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Costa RicaService, Outdoor Adventure, & Biodiversity

Travel abroad to a welcoming village in Costa Rica and complete volunteer projects on this summer service program for middle school students. Work on projects such as painting a classroom, building a rainwater harvesting system, preparing a soccer field, and teaching English to schoolchildren. Surf and snorkel along Pacific beaches, spot wildlife while ziplining, and stay at an ecolodge near the base of Arenal Volcano.

Middle School Costa Rica is a phone-free program.


July 10–August 1, 2023
23 days
$ 6,690 + airfare
Departs from New York and Houston
40-50 students, 8 leaders
Service25-30 hours


  • Complete collaborative service projects in a host village
  • Join a game of pick-up soccer with Costa Rican friends 
  • Surf, snorkel, and kayak along gorgeous tropical beaches
  • Glide above the rainforest canopy on a zipline adventure

Meet featured leaders


This itinerary represents our best projection of the group’s schedule. However, we may implement changes designed to improve the quality of the program.

  • Departure
  • Travel Day

Meet your fellow middle school student travelers and a Putney flight escort in either New York or Houston and fly together to Liberia, Costa Rica. To learn more about how we organize travel, click here.

  • Settling In
  • 2 days

Begin your adventure at our home base on the Pacific Coast, a villa located a short walk from the beautiful beach of Playa Hermosa. Together as a large group, get to know your leaders and fellow group members and have an in-depth orientation to become acquainted with Costa Rican culture. Then, split into three smaller groups for a more intimate, small-group experience. Over the course of the program, each group will travel to our service project host village, stay on a farm in the cloud forest of Monteverde, and experience the villa, our base on the coast.

  • Playa Hermosa
  • 5 days

Visit the incredible sites of the Guanacaste region on adventurous day trips and participate in staff-led enrichment activities at our villa in Playa Hermosa. Surf with professional guides at beautiful Playa Grande, join an afternoon ceramics class with traditional artists, and hike past boiling mud pots and sulfur springs at Rincón de la Vieja National Park. Practice your Spanish, snorkel in a nearby bay, visit the local farmer’s market, take a chocolate-making class, draw and paint, take salsa lessons, and play games of frisbee on the beach.

  • Monteverde Cloud Forest
  • 5 days

Stay in a cabin atop a hill above Santa Elena, Monteverde, where your group will experience life on a working farm. Learn how a multi-generational family farm produces coffee and cares for livestock. Explore trails that wind through the property, taking you through one of the most biodiverse forests in Costa Rica. Visit the Monteverde Institute and engage in an ongoing reforestation project. Help the farm’s proprietor gather milk, eggs and vegetables for a typical breakfast cooked al fresco.

  • Arenal Volcano
  • 3 days

Join together as a large group for three days at a sustainable ecolodge tucked into the forested valley at the base of Arenal Volcano. Participate in a hands-on workshop at the lodge and acquire a basic understanding of composting, cheesemaking, beekeeping, or gardening. Kayak on Lake Arenal,, zipline high in the forest canopy, learn about chocolate and coffee production, and soak in thermal hot springs. The group then divides again into smaller subgroups and heads to their third location.

  • Host Village
  • 5 days

Spend five days in a small village tucked into the hills overlooking Lake Arenal. Get to know local residents as you work alongside them on small-scale construction projects. Spend time teaching English to the local children or try your hand at milking cows at the town dairy farm. Play soccer with new friends in the afternoons or relax together as a group. To learn more about how we structure our Service programs, click here.

  • Reuniting
  • 2 days

Return to the beachside villa and enjoy the last few days together as a whole group. Enjoy a cookout on the beach while you share stories of your adventures and reflect on what you learned about Costa Rica’s biodiversity and culture. Say goodbye to your Putney family, and prepare for your journey home.

  • Return Home
  • Travel Day

Fly from Liberia, Costa Rica, to New York or Houston with a Putney flight escort, then continue on to your final destination. To learn more about how we organize travel, click here.

