2023 Bakersfield 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 have an orientation meeting to discuss the upcoming trip in detail.
|Casa Cielo Grande
|Alajuela - Pura Suerte
|After breakfast we will depart for Pura Suerte, an ecological farm in the heart of the rain forest, about four hours' drive south of the capital city. Upon arrival we will tour Pura Suerte's organic farm for an introduction to the bountiful flora and fauna in the area, visit a nearby coffee plantation and enjoy a delicious dinner made from ingredients sourced directly from the forest and nearby farms. Throughout the program, we'll have the opportunity to interact with community members in Spanish, participate in cultural exchanges, and explore Costa Rican culture.
|Pura Suerte Jungalows
|Pura Suerte - Osa
|After breakfast we'll hike down to Nauyaca waterfall, one of the largest and most beautiful in the entire country. Spend the morning swimming and relaxing by the riverside. We will take lunch at the waterfall and then hike back to Pura Suerte, where we will pack up and drive south down the coast to the Turtle Reserve Field Station. Here we will settle in and meet the researchers with whom we'll be spending the next few days.
|After breakfast we'll take a hike through the surrounding tropical rainforest in the morning to get our bearings on the local ecosystems in the Osa. We'll then receive an orientation for the research we'll be conducting -- surveys of mammals such as monkeys, river otters, and kinkajous, and sloths. We'll take a break for lunch and continue to conduct these surveys in the afternoon, in addition to receiving a lecture on local and national wildlife conservation efforts. The next few days will consist of us working with researches on a variety of research projects. See below sections for more information on the kinds of research projects we'll be working on over the next few days.
|Continue field research. Evening activities will vary.
|Today, we'll pay a visit to the local community, where Reserva La Tortuga conducts yearlong environmental education campaigns with local schools. We may organize a nature walk with local students, build structures from reclaimed plastic, or have an afternoon on the beach with local students. In the evening we'll have some free time in the local town of Ojachal, and learn some useful Spanish phrases.
|We'll continue our environmental education work with local schools today, and conduct a joint activity such as a beach cleanup. More exact details on the nature of the project will be posted in the months leading up to departure. In the afternoon, we'll have free time in the town or go on another wildlife hike through the jungle.
|Osa - Manuel Antonio
|After breakfast we'll say goodbye to our friends at Reserva Playa Tortuga, then head northwest to Uvita on the central Pacific coast. We will spend the afternoon having private surf lessons from some of Costa Rica's best surfers. Never surfed before? No problem! The waves at Uvita are perfect for beginners and almost everyone is able to stand up. In the evening, the group will have time for souvenier shopping and pool time at the hotel in Manuel Antonio.
|Hotel el Tecal
|Manuel Antonio - Alajuela
|Today we'll end the trip with a splash as we whitewater raft down the Savegre River! After lunch we'll make the drive back to San Jose for a farewell dinner ahead of our international departure the following morning.
|Casa Cielo Grande
|Alajuela - USA
|Your own bed, eventually!
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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.
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.
Reserva Playa Tortuga
Reserva Playa Tortuga is a non-profit biological research and education center committed to developing and implementing community-based real world projects and conservation management solutions. The Reserva can accommodate groups in rooms that are spacious with quality mattresses and fans. Each room has Wi-Fi access, storage, drawers and screens in the windows to keep the bugs away. Students will be grouped in their rooms according to gender and availability.
Cabinas El Tecal
Cabinas El Tecal is a locally owned and operated three star hotel close to playa Uvita in the Marino Ballena National Park. Off the beaten path, the hotel comes with modern amenities, a private pool, and great service. It’s the perfect place to relax away from the crowds. Free Wi-Fi access throughout the building keeps everyone feeling connected. Students will be grouped in their rooms according to gender and availability.
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
RESERVA PLAYA TORTUGA
Reserva Playa Tortuga is a scientific research and conservation center located on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, right next to the Osa Peninsula — Costa Rica’s crown jewel for biodiversity. It was founded by local citizens and scientists with the primary objective of gathering environmental data relevant to local conservation initiatives and making the data widely accessible in order to facilitate future environmental monitoring and research ventures. RPT accomplishes this through a variety of programs, such as the Mammal Monitoring Project, Crocodilian Monitoring Project, Sea Turtle Conservation, and various long term environmental education and citizen science initiatives in the nearby exemplary community of Ojochal. Students will have the opportunity to assist researchers on some of these projects, which vary in intensity throughout the season. Depending on the length of the program, environmental education service projects can be organized alongside the local school.
Overview: Sea Turtle Conservation
As part of volunteering with sea turtles program, participants will have the opportunity to learn about the biology of sea turtles, especially the Olive Ridley or ‘Lora’ (Lepidochelys olivacea) which is the most common on Playa Tortuga. Depending on the season (while different types of turtles may be spotted year round at RPT, the primary nesting period extends from July to December, with the peak of nesting and hatching in the months of September and October), participants will see adults, babies and eggs, and learn about its life cycle.
By helping with this project participants will be part of a serious scientific research project, which provides important data for the conservation of sea turtles. Upon arrival, sea turtle volunteers will receive training about the research project in which they are participating, how to use the equipment, and what kind of work they will do, as well as proper behavior in the field. Volunteer groups will always be working with experienced staff members, who will show volunteers the proper scientific methods for working with sea turtles during night patrols, hatchery work, handling nesting females, eggs, and data collection.
Overview: Mammal Monitoring Project
Within the Reserva, there are more than eleven species of mammals – the most common being raccoons, coatis, kinkajous, weasels, river otters, tayra and monkeys. Capuchin monkeys are easy to find into the Reserva forest. Anteaters, opossums, and sloths are also common in the area, but are a bit harder to observe.
Students will have the opportunity to help place and collect/analyze data from camera traps which, when place on trails, are an excellent tool to determine the presence and abundance of mammals in the area. These mammals are important to the balance of the forest dynamic, and the data generated on their behavior, diet, and local movements offers information that can be used for reforestation plans in the coastal area to establish Biological Corridors.
Overview: Environmental Education Initiatives
It is part of the Reserva’s core mission to educate and actively involve the youth and the community of Ojochal in these areas. RPT does this by conducting workshops and activities for children from schools in the region and their families. These initiatives aim to create environmental awareness and active stewardship through lectures, guided tours, field trips and volunteering. RPT implements a yearlong curriculum based on the different ongoing conservation projects and natural resource management projects undertaken by the Reserva. Our students will have the opportunity to prepare materials and conduct or work with children of local schools during environmental education workshops.
Overview: Crocodilian Monitoring Project
The main objective of this study is to collect real-time information about the crocodilians at the Reserve: their location, relationship with the environment, and the human impact on the ecosystem. RPT is conducting a profile of the population, in order to help the conservation and management of these species by adding new information about crocodilians’ status in the South Pacific of Costa Rica.
Since this is a comprehensive study, the research consists of nocturnal monitoring multiple times per week, where the eyes of the animals will be detected with flashlights. Students will count the number of animals and mark their locations with a GPS unit. Smaller individuals may be captured to determine the species, size, sex, and other variables. Students may also witness the Reserva’s wildlife experts tagging selected individuals for continued observation.
Accommodations are dorm style, simple, but clean and hospitable, and there is a sweet ping pong table on site! Rooms are kept neat, and we can assure you they’ll be welcomed after a long day of activities and nights patrolling the beach! The rest of your time in Costa Rica will be spent in hotels where you’ll share rooms with 1 or 2 of your fellow participants. Please refer to the Accommodations section for links to our planned lodgings.
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.
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.
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.
Below is a list of the travelers enrolled on the program.
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.