Costa Rica “Environmental Leadership” High School Student Itinerary

This itinerary is designed for student groups that would like to focus on the incredible biodiversity and rich ecosystems that make up the country of Costa Rica. Students will have a chance to live within and experience firsthand three of Costa Rica’s unique environments: the misty cloud forest, the lush rainforest, and the famous agricultural areas of the Central Valley.

Within each of these distinct destinations, participants will observe, celebrate, and learn more about the variety of different flora and fauna in their natural habitats. Familiar topics studied in science classes will come to life with the opportunity to experience these unique habitats directly! Students will also experience the authentic Costa Rican culture through the immersion and service project phase of this enticing itinerary.


The journey will begin in the towns of Santa Elena/Monteverde in the cloud forest where the group will complete its orientation phase while experiencing life in the rainforest canopy through hanging bridges and zipline tours.

Next, the group will head to Arenal to learn about the geological history of the famous Arenal Volcano and to soak in geothermal waters heated by the active volcano. Participation in high-adventure activities will call for teamwork – a wonderful way for the group to bond at the beginning of a program.

During the last phase of the trip, the group will travel to the town of Turrialba to live with homestay families and to collaborate with the community on an environmentally-sustainable service project. In Turrialba, you will integrate into the authentic Costa Rican culture and will give back to the global environment.

Our hope is that this unique experience will raise awareness among participants and within the local community strengthening the global responsibility and leadership that lies within each one of us.

Top 3 Highlights of the “Environmental Leadership” Student Itinerary

  • Focused learning of Rainforest, Volcano, and Cloud forest Environments
    • Gain hands-on experience with understanding the importance of these unique ecosystems and their flora and fauna
    • Explore through education and adventure the forest floor up to the canopy
  • Participate in Environmental Conservation Service Project
    • 24 hours dedicated to the completion of the service project
    • Put sustainability practices to work
  • Develop Global Leadership Skills
    • Discuss environmental sustainability practices, their effects, and their importance
    • Analyze, create and improve conservation projects home and abroad

Sample Costa Rica Environmental Leadership High School Student Itinerary

This itinerary offers groups a science-focused experience of Costa Rica, which enables participants to experience the unique destinations that make Costa Rica one of the most ecologically diverse destinations in the world. The itinerary is enhanced with a homestay and a service component allowing participants to integrate into the Costa Rican culture and collaborate with other members of our global community.

Day 1 – Arrival & Orientation

Upon arrival at the airport, the group will be greeted by two professional, bilingual guides. Your private driver and vehicle will transfer you up to the majestic town of Santa Elena, which is situated close to the famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. The transfer takes about three hours in duration. Along the way, you will get to know your guides, and they will start to orient you to the country and culture of Costa Rica. You will assimilate into the Costa Rican culture by enjoying a traditional Costa Rican snack or “merienda” en route and soaking in the beautiful lush surroundings of the Central Valley.

This afternoon, the group will participate in a dynamic Orientation Meeting filled with introduction activities, Spanish language practice, and team-building games. The group will review the goals and expectations of your customized Costa Rica Explorations program and will create a pact about group safety. You will enjoy an authentic Costa Rican dinner and will then melt into your beds, bellies full, to enjoy your first night in the country.

Day 2 – Morning Hanging Bridges, Afternoon Zipline & Evening Discussion

This morning the group will rise early to enjoy a delicious tropical breakfast at the hotel before departing on a private hanging bridges hike through the cloud forest. This is a unique opportunity to experience the cloud forest as its inhabitants wake up. If your group has luck, you might even spot the coveted cloud forest resident bird, the quetzal! Your professional naturalist guide will explain the intricacies of the canopy ecosystem as s/he spots its splendid creatures along the way.

After your tour, you will enjoy lunch and then will depart on a thrilling zip-line/canopy tour. This adventure is not so much about viewing wildlife as it is about experiencing the incredible heights and views of the rainforest canopy. There is no more famous place to experience this tour than in the cloud forest of Monteverde! As you move your way from tree platform to tree platform, you will really feel like a monkey zooming through the treetops.


