I have been living in a Costa Rican homestay for three months now. During this time I have been working with Marine Conservation Costa rica and training towards my instructor program. While I have loved every single minute of it, here are a few useful tips and tricks that I know would’ve helped me and will help you too if you are thinking of coming down here.
When traveling and living with a local family, it’s important to remember that most of these families only speak Spanish. While this can be really nerve-wracking at first, don’t let it keep you from trying to communicate with your host family. This is an incredible opportunity to be fully immersed in a language, so don’t hide in your room because you’re afraid you don’t know enough words or have horrible pronunciations. They understand that if you don’t speak the language very well, but the best way to learn is to ask questions. Point to something and say “cómo se dice,” meaning “how do you say,” and they will pronounce it for you, and you can pronounce it back to make sure you say it correctly, and then you’ve learned a new word for the day!
Write down the words you learn throughout the day and it will help you remember, plus you’ll have a handy list of vocab words! With all that being said, I do think it would be really helpful to practice the basics of Spanish before you arrive. You can use a free language learning app called Duolingo—working with this for a few minutes each day can really help you improve your Spanish! (Especially once you continue to use it while you’re using the language every day.)
Don’t be afraid of not being good enough! It is better to say something terribly and then learn from your mistake rather than expecting someone in their own country to be able to speak your language. You can also use tools like google translate to help get any of your points across, but I do always recommend trying and say it out loud first, and then if they don’t understand you, you can show them your screen.
Living with a family is probably one of the best ways to get the fullest cultural experience. You are literally stepping into someone else’s family, practically as another hija o hijo. You have the opportunity to form incredible relationships with an entire tico family. This can also be beneficial for getting to know the local area around you. Your family may have been living here their whole lives, so they’re the best to answer your questions. Interested in the local bus schedule and prices, or how to buy a bus ticket to a non-local location? Looking for the best local restaurants in town? They are a great resource, so ask for help!
One of the best aspects of traveling abroad is getting to try the local cuisine. Here you get it every day, twice a day. A meal is prepared every morning and every evening for you, and it’s always mouthwatering! If you have any dietary restrictions be sure to let them know, if they don’t ask first. Families can be very accommodating to your needs. Even if you don’t like certain foods, make sure to let them know so no food ends up wasted.
It is also important to remember that you are living in the jungle, so critters can happen. While the host families are great at keeping the house very tidy, you should also contribute to the tidiness. Do not ever leave open food in your bedroom, or trash laying around. Another general point is water. Many people come here with the misconception that they cannot drink the water, but you can in fact drink the water, it is quite tasty!
When you choose to live in a homestay, you get bonus amenities like laundry. Your laundry will be done for you once a week unless requested otherwise. Living in a tropical setting, your clothes become very dirty, very fast, and you’ll be happy to have your laundry done for you. On top of your clothes being cleaned, your floor will be swept and your bedsheets will be washed. Another great amenity to living in a homestay is access to wifi. It is great having wifi at home, but it is important to note that the wifi can be slow at times with a full house. So, if you’re someone who relies on high-speed internet for something like work, it is good to know some wifi hotspots in town, such as at the marina.
Of all of the places you can live around town, I personally believe the homestay locations are the best! You’re just a short couple of minutes walk away from the marina and town. The marina offers a wide variety of restaurants and even a small supermarket, though you are not a far walk from the large grocery store in town. Also, in town, you can catch a bus not only to Manuel Antonio, but locations like Dominical, Jaco, or San Jose, to name a few.
The homestay locations also have a staircase shortcut by the hotel Las Cascadas that will lead you up to an old road. If you turn left it takes you toward Quepos center, if you turn right it leads you up to the main road to Manuel Antonio. If you do walk this way, I recommended turning at the hotel and hostel Bongos, where you’ll see a sign for “Playa Macha”—this road will lead you to one of the most incredible beaches around town, but be forewarned, it is a bit of a hike!
Leave the towels at home, you’re homestay will be able to provide them for you. It is important to note that in your homestay bathrooms, and almost every other bathroom in Costa Rica you must throw your toilet paper in the waste bin, not the toilet. Their septic systems are not as powerful as what we are used to, so the excess of paper will clog the toilet and potentially make them flood the bathroom.
These families are all incredibly nice, but it is important you do not take advantage of them. Treat this as if you were living with your parents. Play music, but make sure it cannot be heard throughout the whole house, and if you have them, make sure your roommates approve.
Do not bring alcohol into your homestay. If you would like to drink, please visit the many restaurants throughout Quepos and Manuel Antonio. If you do go out, make sure you do not come stumbling home, in the wee hours of the morning, creating all sorts of noise. Do not smoke in or near the homestays. These houses are all very open, and the smell of smoke travels through the neighborhood easily. Plus, there are frequently children roaming around because of the school across the street, so please be respectful and walk a few meters toward the stairs, or a few meters towards the hill to smoke.
You have the opportunity to create a fantastic relationship with these families. My host mom even called me her “hija” the other day and it almost brought me to tears. They are an amazing support for the good and even potentially bad moments. They will help you with absolutely anything you need, and make sure you are comfortable and satisfied at all times. Many of us are coming from thousands of miles away, so they become your home away from home. Don’t be afraid to get to know them. Some of my most incredible and priceless memories have been with my host family!