The Central American nation of Costa Rica is an exotic paradise of delights for travelers and regularly ranks as one of the world’s top tourist destinations.

There is so much on offer in this compact country that its popularity is not surprising. For beach lovers, there are some of the best beaches on the planet, with dazzling pristine sand, clear warm waters and world-class surfing. Nature lovers are drawn to the mind-boggling array of plant and animal life, ranging from the lush protected rainforests that cover much of the landmass, to underwater life filling the coastal waters, lake, and rivers. Add into the mix a hot tropical climate with lots of sunshine, and you can understand its appeal.

Photo by Carles Company Soler

The only issue with having so many incredible features packed into such a small country (it covers just over 50,000 km2) is that a growing number of people are visiting. While this is generally a good thing, it does mean that in the most popular areas, some of the original cultural authenticity that visitors love has been diluted.

But don’t fret - there’s plenty of Costa Rica to go around. If you want to experience the real, authentic culture, you just need to think about the way you travel. So here are our top tips for making sure you see the real Costa Rica on your next visit.


Photo by David Berkowitz

Choosing to become a volunteer in Costa Rica is, without a doubt, one of the best decisions you could possibly make if you want to see the authentic beating heart of the country.

When you choose uVolunteer, you will ensure that your trip will be spent somewhere well and truly off the beaten track. Many of the most meaningful projects are out in the more rural areas of the country - far from the major tourist hotspots.

The participants own the projects, so as a volunteer, you’ll be working alongside and around real local people. You’ll see how they live their day-to-day lives, build friendships with them and actually become part of their lives. You’re there to help, so you will be welcomed as a helpful presence in a way that regular tourists rarely are.

We have a range of projects on offer. You can volunteer in sports education, volunteer teaching English, volunteer in building and construction, volunteer in special needs, volunteer in turtle conservation, volunteer in a daycare center or volunteer and study Spanish.

The most incredible thing about volunteering is that you get to make a genuinely positive impact of the cause you’ve chosen. You will be intimately involved with the community you are in and get to see the results of your efforts unfold before your eyes, making the entire experience more fulfilling.

Learn some Spanish before/while you’re there

Costa Ricans are friendly, chatty, helpful people in general, and you’re always going to find people to talk to. However, the country’s official language is Spanish, so while you can certainly get by with English, you are limiting yourself somewhat if you don’t at least try to use some Spanish.

You might already know some Spanish, in which case a visit to Costa Rica is the perfect opportunity to polish and improve your skills. Alternatively, you may be a complete novice. If so, you shouldn’t worry, as it’s actually surprisingly easy to pick up some basic vocabulary.

Regardless of your current level, if you want to improve then you should try out or project to volunteer and study Spanish in Costa Rica.

Try to use Spanish - however, limited your knowledge - as often as possible, such as in shops, hotels, and bars. You will pick it up faster than you expect. Even if you only know a couple of words the locals will appreciate your efforts and warm to you faster.

Eat where the locals eat

Photo by Ricette Italia

One of the most effective ways to understand any country and its people is to sample the real local cuisine, and Costa Rica is a great place to put this into practice. But to really experience authentic local food, you should avoid the trap of only going to restaurants to eat.

Yes, restaurants are a nice way to spend an hour or two, and you can get some great food, but they are also lacking the cultural element to some extent. Particularly in areas popular with tourists, you will find that restaurant is specifically geared towards foreign tastes, and full of other tourists. This means that traditional recipes will regularly be altered to be more ‘Westernized’, and don’t truly reflect what the locals themselves are eating, not to mention the fact that they’re more expensive than other options.

To get a far more authentic experience of Costa Rican dining, you should try to sample the street food whenever possible. Street stalls can be found everywhere, and you can also find a lot more variety than you will in restaurants. Make an effort to try strange dishes you haven’t heard of, get chatting to the sellers and push yourself a little out of your comfort zone. You will find that you learn far more than you would otherwise.

Another benefit of volunteering with us is that you’ll get authentic, home-cooked Costa Rican food, made by locals served every day. It’s the perfect way to try all kinds of traditional, real Costa Rican cuisine!

Don’t be shy to try new things!

Photo by Han Friesen

Costa Rica is a country full of happy, friendly, energetic people, and any visitor will immediately recognize this. However, to get the most of the culture you need to be willing to jump in head first and try new things.

Whether you’re volunteering in Costa Rica, staying with locals, or just chatting in broken Spanish to anyone and everyone you encounter, you should do it wearing a smile, and not taking anything too seriously. Pura Vida!

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