Join us in Costa Rica as we journey down el sendero – “our own trail” – experiencing life off the beaten path in the shadow of the Turrialba Volcano. Our summer teen community service and Spanish immersion program in Costa Rica takes us through the beautiful country as we visit mountains, a rainforest, and beaches.
Improve your Spanish as we immerse ourselves in a rural community within the Turrialba Valley to repair family homes and teach English to local children – making time to surf, sea kayak, zip-line, and whitewater raft.
This trip is for teens who want to achieve Spanish fluency and make a real difference while having an unforgettable Central American summer travel adventure. To learn more, click on the Description tab below.
Costa Rica // You Don't Want to Miss...
#1 Indigenous Bribri Indians
Living in the mountains and low-lying coastal areas, they are sometimes referred to as “the hidden people.” The Bribri's isolation has allowed them to maintain their language, culture, and economy.
#2 Birdwatching and Those Crazy Toucans!
Birdwatchers, get out your binoculars! Colorful toucans are important to the rainforest ecosystem. Hummingbirds, scarlet macaws, and the resplendent quetzal also can be seen while hiking the national parks.
#3 Another Way to Get Wet - Rio Pacuare
Adrenaline-charged whitewater rafting on the Pacuare River combines the tropical landscape and power of water into a Central American fantasy world.
#4 Surfing Epic Playa Negra
Costa Rica has something for everyone with more than 800 miles of palm-fringed coastline and a variety of beaches, reef breaks, and river mouths. Playa Negra is one of the most sought after surf spots. It’s famous for right-hand barrel waves where the surf rushes over the shallow bottom.
#5 Taste The Golden Bean
Coffee, the grano de oro (golden bean), holds a pivotal role in the development of Costa Rica. It shapes social, cultural, and political institutions all while being one of Costa Rica’s major agricultural exports.
#6 Those Adorable Slow Poke Sloths!
These friendly, fuzzy, two- and three-toed guys are a bit hard to see as they blend in so well with their surroundings, so look hard!
All kinds of dolphins are seen in Costa Rica. From spotted to bottlenose, they are very playful and sometimes even swim next to you while you kayak!
#8 The Rascal Monkeys
Four species of monkeys swinging from tree to tree include the white-throated capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys, and spider monkeys.
#9 Black Sand Beaches
Black sand beaches are the by-product of lava deposits from more than 50 volcanoes that are rimmed by jungles and backed by the ocean. Definitely postcard-worthy.
#10 Fútbol With Local Costa Ricans
Young children and adults play fútbol in vacant lots and town plazas after school and in the evening. Oftentimes the entire village turns out to cheer for their friends and neighbors!
#11 The Best Gallo Pinto Of Your Life
The Costa Rican tico (locals) breakfast is just what the doctor ordered. Cooks in every region tout their own special recipe of beans and rice, which is never shared or written down anywhere. Instead, it is made by sight, feel, and smell just as it has been for years or even generations.
#12 Zip Line - Pacuare Nature Reserve
An incredible zip-line course propels thrill-seekers through the rainforest canopy high above the jungle floor. With multiple tree platforms, it is a must-do experience for all.
#13 Cahuita National Park
This national park is known for coral reefs with light yellow brain, elk horn, and blue staghorn corals, as well as sea fans and gorgonians. It also boasts more than 500 species of fish. While hiking, we look for green ibis, yellow-crowned night herons, northern boat-billed herons, Swainson toucans, keel-billed toucans, rufous kingfishers, and the Central American curassow.
#14 Chocolate Farm
Before Europeans arrived to hunt for gold, indigenous Costa Ricans used money that literally grew on trees. The tiny brown seeds of the cacao bean were used as currency and were worth their weight in gold.
50-62 Community Service Hours
Repair homes of families in need in the rural village of Dulce Nombre. Teach English to local students and participate in communal activities that make up life in rural Costa Rica.
A Certificate of Community Service indicating the total number of hours worked and a Presidential Volunteer Service Award will be issued upon successful completion of the program.
Spanish Language Immersion
Immersion within Community and Country
Two years previous Spanish speaking experience necessary
Surf: Playa Negra
Hike: Pacuare Nature Reserve
Zip Line: Pacuare Nature Reserve
Whitewater Raft: Pacuare River
Explore: Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, Cahuita National Park, Indigenous Bribri Indian Chocolate Farm, Caribbean Coast
Cultural Exchange: Native Costa Ricans, Bribri Indians (the last remaining indigenous people of Costa Rica)
While in San Jose and along the Caribbean coast, we stay in a hotel. Showers are available in the hotels; however, we shower every three to four days to conserve resources and support sustainability. In Dulce Nombre, we stay in a community center where bucket showers will be available every three to four days. During our time in the Jungle we sleep in platform tents with mattresses where showers are available. Bathrooms range from flush toilets in hotels to latrines throughout jungle time.
