Program Guide:

Sustainable Development in Costa Rica

January 2-20, 2024
Itinerary Packing & budgeting Country guides
Course Introduction

What is now generally defined as “development” has not come without a cost. The industrial model standing at the roots of our current standards of living has been based on a linear system of production, where natural resources are extracted from the Earth; processed in manufacturing plants, used by consumers around the world; and finally get either incinerated or discarded as waste in landfills or in Nature. The current system, which relies on large quantities of cheap, easily accessible materials and energy, is coming up against constraints on the availability of resources, and our capacity to manage its huge amounts of waste. Resource constraints, as well as increasing volumes of waste and pollution compounded by the rising demand from the world’s growing and increasingly affluent population, are likely to impose mounting threats to welfare and wellbeing. All the key indicators confirm that the problems of a linear economy are grounded in the global economy.

The ‘circular economy’ is an industrial system that is restorative by intention and design. The idea is that rather than discarding products before the value is fully utilized; products should be designed for ease of reuse, disassembly, recycling, and remanufacturing. The transition towards a circular economy offers an opportunity to reduce our ecological footprint by lowering raw material consumption and minimizing waste generation. This, no doubt, is a major prerequisite to staying within the Planetary Boundaries.

This course includes an introduction to the Circular Economy concept. It provides an array of case examples, a solid framework, and guiding principles for implementing it. Ultimately, the Circular Economy is about the optimization of entire processes and systems rather than single components. The transition towards a circular economy is one of the biggest challenges we face to create a more sustainable society. This transition requires an interdisciplinary approach, combining socio-technical, managerial, and environmental considerations.


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

Days 1-2: Introduction to Sustainable Development

Day 1: Tuesday, January 2
Arrive in San Jose, Costa Rica
Depart the U.S. and arrive in San Jose, Costa Rica. Your EF Field Director will be waiting for you at the airport with a friendly face
Meals included: Dinner

Day 2: Wednesday, January 3
Classroom Session: Introduction to Sustainable Development
Meet with your cohort and head up to the University for Peace campus where you’ll have your first classroom session with Professor Munoz where you’ll explore the origins of the concept of Sustainable Development and how we understand this concept today.
Finally, spend some time getting to know your cohort at the welcome dinner.
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Days 3-6: The Linear System

Day 3: Thursday, January 4
Field Excursion: The end of linear life
Learn how the waste management system we use today works to understand if it’s really a viable solution to our waste creation problem by visiting a landfill site in Perez Zeledon. Unpack questions like who benefits from this system? and what actions are being taken to mitigate its impact?
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 4: Friday, January 5
Field Excursion: Recycling, Surf & Yoga
Begin your day with a visit to the waste transfer station of Perez Zeledon; the place where all materials in the region come to be recycled. Build your understanding of local governments impact on sustainability initiatives and what’s stopping them from enacting greater change. Continue on to Dominical where you’ll visit Bodhi Surf and Yoga, an inspiring and sustainable Certified B Corp that is using nature-minded education for good.
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 5: Saturday, January 6
Free day: Manuel Antonio National Park
Spend some time exploring Manuel Antonio National Park, one of Costa Rica’s premier national parks located on Costa Rica’s Central Pacific Coast. The park encompasses rugged rainforests, white sand beaches and coral reefs, in additional to an immense amount of biodiversity.
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 7: Sunday, January 7
Field Excursion: MareBlu
It’s time for a coastal cleanup expedition! Learn about the impacts of plastic in our oceans first-hand alongside experts at MareBlu, an environmental conservation organization fighting to make the oceans, rivers, and coastlines plastic free.
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 8: Monday, January 8
Classroom Session: Wrap up the linear system
Return to the University for Peace to closeout the discussion of the linear system and unpack the concept of Planetary Boundaries.
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

Days 8-14: The Circular System

Day 8: Tuesday, January 9
Classroom Session: Introduction to the circular system
In this session, you’ll delve into the topic of circularity and how it could provide a path toward sustainability.
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 9: Wednesday, January 10
Field Excursion: Lombri-Tec
Take a trip out of the city to visit a dairy farm that uses its waste to produce rich, nutritional vermicompost that’s sold in the market. Unpack the scalability of sustainable business models like this in discussion with the company’s founders.
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 10: Thursday, January 11
Classroom Session: Introduction to the biological
Head up to the University for Peace campus to parse out the differences between the biological and technical cycles. You’ll explore why it is so important to have healthy biological cycles to become truly sustainable.
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 11: Friday, January 12
Field Visit: VICAL Glass
Head to Cartago, where you’ll explore the inner workings of industrial glass production and recycling. Debate whether glass has a place in a truly sustainable, Circular Economy.
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 12: Saturday, January 13
Classroom Session: Introduction to the technological cycle  
Where does material sustainability begin? Recycling is often understood as the best alternative when objects must be discarded, but is it? Can the Circular Economy do it better?
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 13: Sunday, January 14
Free Day: San Jose  
Take a break and explore the historic and eclectic city of San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital.
Meals included: Breakfast

