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 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 as we make time for soccer games with the local kids while doing service projects at two 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 really liked getting to know the Spanish teachers and speaking Spanish with them.
- Aidan Koch, River Forest, Illinois
Improve your Spanish, make a difference and forge lasting friendships while experiencing all Costa Rica has to offer.
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 alongside community members and at 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 the Bribri Indigenous Reserve in the Limón Province.
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 volunteer 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, new friends and hard and meaningful work alongside our community partners.
15 nights in private group accommodations with bathrooms and showers.
4 nights in hostels in private group rooms with bathrooms and showers.
Itinerary may vary by group and is subject to change.
We travel light at Overland.
- Medium-Sized Duffel Bag or Backpack
3,000-5,000 cubic inch (50-80 liters) backpack or duffel bag.
- Navy Overland T-Shirt (1)
We will send every student an Overland T-shirt prior to the trip. Please wear this T-shirt to trip start.
- T-Shirt (3)
- Synthetic T-Shirt (4)
- Lightweight Long-Sleeve T-Shirt (2)
- Shorts (4)
Shorts suitable for daily activities including volunteer work and hiking.
- Pants (2)
Suitable for day hikes, travel or walks through towns and cities.
- Work Pants (3)
Durable and suitable for trail work.
- Underwear (7)
- Athletic Socks (5)
- Wool and/or Synthetic Socks (1)
- Swimsuit (1)
- Bandana (optional)
- Hat with Visor (optional)
- Pajamas (optional)
Students sometimes prefer to sleep in shorts and a T-shirt instead of pajamas.
- Fleece Jacket or Pullover (1)
- Raincoat (1)
Waterproof material (e.g., Gore-Tex, or similar) is required. Your jacket should be large enough to allow layers underneath. 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).
- 1-Liter Water Bottle
Please bring an extra battery/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.
Comfortable shoes with good 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 (optional)
Flip flops or Crocs work well.
- Synthetic Camping Towel
A medium-size synthetic camping towel (synthetic camping towels dry much faster than regular towels).
- Travel Size Toiletries
- Sunscreen (SPF 15+) & Chapstick (with SPF protection)
- Insect Repellent
- Leather Work Gloves
Sturdy gloves to wear during volunteer work.
- 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.
- Travel-sized Spanish-English Dictionary
- Notebook & Pen
- Water-resistant Watch
- Personal Journal or Book (optional)
- Camera, Charger & Extra Batteries (optional)
A digital or disposable camera.
- Health Insurance Card
Please bring an original or copy of your health insurance card.
Please bring 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.
- Spending Money & Miscellaneous Expenses
Each student should bring a debit card, an ATM card or a prepaid Visa card to cover spending money and miscellaneous expenses. Some prepaid cards do not work internationally (notably, Visa); please ensure you purchase one that does. Spending Money: While all meals and activities are included in the trip fee, we recommend $25/week for spending money (for example: for souvenirs or an occasional drink or snack beyond what is provided to the group as a whole). Miscellaneous Expenses: Most Overland students will incur some expenses while traveling (for example: an equipment repair or baggage fees at trip end). Please add $100 to the debit/ATM/Visa card (in addition to spending money), to cover these expenses.
Things to know
- We travel light at Overland; please only bring the items on this list.
- Your group will have access to laundry periodically.
- Please do not bring your smart phone (or any other electronics).
Please visit the FAQ tab 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 schedule expensive items—phones, cameras, bicycles, etc.—on your homeowners insurance policy.
Questions? Call us: 413.458.9672.
- 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.
- 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 trip.
- Please tell me about the currency on this trip.
Costa Rica uses the Costa Rican Colón. Some US banks may be able to order Colones. At various airports within the US, it is possible to exchange dollars for Colones. Students can also exchange money in airports throughout the US, or leaders can help students withdraw Colones using a debit card or exchange US dollars upon arrival in Costa Rica.
- 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 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.
- Does my child need to have previous 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 their interests and abilities. You should spend some time familiarizing yourself with the details of the specific trip 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.
- Please tell me about Overland's admissions process.
When we receive your application, if your first choice is available, we will: (1) call you to acknowledge our receipt of your application, (2) send you an email with a link to our enrollment forms, and (3) charge a deposit of $795 to your credit card. If your first choice is not available, we will call you to discuss options. For more information, and to access our application, please visit our Apply page.
- 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. 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 an expensive smartphone. Instead, an inexpensive prepaid cell phone will do. All phones will be collected on arrival and returned at departure. While we will take reasonable steps to prevent damage, theft or loss, 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 other 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.
- Can I send mail to my child during a trip?
Getting a letter, card or postcard while on an Overland trip is always exciting. Please keep in mind that sending mail to your child on an Overland trip is different than sending mail to a traditional camp because your child will be on the move. Our experience has been that mail often does not arrive on time, and, sometimes, even when it does, post offices, campgrounds and other mail stops do not reliably deliver mail to our groups. For these reasons:
1. Please do not send anything valuable – please send letters, cards or postcards only. If mail is late, lost or misdirected, Overland’s leaders and staff are not able to return to the post office (or other mail stop) to collect it.
2. Please use the US Postal Service first-class mail only; do not use UPS, FedEx or DHL (many of our mail stops accept US Postal Service mail only).
3. Please do not send overnight letters: many overnighted letters arrive before or after we arrive and are then sent back. For this same reason, please do not send mail that requires a signature upon delivery.
4. Please allow one week for postal delivery to U.S. mail stops.
5. Please allow two weeks for postal delivery to international mail stops.
Improve your Spanish while volunteering and exploring Costa Rica.
Students going on Language & Service Costa Rica should prepare for:
- Full days of outdoor activities led by two caring Overland leaders
- Day hikes to viewpoints and mountaintops
- 10 days of volunteer service for an average of 4 hours each day
- 14 days of Spanish class for 4 hours each day
- A fun, supportive and wholesome 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 an Overland Experience
Overland trips are wholesome, structured experiences with high expectations of each student’s behavior. You are expected to be enthusiastic, positive, helpful and supportive of your trip mates and your 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. 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 trip.