Tuition (Airfare and baggage fees not included)
San Jose, Costa Rica
Join in on the fun! Check out #ElsenRLT for a behind-the-scenes look at photos from past participants and leaders.
Join us in Costa Rica as we journey down el sendero (our own trail), experiencing life off the beaten path in the shadow of the Turrialba Volcano. We live with and work alongside indigenous villagers, helping to improve their homes while building relationships with the children.
With the highest rural population density in Latin America, Costa Rican culture revolves around countryside and family. Wherever we go, we are certain to be left with memorable snapshots of rural life, tropical forests full of sloths and monkeys, stunning white-sand beaches peppered with striking rock formations, iconic cowboys with legendary bullfighting prowess, coffee-plantation day-laborers setting off to work in the dawn mists of the highlands, and avocado-pickers cycling home at sunset.
During our service, we live and work alongside the farming community of Dulce Nombre. We work to repair and improve the homes of families while teaching English to the children. We immerse ourselves in the culture and the language, making tamales and empanadas, and defending America’s honor in afternoon futból matches with the niños.
Our sendero leads us to the coast where beautiful beaches await. Choice and variety fill our days: surfing, snorkeling, sea kayaking, and looking for turtles, three-toed sloths, and families of howler monkeys in the treetops.
We get a unique glimpse into the lives of the Bribri culture, one of the last remaining indigenous people of Costa Rica. The Bribri, located in the mountains and low-lying coastal areas, are the original inhabitants of Talamanca. Their isolation has allowed them to maintain their language, culture, and economy. As agriculturalists with more than 120 wild and domestic crops, the Bribri are surprisingly self-sufficient. Our Bribri guides invite us to sample exotic fruits and colorful berries, cacao, and experience hunting with arrows and wooden targets. We ramble through the sun-drenched afternoons in the wilds of Cahuita National Park and dance to the rhythm of the Caribbean.
Our summer adventure doesn’t end there. We have the rare opportunity to experience one of the most gorgeous river rafting trips in the world. On the Pacuare River, we raft the lush valley of Turrialba in the Central Valley of Costa Rica. Steering through crystal clear rapids, we take breaks to hike to hidden waterfalls and zip-line through the treetops. With shouts of delight filling the forest air, we drop off the platform to experience the full power of gravity. We free-fall like bungee-jumpers, descending to the guide awaiting below and conquering our fears!
We wade into the water one last time, explore the rainforest, and relax among the banana trees, sway in hammocks, and end our time with a traditional Costa Rican tropical feast.
Arrival (Day 1):
Arrive in San Jose, Costa Rica. Meet the group and rest up at the hotel.
Orientation and Community Service Project (Days 2-9):
Collect supplies. Head out of San Jose due south to service site in Dulce Nombre. Spend the next eight days helping community members repair their homes, speaking Spanish, teaching English, and playing fútbol.
Caribbean Adventure (Days 10-12):
Move to Puerto Viejo, one of Costa Rica’s most spectacular surf spots. Take a surf lesson, kayak the Caribbean, and soak up some sun on the beach of Cahuita National Park. Learn about holistic medicine from the Bribri people.
Raft and Zip Line Through the Rainforest (Days 13-15):
Head to the Turrialba Valley and the Pacuare River. Raft class 2 and 3 rapids through the rainforest. Zip-line through the canopy, hike to a pristine waterfall, swim in the nearby natural pools.
Final Banquet (Day 16):
Reminisce over a final feast in San Jose.
Homeward Bound (Day 17):
Say final goodbyes and board flights home.
The Road Less Traveled does not require any vaccinations or immunizations to travel with us, other than an up-to-date tetanus shot or booster (within the last nine years).
Please visit the CDC’s website to read more about recommended vaccinations for travel to Costa Rica. The decision to get some, none, or all of the recommended vaccinations is a personal one, and should be discussed with your family doctor.
Please click below to view your program’s equipment and packing list!
Costa Rica: El Sendero Packing List - Coming soon!
For an emailed copy of this program’s day-to-day calendar, please call our office between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. CST at 773-342-5200 and we’ll happily send you one!
General Travel Info
It is imperative that no one make any travel arrangements until RLT provides instructions for specific arrival and departure time windows. Those details are typically released in mid-spring.
Families are individually responsible for booking their own airfare to get their student from home to the starting destination, San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO) on the first day of the trip, and from the ending destination, back home on the last day of the trip.