Program Guide:

Sustainable Development in Costa Rica, Fall 2023

October 4 - November 1, 2023
Itinerary Packing & budgeting Country guide


Note: This itinerary is subject to change due to availability and local conditions at the time of departure.

Days 1–6: San Jose, Costa Rica

Day 1: Wednesday, October 4
Arrival Day

Depart U.S. and arrive in San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital city. Your EF Tour Director will be waiting for you at the airport with a friendly face and a “pura vida”! Meet the rest of your group and enjoy a welcome dinner all together.
Meals included: Dinner

Day 2: Thursday, October 5
Orientation & Coffee Plantation Visit

In the morning, spend some time with your group getting to know each other and doing some activities to set yourselves up for success throughout your program. In the afternoon, venture into the mountains surrounding San Jose to visit to a coffee plantation! Costa Rican coffee is some of the best in the world — and nearly 10% of Costa Rica’s population is involved in coffee production. Learn about how the beans are grown, the environmental impact of the industry, and how the coffee industry fits into Costa Rican culture and economy.
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Days 3-6: Friday, October 6 – Monday, October 9
Service Project: Lifting Hands
Embark on your first service learning project with the NGO Lifting Hands. Based in San Jose, Lifting Hands is an organization that focuses on improving the quality of communities through educational and community development programs. While you’re there, you could be working on projects to improve infrastructure, playing games with the children who attend Lifting Hands’ programs, practicing English with community members, and lots more! This is a great opportunity to connect on a deeper level with Costa Rican people and culture.
Meals included: All

Days 7–9: Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Day 7: Tuesday, October 10
Drive to Central Pacific Coast
Journey by private bus from San Jose to Costa Rica’s Central Pacific Coast.
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 8: Wednesday, October 11
Explore Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park is one of Costa Rica’s natural gems. From trekking through the rainforest and seeing sloths and monkeys to swimming on the pristine white beaches, you’ll enjoy taking time to appreciate nature and relax!
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 9: Thursday, October 12
Catamaran Excursion

Get out on the water with a boat ride on a catamaran around the gorgeous waters surrounding Manuel Antonio. Swim, relax, and be on the lookout for dolphins and whales that you may spot along the way!
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Days 10–12: Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Day 10: Friday, October 13
Drive to the Osa Peninsula region
The Corcovado region is one of the most remote and beautiful parts of Costa Rica. You’ll travel by private bus from Manuel Antonio down to the Osa Peninsula, where you’ll arrive at the campus of service partner Osa Conservation. Because this NGO is the most remote that you will visit, make sure you get everything you need (e.g. snacks, medications, etc.) before you leave the Manuel Antonio area. Note that the roads to get to there can be bumpy and conditions can vary based on the weather. Make sure to listen to your Tour Director’s instructions.
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Days 11-12: Saturday, October 14 – Sunday, October 15
Service Project: Osa Conservation
Osa Conservation is a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the biodiversity of Costa Rica. While there, you will learn about and work with their sea turtle conservation project — exact projects will vary based on the cycle of the turtles when you are there! You’ll also learn about and work on Osa’s network of trails and sustainable agriculture projects. You will be staying at their Bio-Station, which backs up to an old-growth rainforest, so you may see scarlet macaws, spider monkeys, and peccaries just outside your cabin!
Meals included: All

Days 13–15: La Isla, Costa Rica

Day 13: Monday, October 16
Drive to La Isla
Travel by private bus from Corcovado to the beautiful beach of Playa Seco, where La Isla is located.
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Days 14-15: Tuesday, October 17 – Wednesday, October 18
Service Project: La Isla
While enjoying the beautiful beaches, you’ll also be working on a service project focusing on mangrove reforestation. Learn about the importance of mangroves on ecosystems, and plant mangrove propagules to continue to foster the growth of this important natural resource. Be ready to get wet and muddy!
Meals included: All

