Atenas: A Glimpse of Authentic Costa Rica

Last Updated: July 18, 2022

Not far from the bustling city of San Jose you will find the charming town of Atenas. This medium-sized town in the Central Valley offers a glimpse at local life. From a bench in the picturesque central park or over coffee at a local restaurant, you can see Costa Ricans in their daily life. While Atenas isn’t exactly on the tourist trail, it has drawn many expats over the years due to its favorable climate and offers visitors several interesting things to do. Below, we’ll share more about this local town and why you might want to add a stop on your next visit to Costa Rica.

Atenas Costa Rica Destination Information

About Atenas

Atenas is located about 45 minutes west of the city of San Jose and a half-hour from the international airport in Alajuela. Although it is close to urban areas, Atenas itself couldn’t be more different. The town is surrounded by rolling green hills, speckled with rows of coffee plants and sugarcane.

Just a short drive from these quiet barrios (neighborhoods) is the central area of town, which has a lot going on. Here, you will find many restaurants, grocery stores, shops, and other conveniences. The downtown is the hub of local life, with a scenic park and church as the focal point.

A couple of things that make Atenas noteworthy are its climate and coffee. The town is said to have one of the best climates in the world, with average temperatures in the mid-70s°F (21°C) year-round. The climate, combined with the area’s rich volcanic soil, also makes Atenas an excellent spot for growing coffee. Many of the local producers are small, family-run operations and there are even some that you can tour (more on this below). 

Interestingly, Atenas was located along the original oxcart trail. This route was used in the late 1800s to transport coffee beans from the Central Valley to ports on the Pacific and Caribbean coasts for export. Various references to the oxcart trail can be seen around town. One notable example is the monument of a boyero, an oxcart driver, about a kilometer east of downtown.

National Boyero Monument in Atenas Costa Rica
National Boyero Monument on Route 3


You can spend hours just soaking up the local culture in the downtown, but here are some other ideas for things to do.

El Toledo Coffee Tour

If you’re visiting Atenas, a coffee tour is a must. El Toledo is a small coffee farm owned by a Costa Rican family. They are one of the few growers in the country to go completely organic.

On a tour of the family farm, you’ll learn from the passionate farmers themselves about the importance of biodiverse coffee production and, of course, see how it is made from plant to cup. The tour ends with a tasting of El Toledo’s three different roasts. We really enjoyed this coffee tour because it is so personalized and non-commercial. $20 per person.

El Toledo Coffee Tour in Atenas Costa Rica
The chorreador or “sock” method of brewing allows the delicious oils of the coffee to come through.

Farmers Market

Many communities in Costa Rica have a farmers market and Atenas is no exception. Every Friday, both locals and expats gather to shop and chat about local happenings. Under the modern-looking structure, you will find an assortment of produce as well as baked goods, artisanal products, coffee, souvenirs, and even flowers.

A local bus runs to and from the center of town for free if you don’t have a car. Click for a map with the location.

Las Minas Waterfalls

About the Waterfalls

Just 20 minutes outside Atenas is a set of secluded waterfalls. Las Minas Waterfalls (the Mines Waterfalls) is located in the village of Desmonte. This set of waterfalls and swimming holes is so named because of an old gold mine in an upper area of the river. Although this spot is located deep in the country, it is not hard to find with good directions.


Take Highway 3 west out of Atenas. At a flashing yellow light, take a right (look for the restaurant Chicarronera El Minero). Follow the windy road for about 1.5 miles (2.4 km), staying left at two forks. The road turns to dirt, then back to paved, but wasn’t in bad shape even in the rainy season. When you get to a large bridge, you have arrived at the parking area. Here’s a map with directions. Don’t leave anything valuable inside your car.

To get to the pools upriver, you will have to walk along the riverbed, up over large boulders and through water, depending on the season. Sturdy boots or sandals like Keens are best. This isn’t a recommended hike for everyone. Jenn had to stay behind with our young son because the rocks were too tricky.

Las Minas Waterfalls near Atenas Costa Rica
The upper set of falls at Las Minas Waterfalls is harder to access but worth the effort.

Botanical Orchid Garden

If gazing at hundreds of beautiful orchids is more your speed, check out the Botanical Orchid Garden in nearby La Garita. This outdoor garden cultivates orchids in a lab setting and lets them propagate in the wild on their property. The different nurseries have orchids in all stages of growth, allowing visitors to learn about the complex lifecycle of these interesting plants. The property also has paths through the forest that showcase native trees and host a variety of birds. 

To learn more about visiting the Botanical Orchid Garden, including the best times of year to go, read our separate post.

Train Museum (Museo Ferroviario Rio Grande)

In nearby Rio Grande, you can visit a historic train museum. This isn’t a huge attraction, but if you have a free hour, it is interesting to learn about the old railroad that ran from San Jose to Puntarenas.

