Notes From The Field: Service-Learning Trips That Inspire

Service is a big part of our trips here at Appleseed Expeditions.  Whether it is a domestic trip to Yellowstone or an international trip to New Zealand or Costa Rica, we believe that making a difference in theDSC_0266 lives of those we serve also makes a difference in the lives of the students who serve.  Some of the service activities for past groups have included creating a garden for fresh vegetables and herbs, painting rooms at an orphanage, helping control invasive species in The Galapagos Islands, interacting with abandoned and neglected children, and beach cleanup.  We look for any service activity that needs to be done in each particular area that we visit. The main purpose of including service for students in all of our trips is for them to make a difference in the lives of others by using their own talents and skills.

DSC_0053Over the past 5 years since I have been a part of the Appleseed Expeditions team I have witnessed the impact that service does in the different countries and the communities we visit.   I have also witnessed the impact that service has on the student travelers. I have seen how students react to helping solve issues and the needs of others and how this helps them discover what they can do to help in their own communities when they return home.  They learn that serving others should be a part of all our lives, no matter what our profession is or where we are.

Once, the mother of a student from a little town in Missouri, shared with me that a few years after her son returned from an Appleseed trip to Costa Rica, he rethought his decision to not go to college.  After serving in the local Costa Rican community and reflecting on that service each night on the trip, he changed his mind and is now in college with a dream of a career to be of service to others.

DSC_1120A few years after guiding a student group in The Galapagos Islands, I was contacted by a local who told me that the students’ efforts to restore the habitat of Giant Tortoises in San Cristobal Island had really made a difference.  He said that the scientists and rangers had reports that the tortoises were returning – the students had helped increase their territory.

There is hope in this world and there is a lot we can do to help, making a difference starts with the little actions that we do every day.  On our Service Learning trips we focus on helping students find way to make a difference.

Paulo Segura ● Appleseed Expeditions Guide

Notes From The Field: Best Souvenir Shops to Visit on a School Trip to Costa Rica

Eloy Alfaro Cxcart Factory: Located in Sarchí, home of the best wood artists in Costa Rica, this place combines a great variety of souvenirs made of wood with a workshop located


behind the souvenir shop. The workshop was open in 1920th by Eloy Alfaro who opened his oxcart factory and became a famous creator of the beautiful painted Oxcarts of Costa Rica. The workshop runs with hydropower, thanks to a river that runs through the town of  producing twelve horsepower and providing energy for the main machinery in the workshop. Groups of students can have access to a tour in the workshop and see some of the artists painting on the wood souvenirs.

Democracy Plaza Markets: If your group is visiting downtown San Jose, this place is a great option to get an excellent variety of souvenirs at great prices. Some of the handcrafts are actually make in the market. This place is like a Costarrican version of a flea market, a place where the students can learn to negotiate the prices and practice their Spanish.

Guaitil: I have included this place because it is very authentic and because the souvenirs made in Guaitil are very similar to what native Costarricans use to make for their home. Guaitil is not a shop but is a small town, located in Guanacaste on the northwest side of Costa Rica. Artists in Guaitil work with ceramics and they do an amazing job making all kinds of figures, pods and ocarinas.

DSC03811Maleku Indigenous Reservation: The Malekus are the smallest indigenous group in all of Central America as there are only 600 of them.  Their reservation is located about an hour away from La Fortuna, a very popular place to visit with groups. They manufacture souvenirs that show some of their culture and they work with balsa wood one of the lightest types of wood in the world. Visiting the area would let students learn about a group of native Costarricans and their culture and also let them purchase some very authentic items as goods souvenirs of the trip.

These are the souvenir places I recommend for your group of students when on your future visit to Costa Rica.

Paulo Segura ● Appleseed Expeditions Guide

Notes From The Field: Safety Tips for School Groups Visiting Costa Rica

Over a million Americans visited Costa Rica in 2015, and more and more are staying and retiring.  Costa Rica is considered one of the top ten safest small countries in the world, and the safest country in Central America. History shows that Costarricans are by nature map crvery peaceful.  In fact, in 1948 Costa Rica was one of the first countries in the world that abolish military forces. Education is a great advantage; the budget that could have been used for military forces has been invested in education.  Costa Rica’s 98% literacy rate is a sign of how successful this has been! All these factors together make Costa Rica a very safe country to travel.   Even still, it is always important to take precautions when traveling with your groups, here are my safety suggestions for your trip:

Research the company that you will be using for your trip. Tourism is the industry that creates the most jobs in Costa Rica, so Costarricans are very involved in protecting this industry.  Since is such a big industry, competition is big.  Do your research by looking at Tripadvisor, blogs, and find out more about who will lead your trip.

