Welcome to one of the happiest countries on earth, perhaps stemming from the laid-back Tico outlook combined with the incredible model of eco-stewardship Costa Rica boasts. You will learn all about environmental sustainability at a permaculture farm, before heading off and seeing the incredible biodiversity Costa Rica has to offer. Think surfing lessons on the vast beaches of the Pacific Coast, kayaking through rainforest-covered hills, and seeing plankton glow in the dark at a wildlife refuge.
Experience a gap year program where you will not only get to explore this amazing country of Costa Rica, but you will get to expand yourself personally. The nature-based activities will have you challenging new heights, feeling the rainforest watching you and seeing new wildlife. You'll even get up and personal with the wildlife at an animal rescue center, where you will help care for sloths and howler monkeys.
✓ Want to spot an abundance of wildlife in forests, mangroves and beaches
✓ Are interested in animal welfare and conservation
✓ Love activities like surfing, kayaking and white water rafting
✓ Are enthusiastic about adventure travel
✓ Would like to experience the “pure vida” lifestyle
I would recommend the program to others to challenge yourself, make new friends, do amazing activities and to immerse yourself in a new culture! You really get to learn more about yourself and who you are as a person on this program! I learned to let go, and live in the moment. My trip to Costa Rica was truly life-changing. I made deep connections, did amazing activities, and I really gained clarity as to what I want out of life. I came out of this experience with more confidence and a greater appreciation for life! Ready to face any challenge and to just stay calm like the waves!”
- Mia LaFayette, 2021 Student
Our newest Program Quiz can help you find your perfect Program match! Or get the full Fall Program run-down in our catalogue. This catalogue provides information about Pacific Discovery's values and program design, as well as program descriptions and testimonials!
Take a peek outside the plane window to get your first glimpse of Costa Rica as you arrive to San Jose. Start your journey off right by enjoying the most common, delicious local cuisine, Gallo Pinto. Wake up to the sights, sounds and smells of a Latino capital! San Jose is a busy commercial hub surrounded by amazing rainforest mountains. Amidst the small, winding streets you will get to see a great mix of European architecture.
There are lots of things to keep you busy on your first full day in the country! Getting to know your group will be a priority, as well as familiarizing yourself with the culture and history of Costa Rica. Take some exploration time in San Jose while you exchange money, meet with your in-country operators who will provide you with more important information for the rest of the program. Your instructors will facilitate some important orientation topics over the course of the day as well. Dollars can be used as a primary currency in Costa Rica and only small amounts of the local currency are required.
Take a short hop over to Cebadilla next, where we will be undertaking our animal rescue volunteering! This rescue center is home to a variety of animals that were rescued from the illegal animal trade, which is unfortunately still functioning in parts of the country. The goal is to help the animals recover from both physical and psychological wounds that have arisen from their past suffering. During the stay we’ll support the center with volunteer work such as working in the animal kitchen, assisting with the sloth garden, helping with the compost and enriching their homes. We’re sure that by the end of the week you’ll feel as at home at the center as the animals and won’t want to leave!
After finishing the volunteer work in the animal rescue center, we will spend the rest of the week learning how to surf and honing our skills on the Pacific swell in this world-renowned surf mecca, in between exploring the area’s breathtaking beaches. Give your mind a well-deserved rest and kick back on the beach with a coconut, sprinkled with a few amazing sunset hikes and croc encounters along the way.
Spend your final day in Jaco furthering exploring the coastline, surfing or swimming in the warm, salty Pacific Ocean. Any activities you choose are optional so make sure to have a good look into all that the surrounding area has to offer.
We make our way to two different ranchos and education centers in the rural farming towns of Mastatal and Tinamu, situated on the edge of the last remaining virgin rainforest of Costa Rica’s beautiful Puriscal County. They are working permaculture farms, lodges, and communities rooted in environmental sustainability, meaningful, place-based livelihoods, and caring relationships. We will be working alongside the community, furthering our permaculture education and learning skills such as fermentation and natural building.
At the end of this week, we will take a trip to the wild side and adventure down the much less traveled south coast.
We set off on a sea kayaking adventure for 3 days. This will include sea kayak training, rustic beachside campsites for 3 nights, and a 26km kayak journey! We will be treated to amazing rainforest-covered hills, sunsets to die for, and also a hike that leads into the Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve.