“I had fun and learned about a culture, language, and lifestyle I wasn’t familiar with before!”

— Camille N., San Domenico School, San Francisco, CA

A Day in the Life: The Villa

  • Due to the traveling nature of this summer program abroad, each day is different. Here is a snapshot of a day at our villa in Playa Hermosa.
  • Enjoy breakfast at the Villa restaurant together as a group
  • Take a day trip to Playa Grande for a surf lesson with professional guides
  • Break for lunch at a beachside restaurant
  • Learn about leatherback sea turtles and nesting sites from a conservationist
  • Take a short hike to swim beneath a waterfall
  • Share dinner at the Villa with your group
  • Have a game night incorporating Costa Rican culture
  • Group meeting to discuss the day and upcoming schedule

View Photo Gallery

What to Expect

  • Phone Use

This is a phone-free program. After arriving safely in Costa Rica, students will have the opportunity to check in with parents if they wish, and then leaders will help students lock their phones. Phones will remain locked for the duration of the program. Camera function will still be accessible, but all other functions will not. As are all Putney experiences, this is a highly structured program and the on-site director will be available by phone during daily office hours if parents need to communicate with staff or their student. The Putney Student Travel office can be reached 24/7. We believe that abstaining from social media and screen time helps cultivate healthy group dynamics and positively impacts the program as a whole. Our leaders and students keep a program blog where they post updates and photos of the group’s travels each week.

  • Service

During your time in Costa Rica, you can expect to participate in several different service experiences—light construction projects where you may learn to mix cement or paint a community building, environmental projects such as planting seedlings or shadowing local farmers, and educational projects such as teaching English to local children. This program is designed to provide the opportunity to learn about another culture by forming meaningful relationships with local people and undertaking a shared community service experience together. You should come to the summer with an open mind, eager to participate in new experiences and interested in exploring another culture and way of life. All students participate in each of the group’s projects on a rotating basis, and everyone lends a hand in meal preparation and cleanup. To learn more about our summer Service programs abroad, click here.

  • Independent Project

Pursue an independent project and explore an aspect of local culture of particular interest to you—learn to cook gallo pinto, interview local girls and women about gender roles in the community, or organize a community-wide soccer tournament.

  • Language Practice

Proficiency in Spanish is not required; however, students who study Spanish in school will have opportunities to practice while communicating with local people. Students who do not speak the local language will have the opportunity to learn some basic language skills.

  • Physical Activity

This is a physically active summer program. Aside from community service projects, you can expect to participate in activities such as soccer, swimming, surfing, rafting, horseback riding, and hiking. You do not need to be at peak fitness to participate, but it is important that you have a desire to be physically active, and that you are excited about trying all activities.

  • Accommodations

The Villa is a small, family-run hotel located just 100 meters from quiet Playa Hermosa. Rooms are doubles with air conditioning. There is a restaurant, a pool, a salón comunal (meeting room), and a basketball court on the Villa grounds. While in our host village, we live in a community center. Living conditions are basic but comfortable. We sleep in sleeping bags on sleeping pads on the floor. In Monteverde, we stay in comfortable cabins clustered together on a hillside with beds and hot water showers. Leaders reside with the group throughout the program.

  • Meals

While at the Villa, we eat meals at the adjoining restaurant and enjoy picnics by the pool and on the beach. During our stay in our host village, meals are prepared by local cooks. Students take turns helping to prepare our meals and form cooking and cleaning crews. Breakfast and lunch in Monteverde will be provided by a restaurant on the premises. Dinner will be enjoyed as a group in one of the many typical restaurants in town.

Explore the Destination

“Harper came home feeling more independent and confident than she had ever felt before.”

— Ashley & Chay Henson, Highland Village, TX

Next Steps

This program is directed by Andrew Manzella. If you have questions or would like to talk further about this program, please get in touch!

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