Costa Rica: Puntarenas - Spanish, Ecology, Latin American Studies

Video and Photos

The Lighthouse at the tip of the Puntarenas peninsula.
The Lighthouse at the tip of the Puntarenas peninsula.
A local in a hammock in Puntarenas. Almost unreal, but this is their everyday!
A local in a hammock in Puntarenas. Almost unreal, but this is their everyday!
A group of USAC students walking along the beach in the Manuel Antonio National Park.
A group of USAC students walking along the beach in the Manuel Antonio National Park.
Field trip to Buena Vista during the spring semester (included horse back riding, a sauna, and a mud bath). Thanks, USAC!
The sunset at one of my favorite places in the Nicoya Peninsula - just a ferry ride away from USAC Puntarenas
Field Trip to Sarchi with our Spanish profesora - Thanks Marielos!
Sunset surfing in Jaco
The injured sea turtle at the Marine Center where we volunteered

About

Study abroad with the University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC) in Puntarenas, Costa Rica next January (short-term), summer, spring/fall semester or academic year! The Spanish, Ecology and Latin American Studies program is held at the USAC Puntarenas Center at the National University of Costa Rica, which overlooks the ocean just a couple blocks from downtown. Puntarenas is a small beach town located right on the pacific and is within reach of attractions such as the Nicoya Peninsula and a variety of national parks and nature reserves.

Highlights
  • Live in a small beach town on the Pacific Ocean with ferry access to the Nicoya Peninsula
  • Enroll in Spanish courses, and in Ecological Studies courses—which include field experience and the opportunity to participate in independent research, internships, or volunteer activities at field-related institutions.
  • Savor your proximity to breathtaking national parks, nature reserves and discover interesting and beautiful areas of Costa Rica on field trips
  • Discover interesting and beautiful destinations on included field trips.

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.

Scholarships

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.

Value
$500 - $1,000

Questions & Answers

Hi Eli, thanks for asking about Puntarenas! There are plenty of surfing opportunities when you attend this program. You should know that there is not surfing directly in Puntarenas but there is surfing at beaches that are a short bus ride away from the city. If you take the USAC surfing class it will be hosted at Jaco Beach which is about an hour bus ride away. It's very common for students to...

I'll answer this question now, even though Daniela has already done her semester! In fact, we both attended USAC on the Puntarenas campus. We really enjoyed it - school is LITERALLY across the street from the beach, there is a USAC-only pool on campus, and the town is a good size for getting to know all of it. Puntarenas is also the only campus where USAC students are the only students, rather...

Awesome! Thanks for your insights.

Reviews

97%
based on 38 reviews
  • Academics 7.9
  • Support 9.6
  • Fun 9.3
  • Housing 8.8
  • Safety 8.4
Showing 1 - 15 of 38
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Sarah
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Puntarenas, Costa Rica Review

I chose the Puntarenas, Costa Rica program because of the opportunity to learn a new language in such a short amount of time, because of the ability to live with a host family, and because of the amazing nature of the country. I originally signed up for just one semester but after returning home after the semester I quickly realized I wanted to go back for the next semester. USAC was very helpful in arranging this for me even on such short notice. My 8 months in Costa Rica were truly the best of my life.

My college and major had a language requirement which I was able to fulfill in just one semester. It was really fun starting at the lowest level of Spanish classes and barely being able to communicate with my host mom, to ending in the highest level of classes and even taking classes in Spanish and being able to communicate fully with my host mom. There are so many opportunities for practice and ways to challenge yourself daily.

Puntarenas is the perfect location in Costa Rica to be able to travel each weekend to a new place. I was able to visit every place in Costa Rica that I wanted even while spending many weekends doing the surf class in Jaco. Learning to surf in the surf class was the most fun I have ever had.

Costa Rica will always be a special place in my heart that I will continue to visit for the rest of my life. This is all thanks to the amazing USAC staff and community in Puntarenas as well as the kind, happy, and generous Ticos found all of Costa Rica. Cannot recommend this program enough!

