Why Costa Rica is an Excellent Student Travel Destination

Costa Rica is one of our flagship destinations. From cultural immersion to service learning, biodiversity to fun in the sun, Costa Rica is a fan favorite for our travelers and staff alike. After a hiatus due to the pandemic, we were overjoyed to send student groups back to this incredible country. 

Our Director of GTrek, Paul Belanger, spent a few weeks in Costa Rica himself to welcome our groups and ensure operations on the ground were running smoothly. 

Q: You recently spent some time in Costa Rica with our groups. How was it being back?

Paul: I have been traveling to Costa Rica for ten years and it was great to see and feel all of the familiar things that I had come to love about the country. There are incredible sites such as the rainforests, mountains, rivers and beautiful small towns. The sensory experience is unmatched with the calls of birds, the steady rain in a dense rainforest canopy, the nighttime insects and even the sounds of the bustling central valley – it is unreal. And last but not least, the people. I appreciate how friendly and welcoming everyone is, there is a strong sense of community getting to visit with some of my friends that I have not seen for three years.

Q: What makes Costa Rica such a great GTrek destination?

Costa Rica is a great destination for student travel – period. It has enriching intercultural opportunities. It is a welcoming, friendly, and safe place to travel. Our GTrek program tends to focus more on science, outdoors, and adventure and there is no better place that combines those elements than Costa Rica. As a relatively small country, it offers the ability to visit four or more different habitats in one trip – the cloud forest, the rainforest, tidal areas, and coral reefs – and is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. This makes for one of the best outdoor classrooms where students are engaged and inspired by experiencing an amazing landscape with incredible wildlife like sloths, monkeys, and sea turtles. In addition, under the expert guidance of the incredible Costa Rican guides, core ecological concepts learned in the classroom are reinforced. It is proven that students that engage in these kinds of science/environmental education programs return to the classroom more inspired and engaged. One other thing worth mentioning, is the strong conservation ethic throughout the Tico culture. It impacts the students so strongly that they take it back to their home communities. 

Q: One of the unique aspects of our Costa Rica programs is the Leaf Cutter Project. Can you share a bit about this program? 

The Leaf Cutter Project (LCP) is a unique program developed in Costa Rica by Global Travel Alliance and our non-profit affiliate Global Doing Good. Through it, our (often) rural students have opportunities to learn about rainforests and ecology, conservation, and tourism. 

It was incredibly exciting to visit the schools and teachers we worked with in the past and restart the program. We had over 100 students spend a day at the high schools this summer. They interacted with the local Tico students, the LCP kids led nature walks through the rainforest to the school campus and, together, the students did several service programs at the school and in the school’s rainforest.

These types of intercultural exchanges offer opportunities for formal and informal learning and are some of the most meaningful elements of our programs. Consistently, students identify their work with the LCP students and the school visit as one of the top trip memories. This is notable considering these kids get to zipline through the rainforest, raft through the jungle, see amazing wildlife, visit a gorgeous beach, go surfing and so much more. This clearly demonstrates that our programs are engaging the students with the people, landscape, and wildlife in a deep and meaningful way that is often impossible to accomplish in a typical student group tour. The mutual commitment between Global Doing Good and the local high schools to facilitate these unique intercultural programs.

Q: A lot of our group leaders like to incorporate service projects into their Costa Rica itineraries. Why is this so popular? 

There’s a difference between being a tourist and a traveler. A tourist is a guest that is touring – seeing and doing the things that most guests see and do, often in a bubble with little opportunity to engage in the local culture. A traveler seeks engagement with the local culture and people as a way to deepen their experience. Community service is a very specific and easy way to become more of a traveler. It adds the opportunity to give back to the people and communities that have been so generous in sharing their home and culture with us. Our community service projects are built out of relationships we establish in the community and are intentional. They are not one-off, isolated events to “make us feel better” but rather projects that serve a real need. Group leaders that want their students to become travelers rather than tourists are drawn to Global Travel Alliance because this is a core part of our program objectives.

If you’re ready to complement your curriculum with a customized tour, are considering a new travel partner, or maybe you’re just curious, please reach out to us! We would love to hear from you.

Paul Belanger is our Director of GTrek and a Montana native. He has been part of the Global Travel Alliance team for 11 years and previously directed place-based educational programs for the Nature Conservancy and Montana Audubon. When he’s not traveling, you’ll find Paul hiking in the nearby Bitterroot mountains or floating down a river with a fly rod in-hand!

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