Location Spotlight: Monteverde, Costa Rica

Near the end of trimester one, our students spent an exciting two weeks in the beautiful town of Monteverde. To keep you engaged with our students’ journey, we’re giving you an in-depth look of the town.

Monteverde is known for its high altitude of 4,662 ft (1,440 m) above sea level, which places it directly in the clouds. Thanks to these clouds and the moisture they provide, the town has an incredible amount of biodiversity. This variety of species makes the town a big spot for ecotourism, and a great place to visit or study.

The community of Monteverde itself began when four pacifist Quakers from Alabama sought to find a place to embrace peace and cultivate their dairy farms. In 1950, some of the Quaker families moved to Costa Rica. Then, they began to establish Monteverde with some of the area natives. Today, Monteverde has about 7,000 permanent residents. The town is also home to environmental organizations, the Monteverde Conservation League and the Monteverde Institute, where our students are lucky enough to study.

Costa Rica Rainbow
Costa Rica Rainbow | Photo By: Our Field Advisor, Sarah

The Monteverde Institute was founded with the vision to build “a sustainable community for a sustainable world”. The Institute brings attention to, and attempts to find solutions for, local issues affecting the community. All food comes from local sources, and the facilities are environmentally efficient. They achieve this status by collecting rainwater, using biodegradable cleaning supplies, recycling, and using passive solar energy and natural lighting.

In addition to giving back to the environment, the Institute gives back to the people of it’s community. Our students participate in homestays through the Monteverde Institute! Families who host don’t just receive compensation. They are also able to participate in programs and classes specifically geared toward them, such as a sustainability and energy audit.

Winterline Homestay
Natanielle coloring with the kids at her homestay | Photo By: Alex Messitidis
Alex Messitidis
Making new friends in Costa Rica at homestays. | Photo By: Alex Messitidis

During their homestays, our students complete an Independent Student Project (ISP). Each person gets to pick a study focus, and some of the options are truly unique. For example, some of our students get to process coffee, all the way from farming to brewing. Others paint their own batiks, creating a cloth that expresses their individuality. Others still participate in tree climbing, a home bakery business, or upcycle discarded materials like tires to create new products. Spanish conversation and foot reflexology are also two popular options.

Ingrid’s Bakery, one of our Independent Study Locations | Photo By: Alex Messitidis

The rest of the ISP programs include making handcrafted paper, woodworking, mapping, working in aqueducts, tropical farming, horsemanship, dairy farming, natural building, and bird tracking. With all these options, each student is sure to find something new that they love. In fact, it’s probab;y hard to pick just one!

Charlie making a silk batik while at his independent study | Photo From: Charlie Dickey
Students baking for their independent study project | Photo By: Alex Messitidis

Monteverde is full of incredible opportunities not just for our students, but for visitors of all kinds. Whether you’re after ecological learning or cultural immersion, this breathtaking town is sure to draw you in. 

Location Spotlight: Rancho Mastatal

Both of our Gap Year cohorts are currently in Costa Rica, and they’ve just finished up their time at the one-of-a-kind farm within a rainforest, Rancho Mastatal. While there, our students worked with the community to learn how to live sustainably and reduce their carbon footprint.

Climate change is real and it’s happening now. The way we live impacts the Earth, and that means we have the power to decide how much of an effect we have. We hope that the visit to Rancho Mastatal teaches our students not only to be kinder to the earth, but to each other as well.

Rancho Mastatal
Sam and Savannah | Photo By: Meagan Kindrat

Rancho Mastatal cares a lot about the people around them. They source their food and building materials locally and “support regional efforts for clean water, healthy food, fertile agricultural land, and safe, naturally constructed buildings”, according to their mission. This focus on community resilience is a lesson students can apply to both home and wherever they travel. While there, the students bunk in communal living, teaching them patience, practice, and balance. Learning to live peacefully and share resources with others is a skill that will go far for students. It’ll come in handy when they get to college and have roommates!

Rancho Mastatal Living
Rancho Mastatal Living

Of course, our students learn a lot about the environment at Rancho Mastatal. A sustainability lesson shows how climate change affects the area of Mastatal. Individuals also learn how they can change their habits to prevent further damage. Students learn about permaculture, a way of agriculture that mimics the patterns and relationships found in nature. This method allows for the reuse of outputs as inputs, minimizes work, and restores environments. Learning permaculture gives students the tools to be ethical and responsible consumers. This means producing their own food when possible or choosing wisely when they shop.

Dini and Samir getting their hands dirty. | Photo By: Rancho Mastatal

To further protect the environment and its species, Rancho Mastatal created its own wildlife refuge, consisting of an amazing 200 acres of land. Rainforests contain an enormous variety of species, and this area is no exception. Refuge areas like this one are integral to preserving the livelihood of the plant and animal species who call the rainforest home.

Whitaker and Sam
Whitaker and Sam making juice. | Photo By: Patrick Galvin

Natural building is also a huge focus here. This means building with native and unprocessed materials: wood, earth, straw, natural grasses, bamboo, stone and rocks, and manure. Students learn the different techniques used to build with these materials, like timber frame construction or lime and earthen plasters. You can take a look at some of the infrastructure built with these methods and materials. Not only are building materials natural, but so is the energy use. Rancho Mastatal uses solar energy for power, hot water, and cooking. The ranch also uses biogas, rocket stoves, composting toilets, and wonderbags and hayboxes which minimize fuel use when cooking. Food is sourced locally and prepared by hand without the use of tools like microwaves. The goals at Rancho Mastatal are to make meals cost-efficient, nutritional, and sustainable.

