Costa Rica: Heredia - Spanish Language, Ecological, and Latin American Studies

Video and Photos

My host family signing my CR flag. My most precious souvenir.
First trip to the beach with these fine gentlemen out in front of our hostel
Heredia and the greater San José area from a hike to Volcán Barva


Study abroad next summer, semester or academic year with USAC in Heredia, Costa Rica. All USAC courses during the Spanish, Ecological and Latin American Studies program are taken at the National University of Costa Rica. Needless to say, Spanish language and literature, as well as ecology and Latin American studies dominate the course options.

  • Explore the cultural, historic, and urban highlights of the capital city, San José; visit the Pacific Ocean, Caribbean, and Bocas del Toro, Panama; and participate in a field study to Cuba.
  • Join clubs, organizations, and volunteer activities within the university community, all of which will help you practice your Spanish by spending time with Costa Rican students.
  • Enrich your cross-cultural experience through internships, field studies, and volunteer opportunities in the local community.
  • Practice your Spanish by spending time with local students.
  • Discover other parts of Costa Rica and neighboring countries on the optional tours.

New Program: Comparative Studies: Uruguay and Cuba Summer Session

Study abroad Summer 2020 for eight weeks, beginning in Montevideo, Uruguay and continuing to La Habana, Cuba, for a comparative Latin studies program ideal for any student and of particular interest to health, gender and Spanish language students.


USAC Scholarships
USAC Scholarships and Financial Aid

USAC awards over $2 million in scholarships and discounts each year to assist students with their study abroad expenses.

$500 - $1,000

Questions & Answers


based on 24 reviews
  • Academics 8.2
  • Support 9.5
  • Fun 9.4
  • Housing 9.5
  • Safety 8.7
Showing 16 - 24 of 24
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Yes, I recommend this program

USAC Heredia was awesome!

Dahalma and Carlitos are the best program directors ever. My host family was great, but Dahalma and Carlitos were there for me whenever I needed. All classes were great! Especially cooking and dance! Naranjo's film class was a lot of fun--lots of great films. Gustavo was a great Track 4 and Novel professor. The program field trips were so much fun. Highly suggest the program trip to Nicaragua. Nicaragua was beautiful, there were so many activities included in the $600 cost, you get to hang out with Dahalma and Carlitos all week, and it was nice to travel without having to figure anything out (Dahalma and Carlitos did all of that). Highly suggest this program! I improved my Spanish and can call myself bilingual now :)

What would you improve about this program?
Take classes with Ticos! Invite Ticos to take dance class with us.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Good program

I previously studied abroad in Spain, so my experience is alittle bias. The staff is not well organized, they take a while to actually get things done. And the program director often lives in Tico Time (late). Tico Time is understandable, people being late for things, its a cultural thing, but as a program director there are standards to keep.

Otherwise, my experiences there were phenomenol. The culture and people are friendly and there nature is beautiful. I remember walking through Manuel Antonio National Park, along the path we saw a sloth in the trees, and then 10 feet later we saw a baby deer (not so common) and then we saw some lizards by the stream. As we reach the beaches inside the park, there are 5-10 white faced monkeys sitting in the tree relaxing. Just amazing!! I played soccer with the locals and made friends even met a beautiful Tica. A 2 hour bus ride to either side of Costa Rica for beaches and Volcanos to visit nearby. I love COSTA RICA!! PURA VIDA!!

The program offered various activities through out the semester. We had a horseback riding and ziplining trip. We went to the national theater to watch opera and orchestra event. We also went to a dance club for our Latin Dances Final. That was amazing, all you did was dance and have some drinks with Locals.

My host family was great, and they made food 3 times a day. Actually my host grandmother sold ice cream out of her house and made food for catering ever so often from home. So she was an amazing cook and always had fresh fruit with every meal. And gallo pinto for breakfast everyday. (gallo pinto is rice and beans cooked together). I had good wifi in my room and they set up a TV with local channels so I could learn more Spanish. It was fun to watch movies I knew in english and see them in Spanish. Fairly amusing. There were plenty of festivals and the country is strongly religious so they celebrated holidays.

I don't want to bore anyone, but if you have any questions. Feel free to ask, and for me the cost of study abroad was cheaper than studying at my university. USAC is an amazing group and I studied in Spain with them as well.

What would you improve about this program?
I think there could have been more activities and weekend trips. I know from previous study abroad trip that its very possible.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Literally the best program ever, stop looking, you're going here.

Ok, maybe I was bias with title, sue me.
When I got back to the US, I tried to keep the explanation of my experiences brief. I would simply tell people that I loved my time there, I would go back in a heart beat, and I would encourage the most seasoned traveler to the most novice to check out the country.

For you novice adventures, USAC is a wonderful program. They're going to get you the necessities- housing, classes, quick tips about the city, and they even throw in a few group adventures for those who like their trips planned out for them so they can relax.
If you're nervous about the language barrier, don't be. USAC offers beginner courses. When I first got there I didn't speak any Spanish, y ahora puedo hablar español un poquito. Do be warned that a lot of the locals (especially the university aged students) speak a fair amount of English, you will have to be persistant at times if you want to practice your Spanish.

