This page may contains affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info.
Atenas is one of those places which pops up in lists of most pleasant places to live. Mostly because it has such a kind climate, but also with it’s proximity to San Jose city and the airport and the coast in the other direction. It is pretty close to the airport – an hour or so away – so I picked it as our first port of call. A good place to acclimatise before heading south.
Our flight was delayed by a few hours, which was the start of a disastrous start to our Pura Vida. We flew in after dark, which is something I prefer not to do when going to a country for the first time. By this time the illness I’d suffered in Bogota had hit a peak and I just wanted to crawl into any available bed. We somehow missed all the official airport taxis and ended up agreeing to be picked up by some random bloke in a mini van. We never learn but the guy was possibly not legit taxi pickup but he was a tour guide and a nice guy who gave us lots of tips along the way and managed to get us to our accommodation in good time – and before I left this mortal coil for good.
I’d booked a b&b type place about 20 minutes walk to the city centre. I’d had alarm bells dinging for a while on the place as it had been tricky to get hold of them and the airport pickup they’d said they’d provide did not materialise. Upon turning up, we were at first a bit concerned by the location as the drive had been super hilly. Totally my fault. That 20-minute walk, when dealing with these hilly roads, is a totally different ballgame. Not the first time on this trip that I’d make that mistake. There was a cafe and a shop nearby but rarely open and sold no fresh stuff. Mark discovered this when we went out in the dark after we’d arrived, in search of beer and failed. It was a very brief conversation with our host and the room was pretty sparse but it was somewhere for me to collapse in so I was happy. In the morning, we discovered the promised ‘included breakfast’ did not exist. Not ideal when you’re somewhere without great access to things. She said she’d told booking.com but there was nothing we could do about it essentially. She kindly gave us a lift into town, telling us her life story with startling details we really didn’t need to know. We began to realise that she and her husband were selling the house, she couldn’t wait to leave and she was not a happy host while her husband was away. The town centre was quiet at 11 am and later we realised that Atenas is pretty much like that a lot of the time. A very sleepy little town. Everything you need, but not a lot going on at all. The supermarket in town was pretty basic but did the job and a taxi back from town (if you can find one) is cheap in Atenas, making it a good option. With enough food to get by for a couple of days, we made the accommodation our little haven. The only kitchen available was the outdoor one which was pretty gross, I think they’d totally given up the ghost with the concept of hosting, but we made do. The outdoor space was, however atypical of Costa Rican houses and it was a fantastic place to chill out. We found an old Scrabble board, sat around and read and despite the weirdness of it all (don’t get me started on the guard dog she let out for hours at a time which she said was friendly but not to touch it!), we had a relaxed time in our few days here.
It was the first time I saw the sawing Cara Caras birds (a vulture like bird you see all over Costa Rica). It was the first time we heard the noise of the Costa Rican bushes – invisible insects making BIG noise.
Our experiences in Atenas were interesting, if not mind-blowing. The walk in wasn’t so bad, as the climate was fairly mild and we could then get a taxi back. Foodwise, we didn’t experiment much. We ate at one cafe while there which was an adorable place called El Fogón Campesino. Our first taste of how good Costa Rican food can be.
We also got a Chinese takeout, which was pretty basic. There was a chilled out place we grabbed a few drinks but never got the opportunity to eat at – Pizza Finca. Wish we’d found it earlier. All in all, I would definitely say that Atenas is somewhere you should have your own transport. I think there are things to see in the surrounding area and as it’s hilly without always having pavements outside the centre, it would be safer and easier. It’s not really a tourist destination but a pleasant enough place to be.
I had intended for us to get a public bus down to our next port of call at Manuel Antonio, but I was still not feeling too good so in the end we threw money at it and got a local guide to drive us down. Another mini van journey, which I like as you have a nice high sitting position to see the country passing by.