USAC Costa Rica: Puntarenas
98% Rating
(27 Reviews)

USAC Costa Rica: Puntarenas

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
  • Study in small groups with field experience
  • Participate in independent research or volunteer in field-related institutions
  • Savor your proximity to breathtaking national parks, nature reserves and discover interesting and beautiful areas of Costa Rica on field trips
Locations
North America » Costa Rica
Program Type
Provider
Subject Areas
Botany
Ecology
Food Science and Nutrition
Latin American Studies
Marine Biology
Timeframe
Academic Year
Fall
J-Term
Spring
Summer
Accommodation
Apartment
Host Family
Language
English
Steps
Online Application
Visa Requirement
Other Locations
Puntarenas

Questions & Answers

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 tha...
Awesome! Thanks for your insights.

Program Reviews

  • Academics
    77%
  • Support
    97%
  • Fun
    93%
  • Housing
    90%
  • Safety
    85%

Program Reviews (27)

Laurel
Female
20 years old
Laguna Beach, California

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

10/10

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!

How can this program be improved?

Honestly, I don't even know if I could answer this question without being whiny. Every experience is what you make of it!

Renae
Female
26 years old
Toledo, OH
University of Toledo

Still thinking about it daily 5 years later

10/10

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.

How can this program be improved?

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
Male
19 years old
Texas
Other

Costa Rica Living

10/10

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
Female
35 years old
Reno, Nevada
University of Nevada Reno

La Pura Vida

10/10

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.

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Kenzie
Female

Pura Vida in Puntarenas

9/10

Puntarenas is unique from USAC programs in Costa Rica because it truly immerses you in authentic Costa Rica. Many of the families who live in Puntarenas have lived there for decades, and it is reasonably un-Americanized in comparison to big cities like San Jose. Though things like the water shutting off occasionally, and the lack of a/c was difficult, it was part of the experience of studying abroad in a developing country and was to be expected. Though my host family and I could only communicate on a basic level, they treated me as their own and called me their daughter. The locals are friendly and Tico's have some cool traditions that are kept alive in Puntarenas. USAC helped integrate us into the community with volunteer opportunities that were once in a lifetime opportunities. USAC set me up to volunteer at the Marine center where I got to feed and be up close and personal with injured sea turtles. I would not trade my study abroad experience in Puntarenas with USAC for anything.

How can this program be improved?

I would've liked to have studied with more international students, since USAC draws primarily American students. It would also be nice to ensure that the homestay's have wifi for when the homesickness gets overwhelming.

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Desirae
Female
24 years old
Reno, NV
University of Nevada Reno

Wintermester in Puntarenas

10/10

I've always had trouble waking up in the mornings to start my day, but that wasn't the case in Costa Rica. I woke up before my alarm every single time, eager and excited for the day! It was nice starting the morning with my host mom, practicing my Spanish while eating breakfast. My class was challenging, as a language course has never been that demanding for me, but I feel like I actually learned. The dance class was SO much fun. The teacher explained everything patiently and it made everyone that took the course a lot closer. After dinner my friends and I would meet at the beach every single night. There would be times when I was tired, but we only had 3 weeks so I didn't want to waste a single moment not enjoying the beauty that Costa Rica had to offer or getting to know the amazing people I still keep in touch with today.

How can this program be improved?

A list of other activities students did during their free time and what company they went through would be helpful!

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Caitlin
Female
24 years old
New York, New York
Queens College

La Vida Pura

9/10

I remember that the first time I woke up in my new home in Costa Rica, I underwent a number of emotions. I remember waking up the welcoming bright sun and the warm skin-hugging air and having a moment of disbelief that I actually did it, I am officially studying abroad! I don't know if it was the thousands of birds sing-songing on the tree in my backyard, or the warm welcome I received from my two new host pets (two gorgeous poodles, one black and one white), but I felt like I had instantly found a home away from home. As I continued to experience the life of the Costa Rican, I found myself not looking forward to leaving the beautiful relaxed lifestyle, in which I truly belong, to go back to the City That Never Sleeps. Though I love my loud and bustling New York City, the "pura vida" atmosphere that I experienced in Costa Rica was unlike anything I had experienced before. It allowed me to be able to relax and enjoy my thoughts as I embraced the subtle soundtrack of the waves of the beach and the soft rustling of the trees that I am so often deprived of by constantly being surrounded by cement and loud noises.

How can this program be improved?

I would have loved to have more organized group trips by USAC. It was great to have the opportunity to have trips with my peers and the staffmembers at USAC and it would have been awesome to have more of those experiences.

