Summer 2018 Applications Accepted Starting October 1st Notify Me

How do "small" and "local" provide a blueprint for a sustainable future?
Days: 21 • Group Size: 10 - 12 • Ages: 15 - 18
July 8 - July 28 Available
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Costa Rica: Bridge to the Future

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Costa Rica Summer Program

Costa Rica has been the model for sustainable economic development in Latin America for a generation. On this program, you’ll be living in or alongside some of Costa Rica’s most important biological reserves while learning about integrated sustainability initiatives to protect these valuable resources.

In this Sustainable Summer Program…

  • You’ll visit an indigenous community and learn traditional agricultural practices
  • You’ll learn about the implementation of small-scale, decentralized, and renewable energy production
  • You’ll harvest crops and practice permaculture at an organic farm
  • You’ll develop homesteading skills such as fermentation and soap-making
  • You’ll learn about natural building and work with natural building materials and techniques

Your Sustainable Summer experience will span from Costa Rica’s legendary Pacific beaches to the tropical rainforests near its Caribbean coast.

Our Costa Rica summer program is ideal for high school students with a strong interest in environmental sustainability, and particularly regenerative agriculture and sustainable living. Costa Rica is widely considered an ‘easy’ place to travel by developing country standards, and we think this program is also a good choice for students that are looking to get their first taste of ‘adventure travel’ and life in a ‘developing’ country, although we caution that our itinerary is more challenging (in a good way) than many Costa Rica travel itineraries offered by other organizations that work with high school students.

Picture yourself living on an organic farm on the edge of a national park, where you’ll help produce the food that sustains the local community. Or on a guided night hike through Costa Rica’s virgin rainforest, when the jungle really comes alive. You’ll feel the rush of rafting Costa Rica’s world famous whitewater, play soccer with local kids, and come to understand why the essential Costa Rican phrase – pura vida – is the perfect embodiment of this beautiful place and the Tico people that call it home.

Not sure if this is the right option for you? Use our Compare Programs page to help you assess which Sustainable Summer is the best fit for your interests and comfort zone.



how to implement regenerative agriculture techniques such as permaculture and agro-forestry


tropical rainforests, hidden valleys, and pristine beaches


Costa Rica's legendary whitewater

2017 Facilitators *

Skyeler Congdon

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Haley Ross

Haley Ross

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Costa Rica Testimonials

Sustainable Summer was a very significant event in my son’s life. He was particularly moved by the bond that developed between the participants. He is even more passionate about sustainability and driven to make a difference. It was certainly memorable. Overall, I think it was an exceptional experience for my son and I am very […]

  Kathy,  parent from Pleasanton, CA

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Student Stories

Core Curriculum & Program Components

Much More Than A Tour

Amazing destination? Check. Fun and authentic experiences? Absolutely. A smart, down-to-earth group of like-minded teens? Yup. An awesome itinerary and first-in-class lodging are just the start. Our programs prepare teens to become environmental leaders through dynamic place-based learning.
Field Studies
How do "small" and "local" provide a blueprint for a sustainable future? This essential question guides our experience studying sustainability in . Participants – through discussions, workshops, site visits, and fieldwork – will investigate sustainability with the understanding that truly sustainable solutions take into account not only the environment, but also the people, culture and economy of a given place.
Leadership Activities
Our approach to leadership development is adapted from the Stanford Graduate School of Education’s youth leadership curriculum.
Design Thinking Challenge
Participate in a half-day design thinking workshop, including a real innovation challenge applied to a local community problem. Design thinking is a formal process innovators use to create solutions to problems. We'll learn about human-centered design, and then engage members of the local community to conceive a project that is usable, sustainable, and lead to better outcomes within the community.
Independent Project
Learning happens best through a constructivist approach of inquiry, action, and reflection. Students should be prepared to engage in an independent project for the duration of the program that follows this approach. It can take the form of journalism, photography, film, research, advocacy, or other. Some students (for instance, those in an IB degree program) may find that they have a school-related project that can connect to Sustainable Summer. Others will be asked to develop a project concept through a guided process pre-program. The final "deliverable" is completed after the program.
Case Study
It's easy to be green when you have the time, resources, and autonomy to do so. But the real-world is far more complicated. We'll work through a multi-stakeholder case study related to a local issue so students can better understand the process of negotiation and comprise that is needed to implement sustainable solutions.
Sustainability Action Plan
All students develop a Sustainability Action Plan, which outlines a proposed sustainability initiative to complete back home. The SAP is considered a work in progress that gets “workshopped” in small group settings throughout the program. The final version is shared with the group at the end of the program and “accountability partners” are established to encourage implementation of the outlined action steps.

