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Explore the challenges facing two of Costa Rica’s eight remaining indigenous groups. Through interviews with community members, compare the experiences of the Bribri and Maleku people and their fight to survive in a world that is quickly leaving similar cultures behind. Take part in a community service project and observe the indigenous way of life including traditional methods of farming, food preparation, and weaving. Hike to the mystical blue waters of Celeste River Waterfall, raft the Pacuare River, and spend time at a Caribbean beach to round out your time in Costa Rica. Demonstrate your learning in a presentation at the end of the program.

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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2018 Departures

Departs (USA) Returns (USA) Availability
June 26 July 11 Available

Program Profile

Costa Rica

  • Day 1

    Fly to San José, Costa Rica

    Depart the U.S. en route to Costa Rica. Meet Rustic Pathways staff at the airport. Acclimate to one of the most beautiful and bio-diverse nations in Latin America and familiarize yourself with the locals, Ticos, and your surroundings.

  • Day 2

    Meet the Maleku People

    Drive through the rainforest to Palenque Tonjibe, Guatuso, home of the Maleku people, and where you’ll stay and get to know members of the community. Start bonding with the rest of your group and continue building on the program themes you started learning before you arrived. Discuss what you hope to learn from the program and work together to create a plan to demonstrate your new knowledge.

  • Day 3 - 6

    Explore Maleku History and Traditions

    Spend the next few days exploring Maleku customs and traditions, including their oral traditions, community history, and interactions with tourists over time. Learn about medicinal plants and take a traditional arts class to understand the wisdom of the forest directly from the Maleku people. Visit Guatuso, and take a day hike to the turquoise-blue waters of the Rio Celeste.

  • Day 7

    Raft the Pacuare River

    Spend the morning rafting down the whitewater rapids of the Pacuare and head in the direction of the Caribbean Coast. Continue your journey by van to the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. A beachfront hotel will be your home for the evening as you rest up before you journey on to the rural community of Yorkin.

  • Day 8

    Meet the Bri Bri People

    Visit the Cahuita National Park and then arrive to friendly greetings by the Bri Bri people who will help you settle in and give you an introduction to their unique culture and community. Spend the rest of the day getting to know the community and settling in. Continue your cultural anthropology skills workshop series and look at some case studies examining the loss of traditional cultures around the world.

  • Day 9 - 12

    Explore Bri Bri History and Traditions

    Each day, head out into the community and begin work on small-scale construction projects or other projects to improve local infrastructure alongside Bri Bri villagers. Continue the community interviews you began in the Maleku community. Learn how the community makes chocolate from the cacao plant, their use of local medicinal plants, and how they weave suita (palm leaves) into everyday objects, including the roofs of their houses. Spend the later part of the afternoons hiking in the Yorkin mountains, playing soccer with local kids, touring the local river with the Bri Bri, and enjoying local Bri Bri cuisine.

  • Day 13

    Prepare Final Presentations and Surf

    Say goodbye to the community you’ve come to love and hop back on a boat bound for the Caribbean Coast. Discuss what you’ve learned from interviews in the Maleku and Bri Bri communities and prepare for your end-of-program demonstration.

    In the afternoon, take a surf lesson and sample amazing Caribbean cuisine. In the evening, discuss how you will take the lessons you’ve learned back home with you and continue to prepare for your final presentation, which will take place on the last full day of the program in San José.

  • Day 14

    Present the Final Program Demonstration

    Head back to San Jose. Gather as a group with the Rustic Pathways Costa Rica team and stakeholders in the indigenous topic, who will be excited to hear your takeaways from the program. Share what you’ve learned from the communities, how you used your cultural anthropology skills to inform your perspective, and how your thinking has changed over the course of the program.

  • Day 15

    Explore the Capital

    Visit national museums in San José and explore the capital to experience more of the modern tico culture. Spend your last night in San José with students from other programs and share your experience!

  • Day 16

    Fly Home

    Time to head back home. We hope you enjoyed your time in Costa Rica!

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 from the Bribri Village to San Jose. They will have a final dinner with their group on route then sleep in a hostel rented out for Rustic Pathways students in San José. Wednesday morning students will meet with their new group and go off on 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 Preserving Indigenous Cultures and Wisdom – Critical Issues Program- students will briefly pass through provinces of Heredia and Alajuela during their travel to the Maleku and Bribri village. The majority of their time will be spent in the province of Alajuela and Limon, where the indigenous villages and the majority of these tribes are located.

  • 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 Bri Bri particularly is NOT potable, so we purchase a domestic cleaning water system for students to fill up their water bottles and consume during meals. Students may also purchase bottled water at the local store.

  • 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!)

