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Alternative Educational Travel

Adventures Under the Sun ★ ((tel) 866/897-5578 in the U.S. and Canada, or 2289-0404 in Costa Rica; www.adventuresunderthesun.com) is a Costa Rican–based outfit specializing in adventure and volunteer-focused teen travel. Its strong suit is organizing custom group itineraries.

Outward Bound Costa Rica ★★ ((tel) 800/676-2018 in the U.S., or 2278-6058 in Costa Rica; www.crrobs.org) is the local branch of this international adventure-based outdoor-education organization. Courses range from 2 weeks to a full semester, and offerings include surfing, kayaking, tree climbing, and learning Spanish.

Eco Teach ★ ((tel) 800/626-8992 in the U.S. and Canada; www.ecoteach.com) works primarily to facilitate educational trips for high school and college student groups. Trips focus on Costa Rican ecology and culture. Costs run around $1,695 to $2,285 per person for 8- to 10-day trips, including lodging, meals, classes, and travel within the country (airfare to Costa Rica extra).

The Institute for Central American Development Studies ★ ((tel) 2225-0508; www.icads.org) offers internship and research opportunities in the fields of environment, agriculture, human rights, and women’s studies. An intensive Spanish-language program can be combined with work-study or volunteer opportunities.

The Organization for Tropical Studies ★★ ((tel) 919/684-5774 in the U.S., or 2524-0607 in Costa Rica; http://tropicalstudies.org) represents several Costa Rican and U.S. universities. This organization’s mission is to promote research, education, and the wise use of natural resources in the tropics. Research facilities include the La Selva, Las Cruces, and Palo Verde Biological Stations. The wide variety of programs range from full-semester undergraduate programs to specific graduate courses to tourist programs. (These are generally sponsored/run by established operators such as Costa Rica Expeditions or Elderhostel.) Programs range in duration from 3 to 10 days, and costs vary greatly. Entrance requirements and competition for some of these courses can be demanding.

Sustainable Volunteer Projects

Below are some institutions and organizations that are working on ecology and sustainable development projects in Costa Rica.

APREFLOFAS (Association for the Preservation of the Wild Flora and Fauna; (tel) 2240-6087; www.apreflofas.or.cr) is a pioneering local conservation organization that accepts volunteers and runs environmentally sound educational tours around the country.

Asociación de Voluntarios para el Servicio en las Areas Protegidas (ASVO; (tel) 2258-4430; www.asvocr.org) organizes volunteers to work in Costa Rican national parks. A 2-week minimum commitment is required, as is an ability to adapt to rustic conditions and remote locations and gain a basic ability to converse in Spanish. Housing is provided at a basic ranger station; a $245 weekly fee covers lodging, logistics, and food.

Sea Turtle Conservancy ((tel) 800/678-7853 in the U.S. and Canada, or 2278-6058 in Costa Rica; www.cccturtle.org) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to sea-turtle research, protection, and advocacy. Formerly known as the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, its main operation in Costa Rica is headquartered in Tortuguero, where volunteers can aid in various scientific studies, as well as nightly patrols of the beach during nesting seasons to prevent poaching.

Global Volunteers ((tel) 800/487-1074 in the U.S. and Canada; www.globalvolunteers.org) is a U.S.–based organization that offers a unique opportunity to travelers who’ve always wanted a Peace Corps–like experience but can’t make a 2-year commitment. For 2 to 3 weeks, you can join one of its working vacations in Costa Rica. A certain set of skills, such as engineering or agricultural knowledge, is helpful but by no means necessary. Each trip is undertaken at a particular community’s request, to complete a specific project. However, be warned: These “volunteer” experiences do not come cheap. You must pay for your transportation as well as a hefty program fee, around $2,700 for a 2-week program.

Habitat for Humanity International ((tel) 2296-3436; www.habitat.org) has offices in Costa Rica and sometimes runs organized Global Village programs here.

Vida ((tel) 2221-8367; www.vida.org) is a local nongovernmental organization working on sustainable development and conservation issues; it can often place volunteers.

WWOOF Costa Rica (www.wwoofcostarica.org) is the national branch of a global organization of organic farms that accepts volunteers that can stay and work for one week to months at a time.

Medical & Dental Tourism

Costa Rica is an increasingly popular destination for dental and medical tourists. Facilities and care are excellent, and prices are quite low compared to the United States and other private care options in the developed world. Travelers are coming for everything from a simple dental checkup and cleaning to elective cosmetic surgery or a triple heart bypass operation. In virtually every case, visitors can save money on the overall cost of care. In some cases, the savings are quite substantial.

The country’s two top hospitals have modern facilities and equipment, as well as excellent doctor and nursing corps, many of whom speak English. Clínica Bíblica, Avenida 14 between Calles Central and 1 (www.clinicabiblica.com; [tel] 2522-1000), is conveniently close to downtown; the Hospital CIMA (www.hospitalcima.com; [tel] 2208-1000) is in Escazú on the Próspero Fernández Highway, which connects San José and the western suburb of Santa Ana. The latter has the most modern facilities in the country. There is also an annex of the Hospital CIMA on the outskirts of Liberia, close to the beaches of Guanacaste.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.