|Dates:||September 15 – December 13|
*Airfare for international and in-country flights additional
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- Delve into Latin American Culture and Language During a Homestay on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast
- Surf the Waves on Costa Rica’s Stunning Pacific Coast
- Help Protect Olive Ridley Turtles Coming Ashore to Lay their Eggs
- Discover the True Meaning of “Pura Vida” Working and Living on a Rural Costa Rican Ranch
- Build Clean Stoves for Quechua Families in the Sacred Valley in the Peruvian Andes
- Explore the Effects Gold Mining is having on the Amazon and Its People
- Walk in the Footsteps of the Incas and Explore the Ancient Ruins of Machu Picchu
- Facilitate Nutrition Education to Communities During a Homestay on the Shores of Lake Titicaca
Adventure and education collide during our three-month journey through the lush jungles, dizzying heights and breathtaking coasts of Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru. Our Latin America Gap Program takes advantage of our nearly 20 year history of exploration and service in Latin America and opens doors unimagined by the casual traveler. Tucked away in a remote mountain village in Costa Rica, we discover the simplicity of “pura vida” working alongside our generous hosts to improve the village’s infrastructure. Flying through the forest canopy on ziplines, the vibrancy of life in the jungle beckons to us in the calls of toucans and howler monkeys. Partnering with local biologists on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast, we witness the impact of human populations on the natural world. Navigate Ecuador’s Amazon jungle by canoe and partner with a local politician to explore the effects gold mining is having on the environment and indigenous communities. Treading in the footsteps of the Inca, we gain insight into an ancient culture as we explore the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru. The abundance of life around us underscores the rich and unforgettable experiences of this Latin America Gap Semester.
Gap Orientation in California
We begin our semester with a Gap orientation in San Francisco, California. After a welcoming BBQ with all ARCC Gap programs, we settle into our Latin America group, getting to know one another and our instructors. Together we map out our itinerary and set both individual and group goals for the duration of the program. We introduce our curriculum and brainstorm ideas for our individual Capstone projects, all the while coming together as a traveling community.
Orientation, Rainforest Exploration and Whitewater Rafting
We fly together to San Jose, Costa Rica, where we are welcomed by our local partners and jump right into our in-country orientation to Costa Rican culture and customs. After a day exploring San Jose, we head to the world-renowned Pacuare River for two days of exploring the rainforest and navigating the river’s famous whitewater. Floating our way through the pristine forest canopy, we discover hidden waterfalls and natural rock slides, all the while continuing to bond as a group. Making our home at a river lodge set back amongst the huge leaves of the Sombrilla de Pobre (“Poor Man’s Umbrella”), we use this area as a base to explore and adventure.
Language School on the Nicoya Peninsula
Leaving the jungle behind, we make our way to Samara, situated on the Nico ya Peninsula. For the next week we sharpen our Spanish skills, taking classes taught by native speakers and practicing what we learn during our homestay with local families. Outside the classrooms, we may choose to participate in a variety of activities, such as yoga, Zumba classes, or kayaking. We continue to come together as a traveling community, refining both our individual and group goals. Our preparation includes further discussion of our curriculum, including identifying the five essential themes and where each will be addressed throughout the semester.
Sea Turtle Conservation Project
From Samara we travel south along the Nicoya Peninsula to San Miguel where we delve into the Environment and Conservation theme with a sea turtle conservation project. Working alongside a local grassroots organization, we help monitor the nesting activity of the Olive Ridley turtles. Since 1998, volunteers have protected 2,618 nests and released 129,529 baby turtles and we can only hope to do our part in the protection efforts. In addition to patrolling the beaches at night and learning about turtle conservation during the day, we participate in community outreach educating the local youth on protection efforts and why these efforts are important.
San Isidro Conservation Project and Economic Development
Deep in the mountains, we are honored to be welcomed into a community that ARCC has been working with for the last 20 years, San Isidro de Dota. The main project is to build a special area for two species of frogs that need protection. Our group is going to build a small lake or pond with some specific plants and enclose it to keep out predators. In addition, we are going to help to finish the Green House at the school and the biodigestor, which creates methane gas from animal waste. We have ample opportunity for service learning and cultural exchange, helping out with chores on the family farms, working in the organic garden, and cooking meals with our local hosts. We also explore the rich rainforest surrounding the village and spend time with our new friends, playing soccer, sharing laughs, and forging bonds that will last a lifetime.
