Once called the “cleanest city in Latin America”, Grecia is a town of approximately 15,000 people nestled in the foothills of the Cordillera Central range in central Costa Rica, at an elevation of just under 1,000 m or 3,280 ft. It is best known for the Iglesia de la Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes church, which is constructed of prefabricated steel and painted red, and sits facing the beautiful central park.
There are many reasons why the Grecia area is a popular destination for expats, including a temperate climate, central location and stunning views. Only 1.5 hours from the Pacific Coast, it is also just 27 km (about 25 minutes) from the Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) in Alajuela, 45 km (about an hour) from the capital city of San José, and 3.5 hours to the Nicaraguan border.
The temperature in town ranges from 18 C (65 F) to 29 (85 F) but is even more moderate on the surrounding five mountain ridges where it ranges from 13 C (55 F) to 26 C (80 F), and the humidity is relatively low. There is no heat or air conditioning needed, so if you’re concerned about the cost of living it’s an ideal location for keeping electricity costs down. The communities on these ridges – San Luis de Grecia, El Cajón de Grecia, San Miguel de Grecia, Carbonal and San Isidro de Grecia – are a close 15 minutes to town and many people choose to live there for the views and cooler climate. Rainy season here follows the tropical pattern from May through November, when the mornings are clear and sunny and thunderstorms roll in during the afternoon.
When it comes to health care, Grecia has the San Francisco de Asis Hospital which belongs to the public system (known as CAJA), but there is also easy access to the best private hospitals in the country including CIMA in Escazú, and Clínica Biblica and Hospital Metropolitano in San José. There are also private clinics with health services and pharmacies in town where English is spoken, and excellent veterinary care for your pets.
The local “Feria del Agricultor” or farmer’s market has a pivotal role in most communities. It supports area farmers and is a weekly social outing for expats and locals alike to gather, pick up fresh fruit and vegetables, and grab a bite to eat with friends. Grecia has perhaps one of the best and largest ferias in the country with permanent, covered buildings spanning out in several directions and a food court in the center.
Other grocery options include Mercado Central, which is a large indoor market located next to the local bus station, and retailers such as Compre Bien, Palí and Mas x Menos. For those looking for vegan products, the best options are Compre Bien and Macrobiotica (in Mercado Central) and AutoMercado in Alajuela or La Guácima.
While Grecia has everything from electronics and hardware stores to fashion and specialty shops, the proximity to Alajuela and San José means everything you could want is within an hour away. There is a PriceSmart, Walmart and giant CityMall in Alajuela, a huge EPA hardware store in Belén, Office Depot in Escazú… you get the idea.
The other thing that Grecia is known for are the used car dealers that line the main road coming into town from the highway, one after another. You don’t need to go far if you’re hunting for a vehicle!
It’s always wise to be careful with your belongings, avoid driving at night and be mindful of crimes of opportunity regardless of where you are in the country (see my post on safety). That said, Grecia is a relatively safe place and I have never felt threatened in any way during my time here. My debit card was skimmed at a gas station so I’ve learned to be more careful and have switched to using cash more often, but we know that happens everywhere. I am currently renting in a condominium development with 24-7 security patrol so if you are very worried about safety that is always an option, but living in a Tico community where everyone knows and looks out for one another goes a long way in avoiding crime.
What to Do
Whether you’re visiting the area or living here and looking for an outing, there are plenty of things to see and do nearby. Here are just a few:
Just 30 minutes from town, the Grecia Forest Reserve (Bosque del Niño) is located on the slopes of the Poás Volcano. It has three trails for visitors – the easy 800m Los Pinos Trail, 1800m Panoramic Trail and the 600m Carboneras Trail – and is a great place for a walk, picnic or camp.
Poás Volcano National Park is about an hour from Grecia. It is one of the many volcanoes in Costa Rica still considered active. The crater measures about 1,320 m (4,330 ft) across and 320m (1,049 ft) deep with a hot and acidic water lagoon in its center. It is best to visit early for a clear view of the crater before the clouds set in, and online reservations are required.
Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center, formerly known as ZooAve, is a wonderful non-profit wildlife rehabilitation center in nearby Alajuela that has been dedicated to helping wildlife for over 30 years. They do important work in the area, rescuing almost 3,000 animals each year. It’s a great place to see some of the many species found in Costa Rica, since this is home to those who cannot be released back into the wild. While you’re there, stop at the KIVU restaurant for a bite to eat from their vegetarian menu.
Another nearby wildlife rescue organization is Rescue Center Costa Rica where you can do a tour or even a volunteer stay for those who want to make a difference during their vacation. They are located on a 10 acre farm in Guácima, just 10 minutes from the Juan Santamaría International Airport.
Although Grecia isn’t a restaurant hotspot there is some good dining. A couple of my favorites include MasQSabor, serving fanstastic and flavorful Mexican fare (I highly recommend the vegan taco salad bowl) or El Patio (has great roasted veggie sandwich) and Chien Kang, a Taiwanese soda in Mercado Central who serves primarily vegan options. For entirely plant-based menus, a little further afield there is El Chante Vegano and Soda Yuki in Alajuela or Almendra in Atenas.
If you are looking to put down roots here and want to explore, other popular expat destinations in the area include the communities of Atenas, Sarchi and San Ramón.
I have lived in Grecia for the past year, so reach out if you are looking for contacts or have questions – I’d be happy to help! Have you visited Grecia? Let me know what you thought 🙂