Program Tuition

Each program has a tiered tuition rate: standard (full tuition), tuition assistance (83% of tuition), or scholarship (as low as 15% of tuition).

How It Works

$ 3995
  • Participants at this tuition rate cover only their direct participation costs, including lodging, meals, activities, in-country staff and transportation, and support for local projects. Participation at this level is based on the honor system. It is available to all families - no documentation required. We simply ask families to honestly consider their financial resources and ability to pay the full tuition rate.
$ 720 - 3355
  • Additional scholarship funding is available for students that are unable to participate at either of the other rates. Scholarship participants receive up to an 85% reduction of the standard course fee. Due to the limited availability of scholarship funds, a separate application is required, including a parent financial statement and recent tax return.

What's Included


in eco-lodges and other locally-owned (and often sustainably-minded) establishments


3 meals daily while in-country. Local cuisine, served family-style, is on order most days. Dietary restrictions can typically be accommodated.

Immersive Activities

Guided activities, from the adventurous to the cultural, are a regular part of the itinerary.

Dynamic Learning Opportunities

Place-based. Interactive. Fun. Our programs prepare teens to become environmental leaders.

Ground Transportation

Once in country, all travel will be by private coach when we are traveling any significant distance, although we may occasionally use other transport when traveling locally. This can range from a cattle truck to the local bus. Traveling like a local is part of the experience!

2 Full-Time Professional Facilitators

Our international field team includes returned Peace Corps volunteers, college professors, seasoned wilderness guides, sustainability graduate students, and similar.

Pre-Program Materials and Support

Students and parents receive comprehensive and prompt pre-program support.

Not Included

Tuition does not include airfare, $95 InternationalSOS membership (required), or personal expenses such as laundry, snacks, souvenirs, and internet or international phone calls, and other incidentals.


We designate a recommended group flight for students. Students, whether arriving on our group flight or independently, will be met at the international arrivals area by our staff. Very detailed travel and booking instructions will be provided to all participants upon enrollment. We provide the below information as a courtesy to prospective families for planning purposes.

Our designated round trip group flight:

Escort On Outbound Flight Only

Outbound Flight

Miami (MIA)
San Jose (SJO)

Return Flight

San Jose (SJO)
Miami (MIA)


  • Do not make any flight reservations until explicitly directed by Sustainable Summer. Enrolled families - please check your MySummer account for more information. This is the only source of completely accurate and up-to-date information about our fligth logistics.
  • Not all of our group flights have a staff escort. Please see above for specifics and our Flights page for additional details.
  • Students NOT traveling on our designated group flight will be assessed a $35 fee if they arrive on a flight other than our specified group flight and/or a $35 fee for departing on a non-group flight ($70 total). Students must verify BEFORE BOOKING all non-group flight travel itineraries

21-Day Itinerary

  • Arrival
    Most students will arrive on our group flight into the international airport outside San Jose, Costa Rica's capital city. It's a short drive from the airport to our hostel in Alajuela, where we will begin our orientation period. Our group flight arrives in the early evening, with a welcome dinner, some get to know you games, and a safety briefing to follow before calling it a night. Day 1
  • Orientation and the Pacuare

    We waste no time getting into some of the best that Costa Rica has to offer with an early start and a bus ride to the banks of the renowned Rio Pacuare for a private multi-day rafting trip. The Pacuare is on numerous top ten lists of best whitewater rafting trip in the world. Its warm waters snake through a lush, primordial tropical rainforest punctuated by the roar of Class III and IV whitewater.

    Before launching into the wilds of the jungle, we'll get a safety talk and some basic paddle instruction from our guides. A three-hour paddle will bring us to the Pacuare River Lodge, our home for the next two nights, and a delicious lunch.

    Following lunch, we'll continue with our Sustainable Summer orientation, including topics that will inform the upcoming three weeks together, like local customs, health and safety protocols, and our individual and mutual goals for the program.

    After dinner and some more fun activities designed to build a positive group dynamic for the weeks ahead, the end of our first full day in Costa Rica will be to the sounds of the jungle surrounding us.

    Day 2
  • Jungle Hike to Indigenous Community

    Today we'll wake to the rumble of the nearby river and singing of tropical birds. Following breakfast we’ll do a guided hike deep into the rainforest. Our final destination is a Cabecar community. The Cabecar are the original indigenous inhabitants of the Pacuare Valley, still living in much the same way as their pre-Columbian forefathers. We'll return to the lodge for a second night.

