Discover the stunning natural wonders, friendly people, and rich cultures of Latin America while studying Spanish and participating in meaningful community service projects. Learn about indigenous cultures and engage with locals through service projects and homestays in three different regions: Central America, the Andes, and the Caribbean. Whether you’re a first time Spanish language learner or nearly fluent, practicing Spanish in places with varying accents and dialects will give your skills a major boost.
This gap semester charts a course through the contrasting landscapes and cultures of Costa Rica, Peru, and the Dominican Republic. Each country offers a unique experience and opportunities to practice Spanish.
Experience the stunning beaches, vibrant jungles, and pristine rivers of Costa Rica, Rustic Pathways’ most popular destination country. Costa Rica is consistently listed among the happiest countries in the world because it has invested heavily in protecting its natural resources and its citizens’ quality of life.“Pura vida” is the unofficial national slogan and multifunctional greeting. Soon, you’ll find it rolling off your tongue as easily as if you were a Tico. Spend time honing your Spanish skills, during morning classes and by interacting with the locals during an extended homestay with a family in Turrialba. During the afternoons, participate in service projects and activities including top-notch surfing, whitewater rafting, biking, rappelling, and ziplining.
From the Amazon rainforest and dry desert coast to the peaks of the Andes, Peru’s complex national identity blends indigenous roots with colonial influences. After arriving in Lima, your first destination is Ollantaytambo and nearby Machu Picchu, where ancient stone ruins dominate the landscape. Work on service projects alongside descendants of the Incan empire and bolster your Spanish skills by living with a homestay family in the Sacred Valley. Spend a day exploring historic Cusco, then descend 10,000 feet to explore the ecological diversity of the Amazon basin.
The Caribbean portion of your journey will begin in the Dominican Republic’s Cordillera Central. Continue with Spanish classes, hike to a waterfall, live with a homestay family, and enjoy Jarabacoa’s fresh mountain air. Spend afternoons working with local children on activities that will supplement their learning and help improve your Spanish skills. Next, work on service projects in bateyes, communities where Haitian-Dominicans survive by cutting sugar cane for low wages. Spend your last days on the coast enjoying the beach town of Bayahibe, where you can snorkel, swim, and enjoy the coastal scenery.
The Spanish Immersion semester features homestay experiences for approximately a week in each of the countries the group visits. Though the students stay with another student of the same gender during the homestay weeks and spend time with the group for activities during the day, staying with a local host family requires a slightly higher level of independence and responsibility. Spanish Immersion students enjoy interactive morning immersion courses and split the rest of their time with community service and adventure activities.
Packing the right gear (and the right amounts) is the first step to an incredible travel experience. Follow these tips to pack like a pro:
Travel light. Pack only the essentials. You’ll need less than you think! If your bag is full when you leave home, you’ve packed too much!
Bring the right clothes. Pack clothes that are culturally appropriate for your destination and acceptable for service projects. This means bringing long shorts (think Bermuda and basketball shorts), t-shirts with sleeves to cover shoulders, and appropriate footwear.
Leave your valuables behind. While traveling, it’s easier for things to get lost, stolen, or damaged. Keep any prized possessions safe at home.
Check with TSA. Make sure your luggage complies with TSA regulations, especially your carry-on. Useful tip: Pack an empty water bottle and fill it up after security.
A school backpack is ideal as it will be used for day trips.
• Photocopy of passport
• Journal and pens
• Outlet power converter
• Ear buds
• Change of clothes
• Water bottle
• Visa Documentation (if applicable)
• All Flight Itineraries
• Rustic Pathways emergency contacts
A 70-90 Liter duffel bag or backpack is ideal.
• Socks (5)
• Underwear (10)
• Jeans (2)
• Lightweight pants (2)
• Long shorts* (2-3)
• Collared/Dress shirt (1)
• T-shirts (6-10)
• Tank tops (4)
• Long sleeve shirt (2)
• Swimsuit (2)
• Rain jacket
• Softshell and/or Micro Puff jacket (optional)
• Strappy sandals (like Tevas or Chacos)
• Sneakers – All terrain – running/hiking
• Work gloves
• Quick dry towel
• Beach towel/sarong
• Rash guard
(travel sized in ziplock bags)
• Body wash
• Face wash
• Bug spray
• Hand Sanitizer
• Feminine hygiene products
• Contact solution
• Foam earplugs
• Personal med kit
• Wet Wipes
• Razor/shaving cream
• Watch/alarm clock
• Large ziploc bags
• Large garbage bags for wet/dirty clothes
• Sleeping bag – small/lightweight a must (35 degrees and up)
• Any relevant Scuba Diving certifications
• Day pack rain cover
• Donations: As a responsible travel provider, we firmly believe in giving back to the communities and countries where we operate. As part of our holistic approach to business, we run a 501c3 nonprofit that supports high priority projects year round. If you feel inspired to join our global community of travelers making a difference, please consider making a donation here.
• Portable games (Bananagrams, playing cards, etc)
• Musical instruments
Want to get all your shopping done for your program in one place? We’ve got you covered. Check out Rustic Gear and get all the essentials sent right to your door.
• Please bring $10 USD to pay for your tourist card upon arrival.
Community service appropriate attire includes T-shirts with no visible undergarments and shorts should be knee length—think Bermuda or basketball shorts—to be respectful to the local culture and traditions. Sneakers will get muddy during service activities, so some students like to bring an extra pair.
• On the program we will be visiting NGO offices so please make sure to bring a collared shirt (a polo shirt or a button down shirt is fine) that you can wear with jeans to these meetings.
• Some students prefer hiking boots, and they are nice to have, but in the interest of packing light, it is fine to wear sturdy sneakers that will be comfortable for hiking activities.
• Don’t forget the Big Five: Water Bottle, Sunscreen, Bug spray, Rain jacket, Closed-toe shoes.