Costa Rica: warm and welcoming—an ideal destination for learning and service.
In all of our travels, we’ve rarely seen a country and a culture as welcoming as Costa Rica. As a result, we’ll find that learning Spanish in Costa Rica is made all the more enjoyable. It’s still hard work—that’s to be expected—but the people and setting in Costa Rica make it fun, and, in some important ways, because it’s fun, it’s just a bit easier.
We’ll work with native-speaker instructors every weekday. This is the key: in small, private classes, we’ll engage with native speakers who are professional instructors using a proven curriculum.
Outside of class our learning continues. We’ll have opportunities for Spanish conversation through our group’s service work and daily interactions with Costa Ricans. Using our Spanish in these settings is conversational—there’s no pressure, just opportunities to practice, to improve.
The service projects are varied, and the weekends are for exploration. There’s trail work and wildlife conservation in the lush rainforests of a nature reserve and along the Pacific coast. We’ll also connect with the community while working with children in local schools. On the weekends, we’ll raft the Savegre River, explore the beautiful Marino Ballena National Park on the Pacific coast and visit an indigenous community.
We’ll do all of this in a supportive, wholesome Overland group. You’ll find fun and friendship with your trip mates, and a warm welcome from your Overland leaders—just like the Costa Ricans, they’ll make you feel right at home from the start.
I have too many favorite parts to just pick one. I enjoyed all of the service projects, and the places we went over the weekend were beautiful and fun. Also, I learned a lot of Spanish, and the teachers were so nice.
- Sophie Waimon, Winnetka, Illinois
Day 1: Trip Start
We will meet in San José and then head immediately to the charming city of San Isidro de El General, where we’ll spend the day reviewing our itinerary goals and getting to know one another.
Days 2-6: Serve at a Nature Reserve and Begin Language Class
Every morning this week, we’ll work near San Isidro de El General at a nature reserve established to protect the ecosystem and watershed of San Isidro. On the reserve, we might do trail work, light construction work, general maintenance or painting. We’ll also hike on these very same trails, surveying our work, enjoying views of the beautiful San Isidro valley and catching glimpses of Mount Chirripó (12,533 feet), Costa Rica’s highest peak. We’ll take a brief placement exam, meet our language teachers and attend afternoon Spanish classes.
Days 7 & 8: Raft the Savegre River and Explore Manuel Antonio National Park
On the weekend, we’ll spend one day rafting the Savegre River with professional guides. We’ll wind through the Costa Rican rainforest on exciting rapids, keeping our eyes open for wildlife. The next day, we’ll explore and relax on the beach at Manuel Antonio National Park.
Days 9-13: Continue to Serve, Learn and Visit an Indigenous Reserve
After rafting and exploring the beach, we will return to San Isidro to volunteer with community members and a local school. Our projects might include mural painting, light construction or reforestation work. In the afternoons, we will continue to improve our language skills through classes that consist of cooking, dancing and a visit to the local farmers market. We’ll finish week two of classes with a visit to an indigenous reserve.
Days 14 & 15: Explore the Pacific Coast
On the weekend, we’ll travel to the unforgettable shores of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Based near Marino Ballena National Park, we’ll hike, explore the beaches and swim along the coast. We may even see families of monkeys, whales and other wildlife.
Days 16-19: Work at a Local School and Visit Natural Hot Springs
During our final week, we will return to our home base in San Isidro to continue to serve and learn in the community. We’ll work with the students and teachers at another nearby school and resume afternoon Spanish classes. We’ll also make time for a visit to the area’s natural hot springs. Before leaving San Isidro, we will celebrate three weeks of Spanish improvement with our teachers.
Day 20: Trip End, San José
After returning to San José, we will eat dinner in the city and celebrate three weeks of Spanish language skills, communities served, cultural understanding and new friends.
15 nights in private group accommodations with bathrooms and showers.
4 nights in hostel in private group rooms with bathrooms and showers.
Things to know
- We travel light on Overland trips; please only bring items on your packing list.
- Your group will have access to laundry periodically.
- Please do not bring any electronics (including your cell phone). See FAQs for more information on our cell phone and electronics policy.
- Do not bring any type of knife or multi-tool (such as a Swiss Army knife or Leatherman tool).
- Be sure to bring comfortable clothes that can get dirty and worn while volunteering.
