Challenge yourself on this incredible Central America gap year program journeying through the ancient ruins and spectacular land and seascapes of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Costa Rica.

Adventure. Immersion. Service. This whirlwind journey is packed to the brim with transformational experiences.

This program combines immersive Spanish language study, hands-on service learning and permaculture projects, and challenging expedition elements - diving, trekking, surfing.

Visit ancient Mayan ruins and step into a mysterious, thrilling universe while discovering a culture that harks back 4,000 years – the greatest pre-Columbian civilization – and retains its vibrancy to this day. In Mexico, investigate otherworldly Tulum, perched above the crashing surf; find out why Chichén Itzá is one of the new seven wonders of the world. Take a scuba diving course in Cozumel, Mexico and discover the dramatic and diverse world below the surface of the Caribbean, the “Great Mayan Reef”. Explore the lost temples of Tikal, soaring above the Guatemalan jungle canopy and take a dip in the majestic Lake Atitlan, surrounded by volcanoes. Immerse yourself in world of yoga, zen and mindfulnes during a week long stay at a Guatamalan yoga center where you embrace the feeling of total health and happiness. Volunteer with sloths, monkeys and other Costa Rican animals at the rescue centre, supporting these beautiful animals recover and thrive. Learn how to surf in the Pacific swell at Tortuga, Costa Rica and investigate sustainable agriculture and its importance in developing communities on the unique isthmus of Isla de Ometepe. After soaking in the relaxing hot springs of the Volcano Arenal and learning about environmental sustainability on a permaculture farm, we finish this incredible adventure on the tranquil Pacific coast beaches of biodiverse Costa Rica.

This program has an experiential focus - students immerse in Spanish, get involved in service learning projects, have opportunities for meaningful connections with local people, gain knowledge of Central America’s history, societies and environments, experience sustainable development, push personal boundaries and develop their leadership skills.

 

• 2 weeks of Spanish language immersion – all levels catered for:
• Immersion 1: Tulum, Mexico: Spanish language instruction and homestay (in pairs)
• Immersion 2: Quetzaltenango, Guatemala: Spanish language instruction and homestay (in pairs)
• Service learning projects:
• Project 1: Coral restoration service learning in Cozumel, Mexico
• Project 2: Permaculture service learning in Rancho Mastatal, a sustainability education centre in Costa Rica.
• PADI open water diving certification off the coast of Mexico
• 3-day catamaran sailing and camping adventure through Belize’s Great Barrier Reef
• A week at Doron Yoga Centre experiencing different styles of yoga, including Stand Up Paddle board (SUP) yoga, and practicing meditation.
• Volunteering at the animal rescue centre in Costa Rica
• Explore ancient Mayan temples in the midst of the jungle in Tikal, Guatemala
• Rugged and breathtaking 3-day trek from Quetzaltenango to Lake Atitlán
• Hike and sunrise summit of Volcan Acatenango, overlooking the active Volcan Fuego in Guatemala
• Surf camp on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica at Tortuga Surf Camp
• Baby sloths and tranquil beaches in Costa Rica
• Exploring the gorgeous historic cities of Tulum and Antigu.
• Informal lectures and discussions on history, culture, society and environment
• Experiential core curriculum that pushes students to reflect and ask questions of themselves, working towards a deeper understanding of their values, identity, passions and purpose.
• Very personalized and supportive small group experience – maximum 14 students
• Two experienced and inspiring Pacific Discovery Program Instructors supported by local guides

Week 1: Orientation - Ruins of Tulum

After meeting each other in the Cancun airport, we’ll head south down the spectacular Caribbean coast to the ancient Mayan city of Tulum. Perched atop a cliff overlooking the sea, it is one of the last cities built and inhabited by the Maya. While we enjoy its brilliant turquoise-blue waters and crushed-coral white sands, we’ll spend some time getting to know each other during our 3-day orientation. Our time will focus on getting to know each other and creating a positive and reflective group culture to support us in realizing our program goals.