  • This program takes place in the north of the country and in the Caribbean coast, both a very green, tropical area of the country. 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.

  • In the Maleku community, students will stay in cabins for girls and one big wooden house for boys, with individual mattresses covered in mosquito nets, like individual tents. On Wednesday and Monday nights, students will stay in a comfortable hotel with a swimming pool, right in front of the beach and close to the Cahuita National Park. While in the Yorkin community, the students will stay in one big wooden house, with the same individual mattresses covered in mosquito nets. Boys and girls will sleep on separate floors of the house. The lodge is rustic and simple, but comfortable, safe and immersed in nature.

  • Students will be eating traditional Costa Rican food prepared by local Maleku and Bri Bri people, and eating these meals in an outdoor dining shelter at the base house. Breakfasts will vary and 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 sometimes a meat/seafood dish. Students will also experience specialty dishes from the Caribbean which are known for their distinctive coconut and curry flavors.

  • 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. During the overnight trip to Bri Bri the bathroom facilities are very nice, and hot water is available at the hotel in Cahuita.

  • Students will not have access to internet during their stay in Maleku or Bri Bri, but they will have internet twice at the hotel in Cahuita and also on the first and last night in San José. Phone cards can be purchased from the Rustic Pathways guides and used at the public phone in the Maleku or Bri Bri base house for emergencies.

  • Laundry is available once a week and the cost is $10-$15 depending on the amount of clothes.

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

  • There is no hot water during our time in Yorkin. The boat ride to the community is totally safe. You cannot flush the toilet paper.

  • The first and last day, travel will take about a quarter of the day. Students will be traveling in between communities as well as a trip to a Caribbean beach, but the longest van ride is about 4 hours and we will make stops along the way.

  • Rustic Pathways hires private buses/vans to transport our students to different program locations. To Maleku, Yorkin and back to the hotel, transportation is going to be by boat in Yorkin, it is a one hour and 30 minutes ride over the Sixaola and Yorkin river.

  • This program visits the most remote community of our programs in Costa Rica, however, the nearest clinic is located one hour from the base house and the hospital is one hour and 10 minutes from this clinic.

  • 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.

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

  • The nearest clinic is located one hour from the both base house and the hospital is one hour and 10 minutes from this clinic.

  • 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.

  • Yes, there are bugs. It isn’t unbearable, but we do require students to wear bug spray, preferably containing DEET, and to bring light layers to cover up during dawn and dusk.

  • 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.

  • Surf class $50. Please note that add-on activities are subject to change. Occasionally Rustic Pathways staff identify new opportunities throughout the summer that we feel will enhance the students overall experience. Add-on activities may also be canceled.

  • This varies greatly depending on the students, but we recommend approximately $250 for add-on activities, souvenir shopping, and snacks.

  • Yes! Students can earn up to 12 hours of community service on this program.

  • Rustic Pathways works with local community leaders and organizations to identify and prioritize the needs of each community. Because their needs are ever-changing, your specific project will be identified closer to the summer and your PTA can provide additional details as you near departure.

  • No Spanish is necessary and though there will not be a formal language instruction element for this program, you will definitely have the chance to practice your Spanish skills with local people through interviews and conversational interaction as well as with our fluent program leaders. You will also have the chance to learn some of the indigenous language!

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 and portable power bank charger (optional)
  • Ear buds
  • Change of clothes
  • Water bottle
  • Medication
  • Additional community service forms
  • Visa documentation (if applicable)
  • Consent to Travel form
  • Rustic Pathways emergency contacts


A 50-70 Liter duffel bag or backpack is ideal. Please avoid wheeled suitcases.


  • Socks (5-8)
  • Underwear (6-8)
  • Pants/capris (3-4)
  • Jeans (1-2)
  • Long shorts (Community Service appropriate*)
  • Long skirt
  • Tank Tops (5-8)
  • T-shirts (6-7)
  • Long sleeved shirt (2-4)
  • Fleece/hoodie
  • Pajamas
  • Swimsuit (preferable one piece or bring a rashguard)
  • Fleece/hoodie
  • Strappy sandals (like Tevas or Chacos)
  • Sneakers
  • Sunglasses
  • Rubber boots and long socks (2-3)
  • Work gloves
  • Quick dry towel
  • Beach towel/sarong
  • Headlamp/flashlight
  • Quick dry towel
  • Beach towel/sarong
  • Rain jacket
  • Sandals water/strappy sandals (like Tevas or Chacos)
  • Sneakers/ Hiking boots (Closed-toed comfortable shoes)
  • Hat (for sun)

(travel sized in ziplock bags, biodegradable toiletries are highly recommended)

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


  • Portable games (Bananagrams, playing cards, etc.)