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This program is designed especially for students who are passionate about turtle conservation and want to embrace the authentic and rustic park ranger lifestyle! Live at an actual park ranger station, take cold showers, and work alongside the rangers to protect this incredible species. Take walks along the beach at high tide to track sea turtle behavior. When not working hard, zip line, surf, and enjoy the beautiful beach views and sunsets.

Dates listed reflect travel time departing from and returning to the USA. International clients click here.

With our No-Stress Travel Policy, you cancel for any reason up until the day of travel, and escrow 100% of the program fees for up to two years from the cancellation date.

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Program Profile

Costa Rica
Community Service Component
Next Level
Community Service Focus
Get to Know
Settle in at the Base
Travel Component
Stationary Program

  • Day 1

    Depart the United States for San José, Costa Rica

    Upon arrival at the San José, Costa Rica, airport you will be greeted by your Rustic Pathways Staff. Head over to your lodgings for the night where you will meet the other students on your trip and spend your first evening.

    Enjoy your first glimpses of this spectacular country. From its rainforests to its volcanic peaks to its two coasts, Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful nations in Central America. Home to some of the most biodiverse swaths of land and sea on the planet, Costa Rica is famed for its natural environment – and it’s commitment to that environment! Costa Ricans – or Ticos, as they’re called here – are intensely proud and protective of their lands, and have put their country on the map as the world leader in eco-tourism and environmental protection. By joining the Turtle Conservation Project, you’ve become part of this special community.

    Good luck and enjoy your stay in beautiful Costa Rica!

  • Day 2

    Welcome to Punta Mala!

    Wake up at 7 a.m. for breakfast before departing for Punta Mala beach and the National Wildlife Refuge. Get settled into the rustic and beautiful volunteer quarters situated right on the beach. This afternoon, get to know your traveling companions and start to prepare for the week’s community service projects with the support and assistance of the National Park rangers.

    Be ready to start your experience with a night walk along the beach looking for nesting turtles. If you find a nest, or if you are lucky enough to see a turtle in the act of laying eggs, you will collect all of the eggs and bring them back to the hatchery. Here, you will learn to mark and date the nest.

    Please note: for the best success, night patrols happen at high tide so can occur at any time at night and even at the early hours of the morning!

  • Day 3 - 4

    Service with the Turtles

    Days at the service project involve waking up early for breakfast and setting off for one of the day’s service projects. These may include working in the turtle hatcheries, beach clean ups (both physically demanding tasks). In the afternoon, play soccer or volleyball on the beach and enjoy lots of fun games with the group. After this down time and dinner, you’ll be heading back into service as you do night walks on the beach, searching for turtles and nests.

  • Day 5 - 6

    Fun Time

    On Saturday, fly through the forest canopy as you enjoy a zip-lining adventure, or take a surf lesson at the world-famous Jacó beach. On Sunday, get your paddles ready and head down the whitewater rapids of the Savegre River, the cleanest river in Central America, during a full day of rafting. After a high-adrenaline weekend, return to the base house for dinner and enjoy an early evening activity before heading out on a turtle night walk that night

  • Day 7

    Back to Service with the Turtles

    Spend one more day working on service projects. Wake up early for breakfast and set off for one last day of service projects which could include work on the construction of turtle hatcheries or beach cleanups (both physically demanding tasks). In the free time, play soccer on the beach with your new friends and enjoy the Pacific Ocean. Tonight will be your last turtle night walk.

  • Day 8

    Back to San José

    Wake up to dive into the ocean for one last chance to swim in the warm waters. After going back to the base house, say goodbye to the park rangers and depart for San José. Along the way you’ll stop at a big souvenir store, where you’ll have the opportunity to buy presents for friends and family. After the shopping trip, you’ll arrive into San José in time for dinner, and spend one last night in Costa Rica.

  • Day 9

    Homeward bound or off to new adventures

    It’s time to say adiós to Costa Rica and head home or on to another exciting Rustic Pathways adventure!

An Important Note About Schedule Changes

Rustic Pathways reserves the right to change, alter, or amend the daily itinerary for this trip at any time. Changes can be made for various reasons including changes in flight or program schedules, changes in the schedules of various external tours incorporated in our trips, the addition of new activities into a trip, or the substitution of an old activity for a new activity.

The itinerary shown here provides a good outline of the anticipated daily schedule for this program. As with any travel program, some changes may occur.

“Optional Activities” are fully included in the cost of your program, but you can choose to not do these activities.

“Add-On Activities” are not included in the cost of your program and must be paid for separately. Add-on activities are rare, but include things like skydiving, bungee jumping, or weekend side-trips. Not every program has add-on activities.