This evening, the group will reflect upon its experiences and learnings from the day. We will also learn about the challenges the world is facing in protecting its unique ecosystems, such as the Costa Rica cloud forest. Your group will work as a team of conservationists to learn what is currently being done to help save this precious resource and will brainstorm ideas to help save this invaluable resource. To close the evening, the group will sit down to an authentic Costa Rican dinner and settle in for their second night in the country.

Day 3 – Day of Conservation, Goal Setting & Night Tour

After a plate full of fresh fruits, eggs, cheese, and gallo pinto, participants will prepare for a day of conservation work within one of the private reserves in the Santa Elena/Monteverde area. The students will work with local conservations to help reforest and maintain trail systems, signs, and educational materials for its visitors.


After a fulfilling day of service, the members of the group will reflect upon their own communities and the problems that they face. Each member will create a personal goal for themselves when they return home to work towards becoming a more active conservationist in their own communities.

After a warm hot chocolate and snack, the group will prepare for an eye-opening night hike with a local naturalist guide. Students will learn quickly that there are both diurnal and nocturnal species that make up the cloud forest environment. As we sleep, plenty of species of animals are busy at work during the night hours. This tour is one you will never forget!

The group will stop for dinner on their way back to the hotel and will melt into their beds for the last night in the cloud forest.


Day 4 – Morning Jeep-Boat-Jeep Transfer to Arenal, Volcano Hike & Night at Hot Springs

The beautiful sounds of the cloud forest will wake you this morning, and you will observe the mist burn away as you enjoy another tasty breakfast at your hotel. Your group will travel on rocky roads down the backside of the mountain to the beautiful Lake Arenal where you will take a refreshing boat ride across the water to your next destination, La Fortuna / Arenal. If you have the luck of clear skies, the conical Arenal Volcano will be in view the entire ride.

Upon arrival at your hotel, you can settle in, unpack and enjoy lunch before heading out on an afternoon hike to learn about the geological history of the Arenal Volcano. Hopefully, the group will spot families of monkeys that reside within the park.

The tour will end at a local geothermal hot spring. Here your group will immerse themselves in the therapeutic waters that are heated by the Arenal Volcano itself. Dinner will be on site and then your group will return to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.

Day 5 – Morning Volunteer at Animal Rescue Center & Afternoon Homestay Meeting

You’ll enjoy breakfast this morning as a group before heading off to a small, local animal rescue center. Here you will learn how a family has dedicated their lives to saving rainforest animal species that have been injured, mistreated, or in need of help. You will learn about the different animals, and their needs, and will spend the morning helping the center nurture these animals back to health.

The group will eat lunch and return to the hotel for a homestay preparation meeting as tomorrow the group will begin their cultural immersion phase. The group will brush up on their Spanish language skills and role-play various scenarios that will help them prepare for their stays within Costa Rican homes.

This evening, the group will travel to the town of La Fortuna for a dinner at a typical “soda” or local restaurant. Then you will enjoy ice cream in the park and have time to souvenir shop in town.

Day 6 – Safari Float/Whitewater Rafting & Transfer to Homestay Community

Your group will enjoy its last breakfast peering out at the Arenal Volcano before packing up and heading out on the morning activity. In the custom itinerary-building stage, your group will choose to participate in either a Safari Float or Whitewater Rafting trip down a local river en route to the homestay community in Turrialba.

If your group chooses the Safari Float you will take a 2-hour smooth float down a river. Your dedicated naturalist guide will steer your boat while you look for and learn about wildlife along the way – birds, reptiles, insects and if you are lucky you will spot monkeys and even caimans!

If your group chooses Whitewater Rafting, you will take a thrilling 3-hour tour on a Class II-III river. This section of the river is recommended for youth and beginner rafters. Your professional whitewater rafting guides will have you participate in a safety talk and demonstration and will teach you how to work together as a team to safely navigate the rapids of the river. Your group can’t go wrong with either of these options!


After your morning tour, your group will change and enjoy a delicious lunch before transferring to the homestay community, where you will settle in and spend the next phase of your trip living with and working together with the locals.

Upon arrival at the homestay community, the group will be introduced to the homestay families and students will pair up and become oriented to their individual homes. Please read more about our Homestay Communities and Selection Process to learn about its members and the care we take in selecting and vetting its members.

