2021 West Side Costa Rica Conservation Expedition
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What to Expect
Please read through all of the information below. More details will be added as your departure draws closer.
We do everything possible to run safe, engaging, and immersive programs for our travelers, but given the unpredictable nature of international travel we must remain flexible in our planning. Changes to a schedule are uncommon but if inclement weather pushes us off course or an unexpected opportunity arises which travelers are excited about, we reserve the right to adjust programming in the best interest of the group.
|USA - Alajuela
|Today the group will travel from the USA to Costa Rica, and flights usually arrive in the evening. After arrival, the group will settle into their hotel for the evening and get some well deserved rest after a long day traveling.
|Casa Cielo Grande
|Alajuela - Pura Suerte
|After breakfast we will drive south for about 4 hours to Pura Suerte, an ecological farm in the heart of the rainforest, where we will settle in our jungalows for the night. During our drive we will make several stops as we drive along the coast. In the evining we will have our Big Orientation meeting when we will discuss all the necessary details for the rest of our trip.
|Pura Suerte Jungalows
|Today we will be introduced to the bountiful flora and fauna in the area by visiting a traditional costa rican farm and their coffee plantation. We will also participate in a cooking lesson where we will get to make our own empanadas and try the locally produced coffee. We will enjoy a delicious dinner made from ingredients sourced directly from the forest and nearby farms.
|Pura Suerte Jungalows
|Pura Suerte - Diamante Waterfall
|After breakfast we will hike to the Diamante waterfall. We will spend the morning swimming, hiking for several hours, and enjoying lunch at the waterfall. We will be provided with food and water during the adventure and will experience the jungle in a very unique way. Tonight we’ll camp at the cave!
|Casa de Piedra Cave
|Diamante Waterfall - Osa, Puerto Jimenez
|After an early breakfast we will pack up, hike to the base of the waterfall drive south down the coast to the Osa Peninsula. Our two hour and a half drive will take us to one of Costa Rica’s most biodiverse regions. After lunch we will finally meet the scientist and staff members of LAST (Latin American Sea Turtles) In-Water Project that will be working with us. During the day the group will take time to learn about the conservation efforts their importance. LAST is working mainly with the Hawksbill sea turtle and the Pacific Green sea turtle, also known as the Black sea turtle. Both species are listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The group will also receive the necessary training for the activities we will complete in the next couple days. After a picnic lunch, we will head to the mangrove nursery, where we will also be working during our time in playa Blanca.
|Osa, Puerto Jimenez
|Today the group will be divided into smaller groups to participate in different activities. Unlike most turtle conservation projects; the LAST turtle monitoring project focuses in studying the dynamics of turtles in the water instead of only studying female turtles in nesting beaches. In order to do this, the group will assist the scientist and staff in the in-water monitoring of this species. We will also help in the mangrove reforestation efforts of the organization. Mangrove plays a key role in protecting turtle nesting beaches and coasts from erosion, represent important breeding grounds for many species of fish and are home to many species of birds.
|Osa, Puerto Jimenez
|Today we will continue helping in the research and conservation work in smaller groups. In the evening we will have free time to spend at the beach, explore town and have group activities. Throughout the program, we'll have the opportunity to interact with community members in Spanish, participate in cultural exchanges, and explore Costa Rican culture.
|Osa, Puerto Jimenez
|On our last full day in Playa Blanca, we will help LAST with the ongoing beach cleanups. These cleanups benefit not only the sea turtles, but also the local community. In the afternoon we will participate in a lecture to learn more about sea turtles and the conservation efforts in the region and the globe. Tonight, we will say goodbye to our friends from LAST.
|Osa, Puerto Jimenez - Manuel Antonio
|We will pack up and start heading north to Manuel Antonio, home of one of Costa Rica's most stunning national parks but first we will stop in Uvita for our surf lessons on a stretch of coastline that has a reputation for being great for beginners. We will then eat lunch in Dominical, where we will also have the chance to pick up some souvenirs. Before heading to our hotel we’ll get to soar through the jungle canopy while ziplining. In the evening, we will have time to relax at our hotel and enjoy some pool time.
