Atenas is located it the central valley of Costa Rica, about 20 miles west of San Jose, the capital. Once an important stop on the coffee oxcart trail, Atenas has become a nice community where expats and locals blend to make a little country town bloom with activity.
With the new highway built from San Jose to the coast, Atenas has been growing in popularity due to it’s location: 30-40 minutes to San Jose and 45 minutes to the closest beaches. Despite the growing popularity, Atenas is a tiny, sleepy town, most stores close their door at 6 pm and nightlife is virtually non-existent, except for the few bars in town.
We came to Atenas in May of 2010 for a 6 month stay and ended up staying 1 1/2 years. While there are cheaper places to live in Costa Rica, Atenas offers services and amenities that most North Americans are used to: plenty of restaurants to choose from (although most are typical local fare), easy access to healthcare, plenty of public and private schools and a large social expat community.
In case you are considering moving to Atenas, here is a breakdown of typical costs. These are based on our experience of being a family of 4. All prices are in US Dollars.
Housing & Utilities
The cost of rent in Atenas varies. There plenty of gated communities, country properties, little casitas (small houses) and neighborhoods close to the center of town. Places advertised online are almost always more expensive than those you can find locally.
Atenas is a relatively safe place, but break-ins do happen. Lots of houses will have bars on the windows and doors as an extra security measure. There are a few small apartment complexes in Atenas, but the majority of housing opportunity is individual houses.
Most retired expats tend to live in the gated communities, where the cost of buying a house can be $300,000 on up to millions. Rent of those houses varies, but usually is $1300 per month plus. Most houses in gated communities are built to North American standards and include a pool, a welcome relief during the hot day.
Houses Outside of Town
Just outside of town there are various barrios (neighborhoods) that offer small houses with more land. Rents can vary from $400 for a typical Tico house to well over $1600 for a more North American house.
Houses near the Center of Town
We lived in a neighborhood near the center of town for the walkability factor. Houses close to the center of town vary greatly in quality and rental price. Most tend hover around $500 – $900.
What we paid:
- 3 bedroom fully furnished house near the center of town: $800/month
- Electricity: $80/month
- Water $8/month
- We opted not to have cable television
- Phone & 2MB Internet: $50/month
- Cleaning: house keeper 3x weekly for 8 hours each day $250/month
Costa Rica has a really good and surprisingly on time bus system. Most buses do not have AC and the twisty turns of Costa Rica mountain roads can make some (like me) sick. If you opt to use the bus system, a trip from Atenas to San Jose will cost $1.25. It’s cheap and efficient.
Having a car, particularly for families, makes life easier and more convenient. Cars are more expensive in Costa Rica but tend to hold their value well. Cars are registered and a mandatory insurance is required. Additional insurance can be purchased, most is not needed.
- 2002 Diahatsu Terios in great condition $7500
- Monthly Gas: $100 (We walked everywhere in town, but did travel around Costa Rica extensively, this figure includes are cross country travels)
- Yearly Marcharmo (Mandatory Insurance): $120
- Yearly Retive (inspection): $20
Produce in Costa Rica is relatively inexpensive. The variety leaves something to be desired, but is plenty for most. We typically went to the Farmer’s Market once a week to stock up on the weeks produce. For $40-50 we got an entire refrigerator full of fruits and veggies.
More American like foods such as cereals, American cheeses and maple syrup are more expensive, sometimes remarkably so. Ironically, the staple dishes of Costa Rica, rice and beans, although fairly inexpensive, cost more in Costa Rica than in the US.
Pineapples: $0.75 each (and they are deliciously sweet)
Tomatoes: 200c/kg = $0.25 / lb
Papaya: 3 big ones for 1,000c = $2. We make Papaya smoothies all the time. They are SO yummy and so good for you!
Beautiful heads of Romaine lettuce: 300c = $0.60
Fresh White Beans 1,000c $2
Carrots 500c/kg = $0.50 / lb
Bell Peppers: 7 huge ones for 500c = $1.00
Sea Bass: 3,500c / kg = $3.50 / lb
Cucumbers: 300c / kg = $0.60 / lb.
