Home to endless species of wildlife and lush rainforests, Costa Rica’s tropical climate welcomes millions of visitors who can’t seem to get enough of this paradise on earth! Costa Rica, which means "rich coast," is the perfect destination for wildlife enthusiasts and ecotourists. The landscapes and scenery of this small nation is equally varied. From stunning beaches to dense jungles, Costa Rica has it all, including a rich cultural blend of European and Mestizo elements.

Volunteering

Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful countries to volunteer in. Known for its black sand beaches, lush rain forests, and laid-back “pura vida” lifestyle. Costa Rica borders the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and houses a famous biodiversity, and many endangered species that are in need of protection. Many volunteer programs work to protect the nesting turtles that return to the beaches of Costa Rica every year to breed and lay theirs eggs.

Volunteering in ecological research will give you the free time to hiking the numerous mountain trails, riding on horseback to the beach, or visiting the colorful cities. While there are many environmental organizations looking for volunteers in Costa Rica, the populations of poorer rural areas and urban slums are also in need of volunteers. The country has a high literacy rate, but still struggles with urban poverty, child labor, and a high rate of alcoholism and drug addiction in its cities. Volunteers are needed throughout the country.

Adventure Travel

Travel to cloud covered Monteverde Forest and become swept up in the beauty of this mysterious landscape. In this unique mountain rainforest, the humidity is often as high as 100%. Monteverde is home to more than 3000 species of animals and plants and is a great place to explore while doing meaningful work with conservation programs.

For adventurous travelers, Arenal, the country’s largest volcano, is a must see. In La Fortuna, a tiny town near the base of the volcano, you will be greeted by hospitable locals. Costa Rica offers many opportunities to scuba dive, snorkel, rock climb, hike, free dive, and even bungee jump. It’s the perfect country for the most adventurous gapper. And, after a long day of physical exertion, you can relax both your mind and body, eating delicious seafood and catching a glimpse of the surreal Costa Rican sunset.

Internships

Although Costa Rica is a small country, the country offers a wide variety of internships. Many internship programs will work with interns to find a job that fits their skills and interests. Interns in Costa Rica have the rare opportunity to learn essential professional skills while making a difference in the local community. International internships often have a strong academic component that allows interns to learn an incredible amount (including the local language and customs) while also providing volunteer opportunities.

While ecological internships are the most prominent internships in the country. For less science minded gappers, Costa Rica also offers internships in journalism, politics, law, and business. Gappers can learn the business aspects of Costa Rica's tropical agricultural products.

Cost of Living in Costa Rica

Prices in San José are the second lowest of any city in the Americas. The cost of goods and services is among the lowest of any city in the world. The US Dollar is significantly stronger than the Costa Rican Colon. In Costa Rica, European and U.S. gappers can experience a luxurious lifestyle without breaking the bank. Housing in Costa Rica costs substantially less than in America. Public transportation is also very reasonable. For example, a bus ride across town or to the suburbs usually costs from 25 -50¢. Even taxis in San José is relatively inexpensive.

Food, continuing education, entertainment (movies cost a little over $3.00) and, above all, health care, are surprisingly affordable.

Culture and Etiquette in Costa Rica

Costa Ricans are very friendly and do not easily take offense. Nevertheless, it’s always important to familiarize yourself with the local customs. Men shake hands when greeting one another and maintain direct eye contact. The same goes for meeting a woman. As you become friendlier with the amazing people you meet, you will generally greet women with a light kiss on the cheek.

Costa Rica has a vibrant and unique culture, it was once the point where the Mesoamerican and South American cultures met. When the Spanish conquerors (conquistadores) came in the 16th century, a cultural clash began. As a result, Costa Rica developed new styles of art and music that were influenced by both cultures.

Costa Rican cuisine is a blend of Native American, Spanish, and African elements. Traditional Mesoamerican dishes include the tamale, but Spaniards brought many new ingredients, especially spices and domestic animals. Later, Africans settlers added Caribbean flavors to the mix. Costa Rica is renowned for its exquisite cuisine.

When the Spanish conquered Costa Rica, they brought with them the Catholic religion and its many customs. As a result, the culture in Costa Rica is socially conservative by European standards, but vibrant and passionate nonetheless.

Dance-oriented genres, such as soca, salsa, bachata, merengue, cumbia and Costa Rican swing are enjoyed throughout the country. Costa Rican guitar music is very popular in Central America. A history of rebellion and social strife throughout the country gave rise to great artists, such as: Francisco Amighetti, Fadrique Gutierrez, Jose Francisco Salazar, and Carlos Luis Fallas.

Although the Costa Rican natives had to endure many hardships, their culture is one of peacefulness and relaxation. "Pura Vida" is the most recognizable phrase attached to Costa Ricans, and it reflects the Costa Rican way of life. Often, people walking down the streets, or buying food at shops say hello by saying "Pura Vida", which means pure life, or good life.

