Cafe El Toledo in Atenas, Costa Rica

When you move to Costa Rica, you have several cities to choose from.  Families who relocate to this Central American slice of gloriousness normally settle into one of two categories: Central Valley People or Beach People.  Even though we thought we’d be the “beach type,” the lures of a cooler climate, access to top knotch hospitals and proximity to the airport kept us in the Central Valley.  However, we did wish for a more authentic experience…we wanted to get to know the “untouristy” side of Costa Rica and support family-run businesses, not to just frequent the same chain restaurants and shops that smother the States.  We wanted to see the good, bad and ugly. (Examples for each: good- sipping locally grown, organic coffee from a basket chair with a gorgeous view, bad- having to hang my clothes to dry inside through the rainy season, ugly- one word, bugs).  Fortunately for us, there are several quiet nooks here that can offer a real taste of the culture, while lying within the Central Valley lands.  For us, we’ve chosen to spend our months between Atenas and Grecia.

We arrived in Atenas on New Year’s Eve.  After a very long day of traveling from a frigid Maryland morning to a temperately perfect Costa Rican night, we gazed, wide-eyed at an impressive display of fireworks.  Our reverie was interrupted by cries of laughter from the neighborhood around us, just getting their fiestas really going.  It was a change, to say the least.  When the sun rose to reveal the almost 360 degree view from our fancy two bedroom casa, we thought we were dreaming.  This was truly here before our eyes–we really could live here, for less than we paid in the States. (Why doesn’t everyone live here!???).  Instead of just three months in Costa Rica, we decided to stay at least a year.

Even though Atenas was every bit of the word lovely, we didn’t want to stay in one place the whole time.  We had to see more, I urged my husband.  So, being the adventurous travelers we are, we moved next door to Grecia, only twenty minutes away.  It is surprising how different a place can be after just a few miles of driving, however.  By the country’s standards, the town of Grecia is quaint and quiet–but to us it was HUGE!  There were so many more restaurant options, more people (and perros)  to meet, and places to bring the kids.

I happen to prefer Grecia, but Chris and the kids convinced me to move back to Atenas.  Why?  Well…

  • It’s warmer.

This is a big one.  While I must tell you there are several elevations around Grecia Central to chose from, we happen to live in one of the highest.  It’s down right cold in the evenings and early mornings, which is not what I moved to Costa Rica for!  The famous slogan for Atenas brags, “El Mejor Clima del Mundo,” which means “The Best Climate in the World.”  Honestly, that depends on your preference.  You don’t need air conditioning or heating in either city, but you’ll be on the warmer side of comfortable in Atenas, and on the cooler side in Grecia.  Your choice.  For us, the comfort of the kids is the major reason to return to a warmer zone.  I can’t have my babies freezing at night!  My husband also is a sad case, shuffling around with long socks, pajama pants and a fleece sweater with the hood up, complaining that his bones are cold.

We’ve had a great view in both places:

Santa Eulalia

Santa Eulalia de Atenas


View from El Cajón de Grecia, Costa Rica

El Cajón de Grecia

  • Smaller town = nicer people

I happen to think the people of Grecia are fantastically friendly, but my husband is adamant that they are nicer in Atenas.  It makes sense though, when everybody knows everybody, no one is a stranger.  We’re just part of one big family there, and there’s something very cozy about that.

  • Better grocery store

This isn’t a huge deal, but we prefer the Coopeatenas supermarket behind the gas station in Atenas (which supports the local farmers) to the WalMart distributer Maxi Palí here in Grecia.  There are a few smaller shops like Peri and Palí in Grecia, but they don’t have a big enough selection.  We try to stick to buying most items at the weekly outdoor market or the mercado in town, but sometimes you just need a big grocery store for things like yeast, buttermilk, and whole wheat flour (yes, I bake my own bread).

Nice out-door markets or ferias in each:

Market in Atenas, Costa Rica

Quaint and simple in Atenas


market in Grecia, Costa Rica

Grande in Grecia!

  • We found a great deal on a house!

You can find an affordable rent in either town, by simply speaking Spanish.  While out to lunch in one of our favorite little neighborhoods of Atenas, I casually asked the waitress if she knew of any larger homes for rent nearby.  She did know of a three bedroom just up the street for $300 a month.  I took a sip of my water and tried to hide my enthusiasm to see it.  Twenty minutes later, we were wandering the property of our next home.  It is Tico style–no jacuzzi tub or granite counter tops–but it’s a sweet little unfurnished casita with a pretty yard.  It is slightly bigger than the two bedroom cave of a condo we rented in the States, and $700 less.  We shook the obliging landlord’s hand and secured another six months in Costa Rica.

The parks are beautiful in both cities:


Family hangout spot in Atenas…


Park in Grecia, Costa Rica

Um, family hang out spot in Grecia.

What I’m looking forward to most is living in comfort once again.  I’m talking about the physical comfort of only wearing a sundress every day of the “winter.” Living super economically won’t hurt either–getting to town and back for a short $1 bus ride or a $5 taxi (one way)… finding a nice lady nearby to help me clean the house for $12 and a place down the street to get a manicure and pedicure for $4… hiring a tutor to come to our house and teach us their language and a fun nanny to play with my kids while I escape for a Zumba or Yoga class.  True, the beach is only an hour away and there are many more adventurous ways to spend my time–but I’m looking forward to the every day simplicity of life, the good life, “Pura Vida.”  I do have a taste of this in Grecia, but I think it can be even better… and with more savings in the bank each month, buying flights to visit family is more probable!


A Close Call in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Hiking in Grecia at Bosque del Niño