500; attorney’s fees are usually 1% of the purchase price and are commonly split with the home seller.
Our property taxes are affordable. While friends in Southern California pay thousands of dollars in annual property taxes, we only pay $430 and that includes trash pickup three times a week. Water service is a bargain at an average of $25 per month. Electricity is our biggest expense, like everywhere in Costa Rica, at around $100 a month. Our house telephone line costs $11 monthly, while our two cell phones run us about $50.
Atenas has everything we really need for comfortable living, and the town’s simple and unhurried lifestyle is hard to beat. I couldn’t see myself living anywhere else in Costa Rica.