Costa Rica is not a very crowded Country, but San José, the capital, does get crowded.  It is important to remind your group not to wear valuable items while walking in the city and always walk in groups of at least 3 people.

Costa Rica is a tropical country.  At 12 degrees north of the equator line, you have to be extra cautious with the sun.  Also it gets buggy in certain areas, so I recommend waiting until you get to Costa Rica to buy the insect repellent that locals recommend.

It is a normal that when traveling, unexpected things happen.  Research or ask your guide to always find the most convenient medical facility that would be available in case it is needed.

At Appleseed Expeditions we always ask for important information from our groups such as: dietary requirements, allergies, medications if taken, and emergency contact information. All this information comes very handy for the guide in case anything happens on the trip. We also register all groups with STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program).  STEP is a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.  safety

One last tip for the safety of your trip: make sure the group plays attention to safety talks when on any adventure tour such zip lining or rafting. 95% of accidents during this kind of activity happen because of people not following the instructions provided by the guides.

I hope this information will be useful for your future group trip to Costa Rica, stay safe and travel with Appleseed Expeditions, as we put safety first.

Paulo Segura ● Appleseed Expeditions Guide

Notes From The Field: Best Volcanoes to Visit on a School Trip to Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a very volcanic country formed by tectonic activity, volcanism and sedimentation. There are a total of 112 volcanoes, including 5 that are considered active in Costa Rica. I have gathered together what in my opinion are the best volcanoes to visit with your school group.

DSC03218Arenal Volcano:  One of the most famous volcanoes on the planet, Arenal was in the top 14 most active volcanoes in the world for 42 years from 1968 (when it started the current active period) until 2010. It is still nowadays, as there haven’t been any eruptions since 2010. During those 42 years of constant activity it was common to see lava rocks falling off the side of the crater all the way down to the base of Arenal.  Arenal is the only conically shaped volcano in Costa Rica, and it is surrounded by tropical rain forest. There are many mineral hot springs to visit in this area where your group can soak in these thermal waters. The best way to get to see this volcano is to visit the Arenal National Park and walk on the impacted lava area from the 1968 eruption.  This gives a beautiful view point which allows your group to appreciate the majesty of this amazing volcano.

Poás Volcano: This volcano is only 20 minutes from the main inDSC06827ternational airport in Costa Rica. The drive to the volcano is beautiful as you will see coffee plantations, cattle pastures, mountains and a beautiful view of the city. Once you enter the National Park, it only takes 15 minutes of a walk to reach the crater, which means as you drive to the park you are already on the volcano! Poás is an active volcano, with a beautiful turquoise lagoon in the crater.  The vegetation on the top is evergreen and usually you can see beautiful flowers on the path to the crater.

Irazú Volcano: This is the highest volcano in Costa Rica, and is located only an hour a half away from down town San José. Irazú is considered an active volcano, and once you enter the park it only takes 10 minutes to walk to one of the two craters that you can see from the top.  One crater is dormant and one is active. After about 20 minutes of walking from the craters you will reach a view point, and on a clear day, you will be able to see Turrialba Volcano (currently the most active volcano in Costa Rica), the Caribbean Sea, and most of the Central Valley. Irazú is a beautiful volcano and a great place to visit with your student group.

mudRincón de la Vieja Volcano: Just like Arenal Volcano, Rincón de la Vieja doesn´t have an easy access to the crater, but this is the volcano where you can appreciate the most secondary activity, such as fumaroles (an opening in or near a volcano, through which hot sulfurous gases emerge) and hot springs. When you visit the park and walk on the most popular trail called Las Pailas, you will be able to see different forms of fumaroles, in mud ponds, rocks and lagoons. Only a mile away from the entrance of the park, there is a Geothermal Plant producing clean and renewable power.

There are about 15000 volcanoes on the planet and 112 in Costa Rica, all of them unique! When you visit Costa Rica with your group of students, take the opportunity to visit any of these volcanoes as they are extremely interesting and beautiful.