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Jane
Female
24 years old
Canada

pura vida

10/10

Costa Rica is a beautiful country that I got to explore with this program. The country is great for any type of traveller and there are so many great places to sight-see or escape the tourism. I learned a lot about a new culture and improved my Spanish without being pushed out of any comfort zones. Awesome first time abroad!

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Patrick
Male
24 years old
United States
Northern Illinois University

A culture unknown

10/10

Costa Rica was a unknown culture to me and many of my colleagues. What many may think as just being another Latino culture, it truly has a unique ethos of its own. You will find affable locals to practice your Spanish and beautiful sunsets on the beach. Eat delicious food, go for a swim in the ocean, and learn some Spanish.

How can this program be improved?

There needs to be more push for students to meet with tico students for language improvement.

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Mariana
Female
24 years old
South Carolina
Clemson University

Puntarenas costa rica

10/10

My experience in costa rica was unforgettable. Everyday I woke up to a fresh breakfast shared with my host family and walked along the beach to school. I interacted with the locals and became a part of the town.

How can this program be improved?

Offer more classes!

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Chandler
Female
24 years old
Wilmington, NC
University of North Carolina- Wilmington

USAC Puntarenas!

10/10

Studying abroad was the best experience for learning a new language. The time I spent in Costa Rica was the best time of my life! I encourage anyone who wants to travel to Costa Rica to do so through USAC and in Puntarenas to get the best cultural experience possible!!

How can this program be improved?

Any bad experiences that I had usually had nothing to do with the USAC program.

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Zachary
Male
24 years old
Oxford Ohio
Miami University

¡Pura Vida!

10/10

Studying abroad in general offers a great experience where you are given the opportunity to focus on yourself and learn who you truly are. While I was in puntarenas my schedule was fairly consistent. Most days I was done with class by noon and I had the opportunity to travel, live with locals and participate in their events. After class I usually went home to eat and take a nap before heading to the beach or gym for the afternoon. Weekends I traveled with my surfing class to Jaco, and learned to surf.

How can this program be improved?

I think it would be beneficial to have roommates or Tico friends within the region. Walking around by yourself and introducing yourself to locals can be nervewrevking if you don't have the right personality for it. On the flip side, being approached by a group of Americans is also intimidating for locals. I think a small group or pairs could make the whole intermingling experience better. On my free weekends I went to travel costa rica. I remember going to coco beach and getting my Padi Scuba certification. Public transportation is both efficient and inexpensive which makes traveling easy. All in all this is a great program.

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Ambra
Female
24 years old
NYC, NY
Fordham University

Best months of my life

10/10

Originally, I thought I was going to Europe to study abroad. Last minute, I decided to make the decision to move to Costa Rica instead. From the first day I arrived, I KNEW I had made the right decision. The months I spent down in Puntarenas, and traveling Central America, were some of the best of my entire life. My only complaint is that I can't get back down there to visit sooner.

How can this program be improved?

I think the only complaint I would have is to maybe give us more breaks for traveling.

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Adam
Male
24 years old
Boulder, CO
Loyola University Chicago

GO TO PUNTARENAS

10/10

I can honestly say that the 5 months I spent in Puntarenas were some of the best months of my life. I made so many close friends so quickly, and it's great because everyone's in the same boat as you. Everyone is out of their comfort zone and everyone needs to make new friends ASAP. The social scene is great, and all the professors are very easy to work with and the school is informative.

How can this program be improved?

I think moving people's homestays closer to the school would be better. Most of us were close, but there were a few people who lived quite a walk away.

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Michaela
Female
24 years old
Chico, California
California State University- Chico

Life as a Tica

8/10

As new as I was to the culture of Costa Rica, I was lucky enough to have gone into the program knowing a good amount of Spanish. Communication is key in social situations, and I was extremely grateful to have had sufficient background in the language. This unique aspect completely altered my experience, specifically in regards to living with a local family, completely. I was able to communicate with my host family fairly fluidly, and with that we were able to build a strong connection. However, the USAC Program did a great job of helping students who had come to Costa Rica with no more Spanish knowledge beyond "hola". Their respective host families were understanding of their communication boundaries, and helped them learn along the way.
Although language didn't prove as much of a difficulty for me, it was challenging for me to adjust to Costa Rica's leisurely culture.With the extremely hot and humid climate of Puntarenas combined with the heaping plates of hot, greasy food in the afternoons and the three hour breaks the whole town took for almuerzo and a siesta every day, I wasn't used to relaxing so much and not being constantly busy. Naturally, I am a very active person which didn't coalesce with the tranquila vibes of Puntarenas, Costa Rica. However, I slowly adjusted to my new environment abroad and eased into my daily life as a tica which proved to be just the break that I needed.

