Program Guide:

The Changemaker

September 8 - November 17, 2023
Itinerary Packing & budgeting Country guides


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

Days 1–13: Costa Rica

Day 1: Friday, September 8
Arrive in San Jose, Costa Rica
Depart the 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: Saturday, September 9
First day of Orientation at 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 preparing you for your experience on-program, understanding your goals, and building teamwork. Plus you’ll be on UPeace’s absolutely stunning campus atop a mountain overlooking the city of San Jose!
Meals included: All

Day 3: Sunday, September 10
Second day of Orientation at University for Peace
Enjoy another day at UPeace of workshops and sessions focused on helping you and your group make the most of your experience ahead.
Meals included: All

Day 4: Monday, September 11
Travel to the Pacific Coast

Travel by bus with your group from San Jose to the Pacific Coast, where the beautiful Manuel Antonio National Park is located.
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 5: Tuesday, September 12
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

Days 6-8: Wednesday, September 13 – Friday, September 15
Service Learning Project with Osa Conservation
Travel by bus to the Osa Peninsula, where you’ll arrive at the campus of service partner 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!
Note: Because this NGO is the most remote that you will visit in Costa Rica, make sure you get everything you need (e.g. snacks, medications, etc.) before you get to the Osa Peninsula. 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: All

Days 9-10: Saturday, September 16 – Sunday, September 17
Service Learning Project: Mangrove Reforestation
Travel from the Osa Peninsula to the Central Pacific Coast. You’ll spend two days there working on a mangrove reforestation project and learning about the importance of mangroves in coastal ecosystems.
Meals included: All

Days 11-13: Monday, September 18 – Wednesday, September 20: Sustainable Agriculture & Eco-Living at 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

Day 14: Thursday, September 21
Return to San Jose
Spend a final night in San Jose, where you’ll have a farewell dinner with your group.
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Days 15-29: The Dominican Republic

Day 15: Friday, September 22
Fly to Santo Domingo
Take a flight from San Jose, Costa Rica to Santo Domingo, DR. Note that you will likely have a transfer during your transit, so it will be a full day of travel. When you arrive at the Santo Domingo airport, you’ll be greeted by your Dominican Tour Director and settle into your hotel.
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 16: Saturday, September 23
Intro to Santo Domingo
Explore Santo Domingo, including the Columbus House and Tres Ojos Caves. Enjoy a welcome dinner with your group!
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Days 17-19: Sunday, September 24 – Tuesday, September 26
Marine Conservation Project in Boca Chica
Drive to Boca Chica, a beautiful seaside Caribbean town. Work with the organization Verde Profundo on their coral reef and mangrove reforestation projects!
Meals included: All

Day 20: Wednesday, September 27
Rest Day
Enjoy a rest day in beautiful Boca Chica. Enjoy the white sandy beaches, and get tips from your Tour Director on the best places to explore in the town.
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 21: Thursday, September 28
Excursion to Catalina Island
Enjoy an excursion to Catalina Island, a stunning tropical island with white beaches and crystal-clear waters. Spend the day relaxing and enjoying this tropical paradise.
Meals included: All

Day 22: Friday, September 29
Drive to Cabarete
Drive from Jarabacoa to Cabarete, a beautiful surf town on the Northern coast of the Dominican Republic. Enjoy a free afternoon to explore the town and the beach.
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 23: Saturday, September 30
Youth Education with Inspire DR
Spend your first of two days working with Inspire DR, an educational non-profit focused on helping young men and boys gain life skills.
Meals included: All

Day 24: Sunday, October 1
Hit the Waves with a Surf Lesson

Cabarete is one of the Caribbean’s best places to surf! Take a surf lesson and learn how to ride the waves.
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 25: Monday, October 2
Youth Education with Inspire DR
Spend your second of two days working with Inspire DR, an educational non-profit focused on helping young men and boys gain life skills.
Meals included: All