Day 14: Monday, January 15
Field Visit: WCW Recycling Center
On this excursion, you’ll visit the largest collection company in the whole country to unpack the positives, negatives, beliefs, and myths of recycling.
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Days 15-16: Rancho Margot & La Fortuna

Day 15: Tuesday, January 16
Field Excursion: Rancho Margot
Venture into Costa Rica’s Central Valley to visit Rancho Margot, a living laboratory where you’ll learn about sustainable resource management and regenerative practices including zero-waste soap making, and regenerative agriculture.
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 16: Wednesday, January 17
Free Day: La Fortuna
Take the day to explore the waterfall, hot springs, or nature preserves in La Fortuna, nestled in the shadow of the Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal.
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Days 17-19: Research Symposium

Day 17: Thursday, January 18
Classroom Session: Closing Discussion
Close out the course with a final discussion tying together all that you’ve learned through the program and continue work on your research projects as you prepare for the final presentations.
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 18: Friday, January 19
Classroom Session: Research Symposium
Present your circular analysis projects to your peers, staff, and faculty at the University for Peace. Close out the program with some reflection activities and a final farewell dinner as a cohort.
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 19: Saturday, January 20
Return Home
Say goodbye to the group and begin your journey back home.
Meals included: Breakfast

Academics and
Credit Transfer

Credit and Transfer

All students who successfully complete all academic requirements on this program will receive a transcript from Colorado State University upon their return to the United States whether you plan to enroll in a US-university after the program or not.

Your transcript will include a total of 3 college credits from the one Course. Please note that it is your (the student’s) responsibility to complete any steps necessary to ensure the transfer of that credit to their home university.

Academic Policies and Procedures

Students are expected to attend all scheduled classes and field excursions and should communicate to EF staff if illness or other challenges necessitate missing a class. This course will assign homework and students are expected to complete all necessary assignments.

Students participating in study abroad programs managed by EF Gap Year are subject to both EF’s academic policies and the academic policies of the local host university.

Students should notify EF of any requested accommodation as early as possible in order to allow time to review specific requests and gather appropriate supporting documentation from their student accessibility services office. Disability-related requests for accommodations and services are evaluated individually by EF and the host university, based on documentation and completion of the registration process. Please be aware that the level of accessibility, services, and accommodation to which you have access at your home campus may not be available at the program site and host universities.


A syllabus for this course is linked here.

Tips to make the best of your experience


You will spend most of your time outdoors, 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 site visits; 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.

Some sites may also require closed-toed shoes so be sure to pack accordingly.

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

-T-shirts (4)
-Nicer shirts/blouses (3)
Shorts/pants/jeans/skirts/dresses (4–5)
-Socks and underwear (pack for 2 weeks)
-Warmer layers in case of chilly nights (2)
-Bathing suits (1–2)
-Comfortable walking shoes/sneakers
-Warm jacket
-Quick-dry/lightweight short sleeve
and long sleeve shirts (2-3)
-Quick-dry/lightweight work pants
and long shorts (2-3)
-Sturdy shoes or hiking boots


– 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 and toothpaste
-Body wash/soap
-Shampoo and conditioner
-Sunscreen (reef-safe is encouraged!)
-Bug spray and anti-itch cream
-Stomach soothing medication
-Motion sickness medication
-Wet wipes
-Stain Remover stick and detergent packs
-Contact lenses, solution, eyeglasses
-Menstrual products (you may want to bring enough to last you for the duration of your program, as options may be different from what is available in the US)


– 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

– 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 in each country. From there, you’ll be able to access local currency by using your debit card to withdraw cash from an ATM.

In larger cities, you will likely be able to pay with your credit card, debit card, or even Apple Pay. In smaller towns, you should make sure to keep cash on hand.

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 currency is the colón (1000 colónes = 1.50 USD), but most places also accept US Dollars. Note that exchange rates can vary when you’re using cash in stores. 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. When you’re on service projects, all your meals will be included. When you are traveling and during your free days, all breakfasts and some other meals 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. 

Throughout your trip, your Field 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. 

Destination-specific packing tips
Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a tropical and sub-tropical climate. The temperature averages 70-80˚F year-round, so breathable, loose-fitting layers are best. Bring a warm layer for cooler nights. Because it is a tropical climate, expect rain and pack a quality raincoat. The rainy season runs May to November, during which you will still see the sun most days and experience rainfall in the afternoons or evenings.

Packing tips

Country Guides

To make the most of your time during your program, this section gives some helpful context on the places you’re visiting. You’ll learn a litle bit about the history, culture, weather, key norms, and reflection questions.

Costa Rica
Places you might visit

San Jose & the Central Valley
San Jose is Costa Rica’s capital city and largest urban area. Located in what is called the Central Valley, San Jose is surrounded by hilly and mountainous areas. The city is composed of many different types of neighborhoods, and you’ll notice a high level of urbanization with things like large freeways, big shopping malls, chain restaurants, and shops that you would recognize from the U.S. The city sprawls out into the hills surrounding it, where there is a lot of agricultural activity, including a large coffee industry. 