Surfing on the Pacific Coast
For our last days in Costa Rica, we check out Costa Rica’s amazing surf breaks. After a few lessons with local surf instructors, we feel confident catching the friendly beginner waves. At the conclusion of our time here, we return to San Jose for a final day in Costa Rica as we prepare for our next adventure in Ecuador!
Quito, Cotopaxi National Park and Mindo Ziplining
Located on the northwest corner of South America, Ecuador is a gem of diverse geography, rich cultural history and unique wildlife. Through our travels, we quickly learn why Ecuador stands out as an environmental leader in the international community, but also discover that there is still much to be done. Upon landing in Quito, we are greeted by our Ecuadorian friends who give us a brief orientation and tour of the spectacular capital city, located over 9,000 feet above sea level and ringed by volcanoes. We zipline and hike through the Santa Rita Ecological Reserve and enjoy learning about the unique mountain that is a symbol of pride for the country. Finally, we hike to the glacier and Lake Limpiopungo before heading into the Amazon.
Amazon Petroleum Mining
Heading south to the Amazon rainforest to Coca, we jump right into our first project in Ecuador, studying the mining of petroleum and gold, and the positive and negative effects it has on this part of the Ecuadorian Amazon and its communities. We visit oil derrick sites and see the groundwater and soil pollution from irresponsible water disposal. While here we have the opportunity to interview workers at the site. We also observe avian and aquatic wildlife that has survived numerous pollution events from nearby petroleum production. During this section we have an opportunity to witness what illegal mining is doing to the Amazon by way of deforestation and pollution and participate in a water sampling project to see what these dredges are doing to the local water source. In Coca we gain familiarity with a sustainable micro-enterprise by working with local school students making fruit pulp from local material.
An Introduction to Life as an Amazon Cacao Grower
Settling into our homestays with local Kichwa families, we begin an in-depth anthropological study of cacao growers in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Ecuador makes some of the richest, most delicious artisan chocolate on the market and we have the opportunity to examine this economic market. We not only learn how exporting chocolate upholds the local economy in the Amazon, but we work alongside the cacao growers on their farms and learn about the chocolate process from harvest to production. We also participate in a community meeting and present a short workshop on globalization and international markets.
Tena, Rafting and Student Planned Weekend
Saying a sad farewell to our gracious homestay hosts, we make our way to Tena, a bustling Amazonian town not far from Coca. We spend a day rafting the rapids of the Jatunyacu River, then we take some time to ourselves to relax, explore, and join in the local festivals and activities. After a couple days in Tena we embark on our Student Planned Weekend. These days are totally planned by the students, with basic parameters put in place and a budget with which to work. We cannot wait to hear what the group will do!
Andes Village Stay
Trading the jungle for the mountains, we head north to the province of Imbabura where we are welcomed by our hosts in the Guachinguero community, a remote village in the Andes. It is a beautiful Indigenous community that looks into the valley of Otavalo. In Guachinguero, we meet with the community president to learn more about the community and its people and help with a construction project at the school. The school is a two teacher school for grades K-7 and is in the process of expanding their building by adding a second story to the house, a computer lab and office, and also a cafeteria area for the students. We jump right into this phase of the project and work alongside the community members. In the afternoons we have a chance to interview the community president and teachers about the importance and impact these improvements are going to have on the community and the students. During our downtime we play soccer with the students, shop at the world-renowned Otavalo market, and explore the beautiful landscape of the surrounding area. After a farewell ceremony with the Guachinguero community, we return to Quito for our last day in Ecuador.
Peru, Cusco Exploration, Home Renovation and Munaychay Hogar
We arrive in our final country of the semester, Peru, and spend our first couple days in the charming city of Cusco, exploring colorful plazas and markets, cobblestone streets, and the Incan ruins of Sacsayhuaman scattered atop the hillside overlooking the city. We then begin our project working with a local non-profit at a hogar in Urubamba and to renovate a house in Poroy. A hogar is a home or orphanage and the one we visit is specifically for young girls aged 3-18 years old. At the hogar we have the opportunity to interact with the girls, hear their stories and interview the women who run this special home.