Day 26: Tuesday, October 3
Boat to Cayo Arena
Cayo Arena is a stunning sand island surrounded by pristine blue waters. Take a boat out to the island with your group and enjoy the water!
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 27: Wednesday, October 4
Rest Day
Enjoy a well-deserved rest day to take in the sun, sand, and water!
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 28: Thursday, October 5
Transfer to Santo Domingo

Head back to Santo Domingo with your group. Enjoy some free time and a dinner together with your group.
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 29: Friday, October 6
Free Day

Enjoy one last day in the Dominican Republic to check off any last minute bucket list activities. In the evening enjoy a farewell dinner with your group and your Dominican Tour Director.
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Days 30-49: Peru

Day 30: Saturday, October 7
Fly to Lima
Take a flight from Santo Domingo to Lima. Note that you will likely need to transfer flights, so expect a long day of travel. You’ll be greeted by your Peruvian Tour Director! Your group will have a welcome dinner together in Lima.
Meals: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 31: Sunday, October 8
Guided tour of Lima
Explore Lima with a guide and visit the San Francisco Monastery.
Meals: Breakfast

Day 32: Monday, October 9
Free day in Lima
Enjoy a free day to explore Lima on your own.
Meals: Breakfast

Day 33: Tuesday, October 10
Fly to Cusco
Fly from Lima to Cusco in the mountain city of Cusco. Be prepared for the high altitude by taking it easy and drinking lots of water! Take a walking tour of Cusco and have a group dinner.
Meals: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 34: Wednesday, October 11
Visit the ruins of the ancient Inca temple of Sacsayhuaman.
Meals: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 35: Thursday, October 12
Free day in Cusco
Enjoy a free day in Cusco to explore on your own.
Meals: Breakfast

Day 36: Friday, October 13
Transfer from Cusco to Calca
Drive from Cusco to Calca in Peru’s Sacred Valley.
Meals: Breakfast & Dinner

Days 37-39: Saturday, October 14 – Monday, October 16
Service Project: Sustainable Agriculture
Spend time in Peru’s Sacred Valley working with rural communities. Learn about their traditions and agricultural practices.
Meals: All

Day 40: Tuesday, October 17
Ceramics & Weaving Workshops & Salineras Salt Mines
Visit the Salineras Salt Mines, ancient mines that date back to pre-Inca times. You’ll also do a weaving workshop and learn about local textiles — and take your work home with you! In the evening, arrive in Ollantaytambo and stay the night.
Meals:  All

Day 41: Wednesday, October 18
Ruins of Ollantaytambo
Explore the ancient Inca Ollantaytambo ruins.
Meals: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 42: Thursday, October 19
Train to Aguas Calientes & Waterfall Hike
Take a scenic, winding train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes. Visit the Mandor Waterfalls.
Meals: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 43: Friday, October 20
Machu Picchu
Visit one of the wonders of the world — Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu is completely hidden from the valley floor and is truly one of the world’s most incredible sights. Cross a big one off your bucket list. Explore the perfect stonework of the Temple of the Sun, the fountains of the Royal Sector, and the views from the Temple of the Three Windows.
Meals: Breakfast 

Day 44: Saturday, October 21
Travel to Patacancha & Meet your homestay

Train to Ollantaytambo & transfer to Patacancha, where you will immerse yourself in local culture with a homestay while working on service projects. This homestay experience is often one of our students’ favorite experiences during the program!
Meals: All

Day 45: Sunday, October 22
Homestay in Patacancha
Get to know your homestay family in Patacancha. Depending on the needs of the family and the area when you visit, activities could include: alpaca shearing, farm visit, medicinal plants walk — and much more!
Meals: All