Days 16–18: Monteverde, Costa Rica

Day 16: Thursday, October 19
Transfer to Monteverde
Travel by private bus to the mountains of Monteverde. You’ll be ascending into a totally new ecosystem and environment!
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Days 17-18: Friday, October 20 – Saturday, October 21
Service Project: Monteverde Institute
The Monteverde Institute is a non-profit focused on sustainable living, place-based education, and applied research. One of their biggest focuses is reforestation in the mountains of Monteverde. While there, you’ll learn about the history and context of this region of Costa Rica, and you’ll work on supporting their reforestation initiatives.
Meals included: All


Days 19–20: Arenal Region, Costa Rica

Day 19: Sunday, October 22
Arenal: Kayaking & Ziplining
No trip to Costa Rica is complete without making the most of the adventures you can have in nature! Travel to the Arenal region by bus. Once there, you’ll fly through the forest on a zipline, and paddle your way through the mists of Lake Arenal — taking in the views of Arenal Volcano looming above you!
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 20: Monday, October 23
Hike La Fortuna waterfall. Hot springs visit.
Enjoy a hike to one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful waterfalls, La Fortuna. Then relax your mind and body by soaking in hot springs heated by Arenal Volcano.
Meals included: All

Days 21–24: Rancho Margot, Costa Rica

Days 21-24: Tuesday, October 24 – Friday, October 27
Sustainable Agriculture Workshops: Rancho Margot
Rancho Margot is an off-the-grid, sustainable ranch surrounded by the rainforest. They are focused on sharing their sustainable skills and perspective with visitors. While you’re there, you’ll take different workshops that focus on learning how the sustainable farm works and doing things like making soap and making cheese. Your meals there will be made from the food grown on-site! During your free time, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy this special environment — taking yoga classes, enjoying the natural pools, and recharging in nature.
Meals included: All


Days 25–29: San Jose, Costa Rica

Day 25: Saturday, October 28
Drive to San Jose
Travel with your group by private bus to San Jose
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Days 26-27: Sunday, October 29 – Monday, October 30
Leadership Academy at the UN’s University for Peace
The University for Peace (or UPeace) is a UN-founded university that is focused on training leaders to solve global problems related to global peace and wellbeing. While at UPeace, you will be doing workshops with a facilitator focused on processing your experience on-program, unpacking your own growth, appreciating your team, and bringing all that you’ve learned with you to your next steps. Plus you’ll be on UPeace’s absolutely stunning campus atop a mountain overlooking the city of San Jose!
Meals included: All

Day 28: Tuesday, October 31
Whitewater Rafting Excursion. Farewell group dinner.
There’s no better way to wrap up your program than by spending time with your cohort doing a once-in-a-lifetime rafting experience. Ride the rapids and listen for the calls of monkeys and toucans as you roll through the rainforest. In the evening, enjoy a closing dinner with your group and celebrate all that you’ve accomplished together.
Meals included: All

Day 29: Wednesday, November 1
Fly home
Head home from San Jose. Your Tour Director will make sure you get to the airport with plenty of time to get on the road safe and sound!
Meals included: Breakfast

Destination tips


During the times on program when you’re at a service learning project, you will spend most of your time outdoors doing physical labor, so ensure that you bring casual, comfortable clothing that you do not mind getting dirty. Out of respect for the local culture, we ask that you please dress conservatively during your service project; depending on the project, you may not be allowed to wear tight or revealing clothing, shorts above the knee, tank tops, sports bras with nothing over them, or leggings.

Whatever your personal spending habits are, it’s important to anticipate your expenses and budget accordingly so that you can travel care-free with more time to enjoy participating in your program. While many meals and activities are included during your EF Gap program, we want to help you build a realistic budget for additional expenses so that you can fully enjoy trying the local cuisine, participating in activities in your free time, and, of course, shopping for souvenirs to bring back home.

Packing list
Clothing & Shoes

– T-shirts (5)
– Tank tops (2-3)
– Nice shirts/outfits (2-3)
– Nicer shirts/blouses (1-2)
– Raincoat/windbreaker
– Athletic/work shorts (4-5)
– Lightweight work pants (1-2)
– Socks and underwear (2 weeks)
– Warmer layers in case of chilly nights (2)
– Lightweight pajamas
– Bathing suits (2-3)

– Comfortable walking shoes/sneakers
– Flip-flops/sandals
– Sturdy work shoes/hiking boots
– Water shoes (We recommend closed-toed water shoes, as these protect your feet better and may be required for some activities. These can be purchased cheaply on the road if needed.)
– Rubber boots (These may or may not be necessary for some service projects depending on the weather conditions. You can purchase them cheaply on the road for around $10 if you want to save space in your luggage.)