The second half of the week we work at the home of Elizabeth, one of the girls sponsored by our partner organization, renovating her family’s home. A very simple home made with clay walls and sagging rooves, we plaster, paint and tile, working alongside a family with 10 children who are grateful beyond words for our assistance. There is no doubt that our time with this family and the accomplishment of our work will be a memory we cherish forever.
Cusco, Thanksgiving and Machu Picchu
Saying a sad goodbye to our dear friends in Poroy, we spend the next two days in the beautiful Sacred Valley town of Urubamba. We may decide to participate in some cultural activities, work on our Capstone projects, or participate in day hikes in the surrounding peaks. Not forgetting Thanksgiving back home, we make sure to take the afternoon off to celebrate this delicious holiday with a special local feast and we give thanks for all the incredible opportunities we’ve shared thus far.
Meeting back up with our local guide, we travel by train to the sacred Incan city of Machu Picchu, the “Gate of the Sun.” After spending a night in the town of Aguas Calientes, we enjoy a tour of the sacred temples, plazas and ceremonial baths of Machu Picchu. We hike up Huayna Picchu (Young Peak) to catch a birds-eye view of Machu Picchu, which is one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Sacred Valley Village Stay and “Clean Stove” Service Project
Loaded with photos from Machu Picchu, we travel high into the heart of the Sacred Valley to a rural community located on the plains of the Pampa de Anta region. Surrounded by awe-inspiring, glacier-capped mountains, the village is home to 50 Quechua families who live off the land, dedicating themselves to farming, sheep and cattle herding, and cultivating native crops. We roll up our sleeves to help community members build new stoves for cooking in their homes. We work directly with families to improve their health and air quality by building stoves that reduce smoke pollution caused by cook-fires, typically the only way these villagers can cook or heat their homes. Additionally, new stoves greatly reduce the consumption of the native trees that are rapidly decreasing in number. We also spend time building guinea pig farms, which serve as a source of income and a way for local villagers to obtain economic independence. In unstructured time we bond with our gracious hosts and newfound friends as we swim in the lake and teach informal English lessons.
Lake Titicaca Homestay and Departure
The last section of our trip takes us to Lake Titicaca, the largest high-altitude lake in the world. We take a boat-ride out to the floating islands, home to the pre-Incan Uros people. The Uros have made their homes on forty-two floating islands, maintained using bundles of dried totora reeds. We learn about their unique lifestyle on the lake before continuing on to visit Taquile Island. We witness the men knitting for their families and learn more about the unique island life of Lake Titicaca. Upon arrival back to the mainland, we are welcomed by our host families in a village on the shores of the lake. We spend our days immersing ourselves in the lives of the community and learning about some of the health issues in the region. We meet with mothers in their homes and discuss the challenges in providing healthy meals for their families. We investigate why malnutrition is such a severe problem in rural communities in the area and partner with a local nutritionist to educate the community about healthy nutrition. During the second part of our service project, we help build individual gardens for families to plant seeds to grow vegetables, in turn providing them with a more well-rounded diet. In down time we may explore the lakeside area, play soccer with the local children or swim in the lake.
We spend our last days together as a group in this picturesque setting. Our experiences during these three months will stay with us for the rest of our lives. As we savor our remaining time together, we are excited to head home to share our newly gained knowledge and insights from our firsthand look at the global issues facing Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru.
