Costa Rica is known for its incredible biodiversity, friendly people, and beautiful beaches. It is also among the most assessable destinations for American tourists. Due to decades of tourism, the country’s infrastructure is more developed than other Central American countries, and the citizens (also known as Ticos) are ready for travelers (e.g. many people speak English). The combination of Costa Rica’s extraordinary beauty with the ease of traveling there makes it an ideal location to bring students. I brought a group of students to the Caribbean coast for a Conservation Biology course focused on sea turtles, and it was a life-changing experience for the students. Below, are some potential course ideas paired with fantastic locations in Costa Rica to teach them.
Tropical Agriculture on the Pacific Coast
Costa Rica is best known for its biodiversity, but a close second might be the world-class coffee they produce. The mountainous areas that haven’t been preserved as nature reserves are largely used as coffee farms or for cattle ranching. There are also numerous chocolate farms to visit in the mountains. At lower elevations on the southern Pacific coast, oil palms are grown in vast monocultures. Tropical fruits such as star fruit, guava, passion fruit, soursop (a personal favorite), and other fruits without an English translation are also grown extensively. This would certainly be a delicious class to teach!
Forest Ecology on the Osa Peninsula
The Osa Peninsula juts out into the Pacific Ocean near the Panamanian border and is the most remote region of Costa Rica. It is home to Corcovado National Park, the largest national park in Costa Rica (164 square miles) where old growth trees reach heights over 150 feet, and the annual rainfall ranges from 160 to 280 inches (compare that to Seattle’s annual average of 40 inches). The Osa, while much smaller, is comparable to the Amazon for its remoteness and its impressively large trees. You’ll also have the opportunity to see animals here that you cannot (or will not) see elsewhere, including: white-lipped peccaries, tapir, jaguar, giant anteater, ocelots, and crocodiles.
Spanish Conversation in San Jose
San Jose is the capital of Costa Rica and the cultural center of the country. The major universities are here, and this is the only spot in the country for things like theatre, symphonies, or big museums. San Jose also has the most educated Ticos in the country. Most of my time in Latin America has been in los campos, or the countryside, and while I am nearly fluent in Spanish I sometimes get strange looks from people because of some peculiarities in the way I speak. A Spanish course in San Jose would give the students an opportunity to learn a more proper Spanish.
Conservation Biology in Tortuguero
Tortuguero, like the Osa Peninsula, is a bit harder to get to than other parts of Costa Rica. Like the Osa, it harbors amazing biodiversity. Tortuguero has one of the longest running bird banding operations (birds are caught in nets and a numbered band is put on its leg), is a prime destination to see gigantic sea turtles, and has vast mangroves that are ideal for animal watching. If you are looking for a biologically diverse place to hold your class, Tortuguero should be on your short list.
Global Public Health in Guanacaste
The best hospital in Central America is in Liberia, the largest city in Guanacaste (a province in Costa Rica). On the other hand, many people in Guanacaste rely on small local clinics for health care. The population here is made up of middle-class Ticos, wealthy ex-patriots, and recent immigrants from Nicaragua. The mix of health care options combined with a wide range of socioeconomic classes makes Guanacaste an ideal location to study Latin American Public Health.
Small-scale Hospitality and Tourism in Cahuita
Cahuita is a sleepy, Rastafarian-influenced town on the southern Caribbean coast. It is one of a handful of towns on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast and probably the best to bring a group of students (Limon is a bit too gritty, and Puerto Viejo might be a bit too focused on parties). Despite its mellow vibe, many tourists visit Cahuita because of the limited Caribbean destinations in Costa Rica. This provides a unique opportunity to teach a course on tourism in places without any international hotel or restaurant businesses.
Costa Rica is the most assessable country in Latin America. I have traveled there over twenty times and I cannot wait until my next visit. It is the ideal spot to bring students because it is different enough for students to have a legitimate international experience while the infrastructure minimizes the headaches.
Written by Ryan Jones