- Linens and pillows are provided at all accommodations.
- There are no reimbursements for lost, damaged or stolen items.
- Please wear the navy Overland shirt that you will receive from the Overland office to your trip start location.
- Medium-Sized Duffel Bag or Backpack
3,000-5,000 cubic inch (50-80 liters) backpack or duffel bag.
- Navy Overland Shirt (1)
We will send students an Overland shirt prior to their trip, and we encourage students to wear their Overland shirt to trip start. We highly recommend this for students flying to their trip start location.
- Pants (1)
Suitable for day hikes, travel or walks through towns and cities.
- Work Pants (2)
Durable and suitable for trail work.
- Shorts (4)
Shorts suitable for daily activities including volunteer work and hiking.
- Synthetic T-Shirt (4)
Short-sleeve T-shirt or tank top.
- T-Shirt (2)
Short-sleeve T-shirt or tank top.
- Long-Sleeve T-Shirt
Lightweight for sun protection.
- Underwear (7)
- Athletic Socks (pair) (5)
- Wool and/or Synthetic Socks (1)
- Pajamas (optional)
Students sometimes prefer to sleep in shorts and a T-shirt instead of bringing pajamas.
- Bandana (optional)
- Hat with Visor (optional)
For protection from the sun. Baseball hats are acceptable.
- Fleece Jacket or Pullover
Medium to heavyweight and reasonably compact.
- Waterproof Raincoat
Waterproof material required (not just water resistant). Rain coats provide protection from wind and rain and serve as an extra warm layer. Your jacket should be large enough to allow layers underneath. We recommend hoods and breathable materials. Gore-Tex is a well-known waterproof and breathable fabric but there are many other quality fabrics. Ponchos are not acceptable.
- Day Pack
Basic two-shoulder backpack large enough to hold your lunch, two water bottles, snacks, extra layers and rain jacket. Use your day pack as a carry-on for your flight and for daily activities or hikes. A standard school backpack is usually fine (no satchels or shoulder bags).
- Water Bottle
One 1-liter bottle (a smaller size is acceptable).
Polarized sunglasses that wrap around to protect from glare are ideal.
- Headlamp & Extra Batteries
- Waterproof Hiking Boots
Hiking boots that are low to high cut, depending on your desired ankle support. Choose comfortable boots and make sure to break them in before the start of your trip.
- Sneakers (pair)
Comfortable shoes to wear on daily activities. Shoes should be supportive and have a good tread on the bottom for traction.
- Water Shoes
Closed-toed sport sandals, water shoes or old sneakers to wear on the water. Sandals must have a heel strap for activities such as kayaking, rafting or canoeing (flip flops and Crocs are not acceptable).
- Sandals (pair) (optional)
Flip flops or Crocs work well
A passport that is valid until at least six months after your trip end date
- Passport Photocopies
Make at least four photocopies of your passport and visa (if applicable). Leave one copy with your family and put photocopies in both your checked luggage and carry-on luggage for the flight, separate from your original documents.
- Photo Identification
A current school or other kind of photo identification (if you have one).
- Unaccompanied Minor Fee Receipt (if applicable)
For students travelling as Unaccompanied Minors, please print a copy of the UAM fee receipt for your child's leaders to keep on file.
- Baggage Fee Receipt (if applicable)
Some airlines allow passengers to input credit card information to cover checked bag service charges when checking in online prior to the trip. To reduce hassle at the airport, we encourage you to pay for checked baggage beforehand and supply your child with a copy of the receipt for his or her leaders to keep on file.
- Leather Work Gloves (pair)
Sturdy gloves to wear during volunteer work
- Synthetic Camping Towel
A medium-size synthetic camping towel (synthetic camping towels dry much faster than regular towels).
All items should be travel size (if necessary, you will be able to restock during the trip).
- Sunscreen (SPF 15+) & Chapstick (with SPF protection)
- Insect Repellent
- Spending Money
$30 per week in local currency or a debit/ATM card (please notify your bank of international travel before trip start).
- Community Donation Items
A few items of second-hand clothing for children or adults, arts and crafts materials such markers, paint brushes and construction paper or your favorite children's books.
- Spanish-English Dictionary
Travel-sized to use in class and around town.
- Notebook & Pen
To use in class.