Onions: 800c/kg = $0.80 /lb
Potatoes: 400-1200c/kg = $0.80 -$1.20 lb depending on the season
Strawberries (expensive here in CR): 800c/ pint = $1.60 for a little container.
Ground Beef: $5/kg ($2.50/lb)
Chicken Breast: ($7/kg) ($3.50/lb) Costa Rica has delicious natural chicken!
Cherrios Cereal: $5
Can of Beer: $1.20
Bottle of Coke: $1.20
Local Coffee: $5/lb
There are plenty of restaurants in Atenas, most cater to the local crowd and serve typical Costa Rican dishes. The Costa Rican staple is the casado: rice, beans, tortilla, a friend plantain and your choice of fish, chicken, pork or beef. It’s the cheapest and most filling meal you can order. Restaurant prices vary, but our favorite restaurant (The Guanacaste) was a great value for the quality of food. Atenas does not have any street vendors.
Typical Casado: $5-$7
Fresh Fruit Smoothie: $3
Pizza: $10 for a medium
Daycare & Schooling
Primary & Secondary Schooling
There are plenty of public and private choices for schooling in Atenas. For as small as the town is the number of schools is surprising.
Enrollment in the local schools is an option. Some schools don’t follow a predictable schedule and you may find that your child’s schedule changes day to day. There are times when the teacher is absent and the students are sent home for the day. There doesn’t seem to be a substitution system. All public schools are Spanish speaking only. Public schools are the cheapest option that cost a few dollars per month ($10) that includes a snack or rice/beans lunch for the child.
Warning: See Homeschool section below.
The private schools are more expensive, but more consistent in terms of schedule and curriculum. Many expat families choose private schools for this reason.
Costa Rica does not recognize homeschool as education. If you choose to homeschool your children do not enroll them into the public school system at any point. If you choose to pull them out for some reason and remain in Atenas, you may get a visit wondering what type of education your child is getting. We know of one family that home schooled, but their child wanted to ‘try’ regular school. So he did for a few weeks, deciding he didn’t like it and pulled out of the system. They received a very unwelcome visit and eventually their child was forced to go to school, lest he be taken by social services. (That family has since left Costa Rica).
So, if you choose to homeschool, just be aware of that.
Otherwise, there are plenty of families that homeschool in Atenas that have not had any issues because their children have never been enrolled in public school.
There are 3 major pre-schools available in Atenas for children 3 yrs +. Each pre-school is 5 half-days per week.
There are no daycare centers in Atenas, except for locals or expats opening their home and providing daycare.
Public School: $10/month
Private School: $150+/month depending on the school
Pre-school / Daycare: $110/month
The local expat community has organized loads of fun activites for children and adults to do in Atenas.
The center for these activities is usually Su Espacio, near the CoopeAtenas & Gas Station, but classes are held all around the center of town. There is karate, tai chi, rumba classes, yoga, dancing, painting and much more. Most classes are offered for monthly ($40/month) or per class fees ($3-5 depending). There are several soccer teams and volleyball teams in Atenas as well and 3 beach volleyball courts.
Labor in Costa Rica is still relatively cheap, so finding someone to do the things you no longer want to do, like mow your lawn or do the dishes is inexpensive. So much so, that is almost doesn’t make sense to do the things that you don’t enjoy.
Lawn Mowing $8/hr
Taking care of your body
Medical services and alternative health services can be found in town. Doctors are well trained and the alternative medicine community is growing and becoming popular in Costa Rica.
Acupunture Appt (in San Jose): $30 for 1 1/2 hr appt
Homeopathic Appt with Remedies: $24
Visit to private doctor: $60
Atenas is a beautiful little town that has the perfect mix of locals and expats. The wise variety of activities available (namely because of the varied expat population) makes it a great home base to discover the rest of Costa Rica from.