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Rustic Pathways’ Young Explorers programs are for students ages 12 to 14 with a passion for travel. These programs allow the young adventurer to step outside of their comfort zone, make new friends, and learn about the world around them.

Raft the Sarapiquí River! Head to La Fortuna, near the Arenal Volcano, where you’ll participate in service projects at schools or community organizations. Explore La Fortuna through rainforest hikes, zip lining, and trips to hot springs. Visit an indigenous Maleku village to learn about traditional culture. Relax on the beaches of the Nicoya Peninsula and enjoy the laid-back Pacific vibe, learn how to surf, work on service initiatives, watch dolphins, and much more.

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
Community Service Focus
Education, Infrastructure, Environment
Get to Know
The Sights, The People, Adventure
Relax at Hotels
Travel Component
On the Go!

  • Day 1

    Fly to San José

    Depart United States for San José, Costa Rica. All scheduled flights to Costa Rica are non-stop and escorted by a Rustic Pathways Flight Leader. Upon your arrival, Rustic Pathways Staff will greet you at the airport.

    Tonight you’ll stay at a hotel near the airport. Spend the evening relaxing and getting to know your traveling companions!

  • Day 2

    Raft the Sarapiquí River

    Wake up for breakfast and depart San José to the mighty Sarapiquí River for a day of whitewater rafting. The Sarapiquí River cuts through the rainforest and is known for its beautiful scenery and consistent rapids. Along the way there will be time to learn about iguanas, look for some of Costa Rica’s famous exotic birds, and have water fights with nearby kayakers and other rafts. Then it will be time to experience the thrills of whitewater! At the end of your trip, you will have some down time to relax, continue your voyage to your new home in the village of La Fortuna, near the Arenal Volcano.

  • Day 3 - 5

    Explore the Fortuna Town and Work in Your Service Project

    Wake up early every morning for a healthy breakfast of fresh fruits, cereals, and the traditional dish of gallo pinto. Morning activities will combine cultural immersion activities and small-scale community service projects.

    Most lunches will be served at the hotel or in a nearby restaurant close to where you are working, depending on the day activity. Due to the plethora of great outdoor activities possible in the Arenal Volcano region, your days will be filled with excitement! Zip lining high above the rainforest canopy, hiking the Arenal Volcano National Park, making chocolate, and relaxing visit to natural hot springs.

  • Day 6

    Meet the Maleku People

    Work in your service project and then head back to town where you’ll visit some coffee shops in Fortuna and have time to pick up last minute souvenirs. Head to the Maleku reservation where you’ll spend the night. Rest up, as tomorrow you’ll spend the day getting to know this fantastic community.

  • Day 7 - 9

    Explore the Maleku History and Traditions

    Spend the next few days exploring and learning Maleku customs and traditions. The Maleku are one of Costa Rica’s eight remaining indigenous groups and have lived in the northern regions of Costa Rica for centuries. Learn about medicinal plants and take a traditional arts class to understand the wisdom of the forest directly from the Maleku people. Take a day hike to the turquoise-blue waters of the Rio Celeste.

  • Day 10

    Drive to Guanacaste Province

    Say goodbye to your friends in Maleku. Enjoy the scenic bus ride to Guanacaste Province. Get ready for a land of sunshine, the sabanero cowboy culture, and beautiful beaches of Carrillo and Samara.

  • Day 11 - 14

    Enjoy the Beach

    Wake up to the sound of waves crashing on the beach, where you will be working in other service project. One day you can take surfing lessons from local instructors. Practice paddling, attempt standing up on the board, and take in the sun. Enjoy walks down the beach to explore this wonderful community and join in any pick-up soccer games that are happening along the way. Participate in a dolphin watching tour and stand up in your sea kayak tour. There will also be time for plenty of swimming and relaxing on the beach.

  • Day 15

    Drive Back to San José

    Wake early and have another tasty Costa Rican breakfast. Then, it is time to pack up your things and squeeze in one last visit to the beach before heading back to San José for your farewell dinner. In the evening, there will be some time to come together as a group and talk about the amazing things you have seen together and the friendships that have developed during this fantastic trip.