|Today we’ll drive nearby Manuel Antonio to do whitewater rafting down the Savegre River surrounded by lush primary rainforest, waterfalls, and canyons. Throughout the descent we will have the chance to swim in the pools between the rapids and see a variety of plants, birds and other animals. In the evening we will relax back at our hotel in Manuel Antonio and will have the chance to have our final debrief of the trip.
|Manuel Antonio - Alajuela
|We will start making our way back to Alajuela but first we will have time to hike through the national park, enjoy a beautiful beach, and spend time surrounded by monkeys. After leaving the national park we will then continue our drive back to Alajuela for a cozy farewell dinner before we prepare for our international departure the following morning.
|La Rosa de America
|Alajuela - USA
|Your own bed!
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In order to provide a safe and memorable experience, we follow strict guidelines when choosing program accommodations. Walking Tree partners with locally-operated, three-star equivalent hotels and guest houses which are centrally located, clean and safe.
Finca Pura Suerte
A grouping of bamboo cabins and impressive communal spaces, this farm is nestled deep in low-land rain forest with views of the Pacific coastline. The accommodations are comfortable, the food fantastic, and the surreal setting provides an ideal introduction to the country’s impressive flora and fauna.
Rosa de las Américas
A charming ranch-style hotel on the outskirts of San José, Rosa de las Americas is a great spot to unwind after a long day’s travels. This hotel is complete with a lush gardens, a big pool, updated rooms, and friendly staff.
Hotel Villas Mymosa is a modern 10 room condo hotel located in the peaceful setting of beautiful Manuel Antonio. These spacious rooms are fully equipped to provide you with all the amenities of your own home. Each Villas Mymosa villa has a private terrace or balcony or both. You have the option of peace and quiet at your villa or interacting with other guests around our beautiful large centrally located pool.
Cabinas Manawada is a small and rustic stay located in Puerto Jimenez used by the Latin American Sea Turtle (LAST) In-Water Project as accommodation for their volunteers. This hotel covers basic necessities for the volunteers in its rooms and dorms with private or shared bathrooms. It counts with a common area that students can use. Even thought free Wi-Fi access is offered in common areas internet services are not reliable in the region. Students will be grouped in their rooms according to gender and availability.
Villas Aracari is a beautiful property ideally located just twenty minutes from the airport. Close to the city center yet perched high in the mountains, the views of the Central Valley are breathtaking and the new pool is a delightful respite after a hot day. Spotless rooms and friendly staff will make you feel at home the moment you drop your bags.
|Departure Airport & City
|Departure Date and Time
|Arrival Airport & City
|Arrival Date and Time
July 23, 2021 at 10:30 AM
July 23, 2021 at 05:15 PM
August 03, 2021 at 03:55 PM
August 03, 2021 at 09:25 PM
Once your flight has been confirmed, the itinerary will appear here.
Walking Tree will secure a seat on the group flight for each participant unless otherwise instructed.
Travelers are responsible for checked baggage fees. Please visit the airline’s baggage webpage to learn if you should expect to pay anything.
We will provide a group manifest – complete with reservation codes and ticket numbers – to the Group Organizer/s before departure, and travelers will need to check in at the airport in order to receive their boarding pass and have documents verified. We recommend arriving no later than three hours prior to the scheduled departure, but contact your Group Organizer for specific details on exactly where and when to meet on the day of departure.
FLIGHT INTERRUPTION, DELAY OR CANCELLATION
Air travel can be unpredictable. Regardless of proper planning, there may still be instances when a flight is delayed or cancelled due to staffing shortages, weather, mechanical problems, etc. Please note that in such an event, Walking Tree Travel (WTT) is not financially responsible for unanticipated costs incurred by travelers en route. Our programs officially begin and end in the destination country, and because our staff doesn’t fly with the group, Group Organizers (the traveling faculty member/s) become the front-line advocate for the group in the event of a delay. In most cases of cancellations or delays, the airline will be the one who re-books travel or possibly arranges a hotel and food the night. Our primary role will be to keep families updated and provide support to the Group Organizer to reach a quick and effective resolution.
Host Community and Project Details
LAST In-Water Project
WIDECAST is a non-profit organization that supports local sea turtle conservation initiatives in most states and countries in the Caribbean region. The WIDECAST Program originated from the sea turtle projects in Gandoca and Cahuita, initiated from Asociación ANAI back in 1986. They strive to promote and create cooperative conservation actions regarding sea turtles in all nations.
