Past student Abigail recalls her time on her Central America Gap Semester with Pacific Discovery in a three-part blog series. In part three, we head to Costa Rica!

We continued to Costa Rica, where we participated in various service learning activities, such as animal care at the Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center, sustainability education at Rancho Mastatal, and whitewater rafting on the Sarapiqui River.  

The Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center was very cool because we got to spend lots of time with exotic animals, but also because we got to meet other volunteers who were our age from all over the world. Volunteers come from the UK, Australia, Italy, France and more to spend time at the rescue center. During our time there, we cleaned animal enclosures, fed animals, painted walls, and hung out in the pool. It was very cool to wake up each morning and see sloths hanging out in the trees by our windows! I also got to babysit a baby capuchin monkey. 

sloth rescue costa rica

By far, the highlight of Costa Rica was attending surf camp in Jaco. Jaco is a very touristy town, but it has a lot to offer on the surf front. The waves are long and good for beginners. Every single student (and instructor) on our program had their own private surf instructor, which was amazing! Our surf instructors were patient, helpful, and highly knowledgeable about surfing. This was not splash-around-in-the-water-and-boogie-board surfing; we actually learned surfing techniques to make us better surfers. The water is the warmest I've ever experienced, and you can even see manta rays jumping out of the ocean and riding the waves! Beware of the sun in Jaco, you will need lots of sunscreen even the locals get burned here! However, there is a local brand of sunscreen that the surf instructors use, and it is made with a LOT of zinc. You will be completely white on the areas you use it, but it is very waterproof, so it is perfect for water sports. I definitely got toppled by several waves; however, as my surf instructor informed me, I learned to cover my head and not to fight the current. The waves will carry you to the surface of the water. Just remain calm. 

surfing costa rica

Rancho Mastatal was a really cool opportunity to learn more about making our lives more sustainable. All of the houses on the property are made with local, sustainable materials, such as clay, straw, bamboo, stone, or wood. The houses also use composting toilets and the residents grow a lot of their own food on the property. The residents at the ranch taught us about fermentation, making your own soap, building bricks for houses, and renewable energy. During our time off, we hiked to the nearby waterfall or went to the artisanal chocolate maker down the road.  

On the last day of our program, we did one of my favorite activities: whitewater rafting. The Sarapiqui River is a great place to go rafting as a beginner; there are lots of thrills but you aren't likely to fall out of the raft. (I did, however #puravida.) Whitewater rafting is exhilarating. It takes teamwork and physical effort, but it is loads of fun. I ended up doing it again for fall break of my freshman year with my college‚Äôs outdoors club. It was great to do it again so soon!

My gap year was by far the best thing I've ever done. I would recommend a gap year to anyone, especially those looking for a new perspective, a global experience, or a break from school. It was the most transformative 70 days.  I have learned so much about myself and my place in this world. I only wish I could do it over and over again!

Learn more about our Central America Gap Semester here.

by Abigail Hasselbrink

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Author Orla O'Muiri Posted

Category Central America Departure Fall 2023