- Personal Journal or Book (optional)
- Camera, Charger & Extra Batteries (optional)
A digital or disposable camera and, if necessary, a charger and large enough memory card to accommodate your pictures (4 to 8 GB).
- Health Insurance Card
Please bring an original or copy of your health insurance card.
- Is the language level appropriate for my child’s language experience?
We require that your child arrives with at least one year of classroom instruction in Spanish or equivalent experience (time spent studying abroad). Overland groups are divided into smaller language classes upon arrival. Classes focus on speaking and listening comprehension and accommodate varying levels of language abilities.
- Is this a language immersion program?
No. All of Overland's language programs require dedication to learning a language and appreciating a new culture. Although there is not a language pledge, classes are conducted exclusively in Spanish and your child will speak Spanish outside of class for approximately two hours per day.
- What are the teachers like?
Overland partners with a language school in Costa Rica with professional, native-speaking Spanish teachers who create lesson plans to engage our groups. Overland leaders will sit in on classes, but the professional teachers are responsible for classroom language instruction. Teachers will typically join the group for activities outside the classroom several times throughout the program.
- Does my child need to have previous international or group travel experience?
While no previous experience is required, we have high expectations of our students. We expect your child—with your help—to select a trip that is appropriate for his or her interests and abilities. You should spend some time familiarizing yourself with the details of the specific program and help your child understand what to expect. We also expect our students to prepare ahead of time: to review the packing list, gather clothing and gear and complete whatever training the trip requires (for recommended training please see the Before You Go tab). Once the trip begins, your child should be ready—and excited—to contribute to a wholesome and enthusiastic group where each group member feels welcomed and valued.
- What is the weather like on Language & Service Costa Rica?
The weather on Language & Service Costa Rica varies. It is typically warm and sunny with temperatures ranging from the 70s to 80s in the morning followed by a period of rain in the afternoons, cooling to the 60s and 70s. Our packing list takes these variables into consideration. Layering is the best strategy. Please follow the packing list.
- What are the arrival and departure airports for my child’s trip?
You will need to arrange transportation for your child to and from Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) at trip start and trip end. We will provide more specific travel information once we have placed your child on a program.
- Please tell me about safety at Overland.
Safety and risk management are at the forefront of our decision-making–from trip planning to leader training to supporting our groups in the field. We cannot guarantee absolute safety–no program can. All recreational activities include inherent and other risks. Therefore, we strive to manage the risks that we can, knowing we cannot eliminate them. We work hard to recruit, train and support our trip leaders so they can create the kind of trips that have made us successful for over 30 years. Please click here to read more about our approach to risk management and our accreditation by the American Camp Association.
- Please tell me about Overland’s admissions process.
For more information, and to access our application, please visit our Apply page.
When we receive child’s application, if the first choice is available, you will receive a phone call and an email containing a link to our Overland Portal where you will find our Admissions Review Forms. We will accept your deposit to hold your child’s place in the program pending a favorable Admissions Review. If the first choice is not available, we will call you to confirm that the second choice is acceptable. If neither the first choice nor second choice are available, we will call you to discuss options. For those students placed on our waitlist, we will notify you as soon as a spot becomes available.
We seek to admit students who have demonstrated that they possess the personal qualities and experience necessary to succeed on an Overland trip. While Overland is always supportive and nurturing, an Overland program is unlike a traditional camp in that our small groups–12 students and 2 leaders–travel, live and work as a group, making all of their own meals, helping each other and cooperating in ways big and small, and they do all of this far from home. As a result, every student must be able to thrive in an environment that places equal emphasis on:
1. Teamwork and Shared Responsibilities.
2. Independence and Self-Reliance.
3. Support of Others and Consideration for Others.
- What are Overland’s policies on phones, electronics and communication?
To maximize independence and self-reliance, we do not permit phone calls, emails or text messages to or from our campers (the exceptions to this are: your child will call home on arrival and departure with our phones and assistance, and in the case of an emergency). If your child brings a phone for use while en route to Overland, please do not send him or her with an expensive smartphone; instead bring an inexpensive prepaid cell phone. All phones will be collected on arrival and returned at departure. While we will take reasonable steps to prevent damage, theft or loss to phones, we take no responsibility for phones and we will not make any reimbursements for lost, damaged or stolen phones.
