University for Peace brings a global community to Ciudad Colón

Karl Kahler | July 25, 2016
Peace Park at University for Peace in Ciudad Colón.

CIUDAD COLÓN, San José — Home to the University for Peace, a unique graduate school founded by a U.N. treaty, Ciudad Colón has been called the most multicultural city in Costa Rica.

UPEACE, as the school is known, was founded in 1980 by President Rodrigo Carazo, backed by the donation of 303 hectares of primary and secondary forest by a local landowner named Cruz Rojas Bennett. Today it attracts students from some 45 countries every year.



“He [Carazo] had the idea and presented it to the U.N. General Assembly,” said Sofía Cortés, communications officer for the university. “His idea was to have the first university mandated by the U.N. that would focus on having (academic) programs related to conflict resolution, education for peace, environment and development, and human rights.”

Students on the lawn in front of University for Peace.
Students on the lawn in front of University for Peace. (Courtesy of University for Peace)

A total of 42 countries signed the treaty that created the university. Today the citizens of those countries get a 30 percent discount on the $19,500 annual tuition, while Costa Ricans get a 50 percent discount. Yet the university is little known among Costa Rican college students, who represent just 5 to 10 percent of enrollment.

UPEACE offers master’s degrees that can be obtained in just one year, in addition to a doctoral program. All classes are in English except for the new master’s program in Spanish. The university has 20 resident professors and about 25 visiting professors per year, and it has an enrollment of up to 200 students per year.

Cortés said the university has students from Cambodia, Myanmar, Brazil, Argentina and even a country she had never heard of before, East Timor.

Flags of signatories to the treaty that created the University for Peace.
Flags of signatories to the treaty that created the University for Peace. (Courtesy of University for Peace)

“We have three big areas: peace education and conflict resolution, then international law and human rights, and environment and development,” said Cortés. The university has no dormitories, she said, but it helps students find housing in Ciudad Colón, where one student told me she pays $320 a month.

Sydney Woodford, 30, a new UPEACE grad from San Francisco who teaches high school classes in county jails back home, said, “I studied peace education, meaning how to educate the global community for a culture of peace (rather than the current culture of war) through social justice, cultural sensitivity, human rights, sustainability, interconnectedness and many other pathways towards a more peaceful world. I now have a master’s in education and have been inspired to create change in so many new ways I hadn’t thought of before.

Woodford said the final project for one of her classes was to create a children’s book on human rights. Many of the books have been printed, sold and even published in multiple languages, she said.

“It’s an amazing final product that inspired us to continue working on more books and other similar projects that can spread awareness in digestible ways to create global consciousness,” she said.

Pond at Peace Park.
Pond at Peace Park. (Courtesy of University for Peace)

Asked what she liked most about her experience there, she said, “My classmates are from all over the world. My closest friends are Dutch, Finnish, French, Canadian, Indian … the list goes on. I lived in a beautiful cabin close to campus in the jungle and learned just as much from my classmates as I did from my professors.

She said she also appreciated the university’s proximity to the capital. “The province of San José is where you can experience real Tico culture, unlike touristy beach towns, so I appreciate that.”

In addition to postgraduate degrees, UPEACE offers a nice hiking and picnicking area called Peace Park, with trails, lakes and monkeys. It’s open every day except Monday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with an admission fee of $10 for foreigners and ₡1,000 for nationals.

Monuments at Peace Park.
Monuments at Peace Park. (Courtesy of University for Peace)

Among the students this year was the first lady of Costa Rica, Mercedes Peña. Cortés said the president, Luis Guillermo Solís, has been to the university three or four times since Peña started working there eight months ago. “They are very involved and they always mention UPEACE.”

This article, one in a series on “Costa Rica’s Least Known Greatest Places,” is sponsored by Hotel Alta Las Palomas, a boutique luxury hotel between Santa Ana and Escazú, featuring the award-winning La Luz Restaurant. Contact Hotel Alta at or at 2282-4160.

Contact Karl Kahler at


  1. What a great concept, I have never heard of the peace university before. I would like to know what some of the outcomes were for the students that attend there. I mean in the respect of what they have accomplished towards peace.

    Comment by Carlos Edwards — July 25, 2016 @ 2:44 pm

  2. I visited UPeace last week sat in on a Doctoral seminar and discussed the direction of the University with the Rector, Dr. Rojas Aravena. I was inspired by those I met and what I saw of the university. Having studied for my Masters in International Relations in Indonesia and Malaysia, as an Australian, I can testify to the value of ‘being there’ – you cannot get culture from a book. And UPeace, as the article notes, provides not only Costa Rican culture but an introduction to a broad range of views and experience. Discussions in the Doctoral seminar were fueled by perspectives of students from Canada, Cote d’Ivoire, Japan, Macedonia, Turkey under the leadership of a Japanese professor with UN experience in South Sudan and the Solomon Islands.Where else can you have that kind of exposure? I’ve made up my mind: I’m applying to to do doctorate at UPeace.

    Comment by Meg Jones — July 26, 2016 @ 6:05 am

  3. UPeace is a terrific concept, but what accreditation does the university have for scholarships and fellowships particularly for doctoral work?

    Comment by Vanessa Gotthainer — July 27, 2016 @ 11:26 am

  4. I wonder whether it might be possible to promote universal peace and at the same time ignore ever increasing populations, needing/wanting ever increasing food/goods.
    Sir David Attenborough, who is interested in peace in a world where the environment is not destroyed by increasing population (in 1960 there were 3 billion of us and in 2010 this had risen to 7 billion) said:
    ‘All environmental problems become harder – and ultimately impossible – to solve with ever more people’. The same might be said about problems preventing peace.

    Comment by freya normington — July 28, 2016 @ 5:26 am

  5. Hi KARL,

    It’s really mind blowing to read about University for peace.The theme is also highly attractive educate the world for culture of peace.Vow,it’s simply amazing.Right concept at the right time have chosen by the University.Great.

    Comment by Alison — August 29, 2016 @ 10:44 pm

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