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 immerse yourself into the culture by living under same roof as a Costa Rican family for a week, but you will also 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 immersing yourself into a new culture
✓ Love activities like surfing, kayaking, ziplining 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 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 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.
After orientation, we make our way to Monteverde, right next door to the famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. We will fully immerse ourselves in the culture of Costa Rica by living under the same roof as local families. This 5-day homestay gives us the opportunity to live and breathe the local culture, to make friends as well as memories and to explore destinations in a truly authentic way.
While in Monteverde, we will experience the coffee culture and learn about the process of sustainable coffee farming. We will also head out for a hike through the Cloud Forest Reserve, where we keep our eyes open for the incredibly diverse flora and fauna on offer. This is also home to what we know as The Great Divide, meaning that as we stand on the separation between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, we will be on two continents at once!
We continue this special time with our Costa Rican families, while also giving back to the local communities in every way we can. We will roll up our sleeves to work on different farms for a few days, feeding the animals, processing coffee, helping in the vegetable garden and getting hands on with the reforestation of native species. In the afternoons there’s time to learn Spanish, to take our dancing skills to the next level with a salsa dancing lesson, and to fly through the jungle like Tarzan on a ziplining adventure!
If you haven't seen enough wildlife in Monteverde yet, this week will see us on an adventurous journey to the very southern point of the Nicoya Peninsula in the Curu Wildlife Reserve. 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 also take part in a bioluminescence experience. When night falls, we can observe the phenomenon of the lights in the water, caused by organisms that react to movement. We 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. We will also have some free time to explore and hike around the many trails, looking to spot howler or white-faced monkeys, white-tail deer, sea turtles and iguanas.
We start the week working and learning at a permaculture farm and community center rooted in environmental sustainability. We will be working alongside the local community, advancing our permaculture education and learning skills such as fermentation, bamboo landscaping, making soaps, and natural building. We’ll learn 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 3 nights, and a 26 kilometer kayak journey. We will be treated to amazing rainforest-covered hills, sunsets to die for, 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. At the end of the kayak expedition, we will head to little islets in Mogos where you will have the chance to see dolphins!
After this workout for our arms, we enjoy a deserved resting day in Drake Bay, where we get to take 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 also spend a few days in an education center in the rural farming town of Tinamu, situated on the edge of the last remaining virgin rainforest of Costa Rica’s beautiful Puriscal County. While we experience the peace, serenity and authenticity of the real Costa Rican culture, we will be working alongside the community at a local school. We will help out in whichever way we can, whether that means getting hands-on with paint work, building a concrete ramp, or just about anything else. In our free time, we can admire a nearby waterfall, go for a hike, or venture into a mysterious underground cave.
It’s time to go on a surf camp, a true highlight for our students! We will be learning how to surf for three days and hone our skills on the Pacific swell in the world-renowned surf mecca Jaco, in between exploring the area’s breath-taking beaches. Give your mind a well-deserved rest and kick back on the beach with a coconut.
Take a short hop over to Cebadilla next, where we will be undertaking our animal rescue volunteering. We travel straight to an animal rescue center which 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 by the end of the week you’ll feel as at home at the center as the spider monkeys and won’t want to leave!
The last few weeks have been packed and it’s now time to make a bit of time for ourselves and reflect on all we have experienced and learned. A yoga and meditation retreat will open up our eyes to relaxation and the need to slow down our lives. There’s no better setting for this than the quiet, authentically Costa Rican town of San Miguel, where we will be rewarded with a tranquil setting and stunning views on top of new taught ways to reset from the stress of everyday life.
This week, we will also 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
✓ 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
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.