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 past secret islets, and hiking through pristine rainforests.
Experience a gap year program where you will not only get to immerse yourself into the culture by living under the same roof as a Costa Rican family, but you will also get to expand yourself personally. The nature-based activities will have you raging through rapids, 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 immersing yourself in a new culture
✓ Love activities like surfing, kayaking, hiking, and white water rafting
✓ Are enthusiastic about animal welfare and conservation
✓ Would love to live like a local and experience homestays
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 Program Quiz can help you find your perfect Program match! Or get the full 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 one of the happiest countries on earth, Costa Rica! This might stem from the laid-back Tico outlook combined with the incredible model of eco-stewardship Costa Rica boasts. There are lots of things to keep us busy on our first days 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. Your instructors will facilitate some important orientation topics over the course of the days.
We will spend these first few days in Santamaria de Dota village, which is well-known for producing some of the best coffee in Costa Rica. In this picturesque valley surrounded by mountainous highlands, we will have the opportunity to experience real local life.
After orientation, we make our way to our first adventure: Ruta Sukia, where we will enjoy the natural beauty by watching a lot of birds, hike to beautiful cascades and crystal-clean water creeks, and immerse ourselves in the culture by living under the same roof as local families during homestays. This hike will allow us to admire the many ecosystems that this part of the country has to offer. We will find gorgeous places to take photos, enjoy the sounds of nature, or venture into a mysterious underground cave.
New week, new adventures! We will spend five days in an education center in the rural farming village of San Isidro de Dota, situated on the edge of the last remaining virgin rainforest of Costa Rica’s beautiful Savegre river canyon. While we experience the peace, serenity and authenticity of the real Costa Rican culture, we will be working alongside the community on a local project. We will help out in whichever way we can, whether that means getting hands-on with paintwork, building a concrete ramp, or just about anything else. In our free time, we can admire a nearby waterfall or go for a hike.
After this workout for our arms, we enjoy a deserved resting day on Uvita beach. Playa Uvita is a spectacular beach surrounded by lush, sweeping mountains, infinite fresh streams and rivers, and a healthy reef offshore that hosts an enormous population of whales for several months each year. Here, we can relax at the long and wide beach, swim in the warm ocean and appreciate the great views. What a great place to call our home for the next week!
A yoga and meditation retreat will open up our eyes to relaxation and the need to slow down our lives. There is no better setting for this than the amazing and fantastic Uvita beach where we will be rewarded with a place of peace and tranquility on top of new taught ways to reset from the stress of everyday life.
After a couple of days of connecting with ourselves and finding the best version of us, it’s time to take surf classes, a true highlight for our students! Surfing is a unique activity that brings us closer to nature, offering an opportunity to connect with the ocean. We will be learning how to surf for three days and hone our skills on a quintessential beach in Costa Rica, located within the gorgeous Marino Ballena National Park. After class, we can give our minds a well-deserved rest and kick back on the beach with a coconut.
Once we get to Drake, it is easy to get involved in the sounds, smells and sights of an untouched jungle right by the beach. With this majestic rainforest full of exotic wildlife and the warm ocean waters on our doorsteps, it’s hard to not feel at peace and connect to nature.
We will spend the next five days learning Spanish. Every day will be a combination of private classes with a professional and then practicing with the local community. Spoken by an estimated 400 million people worldwide, Spanish is currently the 4th most spoken language in the world. Learning the language will open us up to a whole new world of people that we can talk to!
We end the week working and learning at a sustainable farm located in the heart of Osa peninsula at the border of the Corcovado National Park. We will be working alongside the local family, advancing our sustainable education and learning skills about the best methods to put this into practice. Some of the activities include planting tubers, artisanal fishing at their lagoon, picking eggs from the chickens at the farm, milking the cows and working on trail maintenance. We will also be learning about organic fertilizers, and even learn to cook homemade bread. We will also be working with the community on a specific need they might have at that moment. This will be an authentic experience in the forest!
At the beginning of the week, we will continue learning that green building with native and unprocessed materials is an empowering experience and can make an enormous impact on our carbon footprint.
After some rewarding work, we set off on a multi-day sea kayaking adventure! This will include sea kayak training, rustic beachside campsites for three nights, and a 26 kilometers kayak journey. We will be treated to amazing rainforest-covered hills, sunsets to die for, a chance to see dolphins, and 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. This will be a great opportunity to bring your goggles and do some snorkeling and see the amazing marine life of Golfo Dulce.
We travel to an animal rescue center that is dedicated to protecting and helping endangered Costa Rican wildlife with all means available. 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 our 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 after a couple of days you’ll feel as at home at the center as the spider monkeys and won’t want to leave!
To close our last week, we will go on a 3-day rafting trip on the Pacuare River, which is one of the best places in the world for white water rafting. What an amazing way to spend our last week in Costa Rica! This unique journey has you rafting the country’s most exciting rapids, exploring the endless tropical rainforests, and splashing in waterfalls.
Sadly, the time has also come to begin processing the once-in-a-lifetime experiences that the program has taken us on. We are sure that you will reflect on how amazing it was to have a chance to take a break from everything, learn about ourselves, but also prioritize time to experience and have gratitude for our own beautiful and historic culture and environment.
*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, excluding flights
✓ All accommodation
✓ All meals
✓ 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
✓ Certificate of Program Completion
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
To make things easy for you, we partner with a full service travel agency that can arrange flights, appropriate travel insurance and post program arrangements for our students.
They have access to a "Cancel For Any Reason" or CFAR travel insurance for US citizens in participating states. This optional travel insurance product allows travelers to cancel for any reason whatsoever up to two days prior to departure and still receive a significant refund. This allows you to keep planning for the future while avoiding the stress and the financial worry of canceling a program if you need to.
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.