This location takes you to the stunning Costa Rican Pacific Coast, and to the doorstep of the stunning and diverse Manuel Antonio National Park, only a 3-4 hour bus journey from San Jose. Surrounded by palm plantations and rainforest, the town contains a stunning array of wildlife with monkeys and toucans in plain sight most days. In and around the national park, the whole area is famed for its beautiful beaches and hiking trails, making this location an exceptional place to volunteer, intern, teach, learn a new language, relax and enjoy the casual way of life.
HomeProgramsAlternative Spring Break Costa Rica Community Development
Spend your spring break learning about International development and contributing to local and global sustainable development goals. Make new friends with other college students from around the world while volunteering, learning to surf, and witnessing the unique biodiversity of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast first-hand.
Join other college students in the beach resort town of Quepos, also known as the gateway to one of the most popular protected wildlife areas in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio National Park.
On this one week alternative spring break program, you will learn about the theory and practice of international development specifically within the Costa Rican context. Learn about the importance of projects being locally led in creating sustainable change and why short-, mid-, and long-term goal-setting is so important.
The majority of your volunteer project work will be focused on restoration, construction, and gardening. The exact details of the project depend on the needs of the community at the time, but will be tied into the overall objectives of GVI’s sustainable development projects in Costa Rica.
Meet young college students from around the world.
Contribute to ongoing high-impact sustainable development projects during your spring break.
Experience Latin American culture.
Surf along the Pacific coast.
Spot unique tropical wildlife in the lush rainforests in the Manuel Antonio National Park.
In order to foster global citizenship and intercultural communication, reflection sessions will be facilitated by GVI staff throughout the program to assist college-level volunteers with developing their engagement with key local and global issues and developing their own insights.
During the weekend, and in the evening, college students will have the chance to explore Quepos, the nearby beaches, and Manuel Antonio National Park. Opportunities for learning to cook Costa Rican cuisine and learn to salsa dance might also be available. Organised adventure or cultural activities depend on the interests of the group.
Your alternative spring break in Costa Rica will begin in the capital of San Jose. This is where you will be greeted by GVI staff and first meet up with the other college students forming your group. You will all be transported to Quepos, a three hour trip from San Jose.
Once in Quepos you will begin your orientation. This will include, a health and safety briefing, a general cultural introduction to Costa Rica, a review of the projects GVI runs in Quepos, and start discussing what creates a successful development project.
Your project work will likely include a project like refurbishing a classroom, laying a concrete sports floor in one of the schools, and installing a vegetable gardens for use by a local school or community. Exact project details are determined by the needs of the community at the time of your alternative spring break program.
The weekend and evenings will include cultural and adventure activities dependent on the interests of the group. They might include a surfing lesson, a hike through Manuel Antonio park, and salsa dancing lessons.
Life On Base
Learn to live the pura vida or ‘simple life’ in the coastal town of Quepos on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, only a few minutes away from the entrance to the popular protected natural reserve, Manuel Antonio National Park. Spend your weekdays on community development initiatives in a diverse Latin American community with locals from Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Cuba, and Panama. Share a traditional Costa Rican style house including meals and tidying duties with like-minded individuals from all over the world who are there for the same reason you are — to learn about the local culture and help out where they can. On the weekends, explore the jungles of Manuel Antonio Park, surf on the nearby beach, or just relax and share stories with other participants in the rooftop hammocks at your accommodation.
Participants share bedroom and bathroom facilities.
Lunches are served on the community project and are a great choice for those looking to experience Costa Rican cuisine like Gallo Pinto, a rice and bean mix, or fried plantains. Breakfasts and dinners are cooked together with GVI staff and other participants. Breakfasts include cereal, toast, and lots of tropical fresh fruit, while dinner could be anything from your own attempt at Gallo Pinto to a stir fry or pasta bake.
You will have daily access to long-distance communications whilst on the project, but bear in mind that the connection may not be as reliable as yours back home.
We are located at walking distance from project sites in Quepos, and a very short boat ride is necessary to get to El Cocal community where we work.
Quepos has a tropical climate and it is warm and humid year round. This means that those from cooler climates might find they need to take things slowly the first few days to acclimate to their new tropical setting. The warmest month is March, while September is the most temperate. Rainy season starts in May and ends in November. There is less rainfall from December to April.
What's It like?
If you’d like to find out what the experience of joining a GVI project is really like, simply contact us and we’ll put you in touch with one of our many Alumni.
We’ll try to match you to an Alum based on your location, nationality, age, stage of academic career, gender, and program interests. This allows you to gain insights into the experience that is most relevant to you.
