There’s no better way to experience life off the tourist trail and to practise your Spanish than staying with a Tico family. Usually enjoyable, sometimes transformative, this can be a fantastic experience, and at the very least is sure to provide genuine contact with Costa Ricans.

Most homestay programmes are organized by the country’s various language schools and cater mainly to students. However, some schools may be willing to put you in contact with a family even if you are not a student at the school in question. The Ilisa Language School (t 2280-0700, w www.ilisa.com), one of San José’s largest, is particularly helpful in this regard. Stays can last from one week to several months, and many travellers use the family home as a base while touring the country. You’ll have your own key, but in most cases it would be frowned upon if you brought someone home for the night. The one rule that always applies is that guests and hosts communicate in Spanish. Costs, which include meals and laundry, average about $840 a month.

For a non-study-based option, try Bells’ Home Hospitality (t 2225-4752, w www.homestay-thebells.org), run by a long-time resident of Costa Rica, Vernon Bell, and his wife Marcela, who arrange for individuals, couples and families to stay in private rooms in a family home, with private or shared bath; singles cost $30, doubles $50. Breakfast is included in the price, with evening meals available for an additional $9. Another recommended organization is Monteverde Homestays (t 2645-6627, w www.monteverdehomestay.com), which offers accommodation in a range of family homes near the Santa Elena and Monteverde reserves for $25 per night including breakfast.

Other points of contact for homestays as well as longer-term apartment rentals and houseshares include adverts in the Tico Times (although homestays and flats listed here tend to be expensive), the (Spanish) classifieds in La Nación and the notice boards of hostels and guesthouses.

Essentials

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