Day 46: Monday, October 23
Transfer to Cusco
Transfer with your group back to Cusco.
Meals: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 47: Tuesday, October 24
Fly to Lima & transfer to Paracas
Fly from Cusco to Lima and head to Paracas, a beach town on Peru’s west coast.
Meals: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 48: Wednesday, October 25
Islas Ballestas
The Islas Ballestas are teeming with historical and natural wonders. On the islands you’ll see ancient Inca bluff carvings, and you might spot unique wildlife, like penguins! You’ll be on the water, so make sure to be prepared for boat rides.
Meals: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 49: Thursday, October 26
National Reserve & Transfer to Lima
Spend a day on the beautiful beaches of the National Reserve before having a farewell dinner with your group.
Meals: Breakfast & Dinner

Days 50-71: Ecuador

Day 50: Friday, October 27
Fly from Lima to Quito
Fly from Lima to Quito, where you’ll meat your Ecuadorian Tour Director.
Meals: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 51: Saturday, October 28
Sightseeing in Quito
Take in the city of Quito as you visit places like El Panecillo and the Church of la Compania de Jesus.
Meals: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 52: Sunday, October 29
Visit to Yunguilla Sustainable Community
The Yunguilla community is a sustainable community where you’ll learn about local agricultural and culinary traditions and get to try making some of them yourself. You’ll also visit the Equatorial Line and the Itinan Museum.
Meals: All

Day 53: Monday, October 30
Free day in Quito
Enjoy a free day in Quito to explore or relax.
Meals: Breakfast

Day 54: Tuesday, October 31
Transfer to Banos
Head out of Quito and deeper into the Andes to the mountain town of Banos, famous for its hot springs.
Meals: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 55: Wednesday, November 1
Devil’s Cauldron & Hot Springs
Explore Banos, visit Devil’s Cauldron Waterfall, and do a cooking class!
Meals: All

Day 56: Thursday, November 2
Free day in Banos
Enjoy a free day to soak up the vibes (and soak in the hot springs) in Banos.
Meals: Breakfast

Day 57: Friday, November 3
Transfer to Tena
Transfer from Banos to Tena, a city in the Ecuadorian Amazon. This is one of Ecuador’s most remote and beautiful areas. Make sure to bring your insect repellent!
Meals: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 58: Saturday, November 4
Hike in the Grand Canyon
Get your legs moving as you hike to an impressive canyon near Tena, where you’ll really appreciate the Amazonian jungle surrounding you.
Meals: All

Day 59: Sunday, November 5
Visit to Kichwua community & Amazon night
Visit an indigenous Kichwua community and learn about their history, culture, and language. Spend the evening with them.
Meals: All

Day 60: Monday, November 6
Whitewater rafting
Take a whitewater raft through the Amazon, taking in the jungle surrounding you.
Meals: All

Day 61: Tuesday, November 7
Transfer to Quito
Return to Quito and prepare to depart for the Galapagos Islands.
Meals: Breakfast & Dinner


More detailed day-by-day information on the Galapagos Islands coming soon! Note that all meals are included while you are in the Galapagos.

Day 62: Wednesday, November 8

Fly to Santa Cruz & Charles Darwin Research Station
Meals included: All

Day 63: Thursday, November 9
Isabela: Flamingos, tortoises, & snorkeling in Tintoreras
Meals included: All

Day 64: Friday, November 10
Boat to Santa Cruz & Snorkeling in Las Grietas
Meals included: All

Day 65: Saturday, November 11
Explore Santa Cruz and Hike in Tortuga Bay
Meals included: All

Day 66: Sunday, November 12
San Cristobal & Snorkeling and hike in Tijeretas
Meals included: All

Day 67: Monday, November 13
La Loberia, and Hike to El Junco Lake
Meals included: All

Day 68: Tuesday, November 14
Flight to Quito
Meals included: All

Day 69: Wednesday, November 15
Wrap-Up & Free Time
Spend some time with your group reflecting on all that you’ve been through together during your time on-program.
Meals: All

Day 70: Thursday, November 16
Otavalo Market & Peguche Waterfall

Spend a day in Otavalo Market, where you can see and purchase some local Ecuadorian handicrafts. Visit the stunning Peguche Waterfall.
Meals: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 71: Friday, November 17
Fly home
Say your goodbyes and board your flight back to the US!
Meals: Breakfast

Tips to make the best of your experience


During the Service & Sustainability parts of your program, 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. You will have less restrictions during the Guided Exploration portions of your program, but you should always keep cultural appropriateness in mind.