For more information, email costarica@rusticpathways.com

Program-Specific FAQs

  • On Tuesday afternoon students will depart to the Punta Mala Wildlife Refuge. They will stay that night near the airport at a base hotel. Wednesday morning students will meet with their new group and guides at the same hotel where they stayed and go off to their new program.

  • Students from the United States and Canada will be automatically issued a 90 day tourist visa upon entry into Costa Rica. For students traveling on Passports issued in countries other than the United States and Canada, we recommend you contact the Costa Rican embassy in your home country for additional visa details.

  • Yes. All flights between Costa Rica and the USA will have a flight leader starting in both Newark and Houston. Return flights to the USA will also have a flight leader as far as Newark and Houston. Flights between Costa Rica, Panama, Peru, and the Dominican Republic are NOT escorted by a Rustic Pathways staff member.

  • Direct flight from Newark to San Jose takes approximately 5.5 hours.
    Direct flight from Houston to San Jose takes approximately 3.5 to 4 hours.

  • It does include international travel time. Fortunately, Costa Rica is located very close to United States so students will arrive the same day they depart the US.

  • During the Turtle Conservation program, students will briefly pass through the province of Puntarenas during their travel to the refuge, the park is located 20 minutes from the town of Jaco in the Central Pacific of Costa Rica.

  • Each program will have leaders who are certified in First Aid and CPR. Some of our program leaders are also 
certified as Wilderness First Responders, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), Wilderness EMTs, or Life Guards.


  • Rustic Pathways maintains a minimum of 1 Program Leader for every 7 students. Additionally, each program maintains at least 2 primary program leaders, one male and one female.

  • Rustic Pathways uses sterilization techniques to ensure that all drinking water for students is potable and safe to drink. We ask students to bring reusable water bottles in order to reduce plastic usage. In the majority of the Costa Rican areas you can drink water from the tap, staff will let the students know where is safe to do this. The water in this region is not potable, our staff and the park rangers are going to have cisterns with potable water.

  • Students are allowed to bring phones on their Rustic Pathways program, but must abide by our cell phone policy. Students will not be allowed to use their phones during group activities, nor at any other time where it is disruptive to the group dynamic. If students are unable to abide by this policy, disciplinary action may be taken.

  • Outlets in Costa Rica are 110 V, with standard US two prong plugs (or three prong if grounded). Students from Europe will need an adapter. (Adapters are very difficult to find in Costa Rica. Don’t forget yours at home!)

  • The Turtle Conservation program takes place in the central pacific of Costa Rica, close to the Jacó town. Students should be prepared for hot, humid weather in the 80s and 90s. When it is sunny it is VERY hot, and when it rains it is VERY wet and humid. Students should be prepared for a mix.

  • From Wednesday to Tuesday students will stay in small rooms furnished with bunk beds. Each room sleeps approx. 6 students per room. Boys and girls will sleep in separated rooms. The lodge is very rustic and simple, but comfortable.

  • Students will be eating traditional Costa Rican food prepared by local people, and eating these meals in an outdoor dining shelter at the base house. Breakfast may include gallo pinto (a mix of rice and beans) with eggs and bread. Lunch and dinner will be the traditional “casados” which consists of rice, beans, salad and a meat/seafood dish.

  • The bathroom facilities are located in a separate building directly next to the students’ rooms. They have running water and American style toilets and showers; however hot water is unreliable.

  • Students will have access to internet once during their stay in the refuge, at an internet café in Jacó. Phone cards can be purchased from the Rustic Pathways guides and used at the public phone at the base.

  • Students should pack enough clothes and personal items to last through the end of the Turtle Conservation program. Laundry is available in the program once a week.

  • There are typically more girls than boys however the exact numbers vary from week to week.

  • There is not hot water during our time in Punta Mala. You also can not flush toilet paper in any part of Costa Rica.

  • Rustic Pathways hires private transportation for every program. To go from San Jose to the Wildlife Refuge the bus ride takes 2.5 hours, with a half way stop, and another stop at a grocery store before getting to the ranger’s station. We also use private transportation for the weekend’s activities.

  • Rustic Pathways hires private buses/vans to transport our students to different program location.

  • This program visits the central pacific of Costa Rica, the nearest clinic is located 20 minutes from the base house, and the hospital is one hour from the base.

  • Please consult with a travel doctor or your family physician for immunization and other medical recommendations, based on the area(s) where you will be traveling and on your own medical history. In addition to consulting with a medical professional, please visit the International SOS and Centers for Disease Control websites for country specific information around immunizations and traveler’s health. Please let us know if you have specific questions.

