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, trekking through the epic Costa Rican rainforests, endless beaches, and relaxing yoga and meditation. 

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 before taking a much-needed moment of decompression with a yoga and meditation retreat. You will move north from here to absorb yourself in neon green beauty in two rainforest areas.

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.

  • Rewarding conservation volunteer projects working with an animal rescue center
  • A rainforest adventure week through the Golfito area of southern Costa Rica: snorkeling, canyoning & ziplining
  • A yoga and meditation journey on the shores of the Pacific Coast
  • Hands-on marine conservation work in the pristine Cabo Blanco Absolute Natural Reserve 
  • 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 
  • Student-designed trekking in Rincon de la Vieja National Park
  • Exploration through the world-renowned cloud forest at Monteverde
  • Rest days on idyllic white-sand beaches where the option to swim, snorkel to SCUBA dive is available for you
  • 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 Central America 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 hope 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. Snorkeling, Canyoning & Ziplining

Take a trip to the wild side and adventure down the much less traveled south coast. We base ourselves in an epic rainforest lodge and take on multiple adventures. From canyoning, waterfalls and ziplining to snorkeling and cruising, we have everyone's needs covered. This week is about making memories and pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone a little. 

Week 5. Marine Conservation, Yoga & Meditation

We take an adventurous journey to the very southern point of the Nicoya Peninsula in the Cabo Blanco Absolute Natural Reserve. In this exclusive and remote destination, we connect with National Park rangers and conduct marine conservation work. The days will be spent at the tide pools catching sea turtles, identifying fish, and collecting biological data. When the tide is high, we will head back to the San Miguel station to debrief. This unique conservation experience will stay with you for a lifetime. 

You’ll head to a secluded beach in the Nicoya Peninsula to get acquainted with the relaxed pace of life before checking into your yoga and mediation retreat. Each day will bring a further exploration into self-reflection, development and empowerment. 

Week 6. Waterfalls, Natural Hot Springs & Monteverde Cloud Forest

Located in the north-western corner of the country, Rincon de la Vieja National Park is classified as a tropical dry forest. It is a fascinating area with plenty of exploration opportunities - climb the main massif or head out on one of the many circular routes to waterfalls, mud pools and hot springs. Fumaroles are also found here due to the high level of volcanic activity. Your first afternoon here can be supplemented with an optional horseback ride, allowing you to explore deeper around the ranch that you will stay on for the duration of your time in Rincon de la Vieja. Now that you are becoming accustomed to travel in Costa Rica,  the itinerary over the next two days in in your hands. There are lots of options for your team to choose from in terms of trekking options, but make sure it’s adventurous as you’re likely to be in Rincon only once!

Your last days will be spent wrapping up the program, digesting your experiences and sharing your final days floating through a cloud forest with some newfound lifelong friends. The Monteverde Cloud Forest offers your team lots of different trekking options. Keep an eye out for some of the diverse flora and fauna on offer throughout the cloud forest. For a more peaceful time, the Santa Elena Reserve is smaller, has fewer visitors than the main Monteverde Reserve and has an excellent network of short trails to follow whilst you acclimatize to the area. Look out for orchids whilst you trek.

Fun fact: Monteverde has the highest number of species of orchids in the world. It also is home to what we know as “The Great Divide” meaning that as you stand on the separation between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, you will be in two continents at once! You could also top off your time in Monteverde by visiting an ecological sanctuary, orchid/butterfly garden, serpentarium or by going to an activity park that offers things like ziplining and high ropes courses. Finally, make your way down from the clouds as you take a bus from Monteverde to San Jose and depart the 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
  • All meals
  • 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
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
Optional College Credit Yes Start/Finish San Jose, Costa Rica