Putney Student Travel: Middle School Costa Rica

Putney, VT


Explore the different themes of Putney programs — Cultural Exploration, Language Learning, and Community Service. Together with a group of fellow students and staff, enjoy the tropical white-sand beaches of the Pacific Coast, immerse yourself in local culture, and spend a week volunteering in a local village.


  • Improve your Spanish skills while learning to prepare traditional Costa Rican food.
  • Volunteer and complete meaningful community service projects in our host village.
  • Join a game of pick-up soccer with your new Tico friends.
  • Surf, snorkel, and kayak on a tropical Costa Rican beach.
  • Fly high above the rainforest canopy on a zip-line adventure.
  • Spend a weekend exploring the Arenal Volcano and relaxing in hot springs.


Structured and Focused Adventure

This Middle School Costa Rica program offers you the chance to be part of an active, engaged, and structured Putney community while living and learning in Costa Rica. Specifically tailored to students completing 6th through 8th grade, this middle school summer travel program combines many diverse elements of the programs we have run for more than 60 years.

While stationed in a quiet beach town on the Pacific coast, take day trips to explore the national parks and coastlines for which Costa Rica is famous. Through staff-led enrichment seminars, learn and practice Spanish, bond as a group, and explore Costa Rican culture from the perspective of travelers, not tourists. Stay in a quaint, family-run villa located just 100 meters from a peaceful beach at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Meals are prepared by Costa Rican cooks at the villa’s open-air restaurant, and are served family style, with many options available.

Small Group Experience

We begin as a group at our program’s villa on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Here we get to know each other and have a program orientation. We then split into two smaller groups for the community service portion of the program to create a small group experience, with one group in the community service village while the other remains at the villa. We reunite for a weekend of adventure at Lake Arenal before swapping places. We reunite again at the villa for the final few days of  the program.

Village Life and Service

In our community service village tucked into the hills above Lake Arenal, work on projects during the day and spend afternoons and evenings getting to know new friends in the community. Work on improvements to the elementary school and town soccer field and spend time teaching basic English to the local children. After fulfilling days of work on our projects, we practice Spanish with new Tico friends, learn to salsa dance, and take a dip in a nearby swimming hole. Take turns helping local cooks prepare our meals; it’s a great way to learn how to cook some Costa Rican specialties! Students who complete this program receive a volunteer certificate from Putney recognizing between 25 and 30 hours of community service.

Between our time at the beach and experience in the community service village, head to a beautiful, sustainable eco-lodge at the base of Arenal Volcano, tucked into a forested valley. Spend an afternoon kayaking on Lake Arenal, ride horseback through the rainforest, and soak in the thermal hot springs. On a zip-line adventure, sail high over the rainforest canopy on a series of secure cables. Return to the villa on the Pacific coast for the final days of the program to relax, pack up, and prepare for the journey home.


Group accommodations are carefully selected by Putney Student Travel to emphasize convenience, a positive group environment, and wholesome interaction with local people and fellow travelers. Our first accommodation is a villa on the Pacific coast, located just off the beach. At the villa, each student has his or her own bed and shares a room with another student.  There is an open-air eating area, a small pool, a salón comunal (meeting room), a pool table, and a basketball court on the villa grounds.While at the community service village, we live in a community center with separate areas for boys and girls. Living conditions are basic but comfortable. We sleep in sleeping bags on camping pads on the floor.There’s no hot water, but we can assure you that a lukewarm shower feels great after a day of work in a tropical climate! Leaders reside with the group throughout.

Physical Challenge Level

Our programs are physically active. Days are filled with movement — playing with local children, learning to surf, working on a community service project, snorkeling, or going on a hike. In the afternoons, students can play pickup games of soccer, frisbee, or basketball.  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. On excursions there may be opportunities to hike, ride horseback, zipline, swim, raft, and more.

A Typical Day

At the villa, we wake up around 7:30am, eat breakfast together, and then have a quick community meeting to talk about the day’s schedule and activities. Our days at the villa are filled with activities organized by the Middle School staff including surfing lessons, a trip to a local farmers’ market, a game of soccer on the beach, a scavenger hunt, a day hike to a beautiful waterfall, or a chat with a local Tico. There will be drawing and painting, travel writing, photography, Costa Rican cooking, ecology/biodiversity, and perhaps even a chance to learn about Costa Rican myths and legends. Most days include some informal Spanish instruction. The Spanish activities are active and not classroom-based, and as such may take place on the beach, in a restaurant, etc. Around 6:00pm, the group eats dinner at the villa, and then gathers for a community meeting to share happenings of the day and ideas for the following day. Evenings may include games, a Putney Coffee House (open-mic night), or a group outing.  Each night, students are in bed, with lights out, in time to allow for eight or more hours of sleep before wake-up time the next day.

On a typical day in the community service village you wake up around 7:00am, eat a good breakfast, and then go to the work site for about four hours. During that time, you might be shoveling, teaching, painting, or running around playing tag with little kids.  In any case, you will be moving. You then take about an hour break for lunch, before returning to work for a few hours in the afternoon.  After work, you can relax, write in your journal, play soccer with kids from the community, hike to a local swimming hole with your group, or help the cooks with dinner.  Following dinner, you have a group meeting to talk about what took place that day, play a game, or talk about an issue that is important to the group.

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