The entire group will gather this first evening to enjoy a home-cooked meal together. After the Welcome Dinner, everyone will partake in traditional games and dancing before returning to your homestays for a wonderful night’s sleep. ¡Bienvenida a Turrialba!

Day 7 – Service Project Day & Community Soccer Game

Your group will wake up and enjoy breakfast with their homestay families before meeting up at the service project site. Our Service Projects are unique to each participating group as the needs of the community continue to evolve as well as the interests, skills, and budgets of the participating groups vary. We encourage you to read more about our Service Project Partners and Selection Process.

Each project is centered around a community organization or goal, whether it be a local elementary or kindergarten, the community’s central park, the local water company or community center, or even community development projects, such as constructing bus stops or sidewalks. This itinerary’s focus is on environmental sustainability and global leadership, therefore the focus of the service project will fall under these categories.

Details of the service project will be given to your group a few months before arrival in Costa Rica, so the group can prepare ahead of time if needed. Many times there is an educational element that the student group will prepare before arriving in order to share information and/or their personal experiences with the community. During the service project, the group is typically divided into subgroups to accomplish tasks and participants will rotate through the different jobs, so all members get to experience the different elements.

Lunch will be served at the service site or you will travel back to your homestays. After a post-lunch rest or “siesta”, the group will meet again to work a few more hours on the project.

Once participants are cleaned up from the project, the group will head to the local soccer field where they will play a friendly game of soccer with the local community members. The soccer game usually lasts until the sun sets when everyone will return to their homes for dinner and a good night’s sleep.

Day 8 – Service Project Day & Evening Dance Lessons

Wake up to another delicious Costa Rican breakfast. They typically consist of the traditional “gallo pinto” accompanied by fresh eggs to your liking, tropical fruits, bread, cheese, and tortillas.


Next, you will get back into your service project attire and will head over the project site for one more day of work. The goal today is to finish the project.

Lunch will be provided at the worksite or at your homestay. Many times there will be a celebratory activity to honor the hard work and the collaboration of your group and the participating community members. Our hope is that participation in this international project inspires you to seek out and continue to serve within your local community. You have the afternoon to rest up before an energy-packed evening activity of Costa Rican Dance Lessons.


This evening, you will learn the basic steps of salsa, merengue, and cumbia. All family members and group participants are invited to dance class. It is another wonderful bonding time within the homestay community and a great example to follow during dance lessons. Tonight you will eat dinner and spend another night together with your homestay family.


Day 9 – Local Coffee & Sugarcane Farm Tour & Traditional Cooking Classes

Make sure you eat a hearty breakfast this morning as you will be experiencing a day in the life of a “campesino” or rural farmer today. Your group will meet up and transfer to a local coffee and sugarcane farm. Here you will learn how tropical fruits and vegetables grow and you will get your hands dirty by reforesting part of the farm and working on maintaining its grounds. Your group most likely will harvest some crops to use to prepare lunch that day.


Your day will end with a hike to a local river where you will cool off and enjoy swimming in its natural pools and waterfalls. A late lunch will be enjoyed at the local farmer’s home.

After a short rest in the afternoon, you will participate in traditional Costa Rican cooking lessons. You’ll be able to take home recipes for tortillas con queso, picadillos, empanadas, and even the coveted “pan casero” or homemade sweetbread. You will definitely leave this activity with a full belly.

Tonight you have free with your homestay. It is such a joy to spend time together. Family members love learning new card games or board games or hearing about your life at home. Bringing a scrapbook that you can leave with them. This is a great way to deepen your friendship and use your Spanish language skills.

Day 10 – Hiking Tour of La Marta Wildlife Refuge

After breakfast this morning, your group will depart for La Marta National Wildlife Refuge, which was designated by UNESCO as a Natural Heritage site of Humanity in 1983 due to its rich biodiversity. It contains primary rainforest and steep mountainous walking trails. It is teeming with rivers, waterfalls, and caves as well.

Your group will pack snacks, water, and lunch and head out on an amazing hike through the forest. One never knows what s/he might encounter on the way. Hopefully, your group appreciates why it is important to conserve land and protect open spaces throughout the world. It is up to each one of us to make sure our world continues to be sustainable and can provide us with the fresh air, lush soil, and rainfall that we need to exist.

After a picnic lunch, your group will participate in a reflection meeting to discuss how each member has been inspired by his/her experiences within this program and each participant will create personal goals.

