Welcome to La Pura Vida! Upon arrival, you are quickly struck by this small country’s natural beauty and the warmth of its people. Whether you are building a home with Urbarium or running a day camp for the children of La Carpio, you are sure to develop strong connections and have a significant influence on the communities you will be supporting. Compliment your volunteering with exciting adventure activities like learning to surf and zip-lining over the forest canopy, you will return home with a love for all things Costa Rican.
Participants on this program have the option of joining us on a chaperoned flight to San Jose that will be from either a NY/NJ area airport and/or Miami, determined in the spring once we see the cities of origin of the group. Our staff will be with you from check-in onward. For our many travelers from outside these areas, you can choose to join the chaperoned flight and we are happy to help you arrange connecting flights at suitable times. If you prefer, you may meet us in San Jose and we will help you coordinate your flight and times and greet you as you come through immigration and customs.
For your return from San Jose, we offer a chaperoned flight back to the USA. You may choose to join that flight and arrange transfers (if required) at suitable times after clearing customs and immigration in the USA, or you may fly from San Jose to your home city and our leaders help you check in and remain in the airport until flights in designated times have departed.
In 1978, Gail Nystrom left New Jersey for a Peace Corps assignment in Costa Rica. She moved there and founded the Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation (CRHF) to improve quality of life for populations in need. From her vision and drive, the CRHF manages more than fifty projects focusing on education, community development and preventive health care. Our groups have helped build a high school for the youth of Picagres and run programs such as sports, reading, dance, crafts and face painting for the children of La Carpio and for the schools of Palenque and Concepción. We have constructed and delivered beds to help reduce overcrowding and provide children with their own bed for the first time, as well as participated in a beautification project by painting murals on the walls of the community and the outside of people’s homes. Finally, our group helped in the re-construction of a single-family home which was destroyed in a fire. Gail is a shining example to each of us of the difference a single person can make.
For 22 years, Urbarium has worked with those living in vulnerable communities coordinating efforts to create positive change. Urbarium provides sustainable social programs and building projects strengthening community bonds, spaces, and infrastructure. Our groups learn and work alongside community members through one of Urbarium’s various programs. Past projects have included constructing new homes for individual families and helping to renovate a multi-purpose field used by local community members.
Flamingo is the quintessential beach community. The impact of tourism and development has created economic and environmental challenges for the locals. Our groups have helped in beach preservation, painting local homes for underprivileged residents, sprucing up the community center, and renovating a local classroom – all going a long way towards improving this community’s quality of life.
Help rejuvenate the local forest by planting trees under the supervision of a local guide. Also, protect growing plants from invasive species and plant coffee plants at this local co-op.
Kick off the summer with a thrilling whitewater rafting adventure! After a full day of volunteering, relax at our hotel. Taste famous and delicious Costa Rican coffee while learning how it’s grown by the comic troupe at Café Britt. You will also flaunt your moves in a Latin dance class.
Visit La Fortuna waterfall and relax in thermal hot springs. Experience a canyoning adventure in Arenal Volcano National Park.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is home to unique wildlife. Go on hikes through the lush forest, zip over the canopy on the SkyTrek zip-line and challenge the locals to a soccer game!
On this retreat, cover yourself at the mud baths. Enjoy some downtime by the pool at our eco-resort. Cool off with a rewarding swim after hiking and horseback riding to a beautiful waterfall.
Get set for professional surf lessons at Tamarindo Beach, you’ll be on the board in no time! Relax on the beach and kick back by an evening bonfire on the beach.
Enjoy your second set of professional surf lessons at Playa Dominical. Your hotel is close to this famous beach where you can chill, play volleyball or cool off in the clear blue water.
Relax on sandy beaches, go on a sunset sail cruise and enjoy a guided tour with your close friends at this incredibly beautiful National Park. In addition, hike through lush rainforest and view iguanas and the rare white-faced monkeys. Maybe you’ll even see a sloth!
Our groups will be staying at a few carefully selected hotels in the Central Valley. Properties include Hotel Autentico, Hotel Bristol Aeropuerto, Hotel Adventure Inn, La Rosa de America and Hotel Aeropuerto. Amenities at all hotels include air conditioning, internet access and a swimming pool to enjoy.
Hacienda Guachipelin is an eco-resort set atop the mountains with an open air restaurant overlooking the valley. Facilities include a pool, patio with hammocks, air conditioned rooms, Wi-Fi, and a recreation space
Our group will be staying at one of the following carefully selected hotels near Flamingo Beach: Hotel Casas del Toro Hacienda, Hotel Cabinas Isolinas or Seis Playas Hotel.
