Costa Rica: Biodiversity, Ecology, and Sustainability

Explore Costa Rica's extraordinary natural environments during a summer abroad program for high school students.

Hike and paddle through Costa Rica’s diverse regions and ecosystems, and witness firsthand the country’s environmental sustainability efforts. Spend time in nature reserves and national parks, kayak in the Golfo Dulce, and observe the beauty of Costa Rica’s coastline. Visit a remote biological station in the rain forest and learn about Costa Rica’s efforts to protect rare tropical birds, indigenous animals, and plants. Learn how a local community projects its sea turtles and observe the conservation and research initiatives they undertake. Visit a cacao farm engaged in sustainable agriculture practices and learn about chocolate production. An experienced Costa Rican naturalist will accompany your group throughout the program.

Gain new and unique perspectives on Costa Rica’s culture and communities while living for two weeks with a host family. Work on a community service project focused on rural development and ecological sustainability. Practice your Spanish through daily interactions with your host family. Enjoy nature hikes, meals of gallo pinto, and cultural exchange activities with host family members and your Experiment group.

Throughout this high school summer abroad program, you and your group will participate in outdoor, experiential activities, including hiking, paddling, and zip lining. The program begins and ends in the country’s capital, San José, where you can learn more about Costa Rican history and culture with visits to museums and the San José Central Market.

Community Service Certificate: At the conclusion of this program, participants will earn a community service certificate noting how many hours of community service they completed.

Orientation: San José, 2–3 days
Homestay: Pejibaye, Santa María de Dota, or Palmichal de Acosta,* 12–14 days
Other Accommodations: Hotels, lodges, cabins

* Homestay locations can vary.

Days 1–2

Experimenters in the MangrovesOrientation in San José

  • Learn about the history, culture, and ecology of Costa Rica
  • Go on a walking tour of the city
  • Visit La Sabana Metropolitan Park and its art museum and the National Stadium
  • Visit InBio Park, where four of the country’s major habitats—tropical rainforest, tropical dry forest, premontane forest, and wetlands—are recreated in outdoor gardens
  • Get to know other members of your group during activities
  • Practice your Spanish language skills

During the orientation period, you and your group will stay in a centrally located hotel.

Days 3–8

Thematic Focus on the Osa Peninsula

  • Visit a model farm practicing sustainable agriculture and learn about the chocolate culture in the area
  • Go hiking with local naturalists and kayak the calms and deep waters of Golfo Dulce
  • Travel by boat to the Campanario Biological Station and learn about the station’s project to conserve rare and endangered flora and fauna
  • Visit Corcovado National Park and see bat caves, hike trails, and learn about conservation projects in the area
  • Visit a local village

During this period, you and your group will stay at a farm and biological station.

Days 9–22


  • Do activities with your host family
  • Practice your Spanish language skills
  • Participate in cultural exchange activities
  • Explore your host community and the surrounding area
  • Learn different skills from people in your host community

Thematic Focus

  • Work on a community service project such as painting at a school

During this period, you will stay in the home of a family. Sample host communities: Pejivaye, Santa Cruz, Santa Maria de Dota, Palmares, Carit

Days 23–25

Thematic Focus at a Wildlife Refuge

  • Visit a sea turtle conservation facility and learn about sea turtles and efforts to conserve their habitat and protect their population
  • Patrol the beach and help with habitat rehabilitation (beach cleaning)
  • Work in sea turtle hatcheries
  • Travel by boat to the surrounding area and learn more about the local ecosystem

During this period, you and your group will stay in a lodge and spend at least one night at the turtle project site.

Days 26–28

Program Reflection and Wrap-up at Playa Hermosa and San José

  • Enjoy the ocean views and natural beauty of the bay
  • Go snorkeling
  • Reflect with your group on your experiences during the program

During this period, you and your group will stay in centrally located hotels.

Day 29


Please note: This itinerary is only a sample and is subject to change. Because of factors such as group size and availability of in-country offerings such as festivals, your experience — including sites visited and the number of days spent in each location — may differ somewhat from the one presented above. 

These are leader bios from summer 2014.

Curtis Larsen

Curtis LarsenBorn and raised in Minnesota, Curtis Larsen took a road a little less traveled. After completing a study abroad program in Costa Rica, Curtis decided to pursue his BA in Spanish there. He obtained his degree in Spanish from the Universidad Nacional in Costa Rica, but not before discovering another of his passions: service-learning. Curtis has been privileged to work with university students from the US, Canada, and the UK all around Central America, and he co-founded a nonprofit that still provides volunteer experiences in three countries. Now back in the US, Curtis serves as the director of Academic Travel for Ed-Ventures, helping teachers take their students abroad to destinations around the world.

Sarita Upadhyay

Sarita UpadhyayA native of upstate New York, Sarita Upadhyay graduated from Cornell University in 2011 with a BS in science of natural and environmental systems. She followed her love of the outdoors to the Amazon in Ecuador, where she coordinated a teaching program, and then to Cuzco, Peru, where she managed logistics and tours for a travel company. She worked on developing green infrastructure projects in Chicago, Illinois, at an urban sustainability-themed think tank before leading The Experiment’s 2014 Costa Rica: Biodiversity, Ecology, and Sustainability program. Currently, Sarita lives in San Francisco, where she studies psychology and works on research in health-related psychological interventions at University of California, San Francisco.

Jose Eduardo Huerta

Jose Eduardo Huerta graduated from the University of California Berkeley in 2011 with a BA in Latin American studies and a minor in education. Since then, he has worked as a career track project coordinator, a substitute teacher, and a graduate research assistant. Eduardo is currently in his second year at the State University of New York Binghamton, pursuing a dual master’s degree in student affairs and public administration.

As a return leader for The Experiment, Eduardo has led programs to Spain, Chile, and Costa Rica. He began traveling as a junior in college when he spent seven months studying in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Most recently, he spent five weeks in China, learning about economic development, sustainability, and innovation. Not only is Eduardo trilingual in English, Spanish, and Portuguese, but he also plans to learn Mandarin in the near future. Eduardo also loves practicing martial arts, being outdoors, trying new foods, meeting new people, and learning from new adventures.

Paula Hernandez

Raised in northern Vermont by a Chilean mother and an American father, Paula grew up bilingual in English and Spanish. She attended Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where she was an American studies major with a concentration in race and ethnicity. During summers throughout college, Paula worked at Farm and Wilderness summer camp as a counselor and trip leader. After obtaining her degree, Paula moved to Valparaíso, Chile, to serve as an elementary school English teacher. Paula herself was an Experimenter in 2007, when she traveled to Turkey for five weeks. Later, in college, she spent a semester abroad in Madrid, Spain. During her time there, she walked the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, a pilgrimage that starts in western France and ends in the westernmost part of Spain. Aside from her love for travel, Paula loves to knit, play basketball, and learn new juggling tricks.

This was the craziest, most important, most valuable thing I think I’ve ever done in my life. I loved being an experimenter! I’m so grateful to have had this opportunity! I even feel different now. I understand the way life should be lived: simply, modestly, and to the fullest.;

JoAnna Dehler, Carrick high School