After an afternoon of rest, this evening the group will complete an artesian activity lead by local artists that live within the homestay community. Dinner and evening will be enjoyed with your homestay community.

Day 11 – Excursion to Indigenous Ruins, Hidden Waterfall & Final Dinner Celebration

You will enjoy another filling breakfast with your homestay family before heading off on this morning’s tour which will take you back in time to an indigenous civilization that lived within what is now called Monumento Nacional de Guayabo. Guayabo National Monument is the largest discovered and protected indigenous ruins site in the country. Your group is lucky to be within an hour’s drive of this gem.

Hidden in a secondary rainforest with a view of the Turrialba Volcano to the north, you will walk the paths of what people believe to be a spiritual and commercial center of the indigenous groups that populated the country more than 3,000 years ago. Its working aqueduct system has been honored on an international level for its sophistication.

The majority of the precious artifacts that have been found in the tombs of Guayabo unfortunately have been stolen or removed throughout the years. There are a few that are on display, however, the majority are housed within the National Museum in San Jose. Our guides will teach you about lost civilization as you walk through the well-kept trails. You can feel the still-present spirit of the site all around you.

You’ll enjoy a picnic lunch prepared by your individual homestays at the park before heading to one of the most spectacular waterfalls that exist in Costa Rica. You will take a walk to find this hidden secret within one of the largest coffee plantations in the country. After a dip in the river, the group will pass through the town of Turrialba to explore and purchase souvenirs.

This evening is the Final Dinner Celebration. Here you will enjoy your last Costa Rican dinner together, followed by dancing and reflecting upon your stay. Your group will thank the community for its hospitality and the community will thank you for your collaboration with the service project and for opening your hearts to experiencing and embracing a new culture.

After dinner, you will need to pack your bags as you have an early departure for the airport in the morning.

Day 12 – Departure

Depending on the time of your departure flight, you will enjoy your last breakfast at your homestay or will take it to go as you travel to the San Jose Airport.

Here your group will need to say “goodbye” and “thank you” to your guides. It is a challenge for most participants to leave the guides as they have been with you through every step of your experience. Our guides have a hard time departing from the group as well because strong relationships have been formed. Our hope is that you will stay in touch with us and return to Costa Rica again in the future!

Customize this Student Itinerary for Your Needs!

The above itinerary is a template from which to work from as your group designs its ideal program with Costa Rica Explorations. We are open to customizing your itinerary in regard to specific activities, tours, ideas, or other subject matter that you would like to include. Please let us know your group’s specific needs and desires, and we will attempt to make them a reality. We welcome your feedback and input.

Program Itinerary Inclusions:

  • The above highlighted, 12-day customized program itinerary – exclusive to your group
  • Two professional, bilingual guides for the duration of the program – on call 24 hours a day
  • Private transportation between major destinations
  • All meals included throughout the program – breakfast, lunch, and dinner
  • 6 nights – Authentic Homestay accommodations with pre-approved reputable families
  • 5 nights – Hotel rooms in at least a 3-star hotel as indicated in the above itinerary
  • All adventure excursions and educational field trips as indicated above – guide tips included
  • Costa Rica Explorations t-shirt

Program Tuition for this 12-day – “Environmental Leadership” Itinerary is $3,710 per student for a minimum of 8 participants. The Group’s maximum number of participants is 16 students with 2 chaperones. With 8 fully-paying participants, one chaperone’s program tuition will be covered by Costa Rica Explorations.

If the group size exceeds our 16-student maximum or is smaller than our 8-person minimum, we are willing to discuss options to accommodate your group’s needs. If your group would prefer hotel accommodations to homestays, we also can offer that service; however, the price of the trip will change.

The 10-day Program itinerary includes:

  • 1 less night in the homestay community
  • 1 less night in Arenal
  • Doesn’t include volunteering at Rescue Center or La Marta Reserve Hike
  • Program Tuition is $3,190 / student for a minimum of 8 participants

The 14-day Program itinerary includes:

  • 2 additional nights in the homestay community
  • Opportunity to attend a local school & Extended Service Project
  • Additional cost is $4,020/ participant

Ready to Plan this Environmental Leadership Student Itinerary? Contact Us!

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