• Volunteer and Adventure

What to do in a gap year in Costa Rica

Article by Petrina Darrah

Petrina Darrah

Posted: September 5, 2022

6 min read


Are you considering taking a gap year in Costa Rica, but you’re still searching for inspiration about how to fill your time once you’re there? Here are some of our favourite things to do.

What is a gap year? In essence, this is your chance to take a break from your studies, or time off before you start working full time, to travel the world, learn new skills and explore your own personal development. 

Where should you go on your gap year? With a wide variety of adventure and cultural activities available, Costa Rica is an ideal gap year destination. Here are eight things you can do on your Costa Rican gap year. 


1) Volunteer 


Costa Rica is one of the world’s most progressive countries, with innovative initiatives tackling plastic waste and providing clean energy. However, in lower-income areas, there is still a demand for sustainable development projects, and volunteers to assist with them. 

While on a gap year in Costa Rica, volunteering is a great way to give back to vulnerable communities and species while developing your professional skills and learning about other cultures and countries. 

You could help to teach children English, or give your support to gender equality initiatives.


2) Learn Spanish


When looking into gap year options, you should give some thought to the skills you can pick up along the way. 

Studying a language and travelling is a great gap year idea, as this is a unique opportunity to experience full language immersion. It also allows you to establish deeper connections with people in your host country. 

Studying Spanish in Costa Rica will give you more opportunities to make friends with local people and give you a valuable skill to add to your CV once your gap year draws to a close. 

The best way to learn Spanish is to put it into practice every day. A volunteer program gives you the chance to do that, contributing to community empowerment as you engage in a language exchange with local people. 


3) Explore rainforests 


Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, containing 5% of the world’s biodiversity in this one tiny nation. To help protect the precious fauna and flora found here, one-quarter of Costa Rica’s land is protected by law.

This creates a playground for wildlife lovers. If you’re thinking about taking a gap year in Costa Rica, you should plan on visiting one of the country’s spectacular national parks, wildlife refuges, marine sanctuaries, or conservation areas.

Take your exploration of Costa Rica’s biodiversity to the next level with a rainforest exploration program. You’ll conduct biodiversity research in the remarkable coastal environment of Cahuita National Park. 

Your work will give you practical experience in conservation, plus help to protect a valuable area of rainforest. 



4) Kickstart your teaching career



Costa Rica is the perfect place to start teaching English abroad. The first step is gaining a teaching qualification that will set you up to take advantage of jobs both in Costa Rica and in many other countries around the world. 

Once you’ve got that, GVI’s teaching internship in Costa Rica will give you the chance to gain experience in a classroom, as you support sustainable community development projects. And as an added bonus, once you finish you’ll have access to GVI’s careers portal and, if you stay longer than three months, you’ll receive a guaranteed job placement. 

On top of teaching skills and improved competency in Spanish, you’ll gain leadership, communication, and organisation skills. These transferable soft skills will come in handy long after your gap year is over. 


5) See sea turtles hatching 


Watching huge sea turtles haul themselves out of the sea and laboriously dig holes for their precious eggs is one of Costa Rica’s most remarkable wildlife encounters. Get really lucky and you might even see the turtle hatchlings making their way down to the ocean. 

If you’re passionate about sea turtles and want to help ensure their future, GVI’s gap year ideas include opportunities to volunteer in sea turtle conservation. This means you can contribute to the protection of green, hawksbill, and leatherback turtles, while living on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. 


6) Protect jaguars


Jaguars roam Costa Rica’s wildest corners. There is a small chance you may spot them in one of Costa Rica’s national parks. As hunting was legal until as recently as the 1980s, these big cats are still extremely shy of humans. You’re more likely to spot fresh jaguar prints in soft mud when you hike through jungles. 

Although your chances of actually spotting a jaguar are slim, you’ll learn more about their behaviour as you help to set up monitoring cameras and encounter a number of other interesting animals like toucans and howler monkeys. 

To learn more about these elusive creatures, you can volunteer to help protect them. One of the gap year programs abroad offered by GVI is the chance to volunteer in jaguar conservation in Costa Rica. This project is based at GVI’s research station in Cahuita National Park, which is one of the only places in the world where jaguars are known to prey on sea turtles. 


7) Learn to surf


Costa Rica’s Pacific coastline has a string of golden beaches awash with foamy surf. The curling waves and idyllic surroundings make this part of the country an ideal spot to hop on a surfboard for the first time. 


8) Practice wildlife photography



Costa Rica’s stunning landscapes and wildlife might inspire you to hone your photography skills. 

Photography is more than just a hobby. As well as enabling you to capture shots of sloths, frogs, monkeys, and other creatures, it is a useful skill in creative or conservation careers. 

This as a gap year project will also give you a greater understanding of Costa Rica’s ecology as you study birds, reptiles, and amphibians. 

Still wondering what to do in a gap year? Explore more of GVI’s gap year travel programs around the world. 

By Petrina Darrah

Petrina Darrah is a freelance writer from New Zealand with a passion for outdoor adventure and sustainable travel. She has been writing about travel for more than five years and her work has appeared in print and digital publications including National Geographic Travel, Conde Nast Travel, Business Insider, Atlas Obscura and more. You can see more of her work at petrinadarrah.com.
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