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 (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)
– Comfortable walking shoes/sneakers
– Flip-flops/sandals
– Sturdy work shoes/hiking boots
– Socks and underwear (2 weeks)
– Warmer layers in case of chilly nights (2)
– Lightweight pajamas
– Bathing suits (2-3)


– 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 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.
  • The Dominican Republic uses the Dominican peso as their currency.
  • Ecuador uses US dollars as their currency
  • Peru uses the sol (about 1/4 the value of the US dollar)

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 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. 

In bigger cities that you’re in, you will have a public transit card that you can use to access the public transportation system. There are also taxis or other ride services in the larger cities that you will be traveling to. Your Tour Director will let you know what to expect in terms of choosing safe and budget-friendly transportation options during your free time in each location.

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. Please note that you will need water shoes for the Latin American Sea Turtle Project in Costa Rica. While you may see tourists in Costa Rica showing a lot of skin, remember while you’re at your service projects that you should respect the customs of the area that you’re in, which means wearing shirts that cover your torso and wearing longer shorts or pants.

The Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic is part of the island of Hispaniola, with the Atlantic Ocean to the north and the Caribbean Sea to the south. It is an ecologically diverse country, with white sand beaches, four big mountain ranges with dense rainforests, and the Cibao Valley. There are many islands and cays that are part of Dominican territory. While on your trip, you will be on the coast. Expect hot temperatures and lots of sun! Make sure to bring multiple bathing suits and plenty of sunscreen.


Peru is an ecologically diverse country defined by the Andean mountain range, which runs north-south, dividing the country into three broad climatic regions: the Coast, the Andean Highlands, and the Eastern lowlands and Amazon rainforest. You will be traveling to both the coast and the Andes on your trip. The Coast experiences a semi-arid, subtropical desert climate. Along the southern and central coast, temperatures vary from 55–79 ̊F, with colder weather in May and October. In the Andean highlands, climate varies with elevation; traditionally, a rainy season occurs from September to March and a dry, cold season from May to August. Average temperatures range from 52–65 ̊F. You’ll want comfortable shoes for the hike to Machu Picchu, layers for the varied climates, and conservative attire for the service destinations. You will feel the altitude when you are in the Andean Highlands, so be sure to go easy on yourself for the first few days and drink lots of water!

Ecuador & the Galapagos

Quito is about 8,000 feet above sea level, higher in some places, and such a drastic change from sea level can feel a little disorienting, so, like in the highlands of Peru, go easy on yourself the first few days and drink lots of water. It’s chillier here than most of your other destinations because of the altitude, but still wear your sunscreen because the sun is intense! Most locals don’t wear shorts in Ecuador; they’re not taboo, but bring a few pairs of pants if you want to blend in. Make sure to wear long-sleeved shirts and long trousers in the jungle when hiking, and use insect repellent and sunscreen to protect your skin. When in the Galapagos, you will be traveling between islands on small boats. We recommend everyone bring Dramamine or a similar anti-nausea medicine, even if you haven’t experienced motion sickness in the past, as the water can sometimes be choppy. You will need bathing suits for your time in the Galapagos–it’s helpful to have two options so that you can wear one while the other is drying. Water shoes are also helpful while in the Galapagos.

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.

The Dominican Republic
The Basics

Historically, the Dominican Republic has been defined by colonial power struggles, U.S. military occupation, and various political coups. Today, the quest for national self-determination continues as Dominicans fight for a more equitable future for all citizens, as well as a stronger presence on the global economic stage.  