This hotel features incredible views of the Cloud Forest, charming rooms, Wi-Fi, a heated swimming pool and a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating.
Your group will stay at either Hotel Montechiari or Hotel La Pradera. Both hotels offer some of the best views of Arenal Volcano. Rooms are air conditioned, Wi-Fi enabled and both hotels have refreshing swimming pools.
Hotel Villas Rio Mar, located on the banks of the Baru River, is surrounded by lush nature in the beach town of Dominical. Located a short walk from the white sand beach, each room is air-conditioned and has wireless Internet.
Set amongst this beach resort area on the Pacific Coast, Hotel Mimos offers the ideal location to explore Manuel Antonio Park. The hotel features air conditioned rooms, a pool, wireless internet and a restaurant.
At Westcoast Connection nothing else comes first. From our extensive trip planning department through our management team and our leaders, it is our single biggest priority! Safety procedures, equipment – we’ve got it covered. All Trip Leaders and Directors are certified in First Aid and CPR. We are extremely proud of our safety record and welcome all questions you may have in this area. Please see more under Safety First.
Once you are on your trip, you will have sensitive leaders that are caring, approachable and always there for you. Your Trip Director and Trip Leaders are people with incredible backgrounds including teachers, guitar players, IRONMAN triathletes, SCUBA divers, volunteers, and so much more.
Every staff member takes part in and must complete our extensive training weekends that review our philosophy and procedures to provide a well-supervised and fun-filled program.
Our Trip Directors, the individuals responsible for overseeing each itinerary, take on the roles of teachers, coaches, camp counselors, mentors, concierges and hosts. They’ve been trained to provide individual attention and create an all-inclusive family atmosphere (our EACH & EVERY philosophy). There’s a definite art to building dynamic groups, and we’ve worked hard to master it! We want you smiling on day one right through to a teary goodbye at your farewell banquet.
Our leaders are non-smokers. To learn more about our staff, please visit our Summer Leaders section.
We can’t say it too many times, this is a really incredible group experience. A great dynamic starts with our secrets for group bonding. Our bag of tricks goes way beyond traditional ice breakers. Imagine people hunts, Rock, Paper, Scissors championships, Ninja tournaments, flash mobs and so much more. We work hard to get everyone moving beyond first impressions and creating an atmosphere of total acceptance. Our staff hiring and training emphasizes social safety and establishing an inclusive culture. Many of our travelers come as individuals and we have a geographically diverse enrollment with students joining us from across the U.S., Canada and internationally. This mix helps eliminate cliques at the outset and establish an open environment that benefits you. We take great care in assembling groups to create an unforgettable social experience. Our international service programs are for up to 24 group members.
Our service projects can change from one year to the next as we adjust to the needs of the local communities and the guidance of our service partners. This way, our service hours have the greatest impact and move forward the projects with the greatest priority. We also focus on service-learning throughout the process, where education and reflection are key to enriching these experiences for all.
We partner with established organizations that have a long history of achieving their goals and integrating teen volunteers into their efforts. Over the years we have built strong relationships with various organizations in the communities we visit who look forward to hosting our groups year after year. The specific service projects that we will work on are finalized in late spring and depend on what is most needed in these communities. Past projects have included building homes with Habitat for Humanity in Costa Rica, planting sustainable gardens with Children’s Eco Training in South Africa, teaching children to read with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hawaii. Last summer we completed 23,201 hours of service (that’s equivalent to 2.6 years!) in just 8 weeks.
Whether it’s building and planting sustainable food gardens in South Africa or lending a hand by making adobe bricks for a community in rural Peru, our community service programs participate in a wide array of meaningful projects on five continents! With the help and direction of our longstanding local partners on the ground, our projects focus on five main themes: community welfare, youth leadership, environmental sustainability, infrastructure, and wildlife conservation. Check out some noteworthy projects we completed in previous summers to give you a glimpse at how we make our summers count!
Our groups participate in well-planned and substantial community service projects in between surfing in Hawaii, snorkeling in the Galapagos, zip lining in Costa Rica, climbing to the top of Machu Picchu in Peru, or marveling at the Big 5 on a safari in South Africa. We know when to pick up the pace to get the adrenaline flowing; we also know when it’s time to chill with some downtime on the beach. The balance of service and recreation is what sets our programs apart. By integrating adventure and recreational highlights into our itineraries, we are able to maintain a high level of enthusiasm.
Volunteer with experienced nonprofit organizations and alongside the locals who often directly benefit from your help, as you become part of a team working towards a common goal. Everyone’s contribution and cooperation are so important to help the service projects progress as planned, so please join us with the right expectations and a positive attitude. The rewards in sharing this experience are many, such as lasting friendships, improved interpersonal skills and personal growth. You will receive a letter of completion recognizing your hours of service and listing the work you helped to complete.