“Choosing ARCC Gap has been one of the best choices of my life. I’ve been able to see and experience countless incredible things I would have missed otherwise, make lifelong friendships with my group, and I’ve become a more globally aware individual.”— Cameron D., Highlands Ranch, ARCC Gap Student
“ARCC has changed me in ways unimaginable and has made me mature in almost every aspect of my life. Through this experience I have gained a new family and now have 13 new brothers and sisters that I will stay in contact with till the day I die. I don’t know any other way I would have liked to l spend this semester.”— Connor L., Parma, OH, ARCC Gap Student
“My Gap Semester was, I feel, the perfect combination of directed volunteer work, experiential learning, and general fun experiences. I enjoyed every moment of the semester, from surf camp on the beautiful beaches of Costa Rica, to volunteer work and teaching up in the Andes in Ecuador. The trip instructors were very experienced, fun and helpful. I am leaving this Gap Semester with a greater awareness, a sense of accomplishment from volunteer work, great friendships, and three months of unforgettable memories and experiences.”— Dag J., Gillette, WY, Latin America Gap Student
“I want [prospective students] to know that this was one of the most incredible experiences of my life and that if you are on the fence about doing an ARCC Gap Semester, just do it because it will change you, and you will NOT regret it.”— Gabi S., White Plains, NY, Latin America Gap Student
“I just knew I needed to take time off before college to grow, have fun, learn, and explore more of the world. I also felt like this time away would make me stronger… and it did!”— Gabi S., White Plains, NY, Latin America Gap Student
“This was overall one of the most impactful experiences of my life.”— Maya C., New York, NY, Latin America Gap Student
“I really loved everything about my ARCC experience. I feel like I’ve learned so much this semester about myself and the world.”— Meredith B., Raleigh, NC, Latin America Gap Student
“I would definitely recommend ARCC to potential students. I saw, experienced and partook in many once in a lifetime experiences. I also came into this trip wanting to grow as a person, but was skeptical if it was actually going to happen, but I definitely grew and changed for the better.”— Brooke P., Winchester, MA, Latin America Gap Student
“The amount of cultural exposure was one of my favorite parts of the semester. I felt very immersed in each country’s culture and that’s something I was really looking forward to.”— Brooke P., Winchester, MA, Latin America Gap Student
“The highlight of my semester was the [Ecuadorian] homestay. I learned so much about the people and their culture and made some amazing connections. I learned how to farm their crops, fish with their nets, played soccer with the locals, swam in the Amazon with the kids, went for hikes in the rainforest, and learned about their traditional foods and medicines. My family also had a pet monkey which was pretty sweet.”— Brett C., Hamilton, MA
“The Fall 2014 Latin America Gap trip completely exceeded all Brooke’s and our expectations. She had a truly amazing experience!”— Parent of Brooke P., Winchester, MA
“Meredith’s confidence has grown. I see a more mature person in front of me who is ready to go on her next adventure. It is exactly what we were hoping for.”— Parents of Meredith B, Raleigh, NC
Group Journal Excerpts
Below you will find several Group Journal excerpts, written by ARCC students during their Gap Semester with ARCC:
Language School, Homestays and Beach Time
Our second week on this amazing journey is coming to a close! We left our hotel in Heredia on Saturday morning and began the five hour bus ride to the beautiful Samara, here on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Our bus ride entailed gorgeous countryside views and stops for exotic Costa Rican fruit, mamón…
Thanksgiving in Latin America….Peru, Peru, what a place where the sky is blue…not to mention, we get to celebrate atop Machu Picchu! Aquas Calientes, hot water as we like to say, is the town that draws people in to take them to the stunning holy city of Machu Picchu. Driving by bus, riding by train,…
Our first week in Costa Rica has been full of adventure! After a long travel day on Monday we finally arrived to our hotel in Heredia outside of San Jose. Luckily, on Tuesday, our first full day, we were able to take it easy. It was awesome to just rest and be together in our…
Our week began on Friday October 3rd when we made our way via bus and 4×4 trucks to Ranchos Tinamu in San Isidro, a beautiful ranch set in a mountainous cloud forest and owned by the charismatic and always beloved Santiago. We arrived at the ranch Friday night, just in time for dinner. While some…
Surf Camp & Quito
After leaving the Beautiful town of San Isidro, we traveled to Uvita and were happily welcomed into surf camp by our host, Marvin. We arrived around noon and used our times to relax, explore the campsite and beach, play games, and eat delicious meals prepared by our friends. After a relaxed day and reviewing the…
Turtle Conservation in San Miguel
This week we have had the opportunity to work with Turtle Trax. This project has been helping to save turtle nests on San Miguel beach since 1996 (close to the town of Coyote, San Miguel is a tiny beach town on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica in the province of Guanacaste). Funded by private…