Cultural Experience | Costa Rica

16 Ways to Immerse Yourself in the Culture of Costa Rica

Live like a local, explore like a traveler in Costa Rica.

College Tourist Summer Team of Student Travel Bloggers.

Coffee, Coffee, Coffee Sydney Alonso, University of Central Florida
Timpani Woodson, Northern Arizona University

Costa Rica is known around the world for their high quality coffee, so it only makes sense to visit a coffee farm to learn the process that goes behind the perfect cup. Go to El Toledo, located near the city Atenas, to tour one of the few remaining coffee farms that produces 100% organic coffee. Tours are always given by the family members that own and operate the farm and require an online booking to attend.
To find a tour, checkout!

Live the Pure Life. Tori Danforth, University of South Florida

If you’ve been looking for an exotic paradise filled with lush rainforest, beautiful beaches, and endless activities, Costa Rica is the place for you! Well known for its embodiment of “pura vida” or the “pure life,” there is no better way to experience this than exploring one of the country’s many waterfalls. From the huge and thundering waters of the La Fortuna waterfall to the tiny and well-hidden one in Uvita, there is one to suite everyone’s taste. However, the ultimate way to experience one of these national treasures is the Nauyaca Waterfalls Horseback Riding Tour near Dominical. The tour not only includes a ride through incredible mountain scenery and rainforest where you can spot numerous species of wildlife, but also a traditional Costa Rican breakfast and lunch at a local’s house, and access to one of Costa Rica’s best waterfalls. The sight of Catarata Nauyaca is sure to take your breath away as the entire country of Costa Rica will time and time again.

Pick up Soccer Game. Nicole Darian, University of Iowa

Want to immerse yourself in the local culture? Join a pickup game of soccer! Being the most popular sport in Costa Rica, as is the rest of Central and South America, the soccer fields are in beautiful condition and there will always be a game taking place no matter the time of day.  Joining a group of children may be easier and less intimidating, but brush up on your skills beforehand, because these kids have a high level of technique, and often times they are barefoot! It will still be fun to join in and have a few laughs and it’s a great way to meet locals and feel their passion for the sport.

Visit a Volcano. Jamie Coulson, Flagler College

If you want to add a little natural thrill to your trip, visit a volcano in Costa Rica! Arenal Volcano sat dormant for hundreds of years, but on July 29, 1968 it awoke and had been active until 2010 when it went back into its slumber. This natural beauty stands more than 5,000 feet tall, and travelers can go to Arenal Observatory Lodge to take a peek at the peak. It’s usually covered in a thick layer of fog, but if you’re visiting between February and April, you have a better, unobstructed view of this natural attraction!

Embrace the Wildlife. Hannah McIntyre, Spring Hill College

Costa Rica is a tropical country full of wildlife. Get up close and personal with the animals by doing a wildlife tour. Proyecto Asis is a wildlife rescue center that offers Spanish classes, volunteer and cultural immersion opportunities. They provide tours of the reserve where you see and learn about the animals native to the country. There is also a tour plus volunteer option. With this, you not only get to see and learn about the animals, you are able to aid in their rehabilitation.

Arenal Adventure. Whitney Barnes, University of Central Florida

For my adventurists who want to take in the breathtaking scenery of Costa Rica set aside a day for an Arenal tour. Arenal radiates adventure through its diverse surroundings. Canopy and horseback rides near the Arenal volcano, mountain biking, tours of the mystical Venado caves, river rafting in the Balsa River and hot springs that resemble paintings. At the end of an exhilarating yet exhausting day La Fortuna farmer’s market is close by. La Fortuna has been a local tradition for the past 13 years and offers fresh vegetables, fruits, meats, and plants. They also offer traditional Costa Rican foods including tamales, an assortment of breads, and pork rinds. The tours range in price depending on number of participants and desired length of tour. But, according to raving reviews it is worth every cent.

Think Positive! Molly O’Connor, Southern Methodist University.

The warm air, beaches and happiness of Costa Rica must be magical because Costa Rica is home to one of five blue zones in the world, meaning it’s populated by some of the longest-living people in the world! With a life-expectancy over that of the United States, Nicoya, Costa Rica contributes much of their success to their economic security and outstanding healthcare. However, it is their mental outlook that differentiates them from the rest; plan de vida, or reason to live, motivates the Nicoyans to keep a positive outlook on life and to focus on their faith and family. They have a strong sense of purpose and strive to better themselves. Visit this 80-mile peninsula and you are sure to leave with a changed outlook on life. These Nicoyans are bound to help you find your plan de vida!

