In our Tropical Challenge Semester course, you will experience an unforgettable semester with the rainforest as your classroom. Spend 70 days backpacking through the jungle, battling whitewater rapids, surfing warm water breaks, volunteering in local communities, exploring islands by kayak, rock climbing, rappelling waterfalls and Scuba diving. Your time in Central America will focus on both technical outdoor skills and personal development as you learn about the rich ecology and tropical landscape of Costa Rica and Panama. In true Outward Bound fashion, your experience will be far from all work and no play! The adventures you undertake will challenge you physically while honing your teamwork and leadership skills.
The Tropical Challenge Semester course offers the opportunity to experience personal growth through adventure activities as well as earn valuable professional certifications. This course is eligible for up to 12 academic credits through Western State Colorado University (independent study credits through your school may also be available) and will allow you the opportunity to earn First Aid, CPR and NAUI Scuba diving certifications.
This semester is organized into six distinct activity phases interspersed with leadership and cultural activities as well as transition days–where you are able to take a break from your time in the wilderness to reconnect with friends and family back home.
Course activity phases include:
phases may take place in any order
The Tropical Challenge course starts at our base camp just outside of San Jose, where you will take classes to earn your First Aid and CPR certifications and build a foundation in leadership skills. Enjoy several challenge and cultural activities while getting to know your instructors and coursemates.
During the river portion of your course, you will raft down some of Costa Rica’s world-renowned rivers, developing skills for captaining and/or crewing a raft on Class II – IV rapids as well as learn an introduction to whitewater rescue. Additionally, you will hone your ability to read the river as you learn to paddle, brace, roll and surf rapids in inflatable and/or hard-shell kayaks. Your hours of hard work and training will be recognized through a Outward Bound Costa Rica certificate at the end of your course.
Challenge yourself on a multi-day rainforest trek into one of the most remote regions of Costa Rica. Backpack, cook, and camp while gaining insight into the mysteries of the jungle and the people who live there. In addition to camping, you’ll experience the traditions of family homestays, where you can practice your Spanish and help with activities such as harvesting and grinding sugarcane, making tortillas and playing soccer with the locals. During this phase, you will also participate in your “solo,” which is a time to disconnect from the rest of the world and enjoy some self-reflection in a safe, wilderness setting.
Keeping in line with the Outward Bound philosophy of compassion and service, you will participate in a multi-day service project designed to improve the lives of the local indigenous population. Past projects have focused on nutrition, community beautification and clean water.
The surf portion of the course takes place on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast, where possible surf sites include Manuel Antonio, Playa Hermosa, Avellanas and Playa Negra. You will gain or improve your surfing skills with the help of our surf instructors, who provide detailed, holistic instruction about how to read waves, tides and currents. Through both group and personal instruction, you will learn how to catch waves and improve your board stance to ride more challenging breaks.
Test yourself and learn to trust your team through progressively more challenging climbing and rappelling activities. You will learn knot and anchor system basics as you both climb and belay. Sites may include natural rock, climbing walls and waterfalls.
The group will travel to the Caribbean archipelago of Bocas del Toro in northern Panama where you will visit with indigenous communities and in the crystal-clear waters off the island of Solarte, you will have the chance to earn your NAUI Scuba Diver Certification. You will participate in several dives, progressing from contained, shallow-water dives to more advanced open-water dives. You will also complete readings, written assignments and participate in on-land theory sessions required for certification.
You will also take part in a multi-day sea kayaking expedition through the archipelago of Bocas, camping along the islands and using kayaks as well as indigenous Panamian canoes known as cayucos. Additional water activities while in Panama may include sailing, wakeboarding and snorkeling.
This course is open to males and females, ages 17 and older. Students should be conversant in English; Spanish language skills useful. Experience with course activities is not required, though an active lifestyle is recommended. If seeking academic credit, students must make all necessary arrangements to secure credits prior to arrival.
Outward Bound Costa Rica provides all meals, safety gear, surfboards, and camping and hiking equipment (including backpacks). Students will be provided a detailed packing list for clothing, toiletries and personal gear. All students are asked to bring personal spending money, as souvenirs and incidental expenses are the responsibility of the student. Please see the packing list for information regarding items not allowed on course.
Students will be camping or staying as a group in family homestays or student dorms (bedding provided).
Tropical Challenge Semester students are eligible to receive up to 12 academic credits through Western State Colorado University . Making arrangements for academic credit is the responsibility of the student and must be done prior to course start date. For more information see our Academic Credit page.
Our instructors will aid students in every way possible to earn the certifications included in their course, but successful completion of all required practical skills tests and written exams are the responsibility of each student. Outward Bound Costa Rica cannot guarantee that all students will receive any/all certifications included in this course.
Airfare to and from San Jose, Costa Rica is not included in course tuition. All international travelers are required to pay a US$28 exit tax prior to departure; this is the responsibility of the student.
All students are met at the airport by Outward Bound Costa Rica and transported to our main base facility outside of San Jose. Outward Bound Costa Rica provides all transportation throughout the duration of the course, including transfer to Juan Santamaria International Airport on the final day of course. Airport regulations do not allow us to accompany students into the airport unless they travel as an Unaccompanied Minor (a paid service provided by each airline).
Because safety is paramount, all itineraries may change on account of weather and water conditions. All of our instructors have internationally recognized safety certifications relevant to their specialties. A minimum of two instructors accompany groups at all times.