Costa Rica has become a popular destination for student travel because of its ability to offer a balance of meaningful experiences. From scientific field studies to cultural emersion and canopy adventures, this Central American country offers teachers the chance to give students an authentic, hands-on learning adventure.
Offering students an educational trip also means asking families to pay for it, which requires thoughtful consideration of expenses. Here is a breakdown of the cost of a school trip to Costa Rica for anyone considering leading a student tour.
Length of stay
One of the first considerations is the number of days you would like to travel. Most educational tour companies have standard offerings, which may be 6, 8, 11 days or more, however, most also allow you to customize a tour length that will fit your needs.
Of course, the longer the stay, the higher the price will be because of additional hotel nights, ground transportation, meals, and excursions. However, a high proportion of the cost will be airfare, so additional days may be worthwhile to maximize the experience.
Plan for each day to be approximately $150 - $200 for each traveler.
Number of travelers
One of the ways you realize value through student travel is through group discounts. An experienced travel provider negotiates group rates for all aspects of your tour, from flights to excursions, which helps keep down the price for an itinerary that is packed with experiences.
For every additional ten people you add to your group, you can estimate a discount of $15 per day per person.
Also related to the number of travelers is the number of adults vs. student travelers. Students typically share a quad room, which means four students share a room with two beds or they are in a bunk bed suite.
Adults, however, are in a double room which brings up the price of the accommodations for those travelers.
Also related to hotels is the issue of quality and pricing. There are a wide range of options when it comes to accommodations in Costa Rica and pricing can denote quality. Beware when price comparing, particularly if you are working with a large, corporate provider who may be concerned with profitability ahead of your comfort and security.
Ask the travel providers upfront for the names of hotels where they would book a group of your size and then check out the hotels online.
You also may need to specify any requests, such as rooms in an enclosed hallway since many of Costa Rica’s hotel walkways are outdoors or distance from town if you’re traveling with older students who may decide to try to slip away in the evening.
Insist on the quality you deserve so you won't be sorry.
High vs. low season
The Low Season in Costa Rica is May 1 through November 15, which is great news for student groups looking to travel during summer or fall breaks. The availability of hotel inventory and excursions during this time will likely save your group $50 - $100 per person. That’s a great savings and something to consider when planning your dates. Frommer's offers great information about Costa Rica's climate and seasons if you want to know more about what to expect.
Some travel providers will promote rates to Costa Rica that are “ground only” or they will offer a base package. These providers will typically help coordinate your tour from the moment you arrive in Costa Rica through departure, however, you will be on your own to book and manage your flights.
There often is not any cost benefit to booking ground packages independently from air. In fact, you take on the responsibility for booking flights and you will not be able to secure the discounts a recognized agent may be able to secure for your group.
Be sure to also check on what is included with a ground package. Meals, excursions, and gratuities can add up quickly so you want to know what costs will be yours beyond the base price if the tour is ala carte.
When you compare rates, be sure you compare true costs of the entire trip and consider the benefits of sharing the responsibilities with a professional provider.
The greatest factor that will influence your rates for airfare will be your departure city.
While low and high season influence your “in country” costs, airlines often adjust flight schedules during the low season, meaning less flights from some airports. Less inventory means less selection for flight times and the same, or slightly higher, prices.
Advanced fares from most airports vary decidedly from $400 to $750, so choose your departure city wisely. A traveler planner will be able to help you with making a choice that works in terms of convenience and affordability for your group.
All-inclusive packages include transfers and in-country transportation. Quality is one of the questions to ask about when working with your travel provider. If you have any special request, like WiFi, outlets, or DVD players, be sure to communicate those to your planner.
Another consideration is transport to and from your home airport. Some groups are responsible for providing their own transportation to and from the airport while others may want to travel as a group to the departure terminal. This depends on a few things like the proximity of your group members’ homes to your departure airport and the size of your airport. For example, drop offs at O’Hare in Chicago may be more of an inconvenience than drop-offs at Milwaukee's Mitchell International Airport.
A coach bus for group transport will add approximately $20 - $40 per traveler.
Travel Insurance protects the investment made by your students’ families. Most policies refund travel expenses if a trip is canceled according to the policy’s terms and conditions. Travel Insurance also provides coverage for medical emergencies, including hospitalization and evacuation.
Many all-inclusive plans include travel insurance, but may require that you acknowledge the purchase of the insurance which can not be included as an expense without consent by the purchaser.
If travel insurance is not included, check rates for you group, which range from $35 - $70 depending on group size and age of the insured.
Since payment for medical services can be required upfront, wihtout insurance you may be held responsible to pay for the medical services of anyone in your group and then seek repayment from the family, which can be a sticky situation for a teacher. Insurance should eliminate the need to pay cash or charge medical services.
Tours and Excursions
On an educational tour, you want to have experiences unlike those you can have anywhere else. Touring a coffee plantation like the Doka Estate to learn about environmentally responsible practices, visiting an animal rescue like the Proyecto Asis to assist with daily care, or zip lining through the canopy. There are so many opportunities in Costa Rica that the greatest challenge is prioritizing.
Your travel planner will help you align your tours and excursions with your curricular goals. Most tours are programmed to highlight the best of Costa Rica’s regions and include cultural enrichments and adventure activities in addition to scientific discovery.
Adding additional excursions beyond the programming can add to the price of your trip. For example, horseback riding in Arenal can run an additional $75 per person. Make sure your itinerary pricing includes the excursions you expect.
The people who will make your trip an experience of a life time will be your guides and drivers. They are in the service industry, so gratuities are appreciated for a job well done.
If you are working with an all-inclusive provider, gratuities should be included for you, which eliminates the need for you to collect money from families. If not, be sure to collect gratuities in advance of your trip at a parent night or from students before leaving.
It is difficult to do a collection when on the road, but if you need to do this, collect money at the beginning of your tour and estimate $10 / day per traveler to cover hotel services like bag handling and maid service, guides on location and daily guides, and drivers. It can add up. For example, if your tour pricing does not include gratiutites, you may need an additional $100 per person for a ten day trip.
Travel Documents / Passports
You will want to make sure everyone traveling with your group has a valid passport. Keep in mind, passports must not expire within six months of your re-entry, so verify everyone has a valid passport.
Your tour coordinator also will need to collect passport information in order to book airline tickets, so this will be another safety to ensure validity.
Passports do add to the expense and paperwork of an international tour. For anyone over the age of 16, a first-time passport will cost $135 and renewal is $110. For children under the age of 16, a passport application needs to be processed in person at an acceptance facility. The cost is $105 for first-time applicants under the age of 16. For more information, see the U.S. Passports & International Travel page on the State Department’s Website.
Parents always ask how much money to send with students for souvenirs and treats like ice cream or chips that a student might want between meals.
If you use an all-inclusive provider, the answer is simply whatever you are comfortable with sending, which is typically between $50 - $100. I always recommend sending only as much as you are comfortable losing.
If you go with a ground-only company and your students will need to pay for excurions, meals, or tips along the way, you will need to tally the amount students will need and give pointers for keeping money safe when traveling.
There are so many competing interests for a family’s financial resources, so it makes sense that the investment in a school trip be worthwhile and understood. It is important to consider the value of an educational tour of Costa Rica and to be prepared to help parents understand the price and benefits in order to gain their support.
You also may be interested in reading the article The Price of School Trips and How to Explain the Value.
To start planning, please be in touch by calling 1-800-900-1776 or by completing an online request for information here.