Rent a House and Relax. Ashley Ulbrich

Rent a house, they’re not as expensive as you would think for a week! Find a secluded house with the rain forest surrounding. It’s relaxing and filled with animals and nature! Since you are in the forest, the animals just come up to you! Sit back, relax, and enjoy the nature.

Zip Lining. Mia Kavensky, University of Illinois

Are you a thrill seeker? If you are, zip lining through the Costa Rican jungles is the perfect activity for you! Selvatura Park has the longest ziplines in the country. Soar above the trees and see the beautiful scenery from a whole new vantage point! Too scared to soar across the jungles? Don’t worry, throughout the forest, there are 8 hanging bridges where you can watch your loved ones fly through the sky.

Tour the Caves. Elena Metzner, University of Connecticut

If you ever have a desire to see what is hidden from the naked eye, join a guided tour of the Venado Caves. These tours offer a rare look into the magical underground. On the tour you will see rock formations, encounter strange creatures, wade knee-deep through rivers, and go deeper into the earth than ever imaginable. The tours are very safe and guided by experienced locals who know all the ins and outs of the caves. For only $78 it is an adventure that Costa Rica proudly offers and an experience you will never forget!

Party in Playa Jaco. Marilyn La Jeunesse, New York University

If you’re up for a day trip, take a ride to Puntarenas. About an hour away from Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose, Puntarenas is known for its stunningly beautiful beaches and incredible surf. Puntarenas is known for both popular, crowded beaches and more secluded ones, making this a perfect spot for even the pickiest beach goer. If you’re looking for a party, Playa Jaco is the place for you. If you’re looking for snorkeling, try just off the coast of Playa Hermosa, where the reefs of Isla Tortuga lay, waiting for you to discover their natural beauty. Here, you may even be lucky enough to spot a sea turtle nesting! Playa Hermosa is also known for it’s 6 mile section of black sand, a gorgeous stop for any beach lover.

Hang Ten. Ben Rissler, American University

If you’re an avid beachgoer or a thrill seeker, Costa Rica is one of the world’s most sought after adventure spots. Ziplining, white water rafting, and hiking are just a few of the many things to do. Whether you’re a novice or a pro surfer, hundreds of beaches along the coastline cater to those wishing to try their luck on the Costa Rican waves. Beach hot spots like Tamarindo and Jaco on the Pacific Ocean and Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean Sea bring in the best surfers from around the world. Try out one of the many surfing schools in the country to start learning from the beginning or how to perfect your skills.

Eat at a Soda. Emily Poklar, University of Wisconsin, Maddison

Want to eat quality and authentic food but without the tourist price tag? Check out a local soda. No, this doesn’t mean eat near a bottle of coke. It’s actually the Costa Rican name for a small restaurant that serves food and is lit up by a Pepsi or Imperial sign outside. Sometimes they may seem a little dingy from outside, but the quality of food is incomparable. Save a bit of money and enjoy yourself at a local soda spot.

Get up in the Caopy. Amanda Tempesta, Hofstra University

The highest 10% of a rainforest is where most activity takes place. In order to see all the action you’ll have to get an aerial view. There’s no better way to do this than by experiencing one of Costa Rica’s canopy tours. You’ll walk across a series of suspension bridges with breathtaking views and zip line over and through the luscious greenery and maybe some waterfalls. The SkyWalk and Trek tour have zip lines as long as 2,500 feet, along with observation towers and walking platforms. There are a variety of canopy tours offered by multiple companies throughout the country, however, Monteverde is my favorite place to do it.

Take in a Museum. Karla Dimatulac, Rutgers University

Costa Rica is also rich with artistic culture. From the natural beauty of Monte Azul to the mysteries of the Museum of Stone Spheres to the grand Museum of Costa Rican Art, there’s plenty to see in this majestic country. With the affordably low entrance fees, the sights are well worth it. It’s a great way to really understand the people’s expression. Aside from the paintings and sculptures, Costa Rican architecture is also breathtaking, taking influences from a variety of cultures.

Tasty Tamales. Zoë Radner, Vanderbilt University

Costa Rica offers a variety of cuisine inspired by a mix of Spanish, African and indigenous culture. The country’s traditional dish is tamales, or a corn based dough filled with meat, fish or vegetables and steamed or boiled in a plantain leaf wrapper. Dating back to the Ancient Mayans, Tamales have been acquired as national cuisine by a number of central and South American countries. They can be customized with different fillings and spices, but they’re always delicious and filling. Tamales are so prominent in Costa Rican culture; they’re even eaten on Christmas and sometimes for breakfast!

Here’s what to pack and what to pack for a weekend warrior adventure

Ways to Immerse yourself in Costa Rica and a weekend warrior packing list

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