Depending on your location you might be able to speak to an Alum over the phone or online, or meet up with them face-to-face at a coffee shop nearby. We also run a series of small events around the world where you can speak to GVI Alumni, Ambassadors and staff members.
Follow GVI Manuel-Antonio's Facebook page for live updates straight from the field. Get an idea of the types of projects you might be involved in, meet our staff and participants, experience life on this GVI base, hear about free time activities, and learn about the local culture and environment.
When it comes to support, we ensure that each participant is provided with unparalleled, 360 degree support, from your initial contact with the GVI Family, all the way through your program, and even after, as you become part of the GVI Alumni Team.
As part of this promise, we will ensure, whenever possible, that one of our dedicated staff will be available to meet you at the airport. In most locations, we also set up a Whatsapp group to help with managing airport arrivals. We will arrange with you prior to your departure that, should you arrive in the agreed upon pick up window, a member of our staff will be there to welcome you, easily identifiable in a GVI t-shirt or holding a GVI sign and wearing a friendly smile. This means there will be someone there to greet you as you land, and from there you will be transported to your GVI base to start your adventure and meet the rest of your team.
Meet The Team - Senior Field Management
Meet Cony, our Program Manager at GVI’s base in Quepos, Costa Rica. Cony was born in Mexico and holds a Masters in Environmental Education. She loves a wide variety of cool things including: working with people, biodiversity, music, and her dog!
Cynthia Arochi Zendejas
Regional Director for Latin America
Meet Cynthia! She is GVI’s Regional Director for Latin America. Her journey with us started in 2006 as a National Scholar in Mexico on our National Scholar Program. She moved to Costa Rica three years agos and for her it has been a great experience, with the beauty of the country contributing to this!
Cynthia has a Masters in Environmental Science, which she completed in Sweden. Additionally, she is currently participating in an MBA with the aim to improve her management skills. In her life, Cynthia has had a variety of jobs and careers fueled by her love of languages and culture. Such jobs include teaching French, organising games, and working asing a Team Building Facilitator. Cynthia hopes to see you soon!
Meet The Team - In-Country Staff
Assistant Program Manager
This is Julius, who is our Assistant Program Manager at GVI’s base in Quepos, Costa Rica. Julius grew up in a small seaside town in British Columbia before moving to Quepos! He has had the privilege of volunteering in a vast array of countries including Peru and Morocco.
Before coming to Quepos, Julius was a Hip-Hop dance instructor for 12 years, and so as you could imagine he loves a good boogie!
Meet Luis! He is the Logistics Manager for our Quepos base in Costa Rica! Luis studied Art, History and Business Administration with an emphasis on Human Resource Management. He has been with GVI for two years now. Luis likes both snakes and planes - but luckily, not at the same time!
All of our programs have short, mid and long-term objectives that fit with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals or UN SDGs. This enables us to report on our collaborative impact across the world in a streamlined manner, measuring which UN SDGs we are making a substantial contribution to. Furthermore, this will help our local partners and communities measure and visualise their contribution to the UN SDGs.
Upon arrival to base, you will be educated about the history of the UN SDGs. You will learn about the specific goals of your location, the long-, mid- and short-term objectives, and also clarification of how your personal, shorter-term involvement contributes to these goals on a global level.
Our aim is to educate you on local and global issues, so that you continue to act as active global citizens after your program, helping to fulfil our mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.
Costa Rica was the first country in the world to make primary education both free and obligatory in 1869, funding the education program through the state’s share of the great coffee wealth. In those days only one in ten Costa Ricans could read and write. By 1920, 50% of the population was literate. In 1948, the country abolished its national army and shifted the portion of its national budget allocated to armed forces to the education system. By the 1970s 89% were able to read and write. Costa Rica now boasts a literacy rate of 93% for those ten years or older. In addition, in 1994, a policy to place a computer in each of the nation’s 4,000 schools, plus obligatory English classes, was implemented.
Despite this, education is not readily available to everyone. Elementary and high schools can be found in every community, but many cannot afford the required uniforms, and rural schools often lack books for students. Children often spend as little as three hours in school as the class schedule is divided into two sessions in order to accommodate the number of students.
Quepos, home to our volunteer community project, is a small Pacific town just outside Manuel Antonio which is home to some of the best tourist attractions in the country hosts thousands of foreign and local visitors every year.
GVI has been working in local communities around Quepos since 2011 and aims to support those communities in developing themselves and particularly in developing the younger members of the community. GVI has focused mainly on the community of El Cocal, a partially illegal settlement, located on a small peninsula a few minutes outside of Quepos, home to Costa Ricans as well as many immigrant families from other Latin American countries, namely Nicaragua, Cuba, and Panama. Many of these people have come to Costa Rica to benefit from the political and financial stability offered, but in such a tourist-rich area as Quepos people can struggle to make ends meet unless they are able to draw an income from the foreign visitors. The illegal status of many also restricts work opportunities.
