The Costa Rica homestay experience is an essential part of our student travel programs. It is truly the heart of our program model. Sharing in and being a part of the daily lives of Costa Rican citizens is where the true experiential learning occurs. This is accomplished when students are authentically immersed within the culture through our homestay communities, can practice the Spanish language on a daily basis and are able to see the world with a new perspective.
Homestay experiences provide the opportunity to:
- Authentically practice Spanish-language skills in a natural way throughout the day
- Motivate participants to continue developing language skills upon returning home
- Gain a richer understanding of their own culture by celebrating the differences and similarities between cultures
- Create lifelong cross-cultural friendships
- Develop a new perspective of the world
Imagine: Waking up to the sounds of roosters and the smell of fresh-brewed coffee. Your host mother calls you to breakfast (in Spanish, of course), and your immersion experience begins! “¡Buenos días! ¿Cómo amaneció mi amor? ¿Quiere sus huevitos revueltos o fritos?”
What Our Students Say About Their Costa Rica Homestay Experience:
“They made me learn so much! I was able to fall in love with a family from another culture when we didn’t even speak the same language.” — Katie
“The best way to fully appreciate Costa Rica. The community is full of the nicest people I’ve ever met.” — Riley
“They were extremely welcoming and friendly. It was amazing how we were able to communicate even though we spoke different languages.” — Reagan
Our Homestay Communities
We currently collaborate with three different homestay communities around the Turrialba area. Turrialba is a mountain town with a population of 70,000 residents located 2 hours east of the capital city of San José in the province of Cartago following the old highway east towards the Caribbean port town of Limón. It is also the name of the county in which all of the homestay communities are housed.
Turrialba’s bustling downtown is nestled in a valley flanked by the active Turrialba Volcano and consists storefront-to-storefront businesses. Roughly a grid of 4-blocks by 5-blocks. It has a lively Central Park full of benches where many townspeople sit and relax and converse with their neighbors. The Catholic Church, the Town Hall, and the Municipal Theater are centered around the Central Park.
To the north of Turrialba you will see the famous and very active Turrialba Volcano. The Turrialba River winds its way from the north end of the city to the south on the east side of the town. On the southern edge of the center of Turrialba you will see the historic Turrialba Train Station and its tracks which are lined with palm trees. Every Friday and Saturday this is the sight of the bustling, weekly Farmers’ Market.
Personal Relationships = Great Partnerships!
We have initiated our partnership with each of our three unique host family communities through personal contacts and recommendations from local community leaders and school directors. Two of our homestay communities are set in a rural environment about a 10-15 minute drive from downtown Turrialba. They are nestled between coffee and sugarcane fields, two of Turrialba’s main agricultural crops. Our third homestay community is a neighborhood located just south of the center of the town of Turrialba.
We partner with about 10 families in each of the communities. When a school or a group of travelers come to participate in our Costa Rica homestay program, the entire group stays within one of the host communities.. Two to three students are placed within each homestay. Their host teachers stay within the same homestay community along with their designated Costa Rica Explorations guides, who are on call 24 hours a day. Staying close together creates a safer environment for our student groups with instant access to our dedicated guide.
The homes are no more than a five minute (at the most) walk from each other. Some are actually right next door! This allows students to feel a great sense of community and safety. If the students need their host teachers and/or guides for any reason while they are in the homestays they are within a stone’s throw away.
Spanish Not Required for our Costa Rica Homestay Program, but is an Advantage!
Spanish is not required to participate in our Costa Rica homestay program, although it is helpful and can enhance your experience, as many of the host families do not speak a word of English!
Don’t worry, host families and participating students are given basic Spanish guides to use to help them communicate. You and your students will learn the basics quickly. Our host families are very patient in listening to, understanding, and communicating with our participating students. We recommend pairing up strong Spanish speakers with beginner Spanish speakers so that they can help support each other.
Working with Spanish-speaking homestay families provide groups with a true cultural-immersion experience. Participating students are able to authentically practice their Spanish-language skills on a daily basis. Many participating students comment that this experience motivates them to pay more attention in class upon return to school and/or seek out other cultural-immersion experiences in order to continue utilizing their Spanish language knowledge.