ASOCIACIÓN LAST has been working with volunteers under the WIDECAST Program since 2007. Now as an independent organization, LAST is working for the conservation and sustainable development of the coastal regions of Costa Rica, such as the north Caribbean and the south Pacific. These regions have immense biological richness, with 2.5% of the world’s biological diversity. The Osa In-Water project is open year round since foraging Hawksbill and Pacific Green sea turtles are present in the Golfo Dulce during all seasons.
Osa In-Water Project
The project Osa In-Water is located in Playa Blanca, close to Puerto Jiménez on the Osa Peninsula in the southern Pacific province of Puntarenas, Costa Rica. The surrounding landscape of Playa Blanca is a lot of flat farmland. However, most of the Osa Peninsula is under some kind of protection. This is due to the fact that this area is one of 25 biodiversity hotspots worldwide, with a vast variety of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and insects. The Golfo Dulce, is one of the four tropical fiords worldwide, hosts additionally a fascinating marine life – including sea turtles! In other words, at the Osa in-water project you will be surrounded by a natural paradise.
The Osa In-Water project was founded in 2010, after WIDECAST was successful with the same in-water monitoring method in 2007 in Cahuita, in the South Caribbean of Costa Rica. The dynamics of the local sea turtle populations is poorly understood, and while some information on females has been gathered from nesting beaches, little is known about population structure, genetic origin and in-water habitat use.
Sea turtles spend only 1% of their lives on the nesting beaches and due to this behavioral pattern, mainly only adult females are studied. Very little information is available about juvenile populations and sex ratios of adult populations. Therefore, more in-water work is needed to increase knowledge about habitats used by sea turtles in different life stages in order to assess the types of threats they are exposed to.
On the Osa Peninsula, LAST is working mainly with the Hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) and the Pacific Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), also known as the Black sea turtle. Both species are listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The Pacific Green sea turtle is ranked as “Endangered” and the Hawksbill sea turtle as “Critically endangered”, which means if we don’t take serious measures, it is very likely that they will become extinct.
The tasks assigned to the participants will vary depending on the length of the stay, the group size and age of the participants. They will all fall under the five main volunteer activities listed below:
- In-Water Monitoring:
Foraging sea turtles are mainly found in shallow waters (<50m) with hard-bottom substrates or sea grass beds in coastal areas, in some cases around coral reefs. By sampling the Golfo Dulce, it is possible to gain information on the demographic structure of the population, such as abundance of immature turtles, male and non-breeding females, and their behavior.
- Identification of resident sea turtles
- Determine age and gender structure of resident population
- Habitat use and behavior
Methods: Surveys will be conducted twice a week (weather permitting) Once a sea turtle is caught it is untangled from the net and brought into the boat for transport to the beach. Once at the beach the monitoring begins. We take the weight of the turtle, the biometrics (weight, size of the carapace, plastron, and tail), tag them with metal tags (or record existing tag numbers), take a tissue sample (if no pre-existing tags), and record any injuries or abnormalities. Each sea turtle, depending on the size, takes 10-30 minutes to complete the needed monitoring. Volunteers will be asked to support in:
- Carrying material and field equipment to the boat and back to the storage
- Keeping all material clean, tidy and well stocked
- Preparing and organizing the nets
- Measuring and recording scientific data
- Restraining and carrying of sea turtles
Note: tasks like tagging and taking tissue samples are exclusively done by the staff to avoid unnecessary injuries to the turtles.
- Rescue and Rehabilitation Center: If we catch a weak sea turtle or receive one from another beach, we will take it to the field rescue center at the project site. Patients are usually very stressed, so it is very important to keep the area quiet so that the patient/turtle is as comfortable as possible. Part of this is keeping the sea turtle’s water clean and the temperature at a reasonable level.
Volunteers are asked to help with:
- Water changing
- Tank cleaning
- Restraining and carrying sea turtles
- Monitoring patients progress
- Measuring and recording scientific data Keep in mind, having no patients in the rescue center is a good sign. Conditions in captivity are only done if considered to be necessary and follow international and national criteria.