Male residents of El Cocal are commonly employed in the fishing industry, which can be unreliable, so families get used to living in the moment and spending the money they have when they get it rather than saving up. Children growing up in this environment often do not have an understanding of preparing for the future and their attitudes towards education reflect this. This is partly fueled by lack of education in the community and partly by the transient and semi-legal nature of the community, many of whose members are seasonally unemployed.
In this region of Costa Rica, much of the local economy is built on tourism. In an effort to better serve the American and European traveller population, being able to speak and write in English is important. The number one request from the local school board for more English teachers. We also offer free individual English classes for children, teenagers, and adults. We provide English classes to adults in the local community of El Cocal, young people and adults in Quepos, and children as well. Construction projects, to improve community spaces and build communal gardens are also part of our work in Quepos.
We also work in partnership with the El Cocal school, offering a space for children to come after or before school hours to learn, reinforcing the value of education. In addition we work with adults, including women, in the community to improve professional skills.
In partnership with the UNPD, United Nations Development Programme, we also run a program aimed at reducing the amount of young people at risk, provide them with tools to prevent violence, and integrate themselves with the wider society. The program is called “Integral Security and Prevention of Violence Affecting Children, Adolescents and Young People in Costa Rica” and the role of GVI is to provide English language classes as a mean to improve the skill sets of young people to assist them with accessing additional academic and employment opportunities in the future.
As such, the main UN Sustainable Development Goals of this project include, #4, Quality Education, and #5, Gender Equality.
GVI Quepos Long-term Objectives:
1. Improve access to education and wellness to Quepos and surrounding areas specifically in El Cocal community.
2. Increase environmental awareness in the local community.
3. Improve English literacy levels in Quepos community and surrounded areas.
A GVI program is an investment in your career. No matter which you choose, you will be working toward improving your employability by mastering new social skills, gaining further technical expertise and earning qualifications in many cases. Most of our staff are, in fact, GVI Alumni, and we have helped many of our Alumni discover, move toward, and earn their own personal dream jobs. Each program includes introductory workshops, ongoing presentations, as well as on-the-ground professional support provided by our very own trained staff members. In addition, our training programs are critical for helping us to ensure the long-term impact of our sustainable development projects around the world.
For All GVI Participants
Introduction to GVI as a whole and the work in your specific location. Learn about the short, mid, and long-term objectives of the sustainable development projects at your base, which United Nations Development Goals they impact most directly, and which local partners we work with.
Health and Safety Training
Learn about the Emergency Action Plans in place at your base, the full Risk Assessment, and best practices for personal safety.
Child and Vulnerable Adult Protection Training
Learn about the importance of child and vulnerable adult protection best practices and how to apply them while on project.
For All Participants at Manuel Antonio
Costa Rican Culture
Learn about the Costa Rican pura vida lifestyle.
Receive Spanish language training relevant to your level of competency.
Introduction to TEFL
Learn the basics of how teach English as a foreign language.
Joining a program not only allows participants to collaborate with communities or work toward preserving unique ecosystems but it also offers plenty of opportunities to explore the surrounding area or travel further to see what other parts of the region have to offer.
Long term field staff are a great source of advice, and have helped us put together the following information on local travel options. Many decide to travel before or after their experience (subject to immigration restrictions), solidifying the lifetime friendships established on program. Please note that the below suggestions are not included in the program fee, and are for the individual to organise at their own expense.
Coffee Plantation Tour
Coffee connoisseurs can book a tour of one of the local coffee plantations. Costa Rica has a rich history of growing the crop, and you can learn about farming methods, both old and new, while sampling the local brew.
Fly through the rainforest like superman, walk gingerly across a suspended walkway, and rappel down jungle waterfalls, by booking on of the many canopy tours available.
Kayaking and Canoeing
There are also many more peaceful rivers to explore on a kayak or canoe. The tranquil setting will allow you to spot local wildlife like monkeys and birds in the canopies above.
The coastal region of Quepos is dotted with rivers flanked with dense jungle. The powerful currents and diverse landscape make for excellent white-water river rafting.
Mangrove wetlands are a fragile, yet vital ecosystem, providing shelter to precious species, protection from tropical storms along coastlines, and act as a carbon sink, draining excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Learn more about the importance of these systems by booking one of several mangrove tours in the Quepos area.