Our Homestay Family Selection Process
We follow a strict homestay selection process with high standards as safety of our participants and an overall positive experience are our number one priorities.
Homestay Selection Process:
- A host family is recommended to us by their community – Typical recommendations come from school directors, school boards, community leaders, or by current participating host families.
- Recommended host family fills out an application
- The application is reviewed by our administration
- If accepted, we organize a family interview and home visit
- The host family needs to pass the final interview and the home inspection
- Final step is for every adult that is living in the household to complete a background check and sign a contract with our organization that outlines the responsibilities and policies of being a participating homestay family with our company.
Download Our Host Family Selection Process Documents
For your assurance, you can download and view our host family selection process documentation. These will give you a good sense of how we choose our families for your students’ safety and comfort.
- Host Family Application
- Host Family Selection Process
- Host Family Contract
- Overview of Homestay Families
Complete the form below to review our extensive Costa Rica homestay selection process. Your students’ safety and comfort are our top priority!
General Overview of Our Homestay Families
Our homestay families are made up of Costa Rican middle class families. The family make up is different for each family, but typically one parent works, while the other takes care of the ins-and-outs of the home and children. Typical jobs of homestay parents are working for the electric company, retired teachers and librarians, laboratory technicians, sales clerks, woodworkers, welders, construction workers, farmers, salesmen, chauffeurs, mechanics, cooks for local schools and kindergartens, etc. Many of the family members are contributing members of their communities development committees, church committees and/or school boards. The majority of the families practice the Catholic religion.
Some families’ children are grown and some families have younger children. All children in Costa Rica start elementary school at age six and graduate elementary or primary school after sixth grade. High school starts at grade seven and ends at grade 11. Depending on where students live and the size of their local elementary school, the elementary school children may attend school all day or half day. Some children come home to each lunch, others have lunch at school. There are six public high schools in Turrialba and two private high schools. Typically you will see high school students walking to or riding the public bus to school. All students who attend public schools wear school uniforms. The color of the uniform signals which school they attend. The school day typically starts at 7:00/7:30 AM and ends at 2:30/3:00 PM. Their school year begins in February and ends in December with a week off for Holy Week or Semana Santa and the first two weeks off in July.
It is not uncommon to have adult children living with their parents. Adult children might hold part time or full time jobs, but the majority attend classes at local colleges in Turrialba, in a neighboring city of Cartago or commute to the capital city of San José to receive classes. Others might be completing degrees online.
Please view some of our sample homestay family profiles:
Our Homestay Families’ Homes
The homestays are all very safe and clean. The houses are typically one story and constructed from cinder block and have corrugated metal roofs. There is a kitchen, a communal living room and dining room, various private bedrooms and one or two shared bathrooms with a shower. Some of the homestays have hot water showers, but some do not. The drinking water is potable from the sinks and at times purer and healthier than the drinking water in the United States!
Most of the homes have cable television, a home phone, and some even have internet access. Most homestay parents (and even host children) have smartphones and love to use Facebook, Whatsapp, and take lots of photos and text with their friends.
The kitchens are typically equipped with the basics: a refrigerator, oven, stovetop, microwave, and blender. Visiting students will be well-fed! Some of the families have a woodburning stove outside that they enjoy cooking on as well. Some of the families use propane gas stovetops.
The host families provide bedding, a pillow and a towel for visiting students. The electrical outlets are the same as in the United States. Some families have a car, but most families travel to and from town on public bus or in taxi.
Contracted student groups will not be permitted to travel in a private car of their host family unless previously discussed as all group transportation is privately contracted with our approved service providers. Students will typically walk to and from their homestay to the service project site and will be accompanied by an adult homestay member and/or their dedicated guide.
Student Homestay Program Meals
Meals are a very important part of the Costa Rican culture. It is a time for the family to spend time together and is a big part of their days. People say that Costa Ricans show their love by the food they cook so you can imagine how delightful and plentiful it will be!
