One of the Best Spring Break Destinations May Not Be What You Think
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One of the Best Spring Break Destinations May Not Be What You Think

Reams of teens and young adults head to Florida or resort towns in Mexico for Spring Break. In 2022 it was estimated that about a half million students headed to the Sunshine State, and along with that surge came problems you tend to get with large rowdy crowds.

Despite all the publicity surrounding these popular Spring Break destinations, they just might not be the best place to travel during that time of year. If you’re looking for an ideal place to visit at that time of year, Costa Rica may be it.

March and April are among the best months to visit this Central American nation, particularly if you plan to hit the water. The weather is hot and sunny, but the humidity is low, and there isn’t much rain. Some of the trees in the tropical dry forests are also flowering, so the scenery is beautiful.

On top of that, the ocean waves on the Pacific coast tend to be bigger and more consistent this time of year, making it a great time for surfing. That’s all good news for students who want to get a sunny break from school and get some service hours in to boot.

The Spring Break Surf and Service program is designed to give students that needed boost that’ll help them get through the rest of the school year.

During the program students spend several days alternating between surfing and service projects while making new friends and getting immersed in the local community. For teens who love the ocean, there may be no better place.

Why Costa Rica is a Great Place to Surf

The Surf and Service programs are held on the Nicoya Peninsula which is often featured on many lists as among the best places in the world to surf. There surfers ranging from beginners to advanced will find their waves.

Sophie Salem who traveled to Costa Rica in 2021 says the surfing was amazing. She particularly enjoyed taking in the views and connecting with her newfound friends as she hit the water.

“I will never forget our last sunset surf at the base house. We all went out for one last surf and ended up surfing the best waves of the trip,” Sophie said. “This last surf brought us all so close together, and I miss that day more than anything.”

The surf instructors teach surfing skills ranging from pop ups and duck dives to 360s. Plus the instructors, along with the program leaders, share perspectives about life in Costa Rica. One of the leaders in 2022 would tell the students “aqui ahora” to get them to focus on the “here and now” if they got stressed. That attitude really resonated with alumna Esther Ceballo Ortiz.

“In the U.S. there’s a hustle culture… But in Costa Rica it just felt like people were living so freely and so happy. They were enjoying every moment as if it was the last,” Esther said.

That attitude brought serenity to Janae Khan who also traveled to Costa Rica in 2022. She says her connection with the program leaders and her moments of downtime helped bring the mental clarity she needed before she went back to school.

A Rustic Pathways student hangs out with two program leaders during the Surf and Service program in Costa Rica. Photo: Janae Khan

Janae (left) hangs out with two program leaders during her Surf and Service program in Costa Rica. Photo: Janae Khan

“It was really nice and peaceful,” Janae said.

In addition to surfing, the students spend about a dozen hours during the week providing service. This generates some of the most meaningful moments for students.

How Rustic Students Help the Local Community

For a few years, Rustic students in the Surf and Service programs have been providing assistance to a primary school in the region. In 2021, the students put in a tile floor in the school, cleaned the playground, and sanded walls. Sophie says she had some trouble when she was assigned a task to install a classroom door, but she got the support she needed to get the job done.

“Though I struggled to install the door at first, my friends were extremely encouraging and I kept going until I could do it. It was so rewarding to be able to give back to this school and help out so many kids,” Sophie said.

A year later in 2022, Rustic students continued to make more improvements. They worked with local staff to complete a new storeroom. It was needed because the school was repeatedly being broken into. Now the secure storage building is keeping items for the kids safe.

Rustic Pathways students work on building a storeroom at a local school in Costa Rica in the summer of 2022.

Rustic Pathways students work on building a storeroom at a local school in Costa Rica in the summer of 2022.

In 2023 it’s expected that students will work on changing rooms for the kids. In addition to this project, some students in the program also have helped spruce up a local vegetable garden.

Regardless of the project assigned, students like Pablo Ruiz Segura find it to be an eye-opening experience. He traveled to Costa Rica for three years in a row from 2014-2016 and then traveled to Australia in 2017. His journeys gave him a new perspective on the world before he headed to medical school in Spain.

“Being able to see how not-so-privileged communities live their daily lives definitely makes you reconsider what you have and be grateful about it,” Pablo said.

Of course along the way the students have a lot of fun and get to meet people from different parts of the world.

Making Lifelong Friends

During the Spring Break program, students stay at a gorgeous glamping site in the hills above the beach. There they’ll have time to connect with the other students.

“The most awesome and memorable moments were definitely spending time with my new friends,” 2021 traveler Brooke Friedman said. “Whether it was the laughs we shared in our beds late at night, dance parties, and the countless waves we surfed together, we were always having fun and never stopped smiling.”

During the Spring Break program, these connections grow when they get their adrenaline pumping during ziplining and while snorkeling and taking a boat ride on a catamaran. Animal lovers also get a taste of the wildlife in the country during a visit to an animal sanctuary.

Holly Henkel says she was a shy person who was afraid to go on a program before she traveled to Costa Rica in 2017 and Thailand in 2018. But she says she met some of her best friends on these trips. That experience helped her when she headed off to college.

Photo: Holly Henkel

“After these trips, I was able to see that there is more to life,” Holly said. “I often tell people that I was able to find myself through traveling. I am beyond thankful to have had these travel experiences. They instilled in me a desire for travel and exploration that I did not know I had before.”

Pablo agreed with these thoughts after wrapping up his years of travels and preparing for his career in the medical field.

“It is a great experience. You get to know so many different people, do so many different activities and get to see so many gorgeous places around the world while helping others,” Pablo said. “I can’t think of a better trip.”

This spring there are several sessions available to accommodate different school break schedules. Visit the Costa Rica options here.

Please note if your school break falls on the week of April 1-7, we have a Hawaii break option. Read more about the Hawaii Spring Break here.

About the Author

Mary Rogelstad

Lead Editor

Mary is the Lead Editor at Rustic Pathways. She has been a writer and editor for nearly 20 years. Prior to covering student travel, Mary created content for the music education company J.W. Pepper & Son. She also was a writer and producer at CNN International and a communications director for a social service agency and a K-12 private school.