  • International SOS is one of the world’s leading providers of medical evacuation and travel services. All participants traveling with Rustic Pathways will have access to International SOS benefits through Rustic Pathways’ membership.

    As a member you will have access to International SOS extensive travel information database to help you make informed decisions prior to travel. Additionally, all travelers who travel outside their country of residence will have access to medical evacuation support during their program. For more information please visit the International SOS website.

  • The nearest clinic is located 20 minutes from the base house and the hospital is one hour from the refuge.

  • Rustic Pathways can cater to most dietary needs on this program. There will be ample access to fruits, vegetables, rice, beans, and grains for those who are vegetarian. Vegan diets can be accommodated, but with a little more foresight and planning as this is not a diet commonly encountered in Costa Rica. Please know that while we are happy to accommodate alternative diets, many of the special diets common in the United States are not common in other parts of the world and travelers must be patient and understanding in having these needs be met. Please contact costarica@rusticpathways.com with any questions regarding special diets or allergies.

  • For this program you will need a lot of bug spray and a lot of sunscreen. At the base house you will have mosquito nets.

  • Personal gifts, internet, phone calls, and snacks are not included. All other costs (accommodation, meals, in-country transportation, and activities) are included in the program price.

  • We recommend $200 for spending money

  • Please refer to our Community Service Hour Awards webpage for more information on how service hours are awarded.

  • Rustic Pathways works with local community leaders and organizations to identify and prioritize the needs of each community.

  • Red light, Rain coat, Close toe shoes, Long sleeve shirts and Long pants for night walks.

  • No special requires.

  • No special requirements.

  • This program is not language based.

  • This is a environmental conservation program, you will be staying in a wildlife refuge, with its own rules, the most important thing is to respect these rules, the wildlife, and the nature. For example, we participate in night patrols of the beach for turtles. Night patrols happen at the peak of high tide, so depending on the timing, patrols could happen any time during the night and early hours of the morning. We aim to respect the natural habitats and behaviors of these animals.

    Our staff are bilingual so you don’t need to worry about the language barrier. This program has the highest level of physical community service work, keep that in mind. You can bring your instrument and play music with the group.

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!
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.
Extra paperwork? If you need additional forms filled out to get credit for your service hours, no problem! Bring these forms with you so they can be completed in-country.

Rustic Gear. 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.


A school backpack is ideal as it will be used for day trips.

  • Passport
  • Photocopy of passport
  • Wallet/money
  • Book and/or journal
  • Pen
  • Phone
  • Camera
  • Chargers
  • Ear buds
  • Change of clothes
  • Water bottle
  • Medication
  • Additional community service forms
  • Visa documentation (if applicable)
  • Consent to Travel form
  • Rustic Pathways emergency contacts

Checked Luggage

A 50-70 Liter duffel bag or backpack is ideal.


  • Socks (6-7, at least 2 long socks)
  • Underwear (6-8)
  • Pants/capris (2, preferably dark color for night walk)
  • Long shorts*
  • Tank Tops (4-5)
  • T-shirts (3-5)
  • Long sleeved shirt (1-2, preferably dark color for night walk)
  • Pajamas
  • Swimsuit (1-2)
  • Quick dry towel
  • Beach towel/sarong
  • Rain jacket
  • Strappy sandals (like Tevas or Chacos)
  • Sneakers (Two pairs, one for work)
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat (for sun)
  • Headlamp w/ red light setting


(Travel size bottles in Ziploc bags)

  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Body wash
  • Face wash
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Sunscreen/Reef safe              
  • Bug spray/ Biodegradable           
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Contacts
  • Contact solution
  • Foam earplugs
  • Personal med kit
  • Deodorant
  • Wet Wipes
  • Razor/shaving cream

Important Reminders

  • *Community Service Appropriate Attire includes T-shirts and tank tops with no visible undergarments and shorts with a 3” or more inseam.
  • Don’t forget the Big Five: Water Bottle, Sunscreen, Bug spray, Rain jacket, Closed-toe shoes.
  1. a
    San Jose

    Welcome to Costa Rica! You will meet your group and program leaders in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica.

  2. b
    Playa Hermosa - Punta Mala Wildlife Refuge

    Stay at our base house in front of the beach, where we will be working with Olive Ridley turtles and on a hatchery.

  3. c

    Visit the surf town of Jaco, in the central Pacific. Here you will go zip lining and surf, and then you will have the opportunity to do some souvenir shopping.

  4. d

    Visit the Savegre river, the cleanest river in Central America, for a day of rafting and adventure.