- Overview: Mangrove Reforestation Program: Mangroves play a very important role in the coastal ecosystems of the Golfo Dulce. Not only are they benefitting fishes, birds, invertebrates and humans, but also sea turtles. Since the majority of the mangrove forests along the coast of Playa Blanca have been destroyed, a reforestation program was put into place to help restore some of the populations. Volunteers are asked to help with:
- Collection of seeds and propagules
- Gathering mud for the seeds and seedlings
- Sow seeds into plastic bags in the nursery
- Planting juvenile plants in their natural habitat when they reach a certain size/age
- Maintenance work of the nursery All activities, except the work in the nursery, depend on the low tide. Consider that you will be working mostly in the mud and sun.
- Overview: Sea Grass Monitoring: Sea grass beds are a crucial reason why we can find sea turtles in the Golfo Dulce. Not only do they provide food for the green turtles but they also provide ecosystem services that rank among the highest of all ecosystems on earth. Among them are:
- Support to biotic communities
- Stabilization of sediment
- Prevention of shoreline erosion
- Filtering of suspended sediments and nutrients of the water column
- Linked to coral reefs and mangroves
- Support of nutrient cycles
- Cycle nutrients and other chemicals in both sediment and the water column
- Provide habitat for rich faunal assemblages
- Provide recruitment and nursery areas for fish and crustaceans
- Provide crucial food web resources for animals and humans
- Important carbon sink
- Oxygenation of hypoxic sediments
- Natural indicators of water quality Every three months, we complete a sea grass monitoring study. The study consists simply of counting blades/leaves of different species of sea grass, in an effort to monitor their status.
- Overview: Beach Clean Up: LAST supports the Blue Flag initiative of Playa Blanca community and help them through regular beach clean ups. Once the garbage is collected, we select it and send it to the recycling centre located in Playa Blanca. We try to do it once a week.
What follows is a sample packing list that is provided as a guideline. Feel free to augment as you feel necessary. We recommend you bring a larger piece of luggage like a roller, duffel bag, or backpack, as well as a smaller backpack that you can bring on hikes, weekend excursions and shorter activities.
“Less is more” is a packing tip we encourage for all our travelers. The list below should cover everything you would need, but know yourself and what you are comfortable traveling with. We suggest bringing only as much as you would be able to carry on your own.
Finally, we recommend consulting a weather forecast for your destination.
The sea turtle reserve is located between the lush tropical rainforest and the ocean and therefore humidity is omnipresent and it can take a while for clothes to dry. Keep this in mind when selecting your clothing fabric.
CLOTHES (quantities depend on your trip length) :
- Socks (a mixture of good hiking socks and casual socks)
- T-shirts (some quick dry)
- Long sleeve shirt
- Long sleeve quick dry shirt (for night patrols and work under the sun)
- Rain jacket or poncho
- Travel/athletic shorts that are breathable and light
- Comfortable/hiking/everyday pants (NOT all jeans)
- 1 nice shirt/top to be worn to more formal dinners (girls might want a skirt or something a little nicer for such occasions, boys may want to opt for a polo shirt or button up shirt with jeans)
- Durable athletic/hiking shoes with good grip
- Sandals (Chaco/Teva/Keen/Merrel sandals are great to have for water activities)
- Work gloves – required for service work
- Thick long socks (for the sand fleas)
- Quick drying dark (black/dark grey) clothes to patrol
- Bandana for work site (optional)
- A hat that can protect your neck
- Swimming suit
TOILETRIES (in addition to the basic toiletries):
- Face masks
- Reef-safe, biodegradable sunscreen
- Deet-free mosquito repellent
- Band Aids and Neosporin, other 1st aid
- Anti-itch cream
- Hand Sanitizer
- Medications (any prescription meds should travel in the original bottle with patient’s name)
- Eyeglass straps (such as Croakies, Chumps, etc) for water activities
- Journal and pen
- Camera (digital, disposable, waterproof)
- Debit card/US Dollars (we recommend about $50-$150, depending on number of desired snacks, souvenirs, extra items etc.)
- Durable water bottle
- Quick-dry towel
- Flashlight/headlamp. Please ensure the flashlight/headlamp has a red light function. This is required to mitigate our impact on wildlife during night patrols.
