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Atenas, a canton that welcomes Nicaraguans in Costa Rica

A growing group of Nicaraguan migrants has formed in the last decade a community in the canton of Atenas, in the central valley of Costa Rica

Alejandra Padilla

27 de julio 2022


San Jose, Cartago, Heredia and Alajuela are the cities in Costa Rica’s great metropolitan area of Costa Rica where most Nicaraguan migrants live, the largest foreign population in the country, estimated at just over half a million people. However, the Nicaraguan population has also settled in other cities in the country.

Twenty-five kilometers from the city of Alajuela, is the canton of Atenas, surrounded by green hills, coffee trees and sugar cane. Known for having one of best climates in the world, according to its residents, in this canton live many foreigners: retired US citizens, Europeans, Nicaraguans, who along with their families have found in this city the opportunity to integrate into Costa Rican society.

A city that attracts for its climate and friendliness

David Calderon during his workday. Photo: Alejandra Padilla.

David Calderon, 33 years old, is a native of Pantasma, a municipality in the department of Jintotega. In 2008, he decided to leave Nicaragua in search of job opportunities. His brothers, who first emigrated to Costa Rica, received him in Atenas.

Upon his arrival in this canton, David worked for a year in construction and later found a job as a gardener in a residential complex located on the outskirts of the city.

“I start working at six in the morning, and then I do other things like cleaning the pool and going out with the dogs,” he explains.

David lives with his wife, and claims that, although he has not lived in another canton of Costa Rica, Atenas is his favorite city in the country, because of the climate and the friendliness of its people. “I love Atenas,” he says.

Besides his job as a gardener, David also does work as a blacksmith and welding as a way to earn extra income.

“We Nicaraguans are warriors”

Veronica Valle is originally from the city of Leon, Nicaragua. Photo: Alejandra Padilla.

Veronica Valle has lived in Costa Rica for 30 years. At age 15 she migrated to Costa Rica along with her sisters looking for a better future. “The situation there (in Nicaragua) was difficult in terms of work and study. Here we saw many opportunities and decided to stay,” she says.

When she first arrived in Costa Rica, she settled with her sisters in the district of Pavas, in the capital San Jose, but about ten years ago she moved to Atenas, wanting to find a quiet city to start a business.

In 2020, she became the owner of “La Cafeteria,” a small business located at the side of the San Rafael de Arcangel Church to offer pastries, coffee, fruit smoothies, traditional sweets, and ice cream.

“I started working here. I was an employee for eight months and then, since the owner of the business was not from Atenas, it was difficult for her to travel and I bought it from her,” Valle commented, who started as an owner at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Although it was not easy to keep the business afloat during the health emergency, Veronica managed to position her business in the city. “Only those who have left their comfort zone knows the sacrifices one makes to get ahead,” she stresses.

“Costa Rica is a land of opportunities”

Nicaraguan Marbell Castro owns a beauty salon in Atenas, Costa Rica. Photo: Alejandra Padilla.

Marbell Castro visited Atenas for the first time at the age of 18, during a vacation to enjoy with friends. She was not planning to stay but decided to leave her native Chinandega and start a new life in Costa Rica. “I loved it, I became enthusiastic about it, and I stayed,” Castro describes, who lives in this canton with her husband and two children.

Throughout the years, Marbell had different jobs that allowed her to get ahead with her family. “I have worked in everything. I know how to make pupusas, I worked in the cleaning sector, cooking Nicaraguan food,” she recalls.

Since she was a child, she was passionate about modelling and makeup, so she began studying beauty in an institute in Atenas. After a few years, she saved enough money to star her own business. Today she owns a beauty parlor and a clothing store featuring US clothes, where both Nicaraguans and Costa Ricans go.

“Atenas is a very small town, very cozy, very humble. The people are good, for example, in my case, people helped me a lot when I started here, and I am very grateful to the people of Atenas,” says Marbell.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times


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Alejandra Padilla

Alejandra Padilla

Periodista y productora audiovisual nicaragüense. Licenciada en Ciencias Políticas. Cofundadora de varias organizaciones de sociedad civil vinculadas a la lucha por los derechos de la comunidad estudiantil en Nicaragua. También se ha desempaño en proyectos de transformación digital para empresas y organizaciones.