Most businesses close for the lunch hour, so workers can return to their homes and enjoy lunches together. Breakfast and lunch are the most important meals for Costa Ricans.
Breakfasts typically consist of a rice and black bean dish called “gallo pinto”, scrambled or fried eggs, tortillas, cheese, fruits, juice and most importantly – coffee! Some families will eat bread, cheese, ham, sausage and even hot dogs for breakfast. Some children prefer cereal. Breakfasts are not rushed and are a sit-down affair.
Lunches typically consist of something called a “casado” which include white rice, a protein of some kind either pork, beef, chicken, or fish that is in a sauce with vegetables, steamed or diced, and/or a green salad. There will be bread, butter, fruit, and fresh fruit juice available as well. Lunch can also be a warm soup and white rice and salad or a pasta dish.
Dinner is typically a bit smaller in size and a lot of times consists of the leftovers of the day’s meals or some sort of combination. There are two snack times during the day as well. One at 9:30 AM and another at around 3:00 PM. The morning snack is typically a fruit, cookies/crackers, or yogurt with coffee or juice. The afternoon snack is called a “cafecito” and is typical consists of pastries, bread, pancakes and coffee or a typical drink called “agua dulce” made from a tapa de dulce.
Popular Costa Rican Recipe: Bread with Chiverre
A Snapshot of Our Host Communities
Barrio San Rafael
We have had the longest partnership with this homestay community (since 2004), and it’s is located in one of the oldest neighborhoods in Turrialba: Barrio San Rafael. It is just a short walk to the center of town of Turrialba from the homestays. This neighborhood was interested in partnering with Costa Rica Explorations because their local kindergarten elementary school, park, and church were in much need of assistance. Since our Costa Rica homestay programs focus on community service, so we were a perfect match. We now have over 10 years of experience collaborating with the families and community members of Barrio San Rafael and have assisted them in completing many different community projects.
The majority of families of Barrio San Rafael have lived there all their lives and have witnessed much change within their neighborhood. The neighborhood was originally named “Barrio Canta Ranas” / “Neighborhood of the Singing Frogs” because of the small ponds that were scattered around a few wooden homes within guava and sugarcane fields. These ponds were filled with frogs frollicing about happliy singing away! The neighborhood has since been developed and is filled with house-lined streets.
If your student group is looking for quick walkable access to the center of town to shop, go get coffee, have easy access to banks and supermarkets, this is the host community neighborhood for you!
Meet a few of our Barrio San Rafael Families!
Damaris & Jacobo
Damaris is a housewife, mother and grandmother. She is also San Rafael’s homestay coordinator. She has lived in San Rafael for twenty-five years. Before living in San Rafael she lived in a neighborhood close by named Jesus Maria. She is married to Jacobo and has three children. Her youngest daughter, Jessica, is the only one who still lives with her.
Damaris is quite the hostess, putting out quite a spread when having friends over for coffee. She enjoys walking around the neighborhood visiting. She likes to dance and does so every morning in her living room. She also enjoys cooking, is an excellent seamstress, and has many beautiful cacti in her garden.
Jacobo works as a chauffeur for a local taxi company. He enjoys dancing, playing soccer and hiking.
Jessica works in the Firestone factory. Jessica likes to dance as well as listen to music. She enjoys having people stay in their home as it gives her a chance to practice her English and create international friendships.
Her son, Jacobillo, lives nearby and has two children. They visit the home frequently and Damaris loves the opportuntiy to spend time with her grandchildren.
Their family occasionally hosts Masters and Doctorate students a local university named CATIE (Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center).
Zoraida, Carlos & Fernanda
Zoraida Solano Solano was born Pejivalle, a nearby town south-west of Turrialba. She has lived the past thirty-eight years in San Rafael. She is the mother of four. Zoraida is a grandmother of four and enjoys spending time with them whenever possible. She likes to watch television, participate in various senior clubs, attend church, and drink coffee with her friends.
Her oldest daughter, Dineth is married and lives in a town called Silencio. She is a teacher in the local school.