If you did this all over again, what's one thing you would change?
Choose the year long program if you have the ability to. I chose one semester which ended up not being nearly enough time for me, fortunitely I had the ability to quickly sign up for the next semester as well. However, many people in both semesters wished they had signed up for the year long program.
Default avatar
Juliana
8/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Living the Pura Vida Lifestyle

I chose USAC Puntarenas, Costa Rica for the Spanish classes, host family housing option, surfing course, and the opportunity to live on a tropical beach. My main study abroad goal was to improve my Spanish so I took 4 intensive Spanish language courses (totally doable) during the semester which vastly improved my Spanish especially since I also lived with a host mom who did not speak any English. It was a great experience living with a local family learning their cultures and eating typical Costa Rican dishes while always practicing my Spanish.
My host mom's house was a few steps from the beach which made for peaceful morning runs and breathtaking sunsets in the evening. At a nearby beach where our 4 surf weekend classes took place, I learned how to surf! I had never surfed before, but I gradually improved over the classes and accepted the difficulty of surfing as an exhilarating experience.
Throughout the semester, I traveled all over Costa Rica and even visited Panama on a tour my program offered! I saw a lot of wildlife like sloths and monkeys, hiked up to too many waterfalls to count, relaxed on a plethora of beautiful beaches, and met many amazing people in and out of my study abroad program. For these reasons, I am grateful for the memories I have made because of USAC Puntarenas, Costa Rica! Pura Vida!

If you did this all over again, what's one thing you would change?
One thing I would change if I were to do this all over again would be to be bolder in making more local Tico/Tica (Costa Rican) friends to practice Spanish with. I enjoyed hanging out with the other USACers in my program, but the best way to really immerse yourself in a culture and country is to hang out with locals and speak their home language. My Spanish did vastly improve by living with a host family and taking Spanish classes, but making local friends helps even more since you are then fully immersed in the language!
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RaeLynn
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

A life-changing experience

I studied abroad for two semesters, and they were some of the most challenging yet rewarding months of my life. A need for adventure and travel ignited inside of me and has been on fire ever since. Because of study abroad, I am confident in my Spanish, I have an appreciation and interest in different cultures, I push myself out of my comfort zone and I even met the love of my life. I used to be a 10-year plan kind of person, but now I am ok with the unknown, and am eager to take on the next adventure that comes to me. This is an experience unlike any other, and I think everyone should jump on the opportunity to study abroad.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Take every opportunity that is presented to you. Say "yes," always! Do you want to go watch the sunset? Yes. Do you want to go to the city this weekend? Yes. You want to go out for drinks tonight? Yes. So many experiences and memories will be made if you aren't afraid to say yes to spontaneity. Just make sure you never compromise your safety and always have a travel buddy and a way home at the end of the night.
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Sofia
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

The best semester of my life

Studying abroad in Puntarenas, Costa Rica was nothing short of a dream. I never expected to fall in love as much as I did with this country. In Puntarenas, we had our own USAC center as opposed to a big university, and this was honestly such a blessing! We had our own private pool, gym, kitchen, and common spaces to hang out. All my class sizes were small (I never had a class with more than 10 people), and it was perfect! I got so close with all my classmates and professors. Puntarenas is also right on the beach, and everyday we would go to hangout, swim, or play soccer with locals! It was so easy to travel around the country, and I was able to explore so much with my friends! Overall, it was an AMAZING experience. I highly recommend checking out this program.

What was the most unfamiliar thing you ate?
I think the biggest thing for me was learning about machismo culture, which is prevalent in Latin America. Getting used to a machismo culture country is a little different, but I never had any serious issues!
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Kaitlyn
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Cultural Experience

USAC Puntarenas is a great program for students looking to improve their Spanish and have a better understanding of Latin American culture. The city itself is rather small and number of english speaking locals is... limited. The USAC staff (both on-site and back home) go above and beyond to ensure students are happy and safe. The housing at this location is primarily home-stay, which most students prefer. The USAC building has an on-site gym, pool, games, pool/ping pong tables and more. Couldn't be more grateful for the support of my teachers and staff while abroad.

What would you improve about this program?
I would encourage USAC to offer apartment living as a housing arrangement as well.
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Ciara
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Living in Puntarenas, Costa Rica

If you have never studied abroad...you need to! This experience changed my life, and my perspective about myself and about the world. My host family was so loving and they cared about me more than just a student. My host mom always called me, "Princesa," in an endearing way! The faculty and staff members at the USAC school I attended were always available and helpful with anything I needed, whether that be finding stores around town, or finding a place to volunteer in throughout my stay. Personally, I had a wonderful experience studying abroad in Puntarenas, Costa Rica through USAC, and highly recommend it to all!

What would you improve about this program?
Having a few more ideas for volunteer places around the town, and providing transportation there.
Read my full story
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Giulia
8/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Best experience ever

I was in Costa Rica, and it was the best month of my whole life.
I experienced the goodness of people, the beauty of unspoiled nature, new delicious foods but most of all i discover a better way to see the world.
I have made unique experiences living them as a protagonist!!!
I lived that one month as a whole beautiful and full of emotion life.

