My daughter did this program in 2014. Only after she had been in costa rica for 2 weeks did we discover the kids are NEVER allowed out of the sight of program staff. So something as simple as 2 kids going somewhere for a soda is forbidden. This means the only interaction with the locals happens if there is an activity planned that involves locals. Otherwise the group just spends time with itself. Very insulated. A bunch of privileged American kids hanging out just with each other in one of the top rated countries in the world for happiness and quality of life. No spontaneous interactions are allowed.
Lots of exciting activities, but they might as well just go to an amusement park in the US, in my opinion.
Some parents want their kids under 24/7 complete supervision and restriction. My take is why would they want to send the kid to Costa Rica. The biggest value of international travel is the opportunity to learn how other people live and that the "Reality" in the US is not what most of the world enjoys. Ziplines are great but you don't need to spend $6k, or travel to a foreign country. In my opinion, this program completely misses the value of being in Costa Rica. I called it a jail, which really offended them. I'm sure e staff works hard, but what is the point of a program like this? In my opinion your kid will not experience life growth in this program. They will get to ride a zipline though.
Company literature was not clear on this level of supervision, or in my view, restriction. They told me that because of my experience they were changing company literature. I have not checked.
This is part 2 of a review for the rustic pathways costa rica program.
My daughter was sent home early because she broke the rules. She snuck away with another student (a boy) during a soccer game to get a soda. Staff found them and gave her a warning. Then that's night she snuck out again. She's a sneak. So they sent her home. I did not have any problem with their decision and agreed with their action. I do wish they had communicate with me earlier than they did because they basically called to say shed be home the next day, and we were traveling. They had known about the issue for at least 2 days and were trying to be thorough. So I understand. But I would have liked to have been included in the conversation earlier.
All of this would have gone differently if there was some amount of independent time in the itinerary. Because there was no unsupervised time, she snuck away. It would not have happened if the program was what we thought going in because our daughter would have been able to explore. We honestly thought they would get free time.
I spent quite a bit of time on the phone with Chris, the CEO. He's a good guy and, like me, he traveled extensively and independently as an teen and adult. I told him he's got the best job in the world. I also challenged him as to why our kids experience should be so much more limited than our experiences as travelers when we were young adults. The answer, unfortunately is that we live in an uncertain world and most parents want a completely supervised itinerary. I suppose this makes sense but I have to wonder if that's how most parents really feel.
In any case Chris agreed with me that the program description and info sent to parents did not clearly describe the level of supervision. So it was the CEO who agreed that the Rustic Pathways program description needed to be revised to reflect the actual experience.
So if you want a tightly run and supervised experience for your kid, with absolutely no opportunity for independent exploration, then this is a good choice, in fact a great choice. If you think your kid would have a more meaningful experience being allowed to explore, even with a buddy model, this is not a good program for your family, and the Chris the CEO agreed with that exact statement.
They did tell me that a foreign traveler was raped in costa rica in 2013, although nowhere near where rustic pathways goes. It was a solo traveler over 18 who was in a small town by herself. Of course, rustic pathways uses a few carefully selected towns that are quite safe, and by program staff admission, these towns have no history of problems for foreigners. As one of the safest countries to travel to, I have to wonder how the risk compares with letting your daughter go to the shopping mall at home.
However as a program for teens, they have only liability so they have to play ultra ultra safe. For our family, foreign travel is not about staying in a protective bubble. It's about seeing how far you can challenge yourself. I'm sure there are many families like that. For all of us, this may not be the best choice for our precious summer experiences.