Zoraida’s has twin sons that are also adults, Carlos and Luis. Carlos and his wife Fernanda live with her with their two children. Zoraida likes this for many reasons; most important being that she has all the time she wants to spoil her newest grandchild, Valentina. Her son, Luis, lives with his wife and children in a neighboring rural town.
Carlos is a teacher as well, just like his older sister. He teaches music at a local elementary school and loves to play guitar and sing. Fernanda is a pastry chef and sells her baked goods in the community. Their son, Sebastian, loves to play video games and clown around, while Valentina enjoys dressing up and playing with her toys in their large back patio.
We have been working with Pavones since 2011. We were put into contact with the community of Pavones because their school was in dire need of help. A local hotel owner, who we partner with, is from the town of Pavones and referred the community to us due to our reputation and experience. We worked directly with the school director and the school board to select qualified and caring homestay families for our student groups and began collaborating with the local school on various service projects.
Through the years we have watched the children of Pavones transition from elementary school to college! This community is perfect for younger student groups as the families live very close together and many of them are related to one another, so it feels like you become a true part of the greater family community.
Mirania & Omar
Mirania is a housewife, a mother, the coordinator of our homestays and also works part time at the local water company. She is married to Omar and has two daughters. Mirania takes care of her family in the traditional style of Costa Rican women, all their needs met. When she is not busy being wife and mother she enjoys watching television. She likes to dance and listen to music. Her sister, Lucrecia, is close by so spending time with her as well as the rest of her neighbors is another pastime.
Omar enjoys working in restaurants and bars and with horticulture. He also likes watching television, but enjoys riding his bike when time permits. Omar was born in Pavones and has lived there all of his life.
Estefanie, their oldest daughter, is a nurse. She has recently moved to Spain and is excited to see what this new international experience with bring her.
Maria Fernanda lives with her family and likes to listen music and dance. She likes Reggae, and Bachata. She graduated high school and started taking college courses this year. She is a member of a local organization that helps stray animals.
The family loves pets and have 2 dogs and 1 cat.
Spending time together is important to this family. As with most of the other families in this barrio (neighborhood), their lifestyle feels relaxed and “tranquillo”.
Lucrecia & Eduardo (not shown)
Lucrecia lives in the barrio of Pavones and has for the past fifteen years. She is married to Eduardo and has a teenage daughter named Alexa and a new baby boy named Julian.
Lucrecia is an “ama de casa” which in English means housewife. She takes care of her family and enjoys the advantages of living in such a close knit community. Not only are they a close knit community, they are also in close proximity to each other which makes it easy to visit with neighbors. She enjoys dancing and doing aerobics as well as walking. She also enjoys cooking.
Eduardo was born in Pavones and is a carpenter and works on projects in construction with the local electric company – ICE. As his job indicates, he also enjoys working with wood as a hobby. His other hobbies include riding his bicycle as well a walking/hiking in the mountainous terrain.
Alexa enjoys doing what most teenagers like to do. She likes to watch movies, spend time with her friends and play with her new puppy, Milu. She is in her first year of college.
They are a lovely family and it shows how much they like spending time together.
Kattia & Leo
Kattia and Leonardo (Leo) have four children. They are a very loving family. Kattia’s mother, father, grandfather, aunts, and many of her siblings live in the town of Pavones.
Leo works as a driver for Red Cross emergency vehicles. He loves to watch TV with his family and also loves motorcycles.
Kattia is a stay-at-home mom and takes care of her children. She is full of energy and loves to cook and spend time with her family.
Lissette is the oldest daughter and graduated from a technical high school with a focus in accounting and finances. She likes to dance, listen to music, exercise and hang out with her two dogs, Pucky and Locky. She is into cosmetics and shoes.
Melanie is the second daughter and also graduated from the local technical high school. She likes to play football (soccer), sleep, and listen to music. She enjoys fashion as well and is into making necklaces, bracelets and rings.
Leo is the third in line. He attends the local high school. He loves to play soccer and baseball, watch TV, eat, and skateboard.