I love USAC for giving me this amazing gift!
PURA VIDA to everyone!

Charlie
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

An Experience of a Lifetime

This program site is absolutely wonderful, especially if you are looking to improve your Spanish. I literally lived right on the beach with some of the friendliest people I've ever met (and they made me great food). Costa Rica is truly one of the happiest places on Earth. If I weren't graduating I would do this program over again. The healthcare system there was phenomenal, I had a few hiccups and the program staff helped me out so much.

What would you improve about this program?
Honestly, there is nothing I would change.
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Maria
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Costa Rica

I had so much fun in Puntarenas, Costa Rica. I got to experience their lifestyle, culture, and holidays. I got to interact with many local people and made great friends from there and from other parts of the world and United States. My host family took me to different places that I would have not gotten to see. To the future participants, go out and have fun.Get out of your comfort zone and travel. Interact with the locals and help out at a local school.

What would you improve about this program?
Have more field trips and have the trips be longer
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Audiel
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Experience

I decided to study abroad alone without knowing anyone which made my experience memorable. I was able to meet a lot of great people from the program and local people. They became some of my best friends showing me around the area so I became quite familiar. The best thing is that I still keep in touch with those friends, definitely recommend my friends to study abroad! IT is a life changing experience, leaving the country and meeting a whole new culture was very interesting. I fell in love with Costa Rica and have plans to return some day! A great place to spend vacation.

What would you improve about this program?
N/a
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Ben
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Awesome!

I really enjoyed my experience abroad and would recommend it to anyone who want to travel abroad. I learned a lot about myself and gained insight on the US in a global context. Costa Rica is a beautiful country full of lush greenery and an abundance of animals. Anyone who loves the outdoors would feel at home there. The beaches look like they came directly out of a movie. There is clear blue water and depending on where you go you can see dolphins and sea turtles.

Laurel
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

If you're looking for a sign, this is it.

I had a blast on my summer semester on the Puntarenas campus! Not only did I get to take awesome classes, but I was steps away from the beach the whole time! We also traveled to many beautiful destinations on the weekends, including, islands, national parks, a water park, the capital city and rain forests. You can literally do everything from Puntarenas. People were questioning if I was even studying at all! My Instagram might not look like it, but I was definitely doing academic work too. I made AWESOME friends that I still talk too, and if you want a picture-perfect summer abroad, this is the place for you. The locals are wonderful, the food is amazing (my host family owned a restaurant!), the town is gorgeous, and I can't complain about anything. I would absolutely do this program again. If you have the opportunity, make sure to take David's dance class or Elena's cooking class. Both are amazing cultural immersions, and like everything else on this trip, way more fun with friends!

What would you improve about this program?
Honestly, I don't even know if I could answer this question without being whiny. Every experience is what you make of it!
Renae
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Still thinking about it daily 5 years later

I studied abroad at USAC Puntarenas in 2011 and came back to the states a different person (and fluent in Spanish!). It is now 5 years later, I've graduated college, traveled the continental U.S. for a year in a converted school bus RV, and I'm now a mother to an almost 2 year old boy. I STILL think about my time in Costa Rica on a weekly or even daily basis. It was one of the most beautiful experiences and adventures I have had to date. I'm hoping to return in the next few years.
The country is beautiful, the people are welcoming and amiable, and the staff at USAC honestly could not be better. They are so supportive and the perfect security blanket for someone who may be traveling outside the U.S. for the first time and/or leaving home for an extended period of time for the first time (like I was!). If you are considering studying here, do not hesitate. You won't regret it. This was the greatest investment of time and money I put into myself in my early 20's.

What would you improve about this program?
Honestly, it's hard for me to say. I loved everything about it. I felt like my classes were challenging but not overwhelming, the staff was very supportive, and my host family took GREAT care of me.
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Don
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Costa Rica Living

My experience in Costa Rica was so much fun and enriching. I learned so much new information and facts while I was in Costa Rica! The staff/counselors were so much fun, and I really connected with them. I spoke lots of Spanish to the locals and really got to try out the language I've been learning in school for four years! I seriously miss my time in Costa Rica! The highlight of my trip was the warm weather and gorgeous place I was in.

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Johanna
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

La Pura Vida

Costa Rica is such an amazing country with wonderful people. The USAC Puntarenas team loves what they do and wants everyone to make the most of their experience. I learned a lot of Spanish and traveled throughout the country all while meeting great new friends. I would highly recommend studying abroad and USAC makes it so fun and easy.