Costa Rica is well-known as a surfing destination and the Pacific Coast town of Quepos features some incredibly beaches. You can also explore nearby like Jaco, Dominical, Punta Arenas, and Playa Hermosa known for their excellent surfing conditions.
Manuel Antonio National Park
The gorgeous National Park of Manuel Antonio is less than a ten-minute bus ride away. Here lush tropical rainforests coincide with the stunning beaches of the Pacific coast. The park is acclaimed as one of the most biodiverse on the planet. Hike the forest trails or zipline through the canopies spotting exotic species like the mantled howler monkeys and two-toed sloths. You can also book a white water rafting trip.
Other Latin American Nations
There are plenty of opportunities for further exploration throughout Latin America. Travel South to Panama and then Colombia or North to Nicaragua and Honduras.
With one of the greatest biodiversities in the world and a commitment to preserving this unique natural heritage Costa Rica features many natural reserves that offer plenty of opportunities to spot one-of-a-kind wildlife.
View the active volcanoes of Arenal and Poas from a safe distance and experience the beautiful natural habitats that flourish in the surrounding fertile soils.
Explore the capital of Costa Rica, for an insight into the country’s heritage and modern lifestyle. Learn about the country’s ancient cultures by visiting the Gold or Jade museums and visit restaurants to sample authentic Latin American fare.
Engaging intimately with a new context teaches not only global awareness but adaptability and critical thinking, skills highly valued in the modern marketplace. Local and cultural immersion is encouraged on all our programs around the world, and is also one of the most enjoyable aspects of your experience. Luckily, there are many activities you can get involved with in your free time, or before and after your program. On our community programs the focus is on cultural topics, while on marine or wildlife programs the emphasis is more on the environmental element. Use your evenings and weekends to explore diverse and eclectic topics like Theravada Buddhism in Laos or how plastic pollution and climate change affects Indian Ocean coral.
Costa Rican festival.
March to April: Easter is a popular holiday in Costa Rica and is celebrated with elaborate processions.
October: You can experience the city of Límon’s famous carnival in October.
December: A mostly Catholic country, the Costa Ricans celebrate Christmas with enthusiasm.
Spirituality and Religion
Most of Costa Rica identifies with the Roman Catholic religion and there are many Christman festivals that are celebrated throughout the year.
Dancing is part an integral part of Costa Rican culture. Locals learn to dance the fluid ballroom styles of cumbia, salsa, bolero and the merengue from a young age.
Learn to cook dishes using uniquely Latin American ingredients like beans, rice, avocados, peppers, tomatoes, and corn from local community members.
Quepos is the perfect place to practice your Spanish as most inhabitants speak only Spanish.
El Cocal Community
El Cocal is an informal settlement home to a mostly immigrant community from Nicaragua, Cuba, and Panama. Working in this community learning participants to more traditional Latin American destinations.
Quepos is a small Pacific town just outside Manuel Antonio which is home to some of the best tourist attractions in the country, hosting thousands of foreign and local visitors every year. Some come for the national park, considered one of the best in the country, and others for the beaches. The surfing both in this beautiful beach town and on other beaches just a couple of hours along the coast draws people from across the world.
Below is a list of core ethics and best practices we believe are essential to the operation of high quality, ethical volunteer and sustainable development programs. We believe that all responsible volunteer and sustainable development operations should focus upon these principles. If you are considering volunteering, these are some of the key considerations you should question, to ensure that your time and money contributes towards positive change.
We want to constantly develop our own understanding of ethical best practice. In so doing, we aim to provide an exemplary industry standard for other education institutions, international development organisations, and social enterprises. Our Badge of Ethics stands for the drive to always do good, better. Find out more, click on the Badge below.
Our 10 Ethical Commitments
Locally Driven, Collaborative Projects
We aim to design all our projects in collaboration with local organizations and communities and ensure that they are locally driven.
Clear Objectives & Sustainable Outcomes
We aim to clearly define short-, mid-, and long-term objectives with sustainable outcomes for all our projects.
We aim to track, record, and publish the impact of each of our projects.
Working Against Dependency
We aim to build in-country capacity by assisting local organizations in becoming self-sustaining.
Responsible Exit Strategies
For each local organization we work with, we aim to have a plan in place for withdrawing support responsibly.
Clear Roles & Specialized Training
We aim to ensure that ever participant is assigned a clear role and that they are fully trained and supported to carry out their work by specialized staff.
Respect for all
In all our actions we aim to respect the skills and efforts of all and seek to protect the rights, culture and dignity of everyone who engages with GVI.
We work to ensure that credit for the results of any project, along with any data collected, research conducted, or Intellectual Property developed, remains the property of local organizations.