Host families will very from student to student. Usually their rules are pretty basic. Respect their house, don't be noisy when you come home, and don't do anything you wouldn't do in your grandmothers house. Some folks will build a great relationship with there families, but don't think your family wants to take up all of your time. They often will invite you to events and try and help you experience the culture, but if you would like to make other plans they are very supportive of that. Sometimes there is a student or two who will have an issue. USAC does a great job to mediate any issues or help you change host families as needed.

When it comes to the people in your program it really varies. I was not a big fan of my first semester group (although there were a few fantastic people), but when Spring 14' came around we were like a big family. (oddly enough, it was the opposite for other programs. 1st semester great group dynamics, second ok). You really can't predict who your fellow students will be, but you should be able If your nervous about being alone, just remember that everyone's out of their element, and the majority of your group will be their to support you.

For you more experienced travelers, I would say other then classes and two mandatory meetings you're free to do as you please. Obviously, the less you hang around the gringos and the more time you spend with the locals the more emerged you will become into the culture, and it'll probably help out your Spanish quite a bit too.

There are many places to travel to in Costa Rica especially if you love seeing some beautiful nature. Being in Heredia you're only 30 minutes north of the capital city in San José, the center of the country and all the busses to any destination you're looking for. It may be a small country, but you're not in flatland Kansas anymore. The longest bus ride I had was to Puerto Jimenez (Southwest tip of the country) which was about 8 hours. There are other locations you can check out that will be much closer.

What else do y'all want to know about? 500 colones is roughly equal to 1 USD. Don't think that that makes you a millionaire though. Other then the busses, prices for most common goods runs about the same. Local beer (Pilsen or Imperial) is about $2.50 at the bars, which for people from UNLV is the craziest thing in the world, but being from a small town that seemed pretty standard.

Can I drink the water straight from the tap? Heredia most definitely, but you'll want to ask for anywhere you stay.

Will I have WIFI? You should. The program as a whole tells you not to expect it, but I didn't know anyone in the program who didn't have it in their home. They also have it at the University and most hostels/hotels. Understand that it will be slower, you will get over it in a month I promise.

You should be able to buy most everything you need here in Costa Rica. Save more, pack less. I lasted a year with a fully packed suitcase, 75 liter backpack, and normal backpack. (That's 1 checked luggage (under 50lbs), 1 overhead, and 1 carry on for no extra fee!) Still I feel like I packed too much. Remember you are going to want to buy things when you get here.

SAFTEY- You're going to be fine. I had two situations where I was almost robbed. One was when I was hanging with a Tica in the park at 2 am, and the other was when I was walking alone along a dim lit little traffic road in Puerto Viejo. Common sense tells you, that's my fault. Most of the stuff that happens is petty theft, and usually it is because the individual was not being too bright. Be aware of your surroundings, stick with friends, keep an eye on your valuables and you'll be absolutely fine.

I really hope you didn't read all that, I really did ramble. Just remember that one of the best ways to learn is by doing. If you want to be in the heart of this nation, with easy access to the rest of it, come to Heredia!

What would you improve about this program?
The most negative experience I had abroad was one of the host families I lived with. It came to a breaking point where I needed to move and the USAC advisors were quick and responsive to help immediately relocate. I had two other host families (I switched one for a different experience and then got stuck with the crazies) both of whom where lovely and very welcoming. Housing wasn't much of a help with the situation, but USAC was. Carlitos and Dahalma will have your back.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Pure Life

Pura Vida! It means pure life and is what Costa Rica is all about! A very laid back culture where education and personal relationships are valued; Heredia, Costa Rica creates a fun and memorable environment. From day to day experiences with your host family such as eating meals, traveling to beautiful local parks and volcanos, and just talking about your different cultures, Heredia provides an opportunity for students to not only learn in the classroom but in all aspects of the 4 month experience.

Many students travel on the weekends as beautiful beaches and towns are all a fairly short bus ride away. An average weekday will probably consist of eating meals with your family, heading to the public university in the city center to take a few classes and spending time with locals (Ticos) as well as making American friends in your program. There are always opportunities to speak Spanish with your host family as many families have very limited knowledge and exposure to English. And since almost all the classes are taught in Spanish, you will leave Costa Rica much more confident in your Spanish language skills.

Classes are taken with other American students who are in your program but all of the classes are taught by local professors who challenge you to only speak Spanish and to work hard to improve all aspects of the language. If you are looking to make memories, improve your Spanish, and spend a considerable amount of time enjoying another culture, then Heredia, Costa Rica with USAC is the place to go!

What would you improve about this program?
I think the safety of the students is the only area that could be improved. I think there needed to be more orientation to the potential dangers of the area, perhaps with a short video advising for specific safety precautions for students to take. There were a few times when some students put themselves in very precarious situations.
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Yes, I recommend this program

I came back a different person!