Paulo Segura ● Appleseed Expeditions Guide

Notes From The Field: Top 10 Places to Visit on a School Trip to Costa Rica

Costa Rica has many beautiful areas.  Fifty-two percent of the country is protected, and there are many volcanoes, beaches, waterfalls, rivers, museums, markets and many other attractions and activities, including 28 national parks! In my personal opinion the following are the top 10 places to visit with school groups:

Tortuguero National Park:  Tortuguero is part of system of over a hundred kilometers of rivers, canals and lagoons. Your group can go on a boat trip, walk in the rain forest and during the nesting season, go on a turtle tour at night to see the nesting process of green sea turtles

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve: Home of the Resplendent Quetzal one of the most beautiful birds on the planet, The Monteverde Preserve is the most famous Tropical Cloud Forest in the world. This place is great for groups as it has excellent trails, plenty of teaching opportunities for the guides, hummingbird feeders and beautiful vegetation

waterfallLa Fortuna Waterfall: Located only about 15 minutes driving time from the town of La Fortuna, this waterfall is beautiful, plummeting from 180 feet out of the jungle to a clear pool below.  After a short but strenuous hike of about 500 stairs, your group will get to the base of this majestic waterfall.  There are a couple of swimming spots and excellent views for pictures

Sarapiquí River Rafting: This is an excellent river for school groups as there are both Class 2 and Class 3 rapids.   These are low risk rapids but still a lot of fun for the group

Manuel Antonio Park: This is the smallest National Park in Costa Rica; it combines nature and lots of wildlife along with beautiful beaches.


Manuel Antonio is one of the best places to see animals in Costa Rica. Among the 109 species of mammals and 184 species of birds, some of the frequently viewed residents include white-faced and howler monkeys, sloth and iguanas. The endangered squirrel monkey calls the park home as well – watch your belongings, as they are known for taking off with unattended backpacks, looking for food

Athica Zip line Tour: This zip line adventure is located in La Fortuna area; it includes 9 lines and a Tarzan swing (A rope on a platform where you get to swing in the jungle). The guides are very experienced and they will make sure the adventure will first be safe and then a lot of fun

Tortuga Island: This is a full day adventure!  With Appleseed Expeditions we have been visiting this island for 6 years.  This is a great activity for students;  I recommend visiting with Calypso Tours, they organize transportation, breakfast, lunch, snorkeling and a banana boat ride. The island is really beautiful and the boat ride to get there is very interesting.  You will be able to see other island in the Nicoya Gulf

Rincón de la Vieja National Park: Rincón de la Vieja combines an amazing forest with volcanic activity. Groups of students will have a great opportunity to see secondary activity from an active volcano, learn about it and get amazing pictures. Also there is a good chance to see wildlife as you walk on the trails in this park

DSC03218Arenal Volcano National Park: Arenal Volcano Area is a must see place when you come to visit Costa Rica as it combines the Tropical Rain Forest with the most famous volcano in Costa Rica. Because of the volcanic activity there are many hot springs that groups can visit. But the main attraction is the volcano and the best way to see it is taking a guided walk to the National Park


Poás Volcano National Park: As you are driving to the entrance of the park you are already on the volcano, and once you get to the park after a 10 minute walk, you get to see the crater.  There is a beautiful turquoise lagoon in the crater and usually a fume of gasses coming out. I recommend visiting this place in the morning when there are more chances to see it.

So if you are planning a trip to Costa Rica make sure you include most of these places in your itinerary and if you want to be in the best hands and make your school trip a memorable one, make sure you go with Appleseed Expeditions.

Paulo Segura ● Appleseed Expeditions Guide

Notes From The Field: Best Mode of Transportation for Group Travel in Costa Rica

In order to recommend the best mode of transportation while traveling in Costa Rica, first I have to give you a short description of the kind of terrain you will find on your trip to my beautiful country. Costa Rica has very irregular terrain due to the tectonic and volcanic formation of the country; there are 112 volcanoes in Costa Rica!  Roadways go from sea level to over 10,000ft above sea level, so constructing roads has always been a challenge. The train system works only near San Jose the capital of the country and is in order to get people to and from the city from their rural home locations. There are a few places where traveling by water is a must.Boat to Tortuguero4

Examples would be getting from Puntarenas (the main city in the Pacific) to the Nicoya peninsula, or getting to Tortuguero National Park or to Corcovado National park, as the only way to get to these places is by boat!  Also, when visiting any of the Pacific islands such as Tortuga Island or the world famous Cocos Island, one must travel by water.