How can this program be improved?

If I could change one thing about the USAC Puntarenas, Costa Rica program it would be to host more culture inclusive extra curricular activities such as bringing local ticos to introduce to the study abroad students or planning a beach clean-up day to help the local community.

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Brock
Male
24 years old
San Luis Obispo
California Polytechnic State University- San Luis Obispo

Best Year of My Life

10/10

Spending the past year in Puntareñas, Costa Rica was the most challenging and rewarding decision I have ever made. The language, the culture and most of all the people are what make this location a destination that I can not wait to get back to. The memories that came along with the exciting classes, amazing surf and unbelievable family all while doing these things with my best friends made it a dream come true. I love Costa Rica.

How can this program be improved?

I wish the class transfer units would be a little bit more clear. I am now a tad behind my graduation date, which I by no means regret, I just wish that there was more clarity on which classes would and wouldn't transfer back to my university.

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Karma
Female
24 years old
Salt Lake City, Utah
University of Idaho

Puntarenas

10/10

Puntarenas day to day was awesome! Something I loved was that we all lived near each other so we could meet up at local cafes. It was also really cool because the people in charge of local shops were really nice and helpful and I got to know them.

How can this program be improved?

I would like it if we had access to the school later at night

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Leah
Female
24 years old
Chicago, IL

The Punt

10/10

I was in Puntarenas for about 9 months, from August 2013- May 2014. I loved the staff in the University and they offered some AMAZING tour options including a 7 day tour of Cuba which was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I will always cherish.

The host families were very hit or miss, they need to be held accountable more for the roles in the students lives, especially the role in feeding the students- some families let the students eat leftover meals while they went out to eat- or feeding them the basic beans and rice while the host family ate other dishes, make sure they are feeding you what they are paid to feed you.

The community has put a lot of money into the area recently- so the pool at the point has been finished and looks nice- the beach is a nice way to tan and cool off on hot days, although the water is not cleanest, still refreshing. The location was good because the ferry to the Nicoya peninsula is right in town and there are busses to take you all over to prime destinations.

If you are looking for a relaxed time abroad- this is the best location in USAC for Costa Rica- the others are more fast paced and demanding. The professors in the location are awesome- great for learning Spanish. There is a Burger King and Pizza Hut in Puntarenas which was sad, this country is so Americanized, they have Wendys, Mc D's, Popeyes, Taco Bell, Subway, KFC, and other American food chains....

I wish there were more diversity in students, I studied with primarily American students, and some whom, as expected, went to Costa Rica expecting to be in Miami or Palm Beach Florida.... Please remember that Costa Rica is in Central America- a LATIN Country, not North America. The only hot water you will get is in a hotel or the city. Hearing the students complaining got to be a drag- making local friends can help you beat this annoying spell.

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Tyler
Male
24 years old
Parker Colorado
Colorado State University

USAC

10/10

In the fall semester the days were hot and the water was warm. The locals are more than friendly and the USAC program selects excellent caregivers for the students as well as an incredible expirience.

How can this program be improved?

The environment is often littered with trash it's not well kept but something we did to make a difference was organized 2 successful beach clean-ups.

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Erin
Female
24 years old
Massachusetts

Best Experience of My Life

10/10

I can't think of anywhere else I would have rather studied than Puntarenas. I went to Costa Rica knowing minimal Spanish, and having never been too far out of the Northeast US. Puntarenas is unlike anything we have in the United States. It's small size (you can easily walk through the entire town) and laid back atmosphere was so different than the pace of life that I am used to.
I really liked the way USAC structured their Spanish classes. Because hardly anyone in the town spoke English, it was incredibly important to fit in as much Spanish language instruction as possible. I took 14 credits of Spanish during the one semester that I was there. They basically split the semester into multiple different classes, so that for the first few weeks you are in intro to Spanish, then in the middle you switch to Intermediate, etc. The staff was also phenomenal!
Students are also given the opportunity to volunteer at the nearby marine park. I figured they would have me mopping floors, or other meaningless tasks, but when I got their for my first day I was able to apply medicine to an injured sea turtle's shell and help with a pelican's amputated wing. It was a completely unexpected and awesome aspect of the program.
Finally, USAC is super cheap! It cost me less in tuition to go to Costa Rica then it would have cost me to go to my own state school for the semester. Cost of living is pretty cheap too, so you don't have to spend a small fortune every time you go out.

How can this program be improved?

The way my schedule worked out, I had class monday-friday at 8 am. This sometimes was annoying when traveling during the weekends. Some of the more advanced Spanish speakers had fewer classes and had mondays and fridays off. That would have been nice.