Don't worry if you have no kayak experience, we will be taken by professional guides, given training, and will be going at a pace that will mean we can take everything in. At the end of the kayak expedition, we will head to little islets in Mogos where you will have the chance to see dolphins in this amazing and beautiful place.
The last few weeks have been packed and it’s now time to make a bit of time for ourselves. This yoga retreat will open up your eyes to relaxation, meditation and the need to slow down our lives. As well as enabling self-reflection, yoga increases strength, balance and flexibility.
If you hadn't seen enough wildlife yet, the next week will see us head to a wildlife refuge near Sante Fe on the stunning coastline. This part of Costa Rica will blow your mind and not only will we be able to spot different kinds of wildlife here, we will take part in a bioluminescence experience. This will take place on the water near to the refuge we are staying at. When night falls, you can observe the phenomenon of the lights in the water, caused by organisms that react to movement. You can observe this phenomenon from the edge of the beach or dare to swim, so you can enjoy the halo of light around the body when floating on water.
During our time at the refuge we will take a session on ocean and beach clean-ups. This will involve getting our hands dirty. Beach Clean-ups are more than just about creating a coast that is aesthetically pleasing for both residents and tourists when visiting. While a clean and hygienic beach is of paramount importance, removing litter from the shores is the most beneficial for the ocean ecosystem – the biological community which is most affected by the rubbish.
This week, we will also go on a 3-day rafting trip on the Pacuare River, which is of the best places in the world for white water rafting. What an amazing way to spend our last days in Costa Rica! This unique journey has you rafting the country’s most exciting rapids, exploring the surrounding rainforest, and splashing in waterfalls.
Afterward, we head back to the San Jose station to debrief. This unique conservation experience will stay with you for a lifetime. Your last days will be spent wrapping up the program, reflecting on your experiences and sharing your final beach days with your fellow participants. Celebrate all your accomplishments at the final dinner before packing your things and departing this fabulous country.
*Each week there will be some designated free time so that you can catch up on email, laundry, rest, and explore independently with others in the group.
**Pacific Discovery reserves the right to alter and/or change the order of the itinerary, the focus of the projects or the activities themselves due to dates, availability, and safety precautions.
✓ All in-program travel and transport
✓ All accommodation
✓ All meals (not including snacks)
✓ All expeditions, activities, excursions, volunteer projects and entry fees as described in the itinerary
✓ Experienced Program Instructors and local guides
✓ Informal lectures from resident experts on conservation and eco-tourism
✓ Experiential core curriculum that pushes students to reflect and ask questions of themselves
Medium Activity Level: Anyone with an average fitness level and an enthusiasm for the outdoors and new experiences will have a great time on this mini semester! You will need to be prepared for some physical work during the volunteer projects on the program, like trail building or the removal of invasive plants.
Low Camping Level: You will be camping for a couple of nights on this gap year program, but you will spend most of your time in comfortable hostels and lodges.
High Service Learning Level: You will be able to make a big difference to the local community during your stay. Be prepared to get your hands dirty and do some hands-on learning about local issues.
Our accommodation will be a mix of camping (tents supplied) and comfortable, clean hostels and lodges. Laundry and Wi-Fi facilities will be available some days, except during the weeks in the field on the volunteer projects and on expeditions. Accommodation is diverse, comfortable and carefully chosen to fit our needs.
Meals are fresh, tasty, healthy and varied. Special dietary requirements and vegetarians are catered for. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are included in the program cost. Any snacks are at an additional cost, which we recommend budgeting around $12 per day for.
Meals are a mixture of eating out at restaurants and food preparation shared by students. An average day on program would consist of the following:
Camping meals will be adjusted to the cooking equipment at hand
Our program locations and itineraries have been carefully selected and modified to minimize risk of exposure to anyone outside the group with most being located in rural areas. This allows for a more focused learning environment, as well as a safe haven from the stress of our modern world.
We've been working hard and watching closely to any CDC recommendations about group sizes and testing requirements to come up with options that will allow you to have a safe, healthy, and stress-free Gap Year experience. We do the hard work so you can come and enjoy the fresh air, adventures, and new friends!
We have been running successful international programs in Spring, Summer and Fall 2021. The students shared their experiences in testimonials and wrote their stories down in blog posts - feel free to have a look.
Check out the information on our COVID-19 page to find out more about our Covid-19 policies, procedures and updates.