Cameras are welcome but please do not bring any other electronics (e.g., iPods, iPads, Kindles or other readers, GPS or similar devices). All electronics (except cameras) will be mailed home on arrival (at your risk and expense).
We are committed to providing extraordinary support to you and your child; to that end, the Overland office is staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. seven days a week during the summer (outside of office hours our answering service provides emergency coverage). Our leaders in the field are in touch with our office regularly; they carry cell phones (and in some cases satellite phones). Anytime a camper is treated for an injury or illness by a doctor or medical personnel, parents are notified by our office. A director will call the parents to explain the nature of the injury or illness, the sequence of events leading up to the injury and/or the steps leading to the treatment. Parents are typically able to speak with the medical personnel, with the leaders and with their child.
- What vaccinations and medications does my child need in order to travel abroad with Overland?
Overland strongly recommends that families of students traveling abroad consult their child’s doctor and visit a travel clinic well before the start of the program to discuss options for travel-related vaccinations and medications. These are in addition to your child’s routine vaccinations and regularly prescribed medication.
You and your doctor are encouraged to generally review information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. State Department, the World Health Organization (WHO) or other sources, in addition to the specifics of your selected program, to consider health issues and determine what, if any, travel-related vaccinations and medications are appropriate for your child. Overland will provide a “Travel Vaccinations & Medications” form to assist with this process.
- Can my child get credit for service hours?
You should check with your child’s school about whether or not Overland's service hours meet their requirements. The approximate number of hours of service are listed in the sidebar. We will provide your child with proof of participation after completion of his or her service work.
- Can my child get school credit for the language program?
You should check with your child’s school about whether or not Overland’s language programs fulfill their requirements. The approximate number of hours of language instruction are listed in the sidebar.
Improve your Spanish while volunteering and exploring Costa Rica.
Students going on Language & Service Costa Rica should prepare for:
- 10 days of volunteer service for an average of 4 hours each day
- 14 days of Spanish class for 4 hours each day
- Traveling internationally
- Travel to and from the trip
- An Overland experience
We expect you to arrive to your trip fully prepared for all activities.
Preparing for Service
Trips involving service work require a positive attitude and willingness to work hard as a volunteer. You should arrive eager to participate in a variety of service projects. You and your group might mentor elementary school students, work on a light construction project or volunteer at a nature preserve. The projects your group work on will depend upon the availability of service opportunities and the needs of local communities.
As the summer nears, stay active through sports and exercise. Once your program starts, commit yourself wholeheartedly to your group and all activities.
Preparing for Class
Overland's language programs require dedication to learning a language and enthusiasm about experiencing a new culture. Your classes will be conducted exclusively in Spanish and you will speak Spanish outside of class for approximately two hours per day. Your group will be divided into smaller language classes upon arrival; the classes will focus on speaking and listening comprehension in order to accommodate a range of skill levels. We require you to arrive with at least one year of classroom instruction, or the equivalent experience (time spent studying abroad, for example), in Spanish.
Preparing for International Travel
International travel requires planning and preparation. You must have a valid passport and the necessary visas, travel vaccinations and travel medications. We will provide additional instructions regarding international travel preparation once we have placed you on a program. More information is also available in the FAQs.
Preparing for Travel to and from the Trip
Families are responsible for arranging flights to and from the designated airport during a specified window (please do not purchase flights until you have received an email confirming our review of your health forms and school reference). Overland staff will be at the airport to welcome you at the start of your trip and to assist with your departure. You may also be dropped off and picked up at the airport. If you are flying to and from your trip, we will have you call home upon arrival and before departure. We will provide more specific travel information once we have placed you on a program.
Preparing for an Overland Experience
Overland programs are wholesome, structured experiences with high expectations of each student’s behavior. Overland expects all students to contribute to an enthusiastic, positive group. We expect you to be helpful and supportive of your trip mates and leaders. We ask that you leave your cell phone and electronics at home (cameras are always welcome), so you can fully engage with your group and your trip. You will have the opportunity to send letters and receive mail at designated mail stops, which are shared in the spring.
Arriving ready for a challenge—and prepared to contribute to an enthusiastic group—will go a long way toward creating a successful trip. Please contact us if you’d like to discuss preparing for your Overland program.