- Deck of cards or other portable games
At a minimum, one experienced Program Leader will travel on every trip. In addition to this full time leadership presence, Walking Tree has additional support staff in all destinations and 24/7 support from our headquarters in Denver, Colorado. Below you’ll find a list of the team members involved in the planning, organizing, and leadership of your program.
Co-Founder of Walking Tree Travel and Business Lead - Denver, CO
Colby College – B.A. International Relations and Government
While at Colby, Gabriel spent a semester in Spain at the University of Salamanca studying contemporary Spanish politics and Spanish language. He also lettered for four-years on Colby’s lacrosse team and earned All-American honors. After graduating, Gabriel hit the road. He fished commercially in Alaska, taught in Chile and China, led programs for students in Spain and Costa Rica, and traveled to over 50 countries and all 50 states in the USA. Regardless of where Gabriel is located, he is constantly haunted by his naive faith and unconditional love for Denver sports teams.
Juan Pablo “JP” Rabanales
Global Country Operations Manager
Earlham College – B.A. International Studies, Minor in Economics
Born and raised with a big family in Guatemala, JP spent seven years living and studying in the US where he was exposed to highly diverse communities. JP worked as a Wilderness Leader guiding expeditions in the Southwest of the US. After spending two years in New Mexico studying the International Baccalaureate, he moved to Indiana where he spent the next four years at Earlham College. His passion for international affairs brought him to spend a semester in China, and several other Southeast Asian countries. During his time abroad, he spent his summers traveling and backpacking through 15+ different countries, and participating in several service projects. Today JP is based in Costa Rica where he works full time with the Walking Tree team. Juan Pablo also enjoys hosting friends and travelers coming to visit. He’s always down for an exciting road-trip around the country, or even better, around Latin America. He is a long time art and design enthusiast, and a photography aficionado.
Amelia “Ame” Garita Castillo
Country Operations Manager - Costa Rica
University Nacional, Costa Rica. Business Management/Sustainable Tourism
Amelia was born in San Gerardo de Rivas, Costa Rica, close to the highest mountain Cerro Chirripo. While a young girl Ame had the opportunity to climb Cerro Chirripo with her father over 50 times before she turned 18, and fell in love with the outdoors and wilderness. After having these amazing experiences she went on to study tourism and business management in the National University of Costa Rica where she graduated with a bachelors degree. Since then she has worked for the Costa Rican tourism board, before moving on to guiding. She has worked guiding students in outdoor adventure working for Outward Bound Costa Rica, Outward Bound Mexico, and Outward Bound Hong Kong. She also guides wilderness therapy with Pure Life by Aspiro in Costa Rica. She has had the pleasure of traveling in Europe and South America which further confirmed her love for traveling, the outdoors, and guiding. She has traveled to over 14 countries and loves to share her experiences with others and also help them discover their own passion, and worldly views. She speaks fluent Spanish and English, and most enjoys her time by guiding and helping others. She now works for Walking Tree full time as a part of the Country Operations Team in Costa Rica.
Universidad de Costa Rica – B.A. in Art History
New York University – M.A. in Art Education
Growing up in Costa Rica, Sofía developed an early passion for nature and the outdoors. She originally wanted to be a biologist but ended up going into the arts instead, specializing in Art Education in New York City where she lived and worked for over eight years. Having mostly worked in non-formal education settings like museums and community spaces, her work focuses on generating transformative learning experiences beyond subjects or settings.
She is passionate about critical pedagogy, community development, multicultural perspectives, and conservation efforts. She has traveled extensively (over 25 countries in 3 continents) believing that there’s nothing like traveling to expand your mindset and allow for growth and connection to new spaces, people, cultures and oneself. She currently lives in San José, Costa Rica, and among her favorite things to do are hiking, whale watching (when possible), eating delicious food, dancing and enjoying quality time with friends and family.
Below is a list of the travelers enrolled on the program.
