2024 Mullen Costa Rica Conservation Expedition

Dear Families, Friends, and Travelers – Welcome to the 2024 Mullen Costa Rica Conservation Expedition!  The Pre-Enrollment page is meant to share exciting highlights and important info that participants will want to know before signing up. If you enroll, 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 all that Costa Rica has to offer! Pura vida! 
Travel Dates: January 11, 2024 - January 18, 2024
Dates tentative until flights are secured
Group Organizer(s):
WTT Contact:
Program Tuition: $2,690 USD
Airfare not included in program tuition
Estimated Airfare: $650

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
January 11USA - AlajuelaToday 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 and have an orientation meeting where the group will discuss the upcoming trip in detail. Dinner will be at the hotel.Casa Cielo Grande
January 12Alajuela - Horquetas de SarapiquíAfter breakfast the group will head to a Lasallian school in San Jose for a short visit before continuing on to Sarapiquí, an area characterized by its lush tropical rainforest and swift rivers. The bus ride is three hours north of the capital city. The group will settle in La Selva Biological Station, owned by the world-renowned Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS). The group will get familiar with the facilities and meet the scientists and research tutors. After lunch, we will set off on a hike through some of the multiple trails in the middle of the primary rainforest where students will learn about the natural history, ecosystems, and biodiversity of the reserve. After dinner, we will have some reflection time to discuss some of our goals for the upcoming days.OTS Cabins
January 13Horquetas de SarapiquíToday we will begin with an introduction to the several research projects conducted but the OTS in La Selva station. After we receive the lecture and general instructions, the group will be divided into different tasks we will be completing for the rest of the day to participate in one of the several on-going projects La Selva. Projects vary but these may include topics of water quality, plant adaptation and mammal monitoring, specially peccaries which love to hang out around the station! After lunch, will take a short break from our conservation work to learn how to dance salsa, merengue and bachata. After dinner in the station, the group will set off on a night hike through the trails in the middle of the primary rainforest to find frogs and other nocturnal creatures.OTS Cabins
January 14Horquetas de Sarapiquí - La Virgen de SarapiquíToday we will involve service in collaboration with a riparian forest restoration project of the OTS. The group will learn about the different strategies scientists use to restore the vegetal area that protects and supports rivers and streams, as well as the biotic components that support these ecosystems. After lunch we will depart La Selva to the nearby Tirimbina Biological Station. We will first make a stop for our Ethnobotany tour, where students will engage all five of their senses in getting to know different plants and learn about the scientific importance of the tropical rainforest in the medical and cosmetic fields.Tirmbina Cabins
January 15La Virgen de SarapiquíWe will begin our day learning about the history of one of mankind’s favorite foods: chocolate. Originally from Central America, this plant has an extraordinary history; it was one of the most important products for the Mayan and Aztec cultures. The group will then go whitewater rafting down the Sarapiquí River, renowned worldwide for its scenic beauty and thrilling class 3 rapids. After well deserved break we will end our day with learning about the bat research conducted at this reserve. Students will have the opportunity to learn about the natural history of bats, their classification, diversity, adaptations, reproduction, threats. They will also be able to take a close look at the snare net and bats captured for this research.Tirmbina Cabins
January 16La Virgen de Sarapiquí - La FortunaAfter breakfast we will head to La Fortuna, a small city right next to the Volcán Arenal, an impressive volcano that stands out in the middle of the flatlands. Students will have some free time to explore the towns center and do some souvenir shopping. We will see the forest from a different perspective after we go zip-lining in the afternoon. At night we will relax at the Baldi hot springs, where we will be having a buffet dinner as well.Hotel La Fortuna
January 17La Fortuna - AlajuelaToday we will hike down to La Fortuna waterfall, where students can relax, swim, and explore in the morning. After lunch, we will make the drive back to San Jose for a farewell dinner and our final reflection before our international departure the following morning.Casa Cielo Grande
January 18Alajuela - USAAfter breakfast, we will head to the airport for a morning departure back to the USA.Your own bed, eventually!

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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. 
Hotel Casa Cielo Grande

Casa Cielo Grande 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.

OTS La Selva Research Station

La Selva’s juxtaposition of protected ecosystems and well-developed facilities is unique in the world’s wet tropics.  This is one of several field stations run  created by the Organization of Tropical Studies,  a non-profit consortium of over 50 universities and research institutions based in the United States, Latin America, and South Africa. The cabins offer bunk and single beds, shared bathrooms, bug protection on windows and fans. Students will be grouped according to gender. They offer a dining hall, wireless internet, library, all-access trail, and on-station security.

Tirimbina Biological Reserve

Timibina combines research and education with ecoturism to create a unique experience for its visitors and to promote conservation. The rooms offer bunk and single beds, shared bathrooms, bug protection on windows and fans. Students will be grouped according to gender. They offer a dining hall, wireless internet, all-access trail, and on-station security.

Group Flight

Once your flight has been secured 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, but 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 is unpredictable, especially in a pandemic.  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.

Living Conditions
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.

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. 

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.

Most importantly, be sure to remember your PASSPORT and STUDENT ID.

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
  • 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 clothes to patrol
  • Bandana for work site (optional)
  • A hat that can protect your neck
  • Swimming suit, for surf classes a rash guard is recommended for sensitive skins

TOILETRIES (in addition to the basic toiletries):

  • Two rapid COVID tests. Program Leaders will carry additional tests and will also administer the one to be verified by a medical professional within 24hrs of return to the US.
  • 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)

MISCELLANEOUS:

  • Sunglasses
  • Journal and pen
  • Book
  • Camera (digital, disposable, waterproof)
  • Alarm Clock and watch
  • Debit card/US Dollars (we recommend about $50-$150, depending on number of desired snacks, souvenirs, extra items etc.)
  • Durable water bottle
  • 1 quick-dry towel
  • Flashlight/headlamp
  • Batteries
  • Deck of cards or other portable games
  • Spanish/English Dictionary

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.

Juan Pablo “JP” Rabanales
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.

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.

Group Roster

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.

 

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. 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. Failure to abide by COVID-19 restrictions.
  2. Stealing, or deliberately damaging or defacing any personal property, buildings or materials.
  3. Possessing weapons.
  4. Riding mopeds, motorcycles, or any other type of unauthorized vehicle.
  5. Getting a piercing or tattoo.
  6. Being out 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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