The following is our own opinion of the best things and services in Atenas, Costa Rica. After living in Atenas for a year and a half, we have experienced many things, some good and some bad. But it is all about the experience. Come with us while we search out the best things related to food, fun, business, and everyday life!
Food in Atenas
Best restaurant (in town)
We have taken our chances and sampled many of the “fine” restaurants in and around the town. For us, Antanos is the best in the town central. Great setting, reasonable prices. The casados and fajitas are our favorite. And the best thing…they have CLOTH napkins (a very rare find) & Wifi.
Best restaurant overall (out of town)
We have dined here many times and really enjoy it. El Guanacaste is a little out of town towards Barrio Mercedes, but it is worth the trip. The setting is a little secluded and you park under the cover surrounding the rancho – no getting wet going to your car! Our son really likes to play out in the parking lot as well. What?! It’s safe! The owners are very friendly and inviting and offer something hard to find in Costa Rica – great customer service. We usually have the bocas (appetizers) which are small plates (but enough) and the perfect portions. My favorite – Sopa Azteca! A family of four can dine there for under $15 US.
Best Steaks (and Fish)
La Trocha de Boyero. Close to the best I have ever had! The meat is from the US. This is good because the cows around here are very lean (that’s what happens when you graze on hillsides), it’s the fat that gives the flavor! We are not a big fan of meat from the US unless it is organic, grass fed, but that will not be found here and we don’t eat meat very often. The filet was juicy, tender, and full of flavor! The only problem – they served it with french fries – typical tico style! My wife had the Trocha Fish special and it too was amazing and full of flavor.
Let me preface my following comments by the fact that I was born and raised in Chicago – the best pizza in the world! At least my world. There are about 6 pizza places in town, Ekalis, Pizza 2000, Edus, Pizza Rica, some little place by the new highway, and Alidas. The first 5 are pretty much the same – a slight bit under your typical Dominos Pizza. Pizza Rica is probably the best of them. Alidas is run by an Italian couple and the pizza is very, very thin. Not just on dough but toppings as well and unfortunately the price is not thin! Lacking flavor as well. The thing that makes pizza is the cheese and the sauce – something they have not yet figured out here in Costa Rica. If you are going to try the pizza make sure you are REALLY hungry, it will taste better! Better yet…find something different to eat.
Sorry, but there is no such thing. Don’t expect a fat, juicy well seasoned piece of meat. They are all frozen, thin, little processed patties. And by the way, they throw a piece of ham on it. If you want a good burger, buy some meat from the butcher, get some fat in there and season to your liking.
Best Ice cream
Another thing hard to find. Again, the cows are very lean so not much fat to produce cream for ice cream. Dos Pinos is the national brand you will find everywhere. Fortunately, a little gelato place opened up right by the central park call Gellys. It is delicious! They keep it a little too cold for gelato but it is reasonably priced with a great location overlooking central park. The owner is a magician and occasionally entertains gelato lovers.
I have not visited many bars but the biggest, cleanest, gringo-est, is Don Tadeo next to the central park. It was just taken over by a Canadian so I think the service, food, and atmosphere will be better. I was boycotting the place because of the last owners. They tried to add on to my bill once and they were not the most inviting people. Hopefully the new owner will do better. Great place to get a draft beer and watch a football or futbol game.
This has to be Balcon del Cafe. Upstairs by Gallo. We call it Melanie’s because she is the owner and always has a smile. There is an open air balcony, with great coffee and wonderful empanadas. She also sells German sausage made right here in Atenas. It is somewhat of a Gringo hangout and Melanie and her crew speak English.
One thing to add about restaurants is that they all love kids and are very accommodating for the young ones. Also, when trying new restaurants, leave all your North American expectations behind. Ticos do not like to bother you when you are eating so don’t be offended if they do not come over and ask how you are doing. Most restaurants include tax and tip on their menu prices and on the bill. They do not expect additional tip but if they were really good, go ahead and give a little. Oh and by the way, if something is wrong with your food, you will usually have a difficult time sending it back.
What to do with kids
There are a couple of community pools, or balenarios, right in town. Both are spring fed pools that are drained every Monday and refilled to open again for the weekend. How great! No chlorine or chemicals, just clear, clean spring water.
Cocas is past the Central School, just follow signs or ask for directions, and boasts more of a party atmosphere with a rancho serving beer and food. They have a great little pool for the small ones and a very large pool with a diving platform. Feel free to bring any snacks or drinks, but look out for the resident cow, she likes to inspect what you have brought. There isn’t a comfortable place to sit at Coca’s, the terrain is very hilly. Admission: Adults 1500 c ($3), Children 1000 c ($2)
El Cerro is the other balenario on the other side of town next to the closed, new road to the new highway. The setting here is more park like with beautifully manicured grounds and plenty of shade. There is also a small pool for children and a larger one with a slide. There are no food or drinks served here so bring your own. Admission: Adults 1500 c ($3 US), Children 500 c ($1 US)
The Central Park, located in the middle of town next to the church, is a great place to hang out and watch the kids play, explore, climb trees, and interact with other tico kids. Every once in a while, they have some fests here with food, music, and things for kids to jump on.
Just walking around town
In Atenas, there are no big fancy malls, or big stores. No big play grounds or “play places”. So kids are free to use their imagination without all of those distractions. Some of the best times we have had are just walking around town, picking up some essentials, or running other errands. We stop in for a cafe or snack, pick up some ice cream, visit the local hardware store or just sit on stools at the central market.
We have also found a great walk to take on a new, wide, smooth path with great scenery. Yeah, they may have meant for it to be a ramp for the new highway but the new road from town has been closed for a year and a half and probably will not open anytime soon. A huge land slide has covered the road making it impassable – unless you have a motorcycle or want to do some 4-wheelin’! It makes for a great walk, some jogging, or letting the dogs run off leash.