Elaine learning woodworking by handcrafting a spoon | Photo By: Patrick Galvin

Our students learn a wealth of information about living green. Simultaneously, they get to help the the residents – human, plant, and animal – in Costa Rica. Every day is something different, and no experience here is replicable anywhere else. Rancho Mastatal is truly a one-of-a-kind adventure.

For more information about Rancho Mastatal, be sure to check out our Rainforest Living Short Program and Rancho’s Website.

Location Spotlight: Ridge to Reef Expeditions, Belize

Both of our groups have been basking in the beauty of tropical Belize, where they’ve had the opportunity to work with our partner Ridge to Reef Expeditions. Ridge to Reef, or R2R, was founded in 2014 by the non-profit organization Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE) to manage protected areas.

Photo By: Christian Lillie
Photo By: Christian Lillie

R2R focuses on environmental awareness, using natural resources, and sustainable economic development. These are three skills that our students comprehend and demonstrate everywhere they go. The program is structured specifically for volunteers, making it a great fit with Winterline.

One of the main concerns in Belize was the decline of manatee populations due to hunting and gill netting. R2R continues to work on protecting vulnerable and endangered species today. TIDE reported that a recent study showed 10% of manatee sightings were calves, meaning there’s strong reproductive activity. This shows how the hard work of researchers, scientists, and volunteers is paying off!

Photo By: Ridge to Reef
Photo By: Ridge to Reef

Our students work alongside these experts to learn about the interconnectedness of forests, rivers, and reefs in the Maya Mountain Marine Corridor. This is where the name Ridge to Reef comes from – the holistic focus on protecting the entirety of the ecosystem.

As important as the conservation work is, volunteers also get the weekends to relax and explore. Students get to explore the temples, learn to make (and taste) chocolate, swim in waterfalls, and zipline through the jungle. There’s never a dull moment in Belize!

Photo By: Meagan Kindrat

Check out the R2R website to learn more, read testimonials, see beautiful pictures, and find a trip for yourself!

Location Spotlight: NOLS

Last week, we highlighted the YMCA of the Rockies for you. Now, our groups have moved on to Lander, Wyoming, where they spend 11 days with our partner NOLS: the National Outdoor Leadership School.

Meagan Kindrat NOLS

Photos by: Meagan Kindrat

NOLS was founded in Sinks Canyon, Wyoming in 1965 by Paul Petzoldt, whose dream was to train leaders who could live sustainably in the wilderness and pass on their knowledge to others.

This leadership theme is still prominent. Today, NOLS prides itself on teaching the core curriculum of leadership, wilderness skills, risk management, and environmental studies. Just a few of the things our students learn include how to sleep outside and stay warm, cooking over a single burner stove, navigation, and bonding under adversity, all led by the highly qualified instructors.

Of course, another perk of NOLS is the breathtaking location. Wyoming is proof that beauty is everywhere in nature; you don’t need to be on a beach to get a great view.

Meagan Kindrat NOLS

The beautiful mountains of the Northwest.

Meagan Kindrat NOLS

Snow already? Not so unusual for Wyoming.

Blue Cohort goofing around in some free time.

Meagan Kindrat NOLS

NOLS teaches our students how to stay safe in the woods when the sun goes down.


NOLS has plenty of opportunities for both teens and adults, including programs that offer college and continuing education credits. Check it out for yourself!



*all photos by Meagan Kindrat

Location Spotlight: Estes Park, Colorado

Blue Cohort having fun at Orientation | Photo by: Dini Vermaat

Our Gap Year program kicks off with orientation at YMCA of the Rockies located in Estes Park, Colorado. We begin our adventure by introducing students to Winterline while laying the foundation for the rest of the year.

It’s amazing that we get to learn and play in such a beautiful place. Surrounded on three sides by Rocky Mountain National Park, YMCA of the Rockies offers an environment inspired by nature where friends and family can grow closer together while enjoying the natural beauty of the world around them. During their stay in Estes Park our students participate in group discussion, games, and team building activities to strengthen their bond before they embark on their 9 month trip.

Green Cohort playing morning games
Anna and Lex during team-building
Green cohort working as a team
Elk hanging out at YMCA of the Rockies


Do you want to learn more about Estes Park and YMCA of the Rockies?
Check out our fast facts listed below.

  • YMCA of the Rockies has more than 860 acres of Colorado beauty.
  • Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park are home to around 3,000 elk.
  • The national park covers 415 square miles of wildflowers and mountain views.
  • The town of Estes Park is one of the highest-rated family destinations in the United States.
  • While staying at the YMCA our students have the opportunity to hike, roller skate, do yoga, observe wildlife, build campfires, and play miniature golf and other outdoor sports.
  • There are over 300 miles of trails to be hiked in Rocky Mountain National Park.
  • Elk, big horn sheep, marmots, squeaking pikas, and the iridescent broad-tailed hummingbird all find their home in Estes Park.
  • The national park is great for climbing with peaks ranging from 12,000-14,000 feet above sea level.
  • YMCA of the Rockies sits at an elevation of 8,010 feet.
  • Rocky Mountain National Park has more than 265,000 of acres ready to be explored.