Studying in Costa Rica was perhaps one of the most life changing experiences in my life. One of my favorite aspects was living with a host family! I became really close with my host mom and dad and my host sister. I also went to their family gatherings, and my family always made sure to include me! I loved to ask my host mom for cooking tips so I could make the same food back at home. One time she let me make fried plantains with her!

I also had the opportunity to volunteer in an orphanage. I loved the chance to be completely immersed in the Spanish language. The kids didn't know any English, so I taught them a few words. They would burst into laughter because the words sounded so funny to them! I saw a real side of Costa Rica, which I wouldn't have seen otherwise.

The Spanish language classes were also amazing. I had a highly qualified teacher, and I learned more than I have in any other Spanish class!

For anyone who truly wants to experience a new culture, I would recommend Heredia, Costa Rica. The combined host family and optional volunteer experience will give you a true taste of another country. I know you won't regret it!

What would you improve about this program?
Perhaps more group activities? Overall I loved the program though!
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Yes, I recommend this program

Life changing experience you won't regret!

I had an incredible time in Heredia and there's not much I would change! The usac staff at UNA and the other sites in CR are so supportive and will help you with anything you need. Definitely take advantage of any travel opportunity you can get, especially week long trips at the beginning/end of program. My host family experience was great, I loved my house and neighborhood even though it required a short bus ride to school each day. You will make amazing, lifelong friendships and be prepared for extreme reverse culture shock/ homesickness when you return to the states. The pura vida lifestyle will change you for sure!

What would you improve about this program?
For a summer program it was a bit harder to make local friends and connect with my host family. For example, I wasn't matched with a conversation partner until 1 week before the end of the program and only got to meet with her once. I would suggest usac provide more social activities to bridge that gap and it will also help with language skills.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Pura vida!

The reason USAC excelled in making my study abroad experience one to remember is because they combined unique experiences, with plenty of assistance (if necessary) at a low cost. I lived in a city I probably never would have visited and they took us on field trips I never would have found on my own. This enriched the whole experience for me. On top of that, the Resident Director Carlitos was there for me whenever we needed him. He showed us how to use the bus system, cultural nuances we should be aware of, best places for the night life, bet beaches to visit, and he even threw a going away party at his own house! From relationship problems, to school troubles, no one was a better problem solver than him. On top of all this, it was affordable. I'm a college student. My meals consist of oatmeal and free pizza from club meetings. I was ecstatic to find a program that was flexible, helpful, included field trips, and cheap. So grateful to USAC for the fantastic semester and all the assistance I received along the way!

What would you improve about this program?
I wish I had stayed longer! And that I had started sooner on my visa. No issues with the program
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Yes, I recommend this program

My Home Away From Home

Having to leave Heredia, Costa Rica after a semester was incredibly difficult. This "city of flowers" became like a second home to me in ways I could have never imagined. I was fortunate to study through USAC, who was helpful in arranging everything from housing to classes to extracurricular activities and providing support throughout the duration of the program.
A typical day included eating breakfast with my host parents and siblings and then heading to the National University where I took classes in grammar, literature, culture and even Latin American dance. After that, I volunteered in tutoring a blind student in English, which was an incredible opportunity also given to me by the USAC program assistants. I was able to get some studying in at a local cafe and had the evenings free to play soccer, go to concerts, watch movies or just hang out with the family.
Living with a host family was the best way to practice my Spanish as they invited me to family functions, and I was constantly forced to converse in the language. They took such good care of me, and again it was difficult to say goodbye. They have plans though to come visit me next summer, which I would absolutely love.
Studying abroad through USAC is something I would highly recommend. It was one of the more affordable options and the staff is extremely supportive. They were available by phone any time of the day and the office was conveniently located a quick walk away. The central office staff in Reno was quick and happy to answer my questions ranging from financial aid to course selection. I never felt like a bother with my many emails and confusions.
I would highly recommend studying abroad through USAC and encourage anyone considering Costa Rica to go.

What would you improve about this program?
I wish they had provided the students with a clear map and description of the bus system in San José. It took me months to get the hang of it, for things were always changing! However, I suppose the challenges like this are a part of living in a different country.
Also, I wish I had been advised on what to pack better. I ended up investing in some flip-flops, hiking shoes, sunscreen, and bug spray at ridiculous prices. They were all things I should have brought with me!
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Yes, I recommend this program

Excellent Study Abroad Experience

I had a fabulous time abroad meeting new people, experiencing new cultures, learning a different language, transforming myself, finding out who I was, and much much more. It was a great program. USAC does the best job at making the students feel as though they are at safe and comfortable in their foreign environment. I know my program was not the only one that received glowing reviews! It was the best experience of my life while I was abroad and I would do it again in a heartbeat!

What would you improve about this program?
NOTHING! Great trip and excellent program provide. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO USAC!!!!