Land transportaDSC06775tion is the best option for most group to travel in Costa Rica and a reliable bus company is the best way. At Appleseed Expeditions we have been using an excellent transportation company named Transuca.  They have different sizes of buses and mini buses, and they have been working for over 20 years in Costa Rica and have very experienced drivers.

A great advantage of traveling in a tour bus is that your guide for the trip, has the opportunity to describe what you are seeing, explain more of the country and make the Costa Rican experience rich and educational.  In my experience, as a guide, I usually make a good team with the driver, looking for wildlife on the road, using our experience to think of the best places to stop for coffee or shopping, and the best scenic stops for photos.  We make a team effort to make the trip the best possible for the group.

I hope that this information will help you make the best decisions organizing your group trip to Costa Rica.  Hopefully, you will choose to join Appleseed Expeditions and let us plan everything for you!

Paulo Segura ● Appleseed Expeditions Guide

Notes From The Field: Best Hotels for Groups in Costa Rica

Traveling with groups of students is a big responsibility. Safety and comfort are very important in order to provide the conditions needed for a group to stay in Costa Rica. I will recommend some of the best hotels in the best locations for your group visit.   These are my favorites:

Resort Martino Hotel & Spa: Located about 10 minutes away from the international airport in an area called La Garita near restaurants and even a zoo and animal rescue center, this hotel provides a great location for groups. Martmartinoino has 56 rooms, a large pool, conference rooms (that works really well for group reflections or meetings), an excellent restaurant and very large grounds and gardens. The staff is excellent and go out of their way to accommodate the group’s needs.

Hacienda Guachipelin: This hotel is part of a very large property that includes 3 beautiful waterfalls, hot springs, zip lining, river tubing, horseback riding, hiking trails, swimming pool and the best access to the Rincon de La Vieja National Park, one of my favorite parks guachipelinin Costa Rica with volcanic activity and a beautiful forest. The hotel keeps some of the old buildings from the old Hacienda; this gives the place a nice authentic look. The Hacienda is still working so every morning the workers clean the horses and it is common to see the cows near the hotel. Hacienda Guachipelin has a lot to offer in a safe environment; it is an excellent place for groups of students to stay.

Hotel Montaña Monteverde: Monteverde is a world famous place, and has the most famous Tropical Cloud Forest in the world, making it an area chosen by many scientists to do their research.  Nature is very appreciated in Monteverde, very clean, very green.  Montaña Monteverde is very well located, about a mile from Santa Elena town and about 2 miles from Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve. There are good restaurants in the area near the hotel. The view to the Pacific Ocean from the hotel is breathtaking and it is common to enjoy amazing sunsets from the hotel.  In Monteverde I always take the opportunity to teach about the Cloud Forest, how it is formed and what conditions make it different from other types of tropical forests. This is also in my opinion the best location for night walks in the forest, a completely different way to be in a forest with different activity and a very interesting way to see wildlife.  Excellent staff too!

Volcano Lodge: Volcano  lvolcano lodgeodge is located in one of the most beautiful areas of Costa Rica which is La Fortuna.  This is home of one of the most famous and beautiful volcanoes in the world, Arenal Volcano. This hotel has a view of the volcano form every room (weather permitting), hot springs, beautiful gardens, a great restaurant, security and two pools. The staff at the hotel and restaurant is very friendly. Volcano lodge is definitely a great option for groups in La Fortuna area.

Costa Verde Hotel: This hotel has a sign at the entrance of the hotel that says: “Still more monkeys than people.” Manuel Antonio area monkeyoffers a great combination of tropical forest and the beautiful beaches of the Pacific Ocean in the tropics.  Manuel Antonio is probably the easiest National Park to see wildlife in Costa Rica, it is overwhelming.  I always recommend my groups watch their belongings as the monkeys and raccoons commonly search for food in the unwatched backpacks of tourists. Costa Verde has an excellent location, great views and the opportunity to stay in a place surrounded by forest with the opportunity to see animals in the hotel area.

All these hotels are located either near the main international airport or in the most popular touristic areas in Costa Rica, great places for groups providing great conditions for students and for companies such as Appleseed Expeditions and myself as a guide to work with groups in excellent facilities.

Paulo Segura ● Appleseed Expeditions Guide