– Reusable water bottle
– Sunglasses
– Hats: 1 for sun coverage, 1 for warmth
– Packing cubes, optional
– Micro fiber towel / beach towel
– Work gloves
– Headphones
– Camera / memory card / charging cables
– Portable charger
– Travel lock for luggage and belongings
– Laundry  bag


– Toothbrush / toothpaste
– Deodorant
– Body wash/soap
– Shampoo / conditioner
– Hairbrush
– Reef-safe sunscreen
– Calendula / aloe vera for sunburn
– Stomach soothing medication
– Wet wipes
– Stain Remover stick / detergent packs
– Contact lenses / solution / eye glasses
– Menstrual products


– Passport
Pro tip: bring a photo copy as well

– Copy of your flight itinerary
Found in your EF Gap Year portal

– Copy of your itinerary and accommodations
Found in your EF Gap Year portal

– Health Documents:
CDC vaccination card (if applicable)

– Copy of any prescriptions

– Primary Health Insurance card from the U.S.


– Backpack
This is your carry-on! It can also double as your daily bag while abroad.

– Wallet
Bring your debit or ATM card so you can withdraw cash, as well as your credit card, ID, and student ID if you have one (discounts!)

For prescriptions, make sure it is in original container and bring enough of a supply to last your program.

– COVID-19 CDC vaccination card
Or, a negative COVID test result if applicable.

– Entertainment!
Books, downloaded Netflix streams and Spotify playlists, magazines, travel journal, deck of cards, etc.

– Passport
– Airline ticket
– Reusable water bottle
– Neck pillow / eye mask / ear plugs
– Toothbrush / toothpaste
– Contact lenses / solution / eyeglasses

Budgeting guide

We don’t recommend traveling with large sums of cash. You may want to convert a small amount money to the currency of your first destination. From there, you’ll be able to access local currency by using your debit card to withdraw cash from an ATM. 

Be sure to check with your bank ahead of time and, if necessary, provide a travel notice so they don’t block the card for suspected fraud. Also ask them about any foreign transaction fees that might apply, as these can add up quickly. Apple Pay is another great option that past students have used during their time on-program. 

Costa Rica’s official currency is the colón (1000 colónes = 1.50 USD), but mostshops and restaurants will accept US currency, though the exchange rate may differ from place to place. Many places will not accept bills bigger than $20 USD.


Get ready to eat lots of rice and beans, yucca potatoes, seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables, and amazing coffee! You can’t beat the local cuisine in Latin America, and it’s usually cheaper than back home too. Lunches from local restaurants (called “sodas”) are usually anywhere from $5-$10, whereas the nicer restaurants in the cities will be more expensive. Your Tour Directors are great resources to point you in the direction of delicious, local, and budget-friendly food options!

– We recommend budgeting between $60 to $100 each week for food.

– While you’re at volunteering with partner organizations, all breakfasts are included, many lunches are included, and all dinners are included.

– While you’re touring around the country, all breakfasts are included, most lunches are not included, and most dinners are included.


We recommend budgeting up to $50 a week for extra costs. This could mean putting money aside for things like:

– Checked bag airline fee (usually around $30-50 per bag for every flight)
– Additional items of clothing
– Emergencies
– Extra toiletries
– Souvenirs
– Laundry (This can vary in cost based on where you are. To save money, we suggest bringing a small bottle of condensed soap, such as Dr. Bronner’s, that you can use to wash your clothes in the sink.)

Optional activities or excursions
Throughout your trip, your Tour Director may find opportunities for additional excursions and activities; typically, these experiences can cost anywhere from $10-$50, and there may be one or two opportunities like this each week. 

Packing tips

Safety & Support

EF Gap Year is a key part of EF’s expansive global network. With a presence in over 120 countries, 52,000 staff, 600 schools and offices, and over 400 community partners our team has your back and is always available to help you succeed on your journey.

