My Coastal Conservation Program Experience in Costa Rica
Melissa Harris is an account manager with our Discoveries programs. She recently spent time in Costa Rica on a WorldStrides Coastal Conservation program. Read about Melissa’s trip, and the lessons she learned in Costa Rica.
I recently joined one of my groups in Costa Rica to experience our Coastal Conservation program. On this program, students get to learn about coastal conservation in a fun and meaningful way. From the moment I arrived in San Jose, the trip was unforgettable.
Driving to our hotel, I noticed the mountain ranges that surrounded the town; it was a scene out of a movie. San Jose is an incredible city, full of culture and activity. Our first night was spent at a beautiful hotel where we were greeted with dinner and a chance to relax before hitting the road to the coast early the next morning.
The morning of day two started with an adventure to Poas Volcano. We arrived early to get the best view of the volcano and the lagoon before the clouds settled in too close. Our course leader, Josue, spent the drive telling us about the history the towns we drove through and as we climbed the route to the volcano, he pointed out the changes in the landscape.
We took a short hike to the volcano where the view was breathtaking! We continued the hike up to a lagoon and learned how it was formed. Here, I had my first chance to step back see how excited the kids were to be on this trip. We continued on towards the Pacific coast for our ziplining outing, stopping for lunch and the chance to prepare an authentic Costa Rican dish to have as a snack later.
While I was a little nervous about ziplining, the kids couldn’t wait. We were fitted with our gear and up we went. I connected with a young lady who had the same case of the nerves as me. We agreed that together, we could this. And we did. I knew then that this was going to be a life changing trip, not only for me, but for these students.
The view from the canopies was amazing! There were macaws flying around in the sky and iguanas playing on the ground below us. Afterward, we enjoyed the dish we made earlier before continuing on to Dominical. Our hotel in Dominical was cabana style and in the morning, it was full of wildlife. I saw multiple iguanas, macaws and even a monkey, just on the walk to breakfast!
After breakfast, we headed for the shore. We put on life jackets and boarded a catamaran style boat to go in search of dolphins. We docked for a chance to snorkel and enjoy the warm ocean water for a bit which the kids really enjoyed. Back on shore, we changed into dry clothes to visit a working ranch where we mounted horses and hit the trail for ride through the forest for a “secret location” which turned out to be a beautiful waterfall. We continued our journey to the Pacific Coast where we would stay for the rest of the tour.
The next day, we went hiking after breakfast in search of wildlife. We were lucky to spot both a two-toed and a three-toed sloth! We also spotted several frogs and lizards. At the end of the trail, there was a greenhouse and compost processing center. A guide explained recycling in Costa Rica, which is a pretty amazing process. We then went to visit a local butterfly garden and were amazed by variety of butterflies.
After lunch, we enjoyed some time on the beach and Josue led a soccer game. It was nice to sit back and take in the view. The white faced monkeys were at play behind us the entire time. I have never been so close a monkey!
On day five, we headed to Manuel Antonio National Park to volunteer. We spent a few hours giving back to the community by cleaning up an area full of debris that boarded the beach. The staff was very thankful for our help and it felt amazing to give back and to leave our mark. This was a trip highlight for the kids. Afterward, we took another hike. When we crested the top of the trail, the view was amazing! There was a lagoon and we headed down to enjoy a swim. We enjoyed some more beach time before heading out for an evening sunset walk in the town of Quepos. As we walked through the town, Josue told us its history and pointed out things of interest.
On our last day of sightseeing, we worked together in small teams in outrigger canoes to paddle across the open ocean to a small island. This was such a great team building activity. Once on the beach, the kids were able to snorkel, play soccer, or enjoy the water. Most of the kids snorkeled and were so excited to return to shore and share all of the different fish they spotted near the reef.
After paddling back to shore, we continued our journey with a crocodile river cruise. We learned the Tarcoles River is home to several large crocodiles because everything runs down stream to this river. On our way back to the dock, one of the large crocs made an appearance! A 15-foot male, Tyson, came to the surface to visit with us. Our captain was able to dock near him and allow us to take in this beautiful creature. I was excited to see this guy up close and personal in his home.
We continued our journey back to San Jose with a stop to shop at El Jardin, a store full of goods made in Costa Rica. We enjoyed a farewell dinner of authentic Costa Rican of meats, beans, rice, and corn tortillas. The final activity of the trip was a dance lesson with a local instructor. It was so great to see how the kids became one big group, even though they were from two different schools. They had made new friends and were having so much fun!
As we wrapped up the trip, I chatted with the kids about what they enjoyed the most. Ziplining and horseback riding were favorites, but it was hard for them to choose just one thing they loved. One student told me that she learned she could do anything she put her mind to after this trip. I watched several students overcome fears and participate in activities, which boosted their confidence.
For me personally, I learned a lot about myself. I participated in activities that I would have never thought I’d do. This trip reinforced that educational travel is a must for kids. It is truly life changing! Participating in these activities, being in another country, experiencing a different culture, making new friends – you return home a different person.
One of my biggest takeaways from this trip is how lucky we were to have Josue, our course leader. He shared his country with us each day. He made sure each participant was having a great time. This made me see Costa Rica not just a cool trip, but as someone’s home. What an amazing opportunity.
Learn more about our Costa Rica programs.