Join us on an epic gap year program through Costa Rica to spot spider monkeys in the rainforests, surf the waves and relax on the tropical beaches!

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. During the six weeks you will get to experience hands-on animal conservation with sloths and monkeys, endless beaches, and a kayak expedition.

After a week of hard work and animal snuggles, head over to Jaco beach where you will get to try your hand at surfing. You will also take a trip to the windswept and remote Cabo Natural Reserve to give a hand to a turtle or two. You will move north from here to absorb yourself in neon green beauty in two rainforest areas. 

Experience a program where you will not only get to explore this amazing country of Costa Rica, but you will get to expand yourself personally. The nature-based activities will have you challenging new heights, pushing through humidity amongst the clouds, feeling the rain forest watching you and seeing new wildlife. With our service projects you will get to experience first-hand the impacts that you can make for other living creatures. Finally, learn (or improve on) a skill which will have you wanting to ride the surf of the ocean for the rest of your life!

Or maybe you want to stay closer to home? Have a look at our Hawaii Mini Semester.

Who is this gap semester for?

This gap semester program is perfect for high school graduates, college students and graduates, and gap year students, ideally 17 to 22 years old. Optional transferable academic credit is available to all participants.

 

Check out our program comparison chart here.

For your peace of mind

  • Check out our full COVID-19 policy.
  • The students on our latest 4-week Costa Rica Summer Program in July 2021 had a great time on their trip! They shared a vlog with us - feel free to have a look.
  • Rewarding conservation volunteer projects working with an animal rescue center
  • A kayaking adventure week through the Golfito area of southern Costa Rica: taking in rainforest-covered hills and secret islets.
  • Bioluminescence adventure on the coast of Costa Rica
  • Hands-on marine conservation work in the pristine Curu wildlife refuge
  • Surfing on vast sandy beaches of the Pacific coast with professional guides
  • Sights, sounds and smells from the colorful local markets in San Jose
  • Investigating sustainable agriculture and its importance in developing communities
  • The opportunity to see dolphins on our very own dolphin spotting activity
  • Rest days on idyllic white-sand beaches where the option to swim and snorkel
  • 3-day river rafting expedition: which is of the best places in the world for white water rafting
  • Very personalized small-group experience, maximum of 14 participants

**This is a guide to what you can expect to do on Program. The order in which the activities occur might vary**

Week 1. San Jose & Animal Rescue Volunteering

Take a peek outside the plane window to get your first glimpse of Costa Rica as you arrive to San Jose. Start your journey off right by enjoying the most common, delicious local cuisine, Gallo Pinto. Wake up to the sights, sounds and smells of a Latino capital! San Jose is a busy commercial hub surrounded by amazing rainforest mountains. Amidst the small, winding streets you will get to see a great mix of European architecture.

There are lots of things to keep you busy on your first full day in country! Getting to know your group will be a priority, as well as familiarizing yourself with the culture and history of Costa Rica. Take some exploration time in San Jose while you exchange money, meet with your in-country operators who will provide you with more important information for the rest of the program. Your instructors will facilitate some important orientation topics over the course of the day as well. Dollars can be used as a primary currency in Costa Rica and only small amounts of the local currency are required. Take care while you are out exploring the city and look after each other!

Take a short hop over to Cebadilla next, where we will be undertaking our animal rescue volunteering! 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 the 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 animals and won’t want to leave!

Week 2. Beaches & Surf Camp

After finishing the volunteer work in the animal rescue center, we will spend the rest of the week learning how to surf and honing our skills on the Pacific swell in this world-renowned surf mecca, in between exploring the area’s breathtaking beaches. Give your mind a well-deserved rest and kick back on the beach with a coconut, sprinkled with a few amazing sunset hikes and croc encounters along the way. 

Spend your final day in Jaco furthering exploring the coastline, surfing or swimming in the warm, salty Pacific Ocean. Any activities you choose are optional so make sure to have a good look into all that the surrounding area has to offer.

