By the time you get this far west in the Central Valley, you’re likely headed for Costa Rica’s famed Central Pacific beaches, but the countryside holds some splendid scenery, from the steep coffee farms around Atenas to the tropical forests of the lowlands. Known for its excellent climate—National Geographic once dubbed it the world's best—Atenas (Athens, in Spanish) is a pleasant, friendly town surrounded by a hilly countryside of coffee and cane fields, cattle ranches, and patches of forest. The small city is off the tourist circuit, which means that here, unlike other highly popular destinations, you'll walk alongside more locals than foreigners and get a more authentic idea of the country. Gazing at the tree-covered peaks and exploring the coffee farms are the main activities in this traditional town. Atenas's center has a concrete church, some well-kept wooden and adobe houses, and a park dominated by royal palms.

Some visitors to Costa Rica prefer using Atenas as their first- and last-night base camp instead of San José, because Atenas is smaller, friendlier, and more tranquil. The international airport is geographically closer to Atenas, but the hilly roads make the ride slightly longer than the trip on San José's express highway.

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Fodor's Essential Costa Rica 2020

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