Why I Prefer My Costa Rican Mountain Town to Beachside Living

Most expats come to Costa Rica and head straight for the beaches, looking to find their perfect paradise on one of the country’s two coasts.

While Costa Rica’s beaches certainly are spectacular, I’ll take my mountain town of Atenas any day over the beach as my home in Costa Rica. In fact, my husband, Rolando, and I had been living and working on the central Pacific coast for four years before we moved to Atenas.

We've been in our mountain town now for nine years and I don't think I would live anywhere else.

Atenas checked off everything on our list that we were looking for: cooler weather (to get cool in Costa Rica, you have to go up in elevation); close to the airport (it’s a 35-minute drive from my house to the Juan Santamaria International Airport); safe, small town; affordable housing and cost of living; work opportunities; and an international community.

Because Atenas is at the western end of the Central Valley, you can see the Pacific coast from many of the hilltops. And if we want to go to the beach for the day, it’s only an hour’s drive.

Atenas is also an hour from the capital city of San José. While I do most of my work of writing, editing, and translating online from home, the city is close enough to easily visit clients if the need arises.

I love Atenas’ green mountains and colorful countryside. Being a coffee-growing town means we have excellent local coffee, and there’s even an organic coffee producer. Being a small town—only 7,000 people in town and close to 27,000 in the whole county, the people are warm and welcoming. Residents still greet each other with Buenos dias or Buenas tardes as they walk past each other on the streets. And in every shop, you’ll receive the same greeting along with a friendly smile.

Because so many international expats have settled in Atenas—estimated at 1,500 full-time residents from all over the world—we have a fantastic selection of good restaurants. There are two excellent pizzerias that serve wood-fired pizzas and fresh pasta dishes; one also has quite a selection of Mediterranean-style offerings. There is a sushi restaurant, several great cafés for sandwiches and salads, a German-owned café with a bakery and deli, a Polish-owned restaurant serving homemade pierogi (savory dumplings) and cabbage rolls, and a fabulous bakery that is the go-to spot for many expats in town for fresh bagels, sourdough bread, and desserts. Stop in for breakfast, lunch or coffee any day of the week and you are nearly guaranteed to run into someone you know. Recently, a new restaurant opened that is serving Thai, Argentine, and Mediterranean cuisine.

The largest supermarket in town, CoopeAtenas, rivals any U.S. store with its selection. Looking for gluten-free or dairy-free products, organic items, brand names from the States, or exotic international fare? It’s all here. The parking area has covered spaces and there is even a small café at the entrance serving specialty coffees, snacks, and desserts.

Atenas’ farmers’ market happens on Thursday afternoons and evenings and Friday mornings. Vendors come from all over the Central Valley and nearby towns to sell a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, organic cacao products, locally produced organic coffee, fresh herbs for cooking and medicinal use, and a host of other items. I can get a duo of hot tamales for breakfast for only $2, and last week I bought two large bouquets of multi-colored lilies for only $6. Spending the equivalent of $25 in Costa Rican colones will fill your refrigerator for the week.

What’s more, in Atenas we have a service from a farm in the nearby town of Grecia that delivers 100% organic produce, weekly, right to my door. I place my order online at the beginning of the week—no fuss, no hassle—and it arrives on Friday afternoon. The delivery fee? Two dollars. I buy a huge sack of organic produce and even organic goat milk yogurt for only $25 a week.

For fun and to keep healthy, there are many activities available in Atenas. I attend a twice-weekly early-morning tai chi and qigong class. There are yoga classes three times a week, aqua aerobics, a men’s club, a ladies’ book club, and many volunteering opportunities. Atenas has lots of hiking and is a popular place for mountain biking and road cycling. There’s even an expat rock band that plays frequently around town.

All in all, Atenas is a fabulous place to live. Even though I grew up in a southern California beach town, Costa Rica has sold me on mountain living.

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