  • Day 16

    Fly Home

    An early wake up and a short bus ride to the airport before your departure home to the U.S.. On the plane you can reflect on your unforgettable experience as a Young Explorer in Costa Rica – pura vida!

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

  • Young Explorers is a program specifically designed for 8th graders. Most participants are in the 13 and 14 years old range.
    Students wanting to connect programs would need to be approved on a case-by-case basis.
    On the final Tuesday afternoon our Young Explorers will depart from the hotel in the Carrillo Beach. They will stay that night in San Jose in a base hotel. Wednesday morning students will meet with their new group and guides at the same hotel where they stayed 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, 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.

  • Yes, it includes the first and last day of international traveling for the students.

  • During the Young Explorers program students will visit the San Jose, Alajuela, and Guanacaste provinces.

  • 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.

  • 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. Our Young Explorers will be allowed to use their phones once a day at the end of the day to call/text home.

  • 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!)

  • Students will visit a variety of different locations but most of the time, students should be prepared for hot, humid weather in the 80’s and 90’s during the day with a daily afternoon rain shower.

  • Students will be staying in hotels during their travels. The hotels are carefully chosen according to the needs of the program and are clean, comfortable and safe. During the days in the Maleku community students will stay in a rustic cabins for girls and boys, with individual mattresses covered in mosquito nets.

  • Students will be eating at local restaurants as they travel throughout Costa Rica. The food will vary between traditional Costa Rican food and occasional American and international selections.

  • Hotels and Costa Rican houses all have bathroom facilities with running water, American style toilets and showers.

  • Students will have limited access to internet during their program, but the students will not have access to internet during their stay in Maleku. They will be able to purchase international phone cards in Costa Rica from t

  • 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.

  • You cannot flush the toilet paper in Costa Rica.

  • Since this is a traveling program, students are going to be moving around different parts of the country every 4-5 days. The longest time they are going to be in a bus will be from 3 to 4 hours, depending on weather and traffic conditions.

  • There is going to be a bus and a driver with the group for the two weeks.

  • Access to healthcare in Costa Rica is really good. Students are going to be doing white water rafting, zip lining, hot springs, surfing lessons, etc. The vendors we use for these activities have very good safety policies. There are clinics available within 15-20 minutes from all the locations. The location of major hospitals varies between 45 minutes and 1 hour.

  • 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 our International SOS webpage.

  • There are clinics in every town we visit. It would take less than 30 minutes to get to one of them in each place the program visits.

  • 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.

  • We recommend students to bring from $200 to $250.

  • Yes.

  • 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.

  • This is an excellent program for students that want to practice their Spanish. While there is no formal instruction, our students will have the opportunity to speak with the locals.

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 or similar sized bag is ideal.

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

Check Luggage

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


  • 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 (5-8)
  • Long sleeved shirt (2-4)
  • Fleece/hoodie
  • Pijamas
  • Swimsuit
  • Quick dry towel
  • Beach towel/sarong
  • Rain jacket
  • Sandals water/strappy sandals (like Tevas or Chacos)
  • Sneakers/ Hiking boots for Community Service and Adventure Activities
  • Sneakers (Closed-toed comfortable shoes)
  • Work gloves
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat (for sun)


(Travel size bottles in Ziploc bags)

  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Body wash
  • Face wash
  • Toothbrush
  • Tooth paste
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Contacts
  • Contact solution
  • Foam ear plugs
  • Personal med kit
  • Deodorant
  • Wet Wipes
  • Razor/shaving cream


  • Portable games (Bananagrams, cards, etc.)
  • Power bank (in your Carry-on)

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.
  • Students will have a chance to do laundry on this trip.
  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
    La Fortuna

    Enjoy week one near this town that sits in the shadow of Arenal Volcano.

  3. c

    Spend some days in the very welcoming indigenous village of Maleku.

  4. d

    Samara is a small beach-side community in the Nicoya peninsula. Running the length of the bay, Samara is best known for its surfing community.

  5. e
    Sarapiquí River

    Raft the Sarapiquí River.