The small museum at the train station houses photos and artifacts like generators, radios, railway parts, and devices used for Morse code. The attendant will also take you up inside the old engine car for some great photo ops. Those wanting to explore can walk the tracks over the Grande River. Open only on Sundays. Click for a map with the location.

Atenas Costa Rica -Train Museum (Museo Ferroviaro Rio Grande)
Our little guy playing conductor at the train museum

Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center

If you have children, Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center is a wonderful stop. This wildlife center rescues and rehabilitates animals that have been injured, orphaned, or confiscated from the illegal pet trade. Some examples include Scarlet Macaw parrots, white-faced monkeys, and even a few species of jungle cats.

If animals are unable to be released back into their natural environment after being treated, they live the rest of their lives on the property. One notable inhabitant is a toucan named Grecia that lost most of her beautiful beak in an abusive incident. Grecia now shows off a one-of-a-kind, high-tech prosthetic beak along the trail at Rescate Wildlife. 

Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center has a comfortable restaurant and small kids’ play area too. $25 per person adults, $10 children ages 2-12.


Atenas doesn’t have a big restaurant scene but there are some delicious options.

Pizzeria La Finca

Whenever we’re passing through Atenas, we always seem to end up at Pizzeria La Finca. The comfortable outdoor dining area and delicious wood-fired pizza, flatbreads, and bruschetta are obvious draws. They also have craft beer on tap. We recommend the locally brewed El Granero alongside the prosciutto, tomato, arugula, and fresh parmesan pizza.

Pizzaeria La Finca Atenas Costa Rica
The delicious wood-fired pizza at La Finca

El Balcon de Café

This German-owned café and bakery is one of the most popular restaurants in Atenas and for good reason. Breakfast and lunch items are fresh and made with quality ingredients that you won’t find everywhere in Costa Rica. At El Balcon de Café, they use their homemade bread throughout the menu. We recommend taking a loaf of the potato bread home. The house specialties like schnitzel and goulash are delicious too.

El Balcon de Cafe - A great breakfast and lunch spot in Atenas
The German breakfast at El Balcon de Cafe

La Casita del Café

For one of the best views around, head to La Casita del Café. This simple Costa Rican restaurant at the top of the hill on Route 3 has fantastic valley and even ocean views when conditions are right. Go for breakfast and arrive before the clouds roll in. The food is good, nothing fancy, but the scenery more than makes up for it.

La Casita del Café near Atenas Costa Rica
An early morning view at La Casita del Café. You can see the ocean in the distance off to the right.

Kay’s Gringo Postres

Kay’s Gringo Postres is a well-known expat hangout hidden outside downtown. If you’re interested in moving to Atenas, this is a good place to get the dish on what it’s like to live there. Delicious homemade desserts and cookies are available, plus a full breakfast and lunch menu. The breakfast buffet on Sundays is also popular.


Atenas has a small selection of cabinas and bed and breakfast-style lodging. Here are a couple of our picks for places to stay.

B&B Vista Atenas

This charming B&B is located only about 10 minutes from town, but in a quiet, peaceful location. As the name implies, B&B Vista Atenas also enjoys outstanding views of the Central Valley, especially from the pool. Rooms are bright, clean, and comfortable, and the staff here is friendly and welcoming. $50-75/night. Check Rates and Availability Here.

Apartamentos Atenas

Apartamentos Atenas is a group of five cabins set around a small pool. The cabins are nicely spread out, allowing for plenty of privacy, and are surrounded by lush gardens. This hotel is a good pick if you’re looking for a scenic place to overnight around San Jose, but is also set up for longer stays. Each unit has a kitchenette with all the basics. The owner told us that she hosts a lot of people who are interested in moving to the area and many returning visitors as well. $50-70/night. Check Rates and Availability Here.

Apartamentos Atenas
The outside living area of our cabin at Apartamentos Atenas

If you’re looking to experience a bit of authentic Costa Rica, check out Atenas. This town not only offers a taste of local life, but also has a lot of interesting attractions. With coffee tours and waterfalls, Atenas is a nice break from the beach or a fun diversion on your way to or from San Jose.

Last Updated: July 18, 2022

Have you visited Atenas? What did you think? Leave us a comment below.

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you book a hotel using one of the links, we receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Read our Privacy Policy for more information.

Looking for more information about Costa Rica? Check out these posts:

Costa Rica Rental Car Discount – Because Atenas is more spread out, it is best explored with a rental car. Check out our discount through one of the major companies in Costa Rica to save 10-25%.

Jaco: Costa Rica’s Booming Beach Town If you’re looking for ideas for day trips from Atenas, check out Jaco on the central Pacific coast, about 1 hour away. This area has everything from ATV and zip line tours to crocodile tours and national park hikes.

Life in Costa Rica – If you’re considering a move to Atenas, you’ll want to read posts from our Life in Costa Rica section to know what to expect.

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