In “Pura Vida” Country: My Top 10 Favorite Things Thus Far

Amanda Arroyo is a student at California Lutheran University and is an ISA Classmates Connecting Cultures  blogger corresponding with the Study Abroad Center at Cal Lutheran. Amanda is currently studying abroad in San Jose, Costa Rica on a Fall 4 program.

I walked into this experience with tons of knowledge, great advice, plenty of stories from other people and no expectations. I wanted to experience this beautiful country for myself. I wanted the real “pura vida” as the Costa Rican people say. I definitely noticed cultural differences right off the bat, but some of those cultural differences are what make up my top 10 list of favorite things.

This list by no means is in any specific order. And although these may not be things one would normally put on a “top 10 list,” I take notice of the little things—so bare with me.

Costa Rican currency; it varies from $1-$10 and some worth even less.

1. The money. In Costa Rica, their form of currency is known as the Colon. No not like the organ but the Colon with emphasis on the second o. The thing that I like most about their currency is that it is so pretty! The US dollar is beige and green… how boring. Every bill in Costa Rica is a different color and size with a different face on it. The coins are pretty much universally gold or silver but they vary in size. It’s easy to convert Colones to dollars and vice versa, which is also another thing that I like about it.

Sunset on my 2nd day in town. How beautiful!

2. The sky. If you look at most of my pictures, you will find a ton of pictures of the sky. Even back in the States, I am a huge fan of sunsets, sunrises and beautiful views of the sky. Every day that I have been here the sky has been different. It consists of different colors, different cloud formations, etc. To me it’s showing me that God is shining his light on me in a different way every day. He is highlighting the beauty that this country has to offer.

3. No street signs. And I bet you’re now wondering… “Well how does one give directions if there are no street signs?” The answer to that question is simple, you give them as you go. What I like about there being no street signs is that you get to know your surroundings by using landmarks. It’s a uniqueness that Costa Rica has that not many other countries have. With there being no street signs, it has given me an opportunity to really look at where I am, where I’m going and what is nearby. I take advantage of street signs when I’m at home because it’s easier but it’s not necessarily more effective.

A typical meal that my Tica mama makes for us.

4. The food. This is MY favorite topic. Costa Rica is known for what they call gallo pinto, which put simply is black beans and rice. Surprisingly, we haven’t had much of that since we have been here. My Tica mama makes sure that we eat well and eat what we like—which makes things easy because I am not a picky eater and will eat anything put in front of me. What I have noticed is that Costa Rican people eat in large proportions and insist on eating even more. Carbs are a big staple in their food because it is cheap and easy to prepare for a big group of people.

Some of my family here in Costa Rica. My cousin Lorenzo (left), my uncle Eddy, my sister Karoline (middle), my cousin Mari and my cousin Issac (right).

5. My family. I was told that your host family could make or break your experience. Mine is definitely making my experience that much better. They are an amazing group of people and I wouldn’t trade them for any other family! They make me feel at home and embrace me as one of their own. I have a host mom who is 30, a little sister who is 10 and several other family members who live close by that come in and out of the house all the time. My family here reminds me of my family back home with how close they all are. It makes me appreciate my family that much more.

6. The language. Spanish, Español, take your pick. Either way you say it, it’s a beautiful language. It was also the main reason why I was nervous about coming here. I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to understand anything but it turns out that I can understand and speak a lot better than expected. It is an easy language to learn. Plus it is fun to listen to people talk in Spanish because they speak SO FAST! It now is the reason why I will be successful in my future career.

7. The driving. I honestly thought people in Los Angeles couldn’t drive at all. And that the traffic on the 405 was the worst it could get. I was surely proven wrong when I got into the heart of San Jose. It is like a mini New York with raging taxis, buses and cars everywhere. No matter what a person is driving, you get as close as possible and avoid any personal space. As crazy as the driving is, it is also something very unique to Costa Rica—like the no street signs. It’s so intriguing to watch people drive and realize that I’d probably die if I were to try and drive here.

Picture that was taken on my way to Playa Dominical.

8. The countryside. I’ve been to other states and even other countries but I don’t think the countryside compares to what I’ve seen here. Out of the other places that I have been, I haven’t found a place where you can be in the heart of the rainforest and walk onto the beach within 20 minutes. Everything is green, which makes sense with how much it rains here. The brush and leaves that are normal size in the US are 100 times bigger here. I can’t wait to explore other parts of the country and see more of the countryside.

A cup of fresh coffee with “mantequilla” or butter cookies.

9. After dinner coffee and cookies. This is a custom that is very common here in Costa Rica. It doesn’t happen every day but it does happen quite often. What’s funny about this custom is that if someone (a family member, me, you, a friend, etc) were to bring over something sweet to another person’s house…that automatically means “I want coffee so make me some.” I will say that the cookies and the coffee are very addicting so be careful with them!

10. The weather. It rains, it pours. It’s hot, it’s humid. It’s sunny then it’s cloudy. The weather is all over the place and offers something for everyone. I personally love the weather and how unpredictable it is because it keeps things interesting. Coming from Southern California, I’m used to the unpredictability of weather so it’s almost as if I’m back home. We are in the summer/winter season which translates to rain, rain, rain and more rain. Oh and not to mention humidity too!

4 thoughts

  1. I completely agree with this list. At first, I hated some of the things! Like the driving, lack of street signs, and the crazy amount of rain there is! But, over the past 3 weeks, I’ve really grown to appreciate everything here. Costa Rica is truly a unique country, which makes it so much more beautiful. Absolutely couldn’t agree with this list more Amanda! Pura Vida! :)

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