Westcoast Connection is a Certifying Organization for the President’s Volunteer Service Award. The award program was developed in 2003 as a way to honor and thank U.S. citizens and residents who engage in service both domestically and abroad. Presidential recognition of what you have achieved speaks to the type of person you are and hopefully inspires others to take positive action to change the world. The award requires completing 100 hours of community service within a 12 month period. Your service hours with our program qualify towards that total to earn the award.
As you travel to new places and experience different cultures, your journey may challenge your ideas and preconceived notions. We recognize this and strive to provide an environment where you are free to question and learn. This is nurtured by our leaders’ open and non-judgmental guidance. The opportunity for growth through service learning is endless!
Of all our summer programs, community service provides the greatest opportunity to interact with the local people and culture. Being exposed to families and children who have different customs and daily realities can broaden our perspective and raise our awareness of important issues. In a multicultural world, this education can break stereotypes and help us understand the role we play as global citizens.
There really is a difference in how different summer programs operate! Motivated teens going away with qualified leaders is a given. But what sets us apart is the depth of our qualified personnel that allow us to perform with the greatest consistency at the highest level.
Your Trip Director and Trips Leaders are with you throughout your program. They have daily contact with one of our two 24-hour Communication Centers and are in regular contact with our Company Directors. Our Company Directors are the most seasoned veterans who each oversee specific programs providing support to trip staff and to assist with any situations that may arise. Our Company Directors alternate between traveling to visit programs and being reached in the office. Program visits enable us to provide ongoing support and development to our Trip Directors, allows trip staff to have a sounding board for their own progress in reaching trip goals, helps us to identify any challenging areas for improvement while it still has relevance to your summer rather than as a mention on your end-of-summer survey, and helps us to identify the future Directors from the current crop of all-star summer staff. These visits are by Company Directors along with our Regional Supervisors, who are former Trip Directors with further experience out in the field. Collectively our team is an incredible resource with 420+ summers of combined teen travel experience. This way, we can lend a hand wherever and whenever a little extra effort is called for. Last year, we had 208 scheduled supervisory trip visits to make sure all was running well, provide ongoing support to our staff in the field, and have fun! This investment in depth of personnel is unrivaled in teen travel and is a critical element to achieving consistent, excellent program quality and surpassing client expectations!
Included in the trip tuition are all activities and entertainment described, breakfast & dinner daily, lunches as indicated on your specific program, gratuities, taxes, land transportation, accommodations, and fanatical customer service from our full-time team and summer Communication Centers. This can add up to tremendous value!
We provide clean and comfortable accommodations. Please don’t expect luxury resorts and at the same time we know you need a good night’s rest to perform community service as well as have energy for our many other included activities. For quality and consistency of the group experience, we do not have any homestays. Each student has their own bed. For more detailed information on any specific program, visit the section marked Where We Stay.
A big part of a program’s success depends on how well you eat. We are proud of the fact that year after year we are complimented for our quality and quantity of food and variety of options. Meals vary by destination. Part of your travel experience will be immersing yourself in the local cuisine and culture, so please bring with you an open mind and a willingness to try new things. For example, Costa Rican traditional cuisine offers plenty of rice, beans, meat dishes and tons of fresh fruit, but don’t worry, they also have North American style options on the menu. In Costa Rica, we recommend against drinking the local tap water and we provide clean water for our travelers.
We have satisfied the choosiest of eaters and gladly accommodate most special dietary requests including vegetarian, anaphylactic food allergies, lactose intolerance, celiac disease and kosher style. We welcome discussing your individual requirements with you and have extensive personal experience in this area. International travel may present more challenges than domestic locations and we are happy to review your personal needs and help you select an appropriate itinerary.
On this community service program, you’ll ride in an air conditioned motor coach with a professional driver.
You only need to bring one week’s worth of clothing as outlined in our packing list as we have the opportunity for laundry weekly.
On our international programs, every week you will drop off your laundry at a local wash and fold service and then pick it up clean, folded and ready to go.
While you’re out having the summer of your life, your parents should feel like they are in on the action as well. We post updates to our blog and Facebook page and e-mail photos approximately once a week so those at home can be in on the fun. Parents also have access to our dedicated office Trip Monitors 24/7 for any questions and/or concerns. We’re as in touch as any trip operator could possibly be via smartphones with e-mail and text. The goal is uncompromising safety and peace of mind, day after day, hour by hour, minute by minute. Participants may bring their personal cell phones.
In last summer’s surveys, 99% of responding teens and parents said they would recommend us to others. We must be doing something right!