Monteverde is part of the Puntarenas province of Costa Rica, tucked into the mountains. Much of Monteverde is part of a cloud forest, which means that it is a moist forest often covered in low-level cloud cover. There is a great deal of biological diversity in the cloud forests of Monteverde! In the 1950s, a large Quaker population moved from the U.S. to Monteverde, driven by their pacifist beliefs. The Quakers transformed much of Monteverde into farmland and eventually to conservation. You can still see remnants of the Quaker culture in the Monteverde area, such as dairy farms. 

Central Pacific Coast
Costa Rica’s Central Pacific Coast stretches from Puntarenas to just south of Manuel Antonio National Park, an area is famous for its beaches. There has been a boom in development on the Central Pacific Coast over the past decades, so you can find everything from pristine nature to arguably over-developed towns and urban areas.  

Arenal Region
Arenal is an active volcano whose most recent eruption was in 2010! The area surrounding Arenal’s iconic peak has contains a beautiful lake, rainforests, waterfalls, and a lot of flora and fauna to appreciate. This area also has natural hot springs that are a big draw for travelers. 

The Basics

Costa Rica is located between the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean; it is a country defined both by its tropical beaches and its stunning mountainous and rainforest regions. Costa Rica was a Spanish colony until 1821, when it gained its independence. Costa Rica is one of the only countries in the world that is grounded in pacifist beliefs and has no military. 

Costa Rica has a tropical climate with two seasons—wet and dry. The wet season begins in May and lasts through November. During the wet season, it will rain every day, which can be anything from a light rain to a downpour. The dry season begins in December and lasts through April. Temperatures remain fairly constant throughout the year but may vary according to region. 

Costa Rican food is flavorful but not spicy. Typical dishes include rice and beans, plantains, spaghetti, vegetables, beef, chicken, pork, and fresh fruit. Fresh fruit juices will often be served with meals, as well as water. Water is chlorinated throughout the country and safe to drink in most places, so travelers should bring a reusable water bottle to refill throughout the tour. Your Tour Director will let you know if there is somewhere where water is unsafe to drink. Some people may choose to use bottled water, which is available for purchase everywhere for $1-2. 

Costa Rica’s currency is the colon; however, U.S. dollars are accepted throughout Costa Rica, so you do not need to change money. Note that exchange rates may vary from shop to shop and you will likely receive change in colones. 

Key cultural norms & guidelines

Costa Rican Spanish has a lot of slang words and phrases that you might learn while you’re there! One phrase you’ll definitely hear a lot is “pura vida,” which means “pure life.” It’s used as a way to celebrate life and gratitude. You’ll hear it as a greeting or to say goodbye, and you’ll start to feel the “pura vida” way of life as you spend time in Costa Rica! Other words that might be useful for you are: 

  • Gallo pinto – rice and beans, a staple in Costa Rican cuisine 
  • Tico/Tica — rather than using the more formal “costarricense”, most people from Costa Rica refer to themselves as Ticos or Ticas. E.g. “Soy Tico” means “I’m Costa Rican” 
  • Mae – dude  
  • Soda – a soda is a family-run restaurant that serves homemade and yummy food that won’t break the bank 
  • Tuanis – slang for something that is really good 

Clothing in Costa Rica is typically laid-back and comfortable. You won’t need any clothing that is too formal while you’re there. If you are working at service projects, keep in mind that clothing tends to cover more skin than you may be used to in the U.S. Be mindful of the people around you and of any suggestions from your Tour Director on what is appropriate in each location. 

For travelers in Costa Rica, 10% tip is a good amount to keep in mind. In restaurants, you may see a service fee on the bill automatically–this is normal and means you don’t need to add an additional tip. 

Costa Rica is the most popular location for American students studying abroad in Latin America. It is a generally safe and traveler-friendly destination with a lot of openness to foreigners.  

About 8% of the Costa Rican population is Afro-Costa Rican, descended primarily from waves of Afro-Caribbean migrant workers who settled in Costa Rica. These communities primarily live on the Caribbean coast of the country. Some Black Americans have relocated to Costa Rica, finding it to be a more accepting place for them to live than the U.S. 

Costa Rica was the first Central American country to allow same-sex marriage, despite some religious and culturally conservative norms that made this quite a political feat. LGBTQ+ travelers typically find Costa Rica a welcoming place, though in more rural or conservative areas, there can still be homophobic or transphobic biases — or just a lack of awareness around these topics. 

You don't want to miss

Ziplining, hiking, hot springs, and other outdoor activities 

Popular foods including Gallo Pinto and Casado 

Costa Rican coffee, which is often brewed in a unique device called a chorreador!

Reflection Questions

The below questions are ones you can consider as you go through your program. You can think about them, journal about them, or talk about them with friends!

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 few service projects, 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 course of your program. 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.

Social Identity Resources
Social Identity Resource Guide

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.

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 Field Directors, Student Life Coordinator, and local EF staff, collectively working to ensure the success of your experience. He 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.

Field Director

Your Field 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, Field Directors may be referred to as Tour 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  

Questions about your
upcoming program?

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