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Pura Vida (“Pure Life”) is our introductory international community service and adventure travel program for middle school students. Our journey takes us from the foothills of Arenal Volcano to the lush rainforest and the Caribbean coastline. Immerse yourself in the vibrant cultures and wildlife of Costa Rica while contributing hands-on to sustain the progressive conservation efforts of this tiny Latin American country.
He absorbed so much good from this trip and came back changed and more mature and more open to what the world is and the beauty of it all." - Parent of Benjamin L., Costa Rica: Pura Vida
Volunteer side-by-side with the local community at La Marta Wildlife Refuge as you gain an introduction to Spanish language and learn trail maintenance skills in a culture rooted in conservation. Seeking adventure, we surf the Caribbean Sea, zip-line through the rainforest canopy, discover hidden waterfalls, enjoy Caño Negro River, a chocolate farm and visit with the indigenous Bribri tribe. Our Costa Rican adventure ignites young travelers with a wanderlust to explore much more of the incredible Central and South American landscape!
Keep scrolling to see for yourself the true meaning of “Pura Vida!”
Home to more than 500,000 species, Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. This country may be small, but its dense rainforests, tropical coastlines, and volcanic jungles house nearly 4% of the total species estimated in the world.
#2 Surf Puerto Viejo
Puerto Viejo is known throughout the world as a coveted surfing destination due to the high quality of surf breaks along the beaches. Good surfing paired with a multicultural, laid-back attitude makes Puerto Viejo perfect for every level of surfer.
#3 River Safari
The Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge, on the border of Costa Rica and Nicaragua, is a wetland reserve home to endangered species like monkeys, three-toed sloths, caimans, and turtles. Be on the lookout for a Basilisk Lizard, which can run across the surface of the water!
#4 Cahuita National Park
Cahuita National Park runs along the Caribbean coast in the Southeast corner of Costa Rica. Established in 1970, the park protects 2,635 acres of land and marine habitat. From mangroves to pristine beaches to rainforests, Cahuita captures the “Pura Vida” spirit by sharing the various habitats Costa Rica has to offer: all in one place!
There are plenty of reptiles for which Costa Rica is famous, and iguanas are the stars. They can be found just about everywhere, including the beaches. Costa Rica is home to about 30 species of mammals but many, many more reptiles.
Costa Rica is the ideal place to hone Spanish language skills with the warm and friendly ticos!
Widely referred to as “jewels of the earth,” rainforest jungles are home to two-thirds of all animal and plant species on the planet. A magnificent world awaits discovery with brightly colored birds, in-your-face howler monkeys, and slow-as-molasses sloths.
We strap ourselves into a harness, latch to a cable, and zip along 525-foot-high lines through the canopy surrounded by the scenic beauty of the rainforest.
The Bribri are an indigenous group that live in the coastal and mountainous regions of Costa Rica and Northern Panama. Our group visits the Bribri to learn about medicinal plants and how they produce and prepare a food with deep cultural and culinary significance: chocolate!
#10 Howler Monkeys
Even if they aren’t seen, they definitely are heard. Pound for pound, the howler is one of the loudest animals on the planet!
A tico-style meal of mixed rice and beans served with eggs and tortillas is a great way to start the day. Add a dollop of sour cream and there is nothing quite like the country’s national dish!
With 750 miles of coastline, there is a special place for everyone. Many of the country's beaches (playas) are part of a national forest or nature reserve, making it easy to see wild creatures only a shell's throw away from the beach.
Community Service Work at La Marta Wildlife Refuge: Repairing Small Bridges in the Forested Area, Trail Maintenance, Construction & Conservation Projects
A Certificate of Community Service indicating the total hours worked and a Presidential Volunteer Service Award will be issued upon successful completion of the program.