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Katie
Female
24 years old
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Grand Valley State University

Year in Costa Rica

10/10

My year in Costa Rica was amazing. Not to say many challenges didn't come my way. I honestly, cried for the first month! Though, after my year I can happily say that it did indeed make me a different person and helped me grow.

Every morning I would wake up for a run, enjoy gallo of course, drink some coffee, eat fresh fruit, then walk 2 minutes to class, arriving every day dripping in sweat.

How can this program be improved?

I would have enjoyed classes with Ticos

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Brittany
Female
24 years old
Nevada
University of Nevada Reno

The Best Program

10/10

This is one of the best programs. You go to class than right after go to the beach, get ice cream or just hang out with friends. The classes are awesome because they are small and more personal. The trips you get to take with the program are great.

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Madi
Female
24 years old
Durango, Colorado

I wouldn't change a thing!

10/10

I loved the staff who worked at USAC. They helped me through a lot! Costa Rica was the best experience and it only makes me want to travel more! This was my first time out of the U.S. And it was perfect! The town is located in a great traveling area and has a lot of buses to go all over Costa Rica. Puntarenas isn't considered a beautiful spot if you go there with no expectations or comparing it to the states it is an amazing spot! I would hang out with my friends by the beach everyday! My host family was perfect and made me feel like I was one of their own children!

How can this program be improved?

A very select few of the teachers I did not like. He or she always had a complaint from a lot of the students. I guess I could say a downfall is that it is super hot there and there is no ac. Also a lot of times the water would shut off at night, but we all got over it and dealt with it

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John
Male
24 years old
Chicago, IL
Loyola University Chicago

If you want a real local Costa Rican experience, this is it.

10/10

If you want to eat McDonalds and speak English, do not come to Puntarenas. During all my travels around Costa Rica (which Puntarenas's central location makes very convenient) I did not go to one city that was as authentically Costa Rican as Puntarenas. It is one of those little gems that has seemingly escaped the rampant Americanization that has hit the rest of Costa Rica. You will find few English speakers and no McDonalds in the city, but what you will find is a rich local culture and miles and miles of beautiful beach. If you want to guarantee that you'll learn Spanish, I couldn't recommend Puntarenas any more highly. There is no way no not interact with locals and I would say 90% of the program made local friends with whom we all continue to keep in touch with.

If you want to learn Spanish and feel like a local, then choose Puntarenas.

How can this program be improved?

If I had to change one thing, USAC's semi-strict attendance policy. Most students travel almost every weekend, and extending class Monday-Thursday and then not having class on Friday would cut down on a lot of absences. Obviously we are there for school, but I think no one would complain about a little longer classes in order to get Friday off. Traveling is how you really learn Spanish.

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Ashley
Female
24 years old
Durango
Fort Lewis College

Living Abroad Does Not Have to be an Uphill Battle.

9/10

A day in the life of a non-Spanish Speaking American in Puntarenas Costa Rica, was never easy. Think critically about what battles you want to choose living in a foreign country. The first step of thinking about a study abroad program is exciting and romantic. But ask yourself: Do you want to go head-first into a world where every aspect of your life is completely new? Or do you want to ease into an abroad experience by being surrounded by at least some things you are comfortable with? Think about your future-self and what they will want in their abroad experience. I would have benefitted greatly if I chose to ease into living abroad.

How can this program be improved?

I would change the diversity of students. It would have been nice to have more international students, whereas my program was mostly Americans.

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Rachel
Female
24 years old
Columbia, SC
University of South Carolina

Puntarenas, Costa Rica

10/10

I took 2 classes abroad. Spanish composition and Spanish Dance. My Spanish Composition teacher was amazing! She worked through our language barrier and for my birthday she surprised me with a homemade cake. We had movie nights sometimes and the excusrsions were well planned and executed.

How can this program be improved?

I wish we had more interaction with the program directors. The main person I think we only met him once. Carolina was AWESOME though. She was really down to earth and spoke great English.

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Amanda
Female
24 years old
Vermillion, South Dakota
University of South Dakota

An amazing experience!

9/10

This was my first study abroad experience and it went incredibly well! I loved the city, the school, and my family! I learned so much studying in Puntarenas. My Spanish improved immensely. By living in Puntarenas we had access to the ferry. Traveling throughout Costa Rica was very easy and cheap. Overall the program is very affordable and of great quality. My only regret is not going sooner. I wish I could have stayed for a whole year!

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USAC is a non-profit consortium of U.S. universities that collaborates to offer affordable, academic and authentic study abroad programs. There are abundant opportunities to immerse in the culture, history, and academics of other countries providing an unforgettable experience. Each program is designed to help you

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