Costa Rica packs a multitude of experiences for the Spanish
immersion student into a small, friendly, happy country
Visit Costa Rica’s official tourism site and read its official slogan, “No Artificial Ingredients”—a mantra of which you will not need reminding from the first moment you set foot in one of the country’s myriad waterfalls or stumble upon one of its 100-plus species of brightly colored frogs. The country is of a manageable size and the bus network is extensive, if somewhat slow due to rainy weather and less-than-perfect roads. Its two airports allow visitors to crisscross the country with speed but at greater expense (if you’ve got the time, a two-peso, six-hour bus ride is hard to turn down—as is the quality time you’ll get to spend with the locals).
The country, a veritable natural amusement park, offers active volcanoes, stunning beaches (both Caribbean and Pacific), and intoxicating rain forests full of exotic flora and fauna. In the country’s center is the famed Arenal Volcano, which is a hefty but picturesque hike from the small town over which it looms. The landmark also overlooks a waterfall and swimming hole as well as a luxury resort based around natural hot springs. Tortuguero National Park, on the Caribbean coast, is an epicenter for ecotourism and a hot spot for sea turtle watching and caring.
The Caribbean coast offers a distinct experience, strongly defined by the town of Puerto Viejo—where Rasta culture reigns. In the Caribbean, more than elsewhere, the pura vida mentality holds sway, and every other word seems to be tuanis, a term borrowed and adapted from the English phrase “too nice.” However, it is not just the perfect waves, water temperature, or breathtaking coastline that is ultimately unforgettable: each town has its own character and charm; each offers you an experience distinct from the one before or after.
For monkeys, iguanas, and sloths galore, head to Manuel Antonio National Park, clear on the other side of the country, to hike in a stunning evergreen forest that grows right up to the shoreline of the Pacific Ocean. Mountainous Monteverde also offers cloud forests, canopy tours, and ziplining for the ultra-adventurous.
Additionally, for the surfer-expat types, no shortage of laid-back, tiny beach towns dot Costa Rica’s shores, offering prime, picturesque beach-bumming locales. On the Pacific coast, there are picturesque beaches and optimal swimming conditions. From the tiny town of Montezuma, you can hike to the water holes and waterfalls hidden in the mountains or take a run down a beach path that extends for miles along the exquisite coast. A short bus ride away is Malpaís, where surf is king and the juxtaposition of forest and expansive ocean is a sight to be reckoned with. Because of the diversity of experience it offers, Costa Rica is a sort of utopia for the outdoor enthusiast. Within the small country, travel from San José to any destination—prominent or secluded—is quick and easy.
Contrary to popular belief, English is not widely spoken in Costa Rica, especially in San José, Heredia, and other larger cities, making it an ideal site for Spanish-language immersion.
While many locals in coastal towns speak limited English in order to cater to the tourist population, Spanish is always the initial and preferred method of communication. Students of all ages will find their cultural niches, from dance classes in traditional Costa Rican cumbia to the vibrant nightlife to the opportunity to join weekend running and cycling groups.
With its diverse array of landscapes, climates, and activities on offer, Costa Rica, as a nation, could not disappoint visitors even if it tried. The main difficulty facing the language traveler with limited time will be deciding which places to visit first. Occupying a small strip of land between Panama and Nicaragua, Costa Rica is home to more than 50 Spanish immersion schools, as well as several universities and colleges.