In Tulum, we’ll also explore the incredible Mayan ruins along the coast, take a dip in some Cenotes (limestone sinkholes), and head inland to a Mayan ruin and one of the new seven wonders of the world, Chichén Itzá.

Week 2: Spanish Immersion and Homestay

Our second week in Mexico, we take classes at a Spanish language school every morning Monday-Friday (15 hours) and stay (in pairs) with host families. Combining a homestay with language lessons allows you to put your new skills to use while gaining insight into the culture. You will live as the locals do – including enjoying the delicious comida at the local taquerias!

Weeks 3: Diving and getting PADI qualified - Conservation Service Learning project

Week 3 is spent in the Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park, where you’ll splash around in the warm caribbean seas, experiencing the joy of underwater exploration as we learn to dive. We will spend five days learning all there is to know to become a fully certified diver, taking you from novice to pro!
Upon completion of your PADI training we spend a further three days in this tropical paradise as we undertake our conservation service learning. We get involved in a coral restoration program where we learn about coral species and the challenges that the reef faces. We then spend time cleaning and planting coral in the organisations coral nursery. This is an incredibly worthwhile and rewarding service learning project which will genuinely help protect and preserve the health of the Cozumel National Park coral, the second largest coral reef system in the world!

Week 4: Exploring Belize

We depart Mexico by ferry to the famous port of San Pedro on
La Isla Bonita, Ambergris Caye in Belize. We then take a boat to Caye Caulker where we’ll depart on a 3-day catamaran adventure which will allow us to snorkel throughsome of the lesser explored parts of the reef in between camping on beautiful, remote Caribbean islands.

Back on the mainland, we’ll visit the Belize Zoo, a humane and educational halfway house and rehabilitation center for injured, orphaned and rescued jungle animals. No trip to Belize is complete
without a cave adventure: touring stalagmites, stalactites, Mayan cave paintings and ruins, human sacrifice remains, and swim-hiking through the underground network.

Week 5-6: Spanish Immersion in Quetzaltenango - Lake Atitlan

Quetzaltenango is big, like its name – which the locals kindly shorten to Xela (shell-ah), itself an abbreviation of the original K’iche’ Maya name, Xelajú. Nonetheless, it is an orderly, clean, and safe city. We will spend a week here living with host families (in pairs) while attending daily Spanish lessons (20 hours).

After a fulfilling week, we’ll farewell our families in Xela and set out on a 3-day trek to Lake Atitlan, meandering through cloud forests, streams, corn fields, and small pueblos along the way. At Lake Atitlan, we rise early to watch the sunrise over the surrounding volcanoes in the small village of San Pedro de la Laguna. We’ll spend a couple of days on the lake doing various activities to stretch out our sore hiking muscles.

Week 7: Doron Yoga Retreat

A small, serene village located on the shores of Lake Atitlan, Guatalama is where you’ll spend the next week of your program. This yoga and zen centre will help you soothe your soul and is a safe, comfortable environment for you to focus on personal development. We spend 7 days and 6 nights experiencing different types of yoga, including meditation, providing you with the tools to become comfortable integrating zen into your own life. You’ll also get the chance to try SUP (stand up paddle boarding) yoga and visit local villages by boat where you can try delightful, local Guatemalan cuisine! The final day consist of an inspirational life coaching session, with a focus on self-empowerment. You’ll further develop your personal skills, understand how you function as a leader and explore what peace can look like in your own life.

Week 8: Animal Rescue Program Volunteering

During week 8 we fly from Guatamala to Costa Rica where we will be undertaking our animal rescue volunteering! Located in Cebadilla, this rescue centre 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 centre 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 centre as the animals, and won’t want to leave!

Week 9: Surf Camp – Tortuga

From the animal rescue centre we make our way to Playa Jaco, for our four day surf camp! Jaco beach is known to be the “mecca of surfing” in Costa Rica, so rest assured you’re in a desirable location and in safe hands! Designed for surfers of all abilities, the well established Tortuga Surf Camp provides lessons, core power workshops and personal coaching for all! The surf camp accommodation is well equipped for when you vacate the surf, with ample hang out spaces and a swimming pool. It’s located a short walk from the town center, enabling you to spend your down time eating local food, soaking up the sun and exploring this awesome beach town by foot.

