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 16 - 30 of 38
Default avatar
Kenzie
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Pura Vida in Puntarenas

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.

What would you improve about this program?
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.
Default avatar
Desirae
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Wintermester in Puntarenas

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.

What would you improve about this program?
A list of other activities students did during their free time and what company they went through would be helpful!
Default avatar
Caitlin
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

La Vida Pura

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.

What would you improve about this program?
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.
Default avatar
Jane
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

pura vida

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!

Default avatar
Patrick
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

A culture unknown

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.

What would you improve about this program?
There needs to be more push for students to meet with tico students for language improvement.
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Mariana
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Puntarenas costa rica

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.

What would you improve about this program?
Offer more classes!
Default avatar
Chandler
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

USAC Puntarenas!

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!!

What would you improve about this program?
Any bad experiences that I had usually had nothing to do with the USAC program.
Default avatar
Zachary
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

¡Pura Vida!

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.

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

Best months of my life

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.

What would you improve about this program?
I think the only complaint I would have is to maybe give us more breaks for traveling.
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Adam
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

GO TO PUNTARENAS

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.

What would you improve about this program?
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.
Default avatar
Michaela
8/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Life as a Tica

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.

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

Best Year of My Life

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.

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

Puntarenas

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.

What would you improve about this program?
I would like it if we had access to the school later at night
Default avatar
Leah
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

The Punt

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.

Default avatar
Tyler
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

USAC

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.

What would you improve about this program?
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.