Exposure within community and country
Sea Kayak: Caribbean Coast
Hike: Cahuita National Park, La Marta Wildlife Refuge
Surf: Caribbean Coast
Culture: Bribri Indigenous community, Turrialba Valley
In San Jose and Puerto Viejo we stay in a hotel. During our time at La Marta Wildlife Refuge, we sleep inside a closed structure, with our sleeping bags on the floor, slumber party style. Sleeping spaces are separated by gender. Showers are available during the course of the program; however, we shower every three to four days to conserve resources and support sustainability. Bathrooms are flush toilets.
Newark, NJ (EWR)
A leader-escorted round-trip flight will be available (but not required) for those travelers who wish to fly with a leader. Please contact our office for details.
Join in on the fun! Check out #PuraVidaRLT for a behind-the-scenes look at photos from past participants and leaders.
Costa Rica is more than a summer vacation destination—it’s the perfect place for young travels to enjoy non stop adventure! We arrive in San José and orient ourselves to the rich Costa Rican sights and sounds while we take time to get to know one another, the country, and our tico hosts.
We transfer to the small town of La Fortuna in the Northern Highlands with the youthful 7,000 year old Arenal Volcano as the backdrop for our time here. Get your heart pounding as we zip-line through the rainforest canopy and feel an adrenaline rush like no other, looking for local flora and fauna as we move from tree to tree.
Transferring to the Northern border of the country we embark on a riverboat wildlife tour in the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge. The Rio Frio features the rare, exotic Jabiru Stork, cormorants, wood storks and other tropical birds. Plus everyone loves to spot sloths, howler monkeys and caimans (tiny crocodiles) that inhabit this lush biodiverse area.
Heading to La Marta Wildlife Refuge for our community service portion located in the Cartago province, we help preserve the natural landscapes and habitats that make the rainforest so unique. Here, we’re working side-by-side with local Costa Ricans on service projects such as repairing small bridges, building a new visitor center, and learning trail maintenance as we work to improve trails damaged by heavy rains. In the afternoons, we explore nature hikes throughout the refuge, crossing hanging bridges and seeking out hidden waterfalls. Time in the Cartago province is also paired with exciting opportunities for cultural immersion with the nearby communities of the Pejibaye Valley.
We head to the Caribbean coast and explore the colorful town of Puerto Viejo, surf the waters where waves lap black sand beaches, and kayak through pristine, coastal waterways. Then it is off to explore Cahuita National Park which protects Costa Rica's best coral reef formations, the massive trees of the lowland Atlantic tropical rainforest and their inhabitants. Here we take time to enjoy some free time along the beach.
Our visit with the Bribri—one of the main indigenous groups of Costa Rica—allows us to share in their experience of farming practices among the local cinnamon trees, cacao, and abundance of medicinal plants. Our stay ends with the Bribri an a culturally intense experience as we watch the women of the tribe create organic chocolate. We gain a deeper connection to the people of Costa Rica, experience the true Tico lifestyle, and satisfy our sweet tooth and realize it's not all about the chocolate!
Arrive in San Jose, transfer to accommodations. Get oriented by exploring the local area.
Zip through leafy green canopy, embark on a river cruise searching for wildlife, and experience Costa Rican life as our group adjusts to the Pura Vida way of life.
Collaborate on service projects to help protect local habitats and ecosystems at La Marta Wildlife Refuge. Learn how to live in harmony with the land and help care for the earth and community. Spend the afternoons exploring the many treasures of the preserve and engaging with the local community.
Kayak along a river buzzing with life that leads into the sea. Surf Caribbean waters on pristine black sand beaches. Explore the local lifestyle in Puerto Viejo and soak up the laid-back way of coastal life.
Learn about medicinal medicine and chocolate roasting from the Bribri. Hike through Cahuita National Park to swim on the beach, closing our time in Costa Rica with a final banquet.
Say goodbye to our new friends and head 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.
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!
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 on the first day of the trip, and from the ending destination back home on the last day of the trip.
The Pura Vida program offers an optional escorted flight for participants. All interested students will meet a leader at the Newark International Airport (EWR). Students also have the option of meeting a leader incountry on arrival day in San Jose, Costa Rica.
If you wish to have your participant fly directly into the starting location, please call the office for details.