Top 10 Costa Rica Study Abroad Excursions

Young woman with a morpho butterfly perched on her jacket.

Studying abroad in Costa Rica? If you are short on time and big on wanderlust, here are 10 destinations you can’t miss during your Costa Rica study abroad program.

Costa Rica: Popular Places for College Students

1.) Playa Manuel Antonio (Manuel Antonio Beach)

Located on a small peninsula in Quepos, this gorgeous white sand beach is part of the Manuel Antonio National Park system. Its gentle surf and soft, sparkling sand make for ideal beach time, and you’ll definitely get a visit from some local wildlife. Equal parts adorable and brazen beyond belief, there are tons of monkeys living in the canopy that overlooks the beach.

They WILL make off with anything even remotely edible, so keep your food well-monitored! Another thing to note is that the beach opens early and only a select amount of visitors are admitted. Even as a world-class late sleeper, I can say that the early wake-up call is worth it!

If you’re looking for a reasonably priced place to stay, I would recommend Hotel Manuel Antonio Park. The double room rates average around $60 USD per night and it’s within walking distance of the beach! Everything was clean and safe while we stayed there, and breakfast was provided. You can book a room through the hotel website.

 

2.) Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles (Basilica of Our Lady of Angels) 

This remarkable basilica is located in the city of Cartago, just a train ride away from San José. The architecture is incredible, as is the religious history behind the building itself. 

Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles houses a famous statue referred to as la Negrita, to which many healings have been attributed. The entire site is considered very sacred and is often visited by pilgrims looking for healing for themselves or others. 

Copos vendor on cobblestone street.

There was a copos vendor right outside of the basilica, so we all had to stop for a treat! Copos are kind of like the Latin American cousin of a slushie and contain condensed milk, syrup, and shaved ice.

Tiled floor of the Basilica of our lady of the angels.

The floor of Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles ft. Mackenzie’s Keds. 

Our lady of the angels exterior.

Exterior of Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles.

 

3.) Posada Nascientes Palmichal (Nascientes Palmichal Lodge)

Located just an hour away from San José, the Nascientes Palmichal Lodge is committed to environmental education and sustainability.

Formed out of a desire to protect the local watershed, Nascientes Palmichal is part hostel and part teaching facility. It offers ecologically-centered workshops, lectures, tours, and fantastic food made on-site!

Painted rocks at Palmichal Lodge.

Painted rock garden at Nascientes Palmichal. “Frambuesas,” or raspberries, would be blooming nearby soon!

4.) Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo (Braulio Carrillo National Park)

Complete with Keel-Billed Toucans, howler monkeys, and hundreds of orchid species, this lush rainforest reserve is a biodiversity hot-spot! Braulio Carrillo only costs a $7 USD entrance fee and is ideal for hiking, photography, and birdwatching.

While you’re there, be sure to check out the mariposario, or butterfly garden– the Morpho butterflies are incredible… and, in some cases, quite friendly!

If you’d like to make a day of it, the Expediciones Tropicales service offers a $145 USD package including zip-lining through the Braulio Carillo canopy, a boat trip down the nearby Sarapiquí river, and a guided tour through the Selva Verde Eco Lodge’s rainforest hiking trails. It’s so much fun, and definitely worth forking over a little extra cash!

You can find further details about this experience and other Costa Rican vacation packages here. https://www.costaricaguides.com/tour/the-authentic-rainforest-experience/.

*** Costa Rica has many other spectacular rainforests and parks in addition to Braulio Carillo! Corcovado National Park, Arenal Volcano National Park, and the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve are just some of the fascinating natural areas you can visit in Costa Rica.

Green lizard sunning himself on a rock in the river.

Look at this gorgeous Green Iguana! He had actually skittered up near the boat and then decided that sunbathing was a worthier endeavor.

Young woman with a morpho butterfly perched on her jacket.

Guess who realized there were some prime water droplets on my jacket? I’m pretty sure this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to Disney Princess status!

5.) El Mercado Central/ Fruterías (Central and Fruit Markets)

Another great Cartago destination is the mercado central, or the central market! Vendors come in from all over the region and it’s fun to wander the twisting maze of market stalls. (Required for this spot: one capable friend to haul your directionally- challenged self through the labyrinth!) 

Fruterías, smaller and more specific versions of major markets, can be found all over Costa Rica. Fruterías specialize in fresh fruits and vegetables, but there are also candies, nuts, and sodas available.

Let me tell you, fresh Frutería produce is second to none! I remember someone from my travel group ordering a sliced pineapple and then circulating the bag around our tour bus– it disappeared in about five minutes flat!

 

6.) Urban graffiti tour hosted by Costa Rica en la Pared

This was such a neat experience!! Costa Rica’s capital city of San José has some of the most amazing street art of anywhere in the world– everything from walls to bridges to entire buildings is wrapped in colorful murals and messages.

Guides can be found through the Costa Rica en la Pared service, and they do an incredible job of introducing you to the city’s Artscape! (Be sure to check them out on Instagram! )

Mermaid graffiti on a corrugated garage door.

Stylized mermaid on a San José wall.

7.) Museo Nacional de Costa Rica (National Museum of Costa Rica)

Calling all history lovers! This San José-based museum was originally an army barracks, and now houses an impressive collection of pre-Colombian artifacts, including a series of massive stone spheres. Admission is around $7 USD, so this is a fantastic, budget-friendly destination for college students!

 

8.) Playa Tamarindo (Tamarindo Beach) 

Another beach pick– this time on the Nicoya peninsula! With soft sand and blue waters, this beach is all about sun, surf, and sunsets! It’s certainly a more tourist-oriented destination, but the good news is that there are tons of restaurants and lodging places nearby. Tamarindo beach is usually frequented by college students, so you’ll feel right at home!

 

9.) La Paz Waterfall Gardens (Peace Waterfall Gardens)

This nature reserve and animal sanctuary is a visual marvel! Brimming with biodiversity, La Paz is home to lush vegetation, frogs, hummingbirds, monkeys, and big cats. The waterfalls are absolutely breathtaking, and guided tours are offered for $45 USD.

Read our full review of La Paz Waterfall Gardens here. 

 

10.) Puente de Cocodrilo (Crocodile Bridge) 

If you’re traveling from San Jose to the Pacific coast, be sure to check out the Puente de Cocodrilo, or Crocodile Bridge on the way there! Spanning the Tárcoles River, this aptly named bridge overlooks a favorite basking spot for the river’s crocodilian residents.

The crocs have become so popular, that a little tourist town has sprung up around the riverside. I would recommend just peering over the bridge, (you know, out of a desire to keep my limbs intact and also because I’m a cheapskate) but for those brave enough to risk it,  riverboat safaris are also offered!

When you are finished with the Croc Bridge, make sure to check out Playa Mantas or stop for an awesome meal at one of Jaco’s Top restaurants.

Crocodile sunning itself on a rock in the middle of a river.

Isn’t that just the face of crocodilian contentment?! This croc had been happily sprawled in this spot of so long that foam was collecting against it!

 

Note: This post was written by Mackenzie, the first Pura Vida Moms intern. If you are interested in an internship with Pura Vida Moms, please contact me!

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