1. Pura Vida!
Many countries claim to host the friendliest citizens, but Costa Rica tops the charts when it comes to warm and welcoming local interactions. Walking down the street, visitors are greeted constantly with calls of “Pura Vida!” Literally translating to Pure Life, the catchall phrase can be used to communicate greeting, thanks, or goodbye. Don’t be surprised if someone reaches out for a fist bump or high five on the street. These are also common symbols of greeting or welcome, even in the simplest of exchanges.
2. Comfortable Climate
Central America in the summertime is an escape from North America’s hottest months. Even though Costa Rica is located in the tropics, we plan our trips in the rainy season when temperatures remain mild and comfortable. Most days in the highlands begin with morning sunshine and temperatures in the mid to upper 70s, followed by afternoon rains. The rain showers bring greenery and life to the forests we hike in, brightening the landscape for miles around. Heading to the beach, we get a taste of warmer temperatures that are perfect for surfing and swimming in the Pacific Ocean. A full day can be experienced comfortably in shorts and a t-shirt during the daytime and a light jacket or sweater in the evening.
3. Fresh Fruit Everywhere!
Don’t forget the FRUIT! Fresh tropical fruit is huge in Costa Rica. On every street corner, you can find whole coconuts served with straws and green mango with sweet chili and lime. Stalls advertise heaps of fresh watermelon, papaya, guava, pineapple, lychee, dragonfruit, and passionfruit. The less familiar local favorites include the delightfully tart cas (sour guava), creamy and sweet guanabana (soursop), and superfood uchuva (goldenberry). Each fruit can be ordered blended with milk to create licuados, the freshest smoothies ever created.
4. Nature in Full Color
Coming face to face with Costa Rica’s flora and fauna is an unforgettable experience.
Every outdoor activity we do comes with its own chance to spot monkeys, tree frogs, sloths, and blue morpho butterflies, just to name a few. River tubing in Guanacaste is a great place to spot animals alongside the riverbank or in the canopy overhead. The Pacuare River, where we launch our overnight rafting trip, is one of the wildest places we pass through. Elusive jaguars and ocelots have been seen in the dense jungle on either side of the river. Even during van rides, the wildlife never stops. We break for scarlet macaws, agoutis, and spider monkey families swinging across the road.
5. Coffee, Cacao, Sugar Cane, oh my!
Costa Rica is world famous as an exporter of some of the most delicious crops on the planet. The stars of the show: coffee, cacao, and sugar cane. While on trip, students get the chance to tour a trapiche, or traditional plantation mill, where these three magical plants are grown, harvested, and processed. We learn from local farmers about the special growing conditions that produce such prestigious crops. Coffee and hot chocolate play an important role in Costa Rican culture, as well. Coffee is a point of national pride and a way of life.
6. Delicious Meals
A traditional Costa Rican meal usually consists of the casado dish, a combination of specialties served together on one plate. The casado consists of a protein (chicken, pork, fish, beef, or eggs) with a heap of gallo pinto, salad, cooked plantains, and sauteed veggies. Filling and nutritious, casado has something for everyone.
Gallo Pinto is the name of the game in Costa Rica. This local specialty of black beans and rice is a staple of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A reliable fan favorite, gallo pinto is mild in spice, filling, and found on every plate across the country.
7. Trying the Language
Whether you’ve been studying Spanish for years or are just getting started, Costa Rica is the best place to try out language skills. Locals (or ticos as they call themselves) light up when greeted or thanked in Spanish and love teaching visitors some of the most popular slang. Some Costa Rica trips have a homestay component, where students live with a local family and attend Spanish classes. By the end of two or three weeks immersed in the warm culture and exuberant pura vidas, they’ll have you talking like a tico in no time.