Your global support network

Brett Davies is thrilled to be your Advisor! His role is to support you from a distance, check-in with you throughout the program, and encourage you to achieve your goals. Brett liaises with your Tour Director, Student Life Coordinator, and local EF staff, collectively working to ensure the success of your experience. Brett is also available for parents and guardians as well. Brett, along with the entire advising team, works from 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM EST Monday through Friday.

Tour Director

Your Tour Director is the logistical and safety coordinator of the group. They are a local guide who will serve as your best resource for logistical support, like ensuring you arrive on time for flights or helping you find the nearest ATM. They are also there for safety purposes and can help with medical concerns or emergencies as well. In certain countries, Tour Directors may be referred to as Field Directors.

Student Life Coordinator

Your Student Life Coordinator supports the group dynamic as well as provides individual socio-emotional support on the ground. They will be present for the duration of the program and are available to encourage you to develop new relationships and support you in overcoming challenges, like homesickness.

Safety & Incident Response Team

The Safety & Incident Response Team is available to all of our students 24/7 and is trained to support students in times of crisis.

The EF Emergency Line is: 617-619-2520  

Making the most of your program

To make the most of your time during your program, this section gives some helpful context and reflection questions. These questions are great ones to think about on your own, to journal about, or to discuss with a friend or in a small group. Make the most of your time during your program by spending a little bit of time each day—even as little as 5 or 10 minutes—doing conscious reflection!

San Jose

San Jose is the capital of Costa Rica. While you’re there, you’ll see both the hustle and bustle of a big city, as well as the natural environment of the mountains surrounding this city.

Your first few days on program are a mix of emotions — excitement, joy, anxiety, nervousness, curiosity, homesickness, confusion, and wonder. You are in a new culture and context, you are meeting new people, and you are getting into the groove of a new routine. Whatever you’re feeling, you’re not alone!

Consider your five senses—sight, hearing, taste, smell, and feel. What new things have you sensed with each of these senses during your first few days in Costa Rica?

Think of a time in your first few days in Costa Rica when you felt a genuine connection with a person, a place, or a group. What did this connection feel like?

During your first service project with Lifting Hands, what was a challenge that you faced? How did you overcome it?

If you haven’t already, set a concrete goal for yourself to achieve over the next four weeks. Take a moment to write it down in a journal or on a piece of paper that you will keep with you. Re-visit this goal during your program, and think about ways you can incorporate working towards this goal each day!

Sustaining your mental and physical health is vital while on-program. Make a list of the ways that you proactively plan to maintain both.

Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio National Park is a natural wonder. Full of flora and fauna you have probably never seen before, you will enjoy exploring both its dense jungles and its sunny beaches. Take this time to restore and reflect with your cohort—and to appreciate all that nature has to offer in this unique environment.

While in a spot in nature—maybe the rainforest, maybe the beach—take a moment to close your eyes. Listen to the sounds around you. What are you hearing? What is the farthest-away sound you can hear? What is the closest?

Who is one person in the group you want to get to know better? Challenge yourself to reach out to them and get to know them better—maybe this means inviting them to hang out with you on the beach, asking them questions about their hometown as you walk through the jungle, or sitting next to them at dinner and chatting about how their day went.

What is the biggest surprise you’ve had in during your program so far?


Corcovado National Park is in a remote part of southeastern Costa Rica. Its ecosystems and environment are special for a variety of species, including sea turtles, which are the focus of the service project you’re working on in Corcovado.

The work of the NGO you’re working with in Corcovado—LAST—is different every day due to the time of year, the weather, the organization’s priorities, and what the turtles are feeling like doing! Because of this, your time working with LAST can look a lot of different ways. This requires you to be adaptable, resilient, and down to do anything!

By this point in the program, you have probably had at least one moment where you’ve felt frustrated, confused, or annoyed. How did you deal with this moment? What worked, and what didn’t work? What will you do next time you face a difficult moment on-program?

How has your group dynamic changed between the beginning of the program and now? What moments have helped the group bond and grow?

What is one thing you learned about sea turtles during your time with LAST?