Week 10: Permaculture Project and Program Wrap, Costa Rica

For the last week we base ourselves at an education center in the rural farming town of Mastatal situated on the edge of the last remaining virgin rainforest of Costa Rica’s beautiful Puriscal County. It is a working permaculture farm, lodge, and community rooted in environmental sustainability, place-based livelihoods, and caring relationships. We will spend our last week here working alongside the community, furthering our permaculture education and learning skills such as fermentation and natural building. We’ll then finish our adventure on the gorgeous beaches of Esterillos, along the Pacific Coast. After reflecting on our 10-week journey and enjoying some spectacular beach sunsets, it’s off to San Jose to fly home. ¡Buen Viaje!

For full program details, please request the information booklet

Suitability

The program is open to high school graduates, university students and graduates, ideally 18-24 years. This program is challenging and rewarding and participants need to be interested in engaging with local people, pursuing new experiences, pushing personal boundaries, and have an interest in learning Spanish - or at least be open to discovering this rich language. You do not need to be proficient in Spanish. This program is suitable for both beginner and experienced Spanish speakers. You don’t need to have had previous experience with travel or any of the activities offered, but it is important you have a ‘can do’ positive attitude. You need to be committed to, and prepared for, some physical work whilst on the service learning components of the program ie. tree planting, gardening, trail-building; and challenging physical activity whilst diving, trekking and surfing.

The program is a shared group experience. We expect you to join the program with an open mind and a willingness to work together with your group mates to make the program an amazing experience for the whole group. Additionally, the program will be as much about the inner journey of personal growth and learning about yourself as it is about what you will experience in the outer physical journey. We expect you to be open to learning and challenging your ideas and assumptions.

Accommodation

Our accommodation will vary from welcoming homestays, lodges and camping with shared facilities, to hotels and guesthouses with private bathrooms. Laundry and WiFi will be available frequently, except while at our service learning projects, trekking trips and community stays. Accommodation is diverse, comfortable and carefully chosen to fit our needs.

Meals

Meals are fresh, tasty, healthy and varied. Special dietary requirements and vegetarians are catered for. All meals are included in the program cost. 

Program Tuition Includes

  • All in-country land transport and travel (not flights)
  • All accommodation
  • All meals
  • All Spanish language classes (at your level of proficiency)
  • All expeditions, activities, excursions, entry fees and adventure travel as described in the itinerary
  • Service learning projects in conservation and community development
  • Experiential core curriculum that pushes students to reflect and ask questions of themselves - working towards a deeper understanding of their values, identity, passions and purpose
  • Individual mentorship from program instructors, supporting you in your personal goals for the program
  • Informal lectures from resident experts on conservation, development, eco-tourism, ecology and sustainability
  • Experienced Program Instructors and local guides
  • 1-3-week optional extensions if you wish to continue travelling independently after the program
  • Pre-departure web-page with all information you need in one place to prepare for the program
  • 24/7 emergency contact number for students and parents
  • Global medical rescue and political evacuation insurance
  • Instructors have 24/7 access to a physician and a psychologist, for advice and support
  • Pacific Discovery T-shirt, water bottle stickers and a buff
  • Online image library for your program

Visas are not required for most nationalities.

The Pacific Discovery Central America Gap Year Semester is an inspiring 10-week journey through  Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Costa Rica, experiencing incredible cultural and environmental diversity. The program combines immersive Spanish language study, hands-on service learning projects, and amazing educational adventure travel.

 CA Map

Spring Dates 3 Feb - 13 Apr, 2020
Fall Dates 14 Sep - 23 Nov, 2020
Duration 70 days
(plus independent extension options)

Program Tuition $12,500 USD Estimated Flight Cost $1,500 USD
Availability Open
Group Size 14 Students & 2 Instructors Ages 18 - 24 ideal
Optional College Credit Yes Start/Finish Cancun, Mexico / San Jose, Costa Rica
(we assist with flight arrangements)