The Dominican Republic maintains rich cultural traditions that represent a mix of Afro, European, and Indigenous origins. Nearly 73% of the country’s population is racially mixed and approximately 6% of Dominicans can trace their ancestry back to the Taino, the predominant indigenous group that inhabited the Caribbean before the Spanish invasion.  

Over the past 25 years, economic growth fueled by tourism, foreign investment, free-trade, and telecommunications has substantially reduced poverty rates across the country, but disparities in access to economic opportunities and public services remain. The currency in the DR is the Dominican Peso, but US dollars are accepted in many tourist destinations.  

While the country is known for its beaches, it is actually one of the most geographically diverse parts of the Caribbean. There is so much to explore from bustling cities like Santo Domingo to the mountainous regions like Jarabacoa.  

Dominican food is downright delicious. Unique versions of traditional staples such as Mofongo, a mashed plantain dish, rice and beans, and stewed chicken can be found almost anywhere in the country. 

Key cultural norms & guidelines

Check out this article for some key words and slang phrases to learn before you travel to the DR  

Hospitality and courtesy are core values of Dominican culture; helping neighbors, sharing a plate of food and hosting visitors is considered standard practice. Family is also of the utmost importance.  

Christianity is the most widely professed religion in the Dominican Republic with Catholicism being the most widely practiced religion. As a result of this demographic context, issues related to LGBTQ+ rights persist and reports of discrimination against LGBTQ+ communities are common. Be prepared with a plan for how you will access your support system and traveler resources while you are abroad in the unlikely event you witness or experience an adverse event.   

You don't want to miss

Snorkeling, Surfing, and other ocean activities

Santo Domingo Colonial Zone

Bachata dancing

Mofongo, mangu, tostones, sancocho, passion fruit juice and any other Dominican specialties you come across

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!

What is it like to go from Costa Rica to the Dominican Republic? What cultural differences do you notice?

While in a spot in nature, 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?

The Basics

Peru is an ecologically diverse country defined by the Andean mountain range, which runs north-south, dividing the country into three broad climatic regions: the Coast, the Andean Highlands, and the Eastern lowlands and Amazon rainforest. The Coast experiences a semi-arid, subtropical desert climate.

The mountains of Peru are at a high altitude. Many people come to Peru to experience the natural wonders of the Andes, and it is important to stay hydrated and rest when at high altitudes, especially in the first couple of days of adjustment.

Peru has over 13,000 years of vibrant cultures and civilizations long pre-dating the well known Inca Empire. Archaeological remains such as Machu Picchu and many more large and small are ubiquitous throughout the Andes.

Today Peru’s population is about 32 million, with a diverse population that self-identifies as mestizo (~60%), Quechua (~23%), Aymara (~3%), Amazonian (~2%), Black/Mulatto (~2%), white (~5%), and other (~7%).

While Spanish is the official languages, many Indigenous languages are widely used in different parts of the country, particularly Quechua.

Key cultural norms & guidelines

It’s helpful to know a few key phrases in Spanish in Peru, where English is not widely spoken.

  • Buenos días — good day or good morning (used until midday)
  • Buenas tardes — good afternoon or good evening (used from midday until nighttime)
  • Buenas noches — good night (used at night as a greeting and as a way of saying goodbye)
  • You can also use “buenas” by itself at any time as a greeting (after 12pm this is acceptable)! This solves a lot of uncertainties.
  • ¿Cómo estás? – How are you? (you can use this formally, just drop the “s” from the end of estás: “¿Cómo está?“)
  • ¿Como va? – How’s it going?
  • ¿Qué tal? – What’s up? Or How are you? (¿Qué tal? Can also be used to ask how something was or went, like “How was it?”)
  • Adios means “goodbye”, but the more informal “chau” is also widely used

Norms around personal space are different in Peru than they are in the US. Typically Peruvians will stand much closer to each other than Americans when having a conversation.