Transitioning from the Orphanage Model
We do not condone and aim to withdraw support of orphanages and residential care centers.
Child and Vulnerable adult policies
We will live by our Child Protection and Vulnerable Adult policies.
As an organization, GVI is committed to striving toward best practice, and to educating both our potential participants, our partners, and the world at large about them. Both the volunteering and sustainable development sectors are increasingly, and rightly, under scrutiny. Many recent local and global articles highlight poor practices and questionable ethics. GVI is widely recognized for striving to apply global best practice in the volunteering, education and sustainable development sectors throughout our operations by reputable organizations such as ChildSafe.
However, global best practice is always evolving and we dedicate both time and resources to engage with internationally respected experts and learn from the latest research to ensure our programs both fulfil their potential to create maximum positive impact, and minimise their potential to create unintentional negative impact. Along with and as part of the sustainable development and volunteering community, we are constantly learning and applying this learning to practice. We do not always get everything right, but we seek feedback from our community members, partners, participants and our staff, and react accordingly. We know are already doing a great job, and feedback we have received confirms this, but we aim to do even better and are continuously refining our operations to improve upon our already excellent reputation.
‘If only every student could do this. It changes your life in all the right ways,’ says Chris Heritage, parent of Luke Heritage, one of our teen volunteers who has participated on two GVI programs, one in Costa Rica and another in South Africa.
We are a parent-run organisation that is incredibly serious about health and safety, and increasing the impact, as well as the long-term career benefits of our programs. Our programs help young people develop the skills to select a career path that is personally fulfilling, and live a life aligned to the well-being of our planet and the global community.
Ken and Linda Jeffrey, whose son Sam volunteered with GVI in Thailand, talk about how the experience affected Sam. He also went on to volunteer with GVI again in South Africa. ‘I know it sounds like a cliche but in a sense, he did go away as a boy and he came back as a young man. Both of us could recommend GVI without any hesitation to any other parent thinking about exploring an opportunity for their children to explore the world and to see different parts of it.’
Parent Info Pack
Download the Parent Pack and learn more about:
Our staff: All our projects are run by staff, selected, vetted, trained, and managed by our central office. Health and safety: Our safety practices include a child and vulnerable adult protection policy and high participant ratios. Staying in touch: See what’s happening on base, by following a hub’s dedicated Facebook page. Free parent consultations: We would love to talk to you about exciting opportunities available for your child.
Support & Safety
We won’t sugarcoat it — traveling abroad is usually a complex process that carries an element of risk. But this is exactly why we’re passionate about providing extensive support throughout the process as well as the highest safety standards during the in-country phase. We believe that volunteering abroad should not only be impactful, but an enjoyable experience that carries as little risk as possible. This is exactly how we’ve been able to maintain our reputation as the most highly respected volunteering organisations in the sector over the past two decades.
Once a participant books, they will be assigned a personal support coordinator who will oversee their pre-departure journey. The support coordinator helps to bridge the gap between program enrolment and arrival at one of our field bases. Your personal support coordinator will ensure that you are provided with all the necessary information required to apply for visas, background checks, and any other documentation.
Upon arrival at the airport, participants will be greeted by a GVI staff member. All GVI staff are our own and all our programs around the world are run by our staff. All GVI field staff are background checked, Emergency First Response and safety trained. The minimum staff to participant ratio on GVI’s programs is one to six, although on several bases we have a ratio of one to three. When finishing the experience, participants will provide feedback on all aspects of their program.
It takes courage to book a GVI program, get on a flight, and head off to somewhere new. Volunteering offers a level of cultural immersion that typical backpacking or holidays just can’t achieve. This is why thousands of people around the world participate in paid GVI programs.
As the saying goes: ‘Expect the best, plan for the worst’. Cliched or not, we take it to heart. This tenet is at the core of how GVI operates when it comes to promoting the health and safety of our participants, staff, and local community members at all of our 20+ bases around the world.
The weather isn’t just a topic for polite small-talk here at GVI. We have emergency action plans in place for all scenarios. So when the weather, or other natural forces, takes a nasty turn, we are prepared to respond to stormy situations.
Once GVI has matched a participant to a program that suits their passions and goals, our team aims to set the right expectations for them. In the event that false expectations around a program are created, the GVI team takes immediate action to ensure that the situation rectified.
24-hour emergency phone
24-hour in-country support
Access to Alumni Services and Discounts
Airport pick-up (unless otherwise stated)
All necessary project equipment and materials
All necessary project training by experienced staff
Long term experienced staff
Meals while on project (except on work placements for long term internships)