• Costa Rica Coffee Guide

El Avión: A restaurant in plane site

August 13, 2019

This story was first published in 2015. 

The Fairchild C-123 in Manuel Antonio is shocking on many levels: The first thing you notice is that the nose of an airplane is sticking out of a restaurant. Its presence is so surprising that your car might weave a little as you drive past. The plane is old and rugged-looking, painted the olive-drab color of U.S. military equipment.

But more shocking still is its story: During the Nicaraguan Civil War, the CIA used two such planes for secret missions. When one of the planes was shot down, the world learned that the U.S. had been covertly aiding counter-revolutionaries, and the Iran-Contra Scandal was blown wide open. The second plane was abandoned until 2000, when the owners of El Avión purchased the plane and incorporated it into their restaurant’s architecture. The name “El Avión” literally means “the airplane.”

This airplane’s twin sister set off an international scandal when it was shot down while delivering supplies to counter-revolutionary forces in Nicaragua. Three of the four crew members died in the incident.  The survivor, Eugene Hasenfus, was captured by Contra forces. Some business cards in Hasenfus’s wallet, along with the felled plane’s logbooks, revealed that the CIA was behind the airdrops. Norman Stockwell wrote a great account of the incident here.

The symbolism of the cargo plane is pretty heavy, but the restaurant is not. The two open-air dining rooms are large and relaxed, the cocktails bars are well stocked, and the service is extremely friendly. If you sit by the edge, you’ll enjoy one of the most spectacular views on Manuel Antonio – a sprawling valley of dense woods, which sprawls around the water and frames a small island. The menu is a cornucopia of steaks, burgers, and sandwiches, and despite the gimmick and the panorama, eating there is very affordable, especially for the area.

Scene at El Avión restaurant
Would you like a side of international scandal with that dinner? Alejandro Zúñiga / The Tico Times

While the titular airplane was once used for shifty black ops, it is now a place of happy revelry: Guests can photograph themselves in the cockpit, and the fuselage is home to a full-service bar. The interior walls are plastered in bumper stickers, ensuring a good-humored atmosphere. The plane itself is a monument to Costa Rica’s darkest period, but El Avión is a testament to its bright future.

Robert Isenberg/The Tico Times
Robert Isenberg/The Tico Times

You may be interested

Businessman Guillermo Lasso wins Ecuadorian election, vows to change ‘destiny’
Ecuador
3 views
Ecuador
3 views

Businessman Guillermo Lasso wins Ecuadorian election, vows to change ‘destiny’

Hector Velasco / AFP - April 12, 2021

Former banker Guillermo Lasso pledged to change crisis-wracked Ecuador's "destiny" after overcoming leftist economist Andres Arauz in the country's presidential…

Costa Rica unemployment rate remains among world’s highest
Costa Rica
2653 views
Costa Rica
2653 views

Costa Rica unemployment rate remains among world’s highest

The Tico Times - April 12, 2021

Unemployment in Costa Rica fell to 18.5% in the moving quarter from December to February, according to the National Institute…

International arrivals to Costa Rica down 83% in first two months of 2021
Costa Rica
1932 views
Costa Rica
1932 views

International arrivals to Costa Rica down 83% in first two months of 2021

Alejandro Zúñiga - April 12, 2021

International arrivals to Costa Rica dropped 83% in January and February 2021 compared to the same months last year. According…