Bienvenidos a Heredia, Costa Rica. Congratulations for taking the leap to study and explore a new country. If you don’t know already, Costa Rica translates to Rich Coast; where the people live by the phrase, “Pura Vida” and run on Tico time. Everything seems to be at a more relaxed pace, especially having came from the East Coast. When I decided to study in Costa Rica, I was looking forward to the white sandy beaches and palm trees. Heredia isn’t exactly like this, but there are many vibrant areas and highlights to the town.
Heredia resides right outside of the capital, San Jose and relatively close to Alajuela which is where one of the major airports is located. Every weekend when I was studying abroad, I would find a bus to a different location in Costa Rica. This was great because most beaches you’ll want to check out such as the famous Manuel Antonio and the beautiful Caribbean of Puerto Viejo can all be visited by taking a bus in San Jose. Living in Heredia allows for convenient travel. For Spring break I caught a bus to Panama City and when I went to Colombia, getting to the airport was simple.
Heredia isn’t as hectic and full of traffic as San Jose, it has a city vibe to it as well as a more tranquil atmosphere. For me, it was a happy medium between urban and suburban. The National University of Costa Rica, or UNA, is right near the city’s center, making it perfect to find activities and places to eat near campus. The university just remodeled and has a variety of new facilities including a gym and pool.
The Loving Hut
One of my favorite places to grab a bite to eat is The Loving Hut because everything on the menu is vegan, which was a plus for me. But even if you’re not vegan, you can still indulge; you can’t go wrong with the chocolate cake or the burritos. The Loving Hut is right near the center of Heredia, making it convenient to visit before dance class.
One of my other favorites, Cafe Kan, was one of those places that I stumbled upon accidentally before class. There’s free wifi, and I would have a coffee or a gyro wrap while doing homework. Chatting with the owner is a great way to practice Spanish and learn about the local cuisine. Cafe Kan also sells handmade jewelry and wind catchers. Being only a few blocks from the University, it’s a great place to try if you’re a foodie.
What I love most about Coffeeholic is the ambiance of upbeat songs and good coffee. A lot of USAC students would venture out to Coffeeholic to chat and do work between class.
Cafe Roso is about a five-minute walk from the back of the UNA campus. They have incredible options such as acai bowls and green smoothies. It’s a short walk from the school and I felt welcome every time I went there.
Your Host Family’s House
If you choose to do a homestay, which I definitely recommend, spending time at your host family’s house is a great way to learn about the local food and culture. Some of my favorite memories in Heredia were burning fried plantains with my host mom, engaging in interesting conversations over coffee, and watching my two-year-old host brother play with his toys during breakfast. Having a host family is a special experience, and I am so grateful I established a positive connection with them.
Monte de La Cruz
Although Heredia is in the city, there are still some nice hiking spots a quick bus ride away. You can catch the Monte de la Cruz bus in San Rafael up the mountain and get away from the city life for the day.
If you sign up for the dance class with USAC, there will be required dance nights at Tipico Latino. It’s not too far from the University and it’s a great hang out spot if you want to integrate yourself with the local Tico culture. You can practice the salsa, bachata, merengue and more all while having fun with friends. Even if you don’t know how to shake your hips like Shakira, it can be really fun to dress up and go out with your friends, I promise. There’s also a lot of great bars around the University that have different types of music to dance to.
Heredia has their own futbol field, where they play teams from all around Costa Rica. If you’ve never been to a futbol game, you will be surprised about how into the sport Ticos get. It’s a really great way to learn about Latin America’s prized sport and all the fun that comes with it.
My study abroad experience lead me to move out to the Caribbean coast after my semester ended and continue my passion for film and communications work. Although now I am at the beach, Heredia will always hold a special place in my heart. The local cafes, futbol games, and going dancing made me feel like I wasn’t just a tourist but that I was actually making an effort to integrate myself into the culture. My Spanish has improved immensely just by listening to people at cafes, taking taxis and attending local events.
I hope you take advantage of all that Heredia has to offer. Pura Vida!
Tori Delhagen studied abroad in Heredia, Costa Rica in Spring 2018. She served as a digital communications intern for USAC during her time abroad.