What to do with adults:
See above! Our favorite times have been spending so much time with our kids. We also love getting together with friends and having dinner or going out for a cafe. There are many gringos here to hang out with but getting to know local families is a great experience and that is one of the reasons we are here.
Kattia at Centro Holistico offers the best massage in Atenas. 8892-1922. 200 m east of Post Office, just past Plaza Central. Admittedly, we have only tried a few massueses, but we just loved Kattia. And others do to. She’s usually booked at least 1-2 weeks in advance. In our opinion, she had the nicest setting for massages with candlelight, nice scents and relaxing music. Kattia also does Reiki, Facials, Waxing, and more. We miss her.
Best Lawyer in Atenas
There is only one in town that I have used and he came highly recommended. Pablo Arias is a wonderful lawyer (and those two words are rarely used together!). 95% of his clients are gringo so he does speak english and he does not “nickel and dime” you (you can call or email him and not get a bill). He focuses on real estate law but can help with many other things such as setting up businesses and giving advice on employment and residency. He also helps with translating and getting business done at the bank. His information is: Lic. Pablo Arias González Cell: (506) 8835-7490 / Office: (506) 2446-7711 and his office is one block behind Don Tadeo Sports Bar. http://www.atenasattorneys.com/
All the national banks are pretty archaic in their business practices but Pablo can help you out. We used BCR and they have some great rates on CDs if you transfer dollars into colones (6.5% on a 6 month CD when we did it). Be prepared to wait in long lines when you go to the bank – Fridays and Mondays are usually busier. But it is kind of fun to play musical chairs when you go. You actually sit in line and when one person goes up, everyone moves one chair over. It is quite humorous! We’ll be writing another post about the difficulty of banking in Costa Rica.
The People – the local people of Atenas are quite friendly but do not always have a happy look on their face. But once you say “Buenos Dias” they give a smile.
Best source of information for expats
Kay’s Gringos Postries – When you first land in Atenas, the best place to go for a wealth of information is Kay’s. Kay and Tom have been in Atenas for about 9 years and know everyone and almost everything. They are located just around the corner from the Cruz Roja and are open from around 8 am to around 3 pm, but closed on Mondays.
We loved the neighborhood we lived in – Bario Oasis – just south of the Cruz Roja. It is a tico (Local) neighborhood and within walking distance to town. It has a very wide street and many families call it home. It is a little higher than town so you do get some good views. There are also some great neighborhoods outside of town and some gated communities. It all depends on what you want and how close to town you want to be.
Central market – Meat, produce, other stuff – Don’t be afraid of the Central Market with its “meaty” smell. Once we accepted that, we found Don David Rodriguez to be the best place for beef, pork, and chicken. Supposedly they use very little medications in their animals. And the guys there are very friendly.
Fruits & Veggies –Head to the feria or farmer’s market every Friday morning in the park a couple blocks south of the church. Here you will find everything you need for the week at some decent prices (for better prices and selection, head to the Grecia farmer’s market Friday afternoon).
We preferred the Grecia Farmer’s Market because of the fact that most vendors at the Atenas market are distributors, they are not farmers. The Grecia Farmer’s Market has actual farmers that come to sell their produce. Like our favorite Organic Lady. We went to visit her farm: Finca Integral Organica in San Luis de Grecia. They are open the 1st Sunday of each month, but she is at the Grecia Market every Friday. We had a wonderful time exploring the farm and seeing where many of our vegetables come from. Call them for directions at 2494-4523 or Email: email@example.com.
There are many little grocery stores, or Pulperias, but the four big ones in town are Pali, Mega Super, El Canario, and Coopeatenas. I tend to avoid the first two because they are associated with the big US corporation, Wal-Mart which I did not wish to donate to unless I really had to. I like to support the smaller “mom-and-pop”. El Canario has a great selection and may have things that are hard to find. Coopeatenas has all things on sale Wednesdays and Saturdays.
You will be very surprised when you come to Costa Rica and find that milk comes in a large cardboard box and sits out on the hot shelf. This just did not seem right to us but it is highly processed to a point where it really does not resemble milk. We quickly found a small farmer in town who delivered raw cow’s milk. So if this is what you are looking for, Guillermo is your man. His phone number is – 8835-3234.
There are many places in town and most are very cheap and they do an “ok” job. The best I found was a woman named Yadira,($4US) located just west of the bus station on the north side of the street down some very steep stairs. Great for guys cuts but my wife would not recommend her for ladies hair cuts.
Another thing that you will see a lot of in Atenas. The one we used is on the corner by Pali. She speaks english and is very reasonable with pricing. She also does gross things like pull huge maggots out from under your dog’s skin! A whole other story.
Francis does a great job and costs about 4 mil ($8 US) per hour. Give him a call at 8603-9015.
Paulo is from Nicaragua and is difficult to understand but does a good job. Call his house at 2446-4991, he will not be there but you can leave a message for him. Usually he just showed up at our house. He does all kinds of trimming and gardening. I think he will also cut your lawn with a machete.
These are some of our own recommendations and we have a lot more experiences and have not listed many others. We wish we had started this blog earlier so that we had them recorded publicly. But, if you live in Atenas, just moved there, or are thinking of moving there, contact us with any questions and we can help.
Think of Atenas as a small rural town similar to those in the US. It is a wonderful, safe town. Many gringos have found this place and it is home to many retirees and young families. Life is really “tranquilo” or laid back, and the people are very friendly. We have thoroughly enjoyed our time here and will miss our little town – the first step on our world adventure!