In terms of clothing, in the more traditional, indigenous regions of Peru, you should dress conservatively, long (knee high) shorts or pants and tee shirt or long sleeved shirt. Also, practicality here is important, the sun is extremely strong so generally people try to protect themselves from it. You should follow their lead.

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Some of the best regional dishes to eat include:

  • Ceviche – there are many variations on ceviche, and trying ceviche in Peru is a must for any seafood lover
  • Lomo Saltado – a tasty meat stir fry dish
  • Ají de Gallina – this is a delicious chicken stew made with, ají, mild yellow peppers, which are dried and ground to made a beautiful deep yellow color.
  • Alfajores – yummy cookies with a caramel center
  • Maca – traditional hot beverage drunk instead of (or in addition to) coffee.

Some of the most unique sights and activities in Peru include:

  • Machu Picchu (of course!)
  • Other archaeological sites including Pisac, Maras Salt Pools, Ollantaytambo, Sacsayhuaman fortress
  • Pablo Seminario ceramics workshop — a world renowned ceramicist who has been working with EF for many years
  • Pisac Market – the largest open-air artisan market in Peru
  • Cusco Planetarium – take in the stars from the Incan perspective and learn about the ancient sky
  • Lots of smaller museums, like the Choco Museo (Chocolate Museum!) in almost every city
  • The Malecon in Lima is a wonderful foot path through exercise parks and sculptures overlooking the Pacific Ocean
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!

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 Peruvian culture? What surprised you?

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!

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

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.

Ecuador & the Galapagos
Places you might visit




The Galapagos Islands 

The Basics

Ecuador was once populated by Indigenous groups that were incorporated into the Inca Empire in the 15th century. The Spanish colonized it during the 16th century. Spanish is the official language, though Kichwa is also recognized. The Kichwa influence on language and culture can be seen throughout the country.

The geography of the country varies and is divided into 4 main geographic regions: La Costa (“the coast”), La Sierra (“the highlands”), La Amazonía (“the Amazon”) and La Región Insular, the region that comprises the Galapagos Islands. Each region has a distinct geography and climate.

Ecuador is one of just seventeen megadiverse countries in the world. You’ll see a lot of this biodiversity while you’re there!

Key cultural norms & guidelines

In some places, a 10% service charge will automatically be added to your bill. Cheaper restaurants don’t necessarily expect a tip, but a small tip or rounding up is very welcome. 

It’s a good idea to carry toilet paper with you as you travel around the country, as sometimes toilet paper is not available or only available for a fee in the public bathrooms. 

The altitude in Quito and other mountainous areas can be challenging. Make sure to drink lots of water, get rest, and watch your alcohol intake, especially during the first few days at altitude.

In the Galapagos, you’ll frequently be on boats that travel back and forth between the islands. It’s a great idea to bring some anti-nausea medication (like Dramamine) if you’re at all predisposed to motion sickness.

You don't want to miss

Try all the food! Ceviche is a must-try for any seafood lover, and llapingachos – potato patties stuffed with cheese — is a true delight. Guinea pig (known locally as cuy) is a delicacy and something more adventurous eaters might enjoy trying.

Snorkeling in the Galapagos is incredible. Don’t pass up any opportunity to throw on your snorkel and jump in the water. You never know what amazing wildlife you might spot – from rays and sea turtles to marine iguanas and sharks.

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!

By this part of the program, you have done 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 in the Galapagos about sustainability that you want to take back home with you?

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 the places you visited 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
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

Mae Hunt is thrilled to be your Advisor! Her role is to support you from a distance, check-in with you throughout the program, and encourage you to achieve your goals.  Mae liaises with your Tour Directors, Student Life Coordinator, and local EF staff, collectively working to ensure the success of your experience. She is also available for parents and guardians as well. Mae, 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  

Questions about your
upcoming program?

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