Health and Safety in Costa Rica

It’s gross to say, but diarrhea is the most common travel-related ailment in Costa Rica. Take precaution with food and water. Drink bottled water when you can and be sure to bring an anti-diarrhea drugs along with antibiotics. Pepto Bismal to the rescue!

Costa Rica is a middle-income, developing country with a strong democratic tradition. Health care in Costa Rica is surprisingly affordable and accessible; however, as a developing nation, diseases such as Malaria and Yellow Fever are still problematic. Make sure to be vaccinated for both of these. You don’t want to spend your entire gap year with your head over the toilet!

Since English is a second language for most Costa Ricans, knowledge of Spanish is necessary for your safety in all non-tourist areas. Small crime is prevalent in the city, especially against gullible foreigners. All countries suffer from crime and crime rates across the world have risen due to economic uncertainty. Beware of scam artists and always keep an eye on your personal possessions.

Coronavirus Information
  • Costa Rica has confirmed cases of COVID-19 within its borders.
  • Currently Costa Rican citizens, residents, those whose residency is in process, minor children of Costa Rican citizens, and foreign diplomats will be able to enter Costa Rica.
  • Beginning March 24, Costa Rica will have a countrywide vehicle restriction between 10 pm and 5 am, with only emergency vehicles, press, and other exceptions allowed on the streets.
  • The Ministry of Health has established definitions of risk for COVID-19 infection and guidance for the prevention of the spread of the virus that reflect World Health Organization guidelines.
Last Updated:
April 15, 2020

Gap Year Programs in Costa Rica

Want to take a gap year in Costa Rica? Check out these programs!
Displaying 1 - 15 of 58 programs
GVI
GVI: Volunteer in Costa Rica
Costa Rica
43 reviews5 interviews

With almost six percent of the world's biodiversity in Costa Rica, it...

Thinking Beyond Borders
Gap Year Semester in Latin America with Thinking Beyond Borders
Multiple Countries
22 reviews4 interviews

Explore solutions to critical global issues in communities throughout...

GapForce
Expedition Leader Training with Gapforce
Multiple Countries
39 reviews4 interviews

Follow in the footsteps of past Trekforce Leaders including Bruce...

Carpe Diem Education
Carpe Diem Education | Central America Semester: Sustainability & Spanish Immersion
Multiple Countries
22 reviews6 interviews

Learn about Sustainability and immerse yourself in Spanish language...

Global Works
Costa Rica Summer Service Adventures
Costa Rica
26 reviews5 interviews

Are you a high school student looking for volunteer opportunities in...

Winterline Global Education
Explore the World & Learn New Skills on a Winterline Global Gap Year Program
Multiple Countries
15 reviews8 interviews

Are you prepared for life? Are you not sure what you want to do after...

EF Gap Year
EF Gap Year: Custom 12 and 25-week Program in Multi-Destinations
Multiple Countries
12 reviews

EF Gap Year is a 12 to 25-week program that enables students to...

Raleigh International
Raleigh International: Volunteer abroad in Costa Rica
Costa Rica
20 reviews1 interview

Raleigh Expedition is an international volunteering program open to...

Amigos de las Americas
Amigos de las Americas - Costa Rica: Palmares
Costa Rica
16 reviews1 interview

It's the best of both worlds! Become part of a new community and live...

Tico Lingo
Intensive Spanish Immersion Program in Heredia, Costa Rica
Costa Rica
41 reviews6 interviews

Tico Lingo offers the most personalized and immersive Spanish programs...

GapForce
Costa Rica Adventure with Gapforce
Costa Rica
13 reviews2 interviews

Costa Rica has some of the greatest biodiversity on earth and it’s...

Global Works
Costa Rica Pre-Med/Public Health and Service Adventure
Costa Rica
8 reviews2 interviews

During this pre-med/public health focus program, students participate...

Verto Education
Verto Education Semester Abroad With College Credit
Multiple Countries
15 reviews

Verto was designed to give you the gap year experience while earning...

The Leap
Turtles + Plastic Ocean Conservation in Costa Rica
Costa Rica
11 reviews1 interview

Your time will be spent on the Nicoya Peninsula where you will...

Maximo Nivel
Gap Year Program — Work, Study, & Travel in Latin America
Multiple Countries
2 reviews

Work, study, and travel. Connect, learn, and grow. Discover something...

Explore Gap Yearing in Costa Rica

What People Are Saying

Me putting my name on the wall in Jalova

It's been 5 months since I got back from Jalova, and don't I miss it! It was just nice being able to live with bare fundamentals...stuff like cold showers, vegetarian meals, unflush-able toilets...

  the community La Sierra displays the meaningful connections that we made with the Ticos.

I had the privilege to serve as a Project Supervisor alongside the rest of the summer staff team and I would describe this opportunity as a once in a lifetime experience. I built the most amazing...

My teacher and I after class.

Choosing Tico Lingo is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. My Spanish improved immensely and I found a home away from home. My experience with Tico Lingo is multidimensional. I’ve taken group...

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