You have a whole network to support you during your program. Have you connected with your EF Gap Year Advisor yet? Shoot them a text to let them know how you’re doing—whether everything is awesome or you’re struggling with something, they are there to cheer you on and support you!

La Isla

During your time at La Isla, you will be working on a mangrove reforestation project. You’ll learn a lot about the significance of mangroves in their ecosystems! In your down time, you will be surrounded by some of Costa Rica’s most beautiful beaches.

Who is one person who has helped you during your journey so far? Spend a moment feeling gratitude for this person (or people) — and if you feel comfortable, let them know how much you appreciate them!

At the end of a long day, sit quietly with your eyes closed and take a deep breath. What is the primary emotion you’re feeling at this moment? Where in your body can you feel this emotion?

What are three things you learned during your time at La Isla about mangroves and their importance in the ecosystem?

You’ve probably tried some new foods and flavors during your time in Costa Rica. What is the best bite of food you’ve eaten during your trip so far?


Monteverde is high in the mountains of Costa Rica—a beautiful natural environment full of lush, green forests. You’ll likely see some rainy afternoons during your time in Monteverde!

The Monteverde Institute, where you’ll be working, focuses on conserving Costa Rica’s natural environments, with a focus on reforestation. While there, you’ll learn about Costa Rica’s history, and you’ll get your hands dirty working on some tree-planting projects.

What is one thing about the history of Costa Rica that you learned during your time at the Monteverde Institute?

While working on the tree-planting projects, what tasks did you enjoy? What tasks did you find difficult?

During your free time, how are you making time to rest and recharge? Check-in with yourself and make sure you are getting enough time to recuperate physically and emotionally after each long day.

Arenal & Rancho Margot


The Arenal Volcano sits overlooking a lake, rainforest, and hot springs. It is a stunning spot that is one of Costa Rica’s primary destinations for eco-tourism and outdoor adventure.

During your time in the Arenal region, you will have the chance to explore some of this amazing nature — from kayaking in Lake Arenal to soaking in hot springs. You’ll also be staying at Rancho Margot, a self-sustaining ranch, where you’ll be doing workshops on things like how to make soap and how to make cheese!

How does the Arenal region compare to other parts of Costa Rica you’ve been so far? Think about the natural environment, the people, the food, and the climate.

During this part of the program, you will do some physically demanding activities, like kayaking and hiking. How does your body feel after you complete these activities? How do your mind and emotions feel?

What is one thing you learned at Rancho Margot about sustainability that you want to take back home with you?

San Jose & University for Peace

You’re wrapping up your experience back where you started, in San Jose. During these few days, you are spending time at the United Nations established University for Peace, which is located in the lush mountains just outside San Jose. While you’re there, you’ll be doing workshops that help you process who you are and what skills you’ve gained during your time on program—and how to take those forward into your next steps.

Use these days—both inside and outside your sessions at UPeace—to think about your experiences on program and reflect on how you’ll bring all that you’ve learned with you as you prepare to return home. This is also a great time to express your gratitude for your cohort, your on-the-ground support staff, and all the people who made your experience so special!

What is one thing you learned on program that you want to share with your friends/family when you return home? This could be something you learned about Costa Rica or sustainability, but it could also be something you learned about yourself.

Think back to one of your happiest moments on program. What was it that made this moment so special? Think about the environment you were in, the activities you were doing, and the people you were with. How can you bring more moments like that into your life?

What was a moment on program where you pushed yourself outside your comfort zone? Maybe this was trying a new food, doing an activity you weren’t sure if you could do, or pushing yourself to connect with new people. How has your comfort zone perhaps expanded while you’ve been on the road?

Social Identity Resources

Travel provides incredible opportunities to learn about yourself, the world, and yourself in the world. But travel is also a deeply emotional experience that can bring different challenges to every individual based on the identities they hold and experiences they’ve had.

This resource is intended to help you think about how your intersecting identities can, and will, shape your experience as an EF student. Take some time to review our Social Identity Resources to hear different perspectives, learn about identity-specific resources, and prepare with helpful tips before you go abroad.

Questions about your
upcoming program?

Your dedicated Gap Year Advisor is here to help every step of the way.