Angel is the baby of the family. He likes to play ball, ride his bike, dance, and watch TV and interact with people.
Sitio de Mata
Sitio de Mata is our newest homestay community as we started our relationship in 2014. It is a small town located in a picturesque setting with incredible views of the mountains and valleys below. You have to travel about 10 minutes up a gravel road to arrive to the town. The houses line the gravel road are boarder by sugarcane and coffee farms. The famous Hacienda Tayutic is located within the town of Sitio de Mata.
Because this town is a bit more rural, the houses are a bit farther apart from one another. The town center consists of a beautiful soccer field, Catholic parish, and Community Center. You will find the corner store and local elementary school right down the road. You get a very friendly, small town feel as you cruise down the road as everyone waves at you as you walk or drive by.
Susana & Johnny
Susana was born in Sitio de Mata where she and her husband, Johnny, have raised their children. She enjoys dancing as well as walking. “Ella tiene una buena cuchara” on the which means that she is a good cook.
Johnny has a tranquil demeanor, which comes in handy as he works at the local nursing home taking care of the patients. His job entails taking them to their doctor’s appointments and tending to their personal needs. Johnny enjoys building things, like a playhouse for his daughter or a closet for his wife.
Daniel is their oldest child who attends high school in Turrialba. A familiar sight in the community is to see Danny riding his bicycle. He also enjoys watching and playing soccer, basketball as well as fishing. He keeps in touch with friends via the internet. I don’t think I have ever seen him without a smile on his face.
Diana likes to ride her bicycle and play out in the yard. She and Danny enjoy watching Disney movies together.
The family “mascotas” or pets are chickens and fish. Danny enjoys taking care of the chickens and collecting any eggs they may produce.
Everyone in this family is warm and generous with their guests. There is a lot of love in this household and you can see it on everyone’s faces.
Ligia & Enrique (not shown)
Ligia Ramirez Brenes is a housewife and mother of two daughters; Yendri and Andrea. Ligia works in housekeeping and cooking at a local lodge. She is very is very cheery, an incredible mother and likes to cook. She enjoys meeting people from different countries.
Ligia’s husband Enrique works at a river lodge managing the grounds and maintenance of the cabins. He likes to play soccer, dance and sing Karaoke.
Ligia’s oldest daughter Yendri is a student at the Technical School for Professionals. She is getting her bachelor’s degree in drawing. She likes to share things about herself and make new friends.
Andrea is the youngest daughter. She is now currently attending university (UNED). She likes playing with her pets, having fun and sharing with different people.
The family has one dog named Puky and two fish.
Jackie & Roger
Jackie lives with her husband, Roger, daughter Samantha, and son Jaron. She is a housewife, spending most of her day caring for her very energetic daughter and baby boy. She likes to take Samantha to play at the local soccer field. She likes to go to the beach and dance.
Roger is an “ebanista” or in English a woodworker and loves doing home improvement projects. When he is not busy supporting his family, he enjoys soccer. He also shares his wife’s love of dancing.
Samantha is in early elementary school and likes to play inside as well as outside, to watch television and to ask questions. When she is inside she likes to play with her Barbie dolls and her stuffed animals or “peluches” in Spanish. When she is outside playing, she loves to run. Samantha is a born actress.
Jaron is the newest addition to the family and enjoys toddling around the house!
Jackie and Roger live next door to Jackie’s mother and father. Being in such close proximity makes it easier for the family to support each other in whatever capacity needed. It makes the afternoon “cafecito” that much easier as well.
More Feedback from Our Students About Their Homestay Experience:
“Super hospitable and loving. Just really good people that are the salt of the earth.” — Joey
“They were caring and loving. They were the best homestay!” — Monique
“They were amazing and treated me like family!” — Tori
“A total stranger who speaks a different language took us in and treated us like her own children.” — Eilis
“It felt like I was at home.” — Mayra
Ready to Plan a Student Homestay Trip to Costa Rica? Have Questions? Contact Us!
Let us help you plan a Costa Rica homestay program for your students. Contact using the form below and will be in touch to help answer your questions.