Week 3. Permaculture Education Camp

We make our way to a ranch and 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, meaningful, place-based livelihoods, and caring relationships. We will be working alongside the community, furthering our permaculture education and learning skills such as fermentation and natural building.

At the end of this week, we will take a trip to the wild side and adventure down the much less traveled south coast.

Week 4. Kayak Expedition and Dolphin Spotting

We set off on a sea kayaking adventure for 3 days. This will include sea kayak training, rustic beachside campsites for 3 nights, and a 26km kayak journey! We will be treated to amazing rainforest-covered hills, sunsets to die for, and also 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 in this amazing and beautiful place. 

Week 5. Wildlife Refuge, Bioluminescence Adventure, and a Beach Clean Up

Week 5 will see us head to a wildlife refuge near Sante Fe on the stunning coastline. 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 take part in a bioluminescence experience. This will take place on the water near to the refuge we are staying at. When night falls, you can observe the phenomenon of the lights in the water, caused by organisms that react to movement. You 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.

During our time at the refuge we will take a session on ocean and beach clean-ups. This will involve getting our hands dirty. Beach Clean-ups are more than just about creating a coast that is aesthetically pleasing for both residents and tourists when visiting. While a clean and hygienic beach is of paramount importance, removing litter from the shores is the most beneficial for the ocean ecosystem – the biological community which is most affected by the rubbish.

Week 6. Marine Conservation, a Rafting Journey and a Reforestation Project

Take an adventurous journey to Tortuguero National Park, where we will conduct marine conservation work. The days will be spent at the tide pools catching sea turtles, identifying fish, and collecting biological data. We will also hike through an indigenous reserve for our reforestation project where we will take part in tree planting rehabilitation in the area.

We will also go on a 3-day rafting trip on the Pacuare River, which is of the best places in the world for white water rafting. What an amazing way to spend our last days in Costa Rica! This unique journey has you rafting the country’s most exciting rapids, exploring the surrounding rainforest, and splashing in waterfalls.  

Afterward, we head back to the San Jose station to debrief. This unique conservation experience will stay with you for a lifetime. Your last days will be spent wrapping up the program, reflecting on your experiences and sharing your final beach days with your fellow participants. Celebrate all your accomplishments at the final dinner before packing your things and departing this fabulous country.

 

*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.

For full program details, please request the information booklet

Suitability

This gap year program is perfect for high school graduates, college students and graduates, and non-students, ideally 17-22 years old. Anyone with an average fitness level and an enthusiasm for the outdoors and new experiences will have a great time on this gap 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. As a guideline, you should aim to be comfortable hiking 4-6 hours with a backpack, but you don’t need to have had previous experience with any of the activities offered.

The program is a shared group experience. Join this 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 be a mix of camping (tents supplied) and comfortable, clean hostels and lodges. Laundry and Wi-Fi facilities will be available most 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

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: 

  • Breakfast: gallo pinto, which is rice, beans, plantains, and eggs
  • Lunch and dinner: casado, which is rice, beans, steamed veggies, protein, plantains, salad, and sometimes a kind of macaroni salad. There is also a lot of ceviche here

Camping meals will be adjusted to the cooking equipment at hand

Included in the tuition

  • All in-program travel and transport
  • All accommodation
  • 3 meals a day (not including snacks)
  • All expeditions, activities, excursions, entry fees and adventure travel as described in the itinerary
  • Experienced Program Instructors and local guides
  • Environmental education and volunteering projects
  • 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 and eco-tourism
  • 1- to 3-week optional extensions if you wish to continue traveling independently after the program
  • Pre-departure booklet 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

Spring Dates 3 Mar - 13 Apr, 2022
Fall Dates 29 Sep - 9 Nov, 2022
Duration 42 days
(plus independent extension options)

Program Tuition $9,750 USD Estimated Flight Cost $500 USD
Availability Open
Group Size 14 Students & 2 Instructors Ages 17 - 22 Ideal Covid-19 Vaccination Requirement No vaccination requirement, but special COVID-19 insurance needed
Optional College Credit Yes Start/Finish San Jose, Costa Rica