- 1 Aaron Licht
- 2 Avery Robinson
- 3 Casandra Campeas
- 4 Cloe Robinson
- 5 Colin Smith
- 6 Giselle Lipsky
- 7 Jordan Brill
- 8 Kai Hakim
- 9 Keahi West Teubner
- 10 Kimiko Yamaguchi
- 11 Li Fishman
- 12 Lila Konell
- 13 Maximilian Huber
- 14 Mei Fishman
- 15 Rachel Lee
- 16 Sarah Thompson
- 17 Sofia Augusto
- 18 Zoe Andersen
Blog and Communication
During travel we will work hard to keep families updated as frequently as possible with blogs and photos, giving you peace of mind that your traveler is safe and thriving on their program. Students regularly contribute to these posts, giving parents a great way to vicariously track the progress of the trip. You will receive an email notification when the first blog is posted, after which we recommend you check in regularly via the black “Program Blog” button at the top of this page.
Beyond this proactive approach to communication during the trip, most destinations are wired enough to allow participants semi-regular access to WiFi so you can also expect to communicate with your traveler directly. Ask your Walking Tree representative about the degree of connectivity on your program.
Walking Tree has developed a curriculum of activities meant to help travelers get the most out of their trip before departure, during travel and after they return home. These simple and engaging activities are meant to spark discussion, frame experiences, and prepare participants to travel ethically and effectively both on this trip and on future adventures.
Standards of Behavior
In order to run a safe and successful program, it is important that we create an environment of trust, security and respect. All individuals participating in our programs are required to take responsibility for their actions and adhere to a high standard of behavioral conduct.
- Possessing, consuming or distributing alcohol or illegal drugs.
- Associating with participants while they are in possession of, or are consuming, or distributing alcohol or illegal drugs.
- Behaving in a way that consistently damages the group dynamic or jeopardizes personal or group safety.
- This includes consistently displaying a negative attitude, intimidating or excluding other participants, sneaking out, disobeying group leaders, and any other behavior that is not conducive to an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect.
GROUNDS FOR DISMISSAL OR IN-COUNTRY CONSEQUENCE
- Getting a piercing or tattoo.
- Stealing, or deliberately damaging or defacing any personal property, buildings or materials.
- Threatening physical or emotional harm, or brandishing a weapon.
- Possessing, consuming, or distributing tobacco or nicotine, including vape pens.
- Riding mopeds, motorcycles, or any other type of unauthorized vehicle.
- Being out of designated area or accommodations after curfew.
- Breaking group rules.
These standards of behavior are essential for the successful completion of your program. Please take the time to review these as a family and make sure everyone understands and agrees to them.
Health and Safety
We strongly recommend visiting the CDC Costa Rica website to get the most updated information on health and vaccination considerations in your destination country. In addition, we encourage you to consult with your personal family physician so you can be as informed as possible when making important decisions about vaccinations and other necessary health-related preparations before travel.
Our in-country staff prepare meticulously for all programs. Walking Tree will register our programs and travelers with the U.S. Department of State Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) in case of emergency. In country staff also verify the safety records of our partner organizations, vendors, and transportation providers, thoroughly vet homestay families via in depth interviews and home visits, and keep up on important current events in the region.
Program Leaders are seasoned travelers who are CPR and First Aid certified, undergo thorough training in crisis management, and participate in a multi-day leadership training retreat. We do our best to prepare for any eventuality and have detailed emergency protocols for our leaders, in-country staff and U.S.-based staff.
We receive medical disclosures from all participants to ensure we are able to meet every students’ needs during the program. Please inform us immediately of any additional health issues that you did not list during your initial registration process. Program Leaders will also hold an online information session before your departure, as well as an arrival orientation in-country, in order to give participants important instructions on food safety, hygiene and preventing injury and illness. Leaders and in-country staff always respond immediately to any mental, physical or emotional health issues and follow comprehensive emergency protocols.
While we work hard to ensure the safest experience possible for our travelers on program, experience teaches that travel is never without risk. For this reason, we recommend that all travelers consider a travel insurance policy with two additional provisions: Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) and Bed Rest. Detailed explanations of both provisions can be found on the link below.
To provide families with a quality option, Walking Tree has partnered with Travel Insured International, one of the most respected providers in the industry. Begin by getting a quote here.
IMPORTANT NOTE: in order to secure coverage with CFAR included, you must purchase the plan within 21 days of your deposit/first payment. You must also insure 100% of your trip cost, so program tuition + flight.