    Day 3
  • Whitewater and Waterfalls

    The next morning, we'll wake to the aroma of percolating coffee and a hearty breakfast then it’s back to the river.

    Today’s whitewater will be even more thrilling than the first day’s culminating in several Class IV rapids. We’ll stop to do a short but spectacular hike to one of the canyon’s most spectacular waterfalls for a swim in a pristine pool and a riverside lunch. Then after a few more river miles of whitewater, we'll reach our takeout.

    It's a 30-minute ride from the banks of the Pacuare to our next destination, EARTH University, where we'll spend the next two nights.

    Day 4
  • EARTH University

    Full-day workshop on agro-forestry taught by professors at EARTH University.

    EARTH is a leading educational institution in the field of sustainability, and its innovative approach has been preparing young people from all over the world "to contribute to the sustainable development of their home communities while constructing a prosperous and just global society."

    The agro-forestry workshop, although also hands-on and experiential, is designed to develop a thorough theoretical understanding of the concepts that will inform upcoming activities and lessons on the topic of regenerative agriculture.

    Day 5
  • Conservation and Land Use in a Critical Biosphere

    After our two nights at EARTH, we'll travel north one hour to the Sarapaqui region, one of Costa Rica's most important biospheres. We'll be staying at an eco-lodge on the edge of Costa Rica's largest National Park, Braulio Carrillo. The surrounding jungle is primary rainforest that serves as a critical ecological corridor. Much important research has been and continues to be conducted in the area. Conservation efforts have maintained the native forest on the southern side of the Rio Sarapiqui, although the numerous pineapple farms that dot the northern side serve as a constant reminder of the threat of development.

    During the first of our five days in the area, we'll participate in an ethnobotany workshop with a local expert to gain a better sense of the region's plants and their practical uses through the traditional knowledge of a local culture and people. This knowledge, in turn, will inform our next two days at a nearby organic farm that is part of the larger farming settlement known as El Paraíso.

    After many years of working in pineapple plantations, and after many years of suffering health problems, the owner, educated at EARTH University, and his family have dedicated themselves and their farm to organic, integrated agriculture production. They are a truly inspiring family, as are their efforts to coordinate other producers in the area to organic.

    We'll also dedicate a full day to local culture. You'll learn to make the perfect gallo pinto and fried plantains in a cooking class and polish your Merengue, Salsa, and Cha-Cha skills in a Latin dance class, too.

    Days 6 - 9
  • Mastatal

    It's adios to the rainforest and a day of travel ahead of us.

    Winding our way through the craggy, jungle clad valleys of the central mountains, our next destination is Mastatal and Cangreja National Park, one of Costa Rica's least visited, but most remarkable destinations.

    We'll spend a little over a week at Rancho Mastatal, an environmental learning center and eco-lodge situated on the park's boundary. Rancho Mastatal is a sustainability pioneer that practices natural construction techniques (locally harvested woods and bamboo, earthen structures, etc), sustainable food production, and renewable energy generation.

    The American operators work closely with the surrounding community on conservation initiatives to help preserve and protect the last remaining virgin rainforest in this region of Costa Rica. Sustainability education of both local and foreign students is an important part of Mastatal's mission.

    During our time there, we'll study many of the initiatives that make Mastatal a stunning example of sustainability, from their use of biodigesters and rainwater catchments to traditional agricultural production methods and reforestation efforts.

    We'll visit the Zapaton Indigenous Reserve, play soccer with the local kids, and fill our minds with knowledge about the principles of permaculture, tropical ecology, and other remarkable subjects that are being practiced every day at Mastatal.

    Days 10 - 18
  • The Coast
    Our final days of the program will be at the beaches of Playa Esterillos, where we'll reflect on our time in Costa Rica, share our Sustainability Action Plans, and prepare to say farewell. Days 19 & 20
  • Departure
    We'll wake up for breakfast and perhaps a final swim in the Pacific and then it's about 90 minutes driving by bus back to the airport in Alajuela for an early afternoon flight back to the US. Day 21
  • An Important Note About Itinerary Changes

    Sustainable Summer reserves the right to change, alter, or amend the program itinerary. Changes can be made for various reasons including changes in weather or road conditions; to take advantage of a new activity or unscheduled opportunity (such as a local festival or event); to accommodate the health needs of an individual participant; or due to changes in activities or schedules of our local partners and providers.

    The itinerary shown here is based on previous programs and the anticipated day-to-day activities for this program. However, as with any travel experience, some changes may occur.