2024 Academie Lafayette Costa Rica Program

Dear Families, Friends, and Travelers – Welcome to the 2024 Academie Lafayette Costa Rica Program! To learn more,  you have two webpages at your disposal. The Pre-Enrollment page shares exciting highlights and important info that you will want to know before signing up. Once enrolled, you'll begin using the Post-Enrollment page which offers a greater level of detail.  Please be sure to review the information thoroughly and get excited for Costa Rica! Pura vida!  
Travel Dates: June 4, 2024 - June 13, 2024
Group Organizer(s):
WTT Contact:
Program Tuition: $2,590 USD

What to Expect

Please read through all of the information below. More details will be added as your departure draws closer.

Itinerary

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. 

DayLocationDescriptionLodging
June 4USA - AlajuelaToday the group will travel from the USA to San Jose, Costa Rica! Upon arrival, we’ll settle into a lovely hotel on the outskirts of the city for dinner and an orientation meeting to discuss the upcoming trip in detail.Villas Aracari
June 5Alajuela - Bella VidaAfter breakfast, we leave for Bella Vida, a farm tucked deep in the southern rainforest of the country. Upon arrival, we will settle into our cabins and then tour the farm for a hands-on experience involving tropical fruits, trees, coffee beans, and a whole host of animals! We'll witness the stunning biodiversity that has made Costa Rica so famous. A highlight is a visit to a local farmer's home where we can brew coffee and make empanadas with his wife and kids! This evening, we'll enjoy a delicious dinner at Bella Vida's large restaurant and then retire to our cabins for the night.Bella Vida
June 6Bella Vida - Host CommunityAfter breakfast we hike down to Nauyaca waterfall, one of the most spectacular in a country full of spectacular waterfalls! We will spend a few leisurely hours swimming, relaxing, and enjoying lunch at the waterfall. In the afternoon we'll head to our host community. After arrival we'll tour the town, learn more about our service project/s and then head home with our new families for the evening. Unless otherwise specified, students will be placed two to a home. Breakfasts and dinners will be with families while lunch will be served at the service site. In the afternoons and evenings, activities are flexible and will vary, but may include time with host families, excursions to explore the surrounding area or group reflection sessions. Host Families
June 7Host CommunityToday we will begin working on our service project and spending time with host families. Afternoon & evening activities will vary and details regarding service work will become available as departure nears. Host Families
June 8Host CommunityToday, we will continue working on our service project and spending time with host families. This evening, we will learn how to dance salsa, bachata, and merengue.Host Families
June 9Host CommunityToday we will continue working on our service project and spending time with host families. Evening activities will vary.Host Families
June 10Host CommunityToday we will finish working on our service project, and we will also have our farewell party with our families. This is a great opportunity to practice the dancing steps that we learned during the week.Host Families
June 11Host Community - UvitaAfter breakfast we will head west to the surfside town of Uvita on the central Pacific coast. After getting settled in our hotel, students will take surf lessons from professional instructors along a wide, expansive and empty stretch of coastline that has a reputation for breaks that are great for beginners. After surfing and enjoying the beach for the afternoon, we'll retire for a delicious dinner overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Hotel El Tecal
June 12Uvita - AlajuelaToday we'll end the trip with a splash during a whitewater rafting trip along the Savegre River! Navigate class I, II and III rapids as you descend from the mountains towards the ocean. After lunch we'll make the drive back to the big city for a cozy farewell dinner ahead of our international departure the following morning.Villas Aracari
June 13Alajuela - USAToday we will have a workshop where we will learn about cacao and make our own chocolates at the hotel. Then we will get ready to fly home. Hasta luego!Your own bed

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Accommodations

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. 

Below are the accommodations we anticipate using on your trip, subject to availability. 
Villas Aracari

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.

Homestay

This will be the best part of your trip! Staying with a host family immerses you in the language and culture of the destination, and can lead to deep and lasting relationships with your hosts. Initially intimidating but ultimately unforgettable, there’s no better way to begin to truly understand the place you’re visiting.

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.

Bella Vida Hotel

Bella Vida Hotel is situated in the tiny village of La Florida, with mountainside jungle overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and infinity pool . The accommodations are comfortable, the food fantastic, and the surreal setting provides an ideal introduction to the country’s impressive flora and fauna.

Group Flight

Type Carrier Name Carrier Code Flight Number Departure Airport & City Departure Date and Time  Arrival Airport & City Arrival Date and Time 
Outbound
Southwest Airlines
WN
3177
MCI – Kansas City International Airport, Kansas City, United States
June 04, 2024 at 12:45 PM
HOU – William P. Hobby Airport, Houston, United States
June 04, 2024 at 02:45 PM
Outbound
Southwest Airlines
WN
112
HOU – William P. Hobby Airport, Houston, United States
June 04, 2024 at 05:00 PM
SJO – Juan Santamaria International Airport, Alajuela, Costa Rica
June 04, 2024 at 07:40 PM
Inbound
Southwest Airlines
WN
1203
SJO – Juan Santamaria International Airport, Alajuela, Costa Rica
June 13, 2024 at 01:40 PM
HOU – William P. Hobby Airport, Houston, United States
June 13, 2024 at 06:20 PM
Inbound
Southwest Airlines
WN
2315
HOU – William P. Hobby Airport, Houston, United States
June 13, 2024 at 10:10 PM
MCI – Kansas City International Airport, Kansas City, United States
June 14, 2024 at 12:05 AM

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

Walking Tree’s approach to service is a collaborative one.  Staff and community leaders deliberate on project options before jointly deciding how best to use the resources available. Groups will typically complete ~6 hrs of service a day, broken up by a mid-day meal on site.

