Pacific Discovery alum, Abby, tells us all about her top 10 highlights on her Central America Gap Semester Program with Pacific Discovery.

  1. Scuba Diving

If you’ve read my previous blog post, you may know that I had absolutely no interest in trying scuba diving prior to my gap year program. I actually called Pacific Discovery and asked if I could be excused from this activity because I was so afraid. PD’s representative told me that the instructors will never make me do something that I am completely uncomfortable with, but she encouraged me to try it. She told me that scuba diving is amazing because it’s like a whole other world under the water. Two years after my gap year, and nearly three years after speaking with the PD rep, I still remember that conversation because what she said was so true. The underwater world, particularly in the tropics, is unmatched. It is like being transported to a brand new planet. Instead of walls of concrete, there are walls of coral, painted in vibrant shades of orange and pink. Scuba diving stands out to me as one of the best activities from my gap year because not only was it a lot of fun, it was an opportunity for major growth. With the right amount of support from my gap year instructors and the divemaster, I was able to overcome a significant challenge. This made me much more confident as an individual.

2. Backpacking 

Backpacking in Guatemala was absolutely incredible. It was a significant physical challenge for two reasons: 1) hiking up to nearly 14,000 feet with a heavy backpack is very difficult, and 2) I got traveler’s sickness during one of our hikes. I hiked for five hours while feeling absolutely disgusting. However, these experiences made me a much more resilient person. Going to college doesn’t seem so scary once you’ve hiked rigorously for hours on end with a heavy backpack and digestive issues. You realize how capable you are as a person. On a lighter note, however, Guatemala’s mountains and volcanoes are stunning. Watching a volcano erupt in front of my eyes is a sight I will never forget. It is so breathtaking; words do not do it justice.

3. Yoga

I started practicing yoga regularly prior to my gap year program. I originally did it because I enjoyed it and I wanted to build up physical strength prior to the adventure activities I would participate in on my program. Yoga quickly became one of my favorite fitness activities, so I was very excited for our program’s yoga retreat. We attended a yoga retreat on the shores of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. We would get up early every morning for our 6:45 am yoga session. While yoga has a reputation of being something very relaxing (which it very well can be), there were quite a few of us on the program surprised by how physically challenging the yoga was. The yoga retreat center was absolutely beautiful and the food served at the center was healthy and delicious. It was a perfect way to reset and stretch our sore hiking muscles. 

4. The Water

The Central America program is perfect for those who love to be in water. After this program, I had much more appreciation for water and the marine world. I have never seen such clear, turquoise water as I did in Mexico. I have never experienced such warm water as I did in Costa Rica. I have never witnessed such vibrant marine life as I did in Cozumel. Nowadays, when I get stressed, I pretend I am back at one of those beaches, basking in the sunshine, splashing in the 80-degree water. 

5. Surfing

Surfing in Jaco, Costa Rica was exceptional. Jaco is known around the world as one of the best places to learn how to surf because of the long waves. Every student on our program had their own private surf instructor so that we could significantly improve our skills during our surf camp. We could also see stingrays in the waves as they splashed over us, which was very cool! 

6. Whitewater Rafting

We decided to go whitewater rafting in Costa Rica on our last day of the program. I had never gone whitewater rafting before, but it quickly became one of my favorite adventure activities. Rafting through the jungle rapids was incredible; the water was incredibly clean and warm, and we got to see lush scenery and wildlife in their natural habitat on the banks of the river. I will never forget lifting up our paddles with my rafting group and screaming “PURA VIDA!” at the top of our lungs. Whitewater rafting gets your adrenaline pumping, and there are few moments in my life when I have felt as alive as I did then. 

7. Paddleboarding

Paddleboarding was an optional activity while we were in Guatemala, but I have always enjoyed it, so I decided to go with some other students on the program. We woke up extra early to catch a tuk-tuk to the paddleboarding center. Our guide was German and we were on the day trip with an Australian. It was really nice to meet other travelers and hear their stories. Our guide also had a dog that liked to come along for the ride and sit on the boards while we explored the lake. I really liked paddleboarding because we got to see the lake from a different angle, paddleboard to a restaurant on the shores of the lake, and jump off a cliff into the water. 

8. The Food

The food in Central America is so delicious. Although it can be a lot of rice and beans, there are so many flavors to spice things up. We ate a lot of pineapple, papaya, and bananas. In the cities, such as Antigua, there were a variety of fresh options that made use of the local ingredients. For example, I had a smoothie bowl in Antigua with local chocolate shavings, nuts, seeds, granola, and fruits on top. Since there are a lot of rice and beans in the local cuisine, you won’t struggle to find gluten-free or vegetarian options. To truly immerse ourselves in the local food scene, we took a cooking class at our Spanish school in Tulum. This was easily one of the best days while we were in Mexico! 

9. Volunteering at the Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center

Sloths are my favorite animal, and lucky for me, there were plenty of them at the Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center! We got to feed them and clean their enclosures. There was even a sloth nursery for baby sloths, which was such a highlight because they were so adorable. In addition, some of our monkeys who were being rehabilitated were being terrorized by a pack of wild monkeys, so I got to babysit a baby monkey to ensure that she was not attacked. How many times in your life do you get to say that you babysat a baby monkey to protect her from other animals? 

10. The Lazy River

While we were in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve in Tulum, Mexico, we got to float down a natural lazy river. Wearing our life preservers around our waists like diapers, we laid down our backs and let the water carry us through the reserve. This was such a relaxing day and the scenery was utterly beautiful. 

To learn more about our Central America Program, see here.

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Author Orla O'Muiri Posted

Category Central America Departure Fall 2023