2024 SMA Costa Rica Service Learning Program

Dear Families, Friends, and Travelers – Welcome to the 2024 SMA Costa Rica Service Learning 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 an unforgettable trip!! Pura vida! 
Travel Dates: March 23, 2024 - March 30, 2024
Group Organizer(s):
WTT Contact:
Program Tuition: $2,390 USD
Airfare not included in program tuition
Confirmed Airfare: $1,098

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 and given the unpredictable nature of international travel we must remain flexible in our planning. Changes to a schedule are uncommon but, we reserve the right to adjust programming in the best interest of the group. 

DayLocationDescriptionLodging
March 23USA - AlajuelaToday the group will travel from the USA to San Jose, Costa Rica! Upon arrival, we’ll settle into our hotel for the evening for dinner and an orientation meeting where we'll discuss the upcoming trip in detail.Rosa de las Américas
March 24Alajuela - Hotel Bella VidaOur journey begins at Bella Vida, which is 4 hours away from Alajuela, and is a beautiful ecological farm deep in the southern rain forest of the country. Hotel Bella Vida
March 25
Bella VidaAfter breakfast we will hike down to Nauyaca waterfall, one of the most beautiful in a country full of beautiful waterfalls! We will spend a few leisurely hours swimming, relaxing, and enjoying lunch at a large swimming hole and the river below. In the afternoon we'll return to the farm for a service project orientation meeting. The coming days will revolve around our service efforts; in the afternoons and evenings, activities are flexible and will vary, but may include time with community members, excursions to explore the surrounding area or group reflection sessions. Bella Vida
March 26Bella VidaOur few days in the La Florída, the village where Bella Vida is located, we will tour the farm on a hand on experience that involves tropical fruits and farm animals as well as a nearby coffee plantation that produces some of the best beans in the area. We will learn about the importance of organic farming and how rural farmers are taking advantage of sustainable farming practices. We will settle in our hotel and enjoy dinner after some group activities.Bella Vida
March 27Bella VidaToday we will continue working on our service project and spending time with locals. Evening activities will vary.Bella Vida
March 28Bella Vida - UvitaToday we will finish our service project and celebrate with our new friends during a fiesta de despedida! Afterwards, we make the short drive to the central pacific coast where we'll check into our hotel and have dinner nearby. El Tecal
March 29Uvita - Dominical - AlajuelaThis morning we'll enjoy surfing lessons with some of Costa Rica's best instructors! Then we travel up the coast to the quiet seaside town of Dominical where students will be able to do some souvenir shopping and devour a tasty lunch. Then it's just a few hours back to the big city, where we'll have a final celebratory dinner together to commemorate our time together! Villas Aracari
March 30Alajuela - USAFly home, hasta luego!!Your own bed!

Fundraising

Need to Raise Money? We Have You Covered.

Walking Tree Travel is proud to team up with Equal Exchange, a worker-owned cooperative that distributes organic coffee, tea, sugar, bananas, avocados, cocoa, chocolate bars, and more.  There is no limit to the amount you can earn, so the sooner you can start, the better!

Learn more here.

WTT coffee

Accommodations

In order to provide a safe and memorable experience, we follow strict guidelines when choosing program accommodations. Walking Tree partners with hotels and guest houses which are centrally located, clean and safe.  We vet and inspect the accommodations to ensure they uphold the ethos of our programs, are great values for our travelers and nice places to rest after enriching days of travel.  

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.

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.

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.

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
United Airlines
UA
536
DEN – Denver International Airport, Denver, United States
March 23, 2024 at 03:46 PM
SJO – Juan Santamaria International Airport, Alajuela, Costa Rica
March 23, 2024 at 09:00 PM
Inbound
United Airlines
UA
1087
SJO – Juan Santamaria International Airport, Alajuela, Costa Rica
March 30, 2024 at 06:35 AM
DEN – Denver International Airport, Denver, United States
March 30, 2024 at 12:15 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

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)
  • 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 $100-$200, depending on number of desired snacks, souvenirs, extra items etc.)
  • Durable water bottle
  • Quick-dry towel
  • Flashlight/headlamp
  • Deck of cards or other portable games

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 Christine Boss
  • 2 Andrea Hernandez
  • 3 Emily Rodriguez
  • 4 Madeline Gieser
  • 5 Catherine Ream
  • 6 Ana Esteve
  • 7 Aleena Nauman
  • 8 Corinne Sasine
  • 9 Avery Anderson
  • 10 Noelle Dougher
  • 11 Hazel Mills
  • 12 Catherine Riopelle
  • 13 Mike Lantagne
  • 14 Annika Damon
  • 15 McKenna Bollin
  • 16 Alexandra Harrington
  • 17 Marlowe Blanchard
17 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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