Generally, the project work entails renovating or replacing existing community infrastructure such as a health clinic, church, or school. Program leaders will work to develop additional opportunities such as interactive time with local school children; picture everyone playing a raucous game of ‘Simón dice’!

Specific details about your work will be available in the lead up to departure.

 

 

Packing List

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. 

CLOTHES (quantities depend on your trip length) :

  • Underwear
  • Socks (a mixture of good hiking socks and casual socks)
  • T-shirts (some quick dry)
  • Long sleeve shirt
  • Lightweight sweater for nights in the  community
  • 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
  • Bandana for work site (optional)
  • A hat that can protect your neck
  • Swimming suit/s

TOILETRIES

  • In addition to the basics…
  • Sunscreen (You will use a lot. Natural products/lotions are preferred over aerosol, especially for the beach)
  • Mosquito repellent (non-deet/lotions are preferred to reduce environmental impact)
  • Basic first aid supplies
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Medication in properly marked original container. It’s important that medication travel in its original container

MISCELLANEOUS

  • Sunglasses
  • Journal and pen
  • Book/s
  • Camera
  • 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
  • Batteries
  • Deck of cards or other portable games
  • Host family gift

HOMESTAY GIFTS
Travelers often contact us regarding what an appropriate gift might be for their student’s host family. Host families are often curious about where our students come from and their families in the U.S. As such, we recommend a simple gift that describes, represents or depicts your home. Well-received gifts in the past have included calendars or picture/coffee table books from your city or state, a framed picture of your family, paraphernalia from a local sports team, toys, soccer balls, school supplies, or something produced or grown in your hometown, like chocolate, local candy, t-shirts, etc. The most important thing to keep in mind is not to worry about this… Anything, no matter its value, will be well received!

Support Team

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.

Amelia “Ame” Garita Castillo
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.

Luke Mueller
Luke Mueller
Co-Founder of Walking Tree Travel and Business Lead - Denver, CO


Emory University – B.A. Sociology and minor in Latin American History

During college, Luke spent a semester living and traveling in rural Mexico. His experience sparked a fascination with Latin America and a commitment to community service that continues to this day. Upon graduating from college, he joined WorldTeach and lived with a local family in a small village in Costa Rica while teaching elementary English. After this experience, he moved to San José, the capital and largest city of Costa Rica, and wrote for The Tico Times newspaper. Luke has since traveled to over 60 countries on five different continents.  Now settled in Denver with his family, he continues to crave massive helpings of rice and beans.

Christian López Miranda (Cris)
Christian López Miranda (Cris)
Program Leader


Instituto Tecnológico de Cartago – Computer Engineer

Christian worked for 11+ years as Program Director and field guide at Outward Bound School – Costa Rica. He is a facilitator of educational processes using adventure-based strategies. For 6 years, he worked as Director of Operations and guide trainer for Pure Life, the only outdoor therapy organization in Latin America. He is certified as an Experiential Learning Facilitator and specializes in areas like low ropes, high ropes, socio-emotional skill development, and team development programs. He’s passionate about rural tourism and cultural interaction and trained Peace Corps volunteers and families for 3 years.

Group Roster

Below is a list of the travelers enrolled on the program.

  • 1 Aminata Mbengue
  • 2 Ana Kohler
  • 3 Audrey Brown
  • 4 Charlotte Scanlon
  • 5 Fabian Peña
  • 6 Gerardo Ortiz-Marin
  • 7 Jay Pitts-Zevin
  • 8 Lauryn Yarnevich
  • 9 Nigel Dalton
  • 10 Nitxza Herrera
  • 11 Sophia Daly
  • 12 Yarisol Moncada Ardon
12 Travelers

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.

 

GLC Curriculum

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.

For more information about student learning objectives and the format of the curriculum, click on the ‘learn more’ button below.

Learn More About the GLC

To view and complete the Pre-Program Activities, visit our online portal at the button below.

Pre-Program Activity Portal

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.

ABSOLUTE DISMISSAL

  1.  Possessing, consuming or distributing alcohol or illegal drugs.
  2. Associating with participants while they are in possession of, or are consuming, or distributing alcohol or illegal drugs.
  3. Behaving in a way that consistently damages the group dynamic or jeopardizes personal or group safety.
  4. 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

  1. Getting a piercing or tattoo.
  2. Stealing, or deliberately damaging or defacing any personal property, buildings or materials.
  3. Threatening physical or emotional harm, or brandishing a weapon.
  4. Possessing, consuming, or distributing tobacco or nicotine, including vape pens.
  5. Riding mopeds, motorcycles, or any other type of unauthorized vehicle.
  6. Being out of designated area or accommodations after curfew.
  7. 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.

Insurance

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.

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