Spanish Immersion Programs in Costa Rica & Ecuador: Learn Spanish & Volunteer
Common Ground International’s Spanish immersion volunteer programs are the best Spanish Immersion trips for Students, Professionals, Adults & Families.
Our programs are designed to help you learn Spanish while you volunteer in the community. These trips are led by Spanish teachers focused on helping you speak more Spanish! We provide a small team of coordinators & Spanish teachers who are always available for you while you’re on immersion. We’re intentional on programs about everything we do, and we’d love to share a trip with you!
These Spanish immersion programs are for: Students, Professionals, Adults, & Families.
Spanish Immersion Programs
Click below on the Spanish Immersion Program that best suits your age, stage and interest. We specialize in Spanish immersion programs for students, adults & families, and professionals. If you don’t see what you’re looking for, contact us for a customized immersion program.
High School Spanish Immersion Trips
When: Summer Break (June & July)
Open to: All High School students who are serious about improving their Spanish. Our clients want a mini study-abroad type of experience during their spring and summer breaks
When: Spring Break & Summer Break
Open to: High School Spanish classes, clubs and groups. Everyone interested in a Spanish language travel program in addition to adventures and cultural immersion is welcome
When: J-Term, Maymester & Summer
Open to: Students wanting a short term study abroad program that teaches Spanish for their degree track and future career
When: February – March, June – August
Open to: Adults wanting a Spanish immersion experience guided by expert Spanish instructors and with embedded community service
When: All Year – whenever it’s best for your family!
Open to: Families wanting a Spanish immersion vacation including host family lodging, language classes with explicit instruction and local volunteer opportunities
Open to: Classroom teachers, Secondary teachers & Spanish teachers wanting a guided Spanish immersion experience. We are expert Spanish instructors ourselves and we embed community service for you
When: February – March, June – August
Open to: Healthcare professionals wanting a Spanish immersion experience guided by expert Medical Spanish instructors and with embedded community health projects
When: February – March, June – August
Open to: Healthcare students wanting a Spanish immersion rotation with expert Medical Spanish instructors and with embedded community health education projects
When you combine Spanish Immersion and volunteering, you require specific preparation. We help you maximize the effects and benefits of your immersion trip. Our online courses are designed to help you hit the ground running on your immersion and volunteer program.
All of CGI’s Spanish Immersion programs include host family lodging. We adhere to strict guidelines for volunteer work. And we give you a chance to take some amazing weekend adventures!
When you search online for “Spanish Immersion programs”, most of the results you see are individual language schools. Some are adventure travel programs or some sort of service learning volunteer experience.
These programs likely include elements of a true Spanish immersion program, but very few incorporate all of them into one like Common Ground does. We’re Spanish teachers, so we know what the right mix is for you to maximize the language benefit from your Spanish immersion program and volunteer experiences.
After doing even brief initial research, you will find that our trips are the absolute best short-term Spanish Immersion in Costa Rica and Ecuador!
Our student travel programs and adult Spanish immersion trips are filled with: adventure, service learning, Spanish immersion classes & host families. We lead several different Spanish immersion programs in Costa Rica and Ecuador annually. Each immersion trip focuses on improving your Spanish proficiency. We give much needed community service to underserved communities in the outskirts of San Jose (Costa Rica) and Quito & Cuenca. Working hard together, we have more fun than you can imagine with unique adventure-travel experiences.
Why would you choose to travel on Spanish immersion with Common Ground?
Our immersion programs cost more than a DIY (do it yourself) trip, and possibly even more than other travel companies. This begs the obvious value question… Why travel on Spanish immersion with Common Ground?
It’s a fair question, and here are some straightforward answers:
You learn more Spanish with Common Ground.
If your goal is to learn as much Spanish as possible, we’re definitely the best program for you. If that’s not your goal, keep searching! It’s not an accident that you learn more Spanish with Common Ground. We’ve specifically designed every aspect of our Spanish immersion programs to support your language acquisition all day, every day. Oh, and by they way, all our trip leaders are Spanish teachers as well – we got your back!
Your trip planning and coordination is easier.
DIY trips are possible, but neither convenient nor do you have complete confidence that your plans will become reality. We’re a language company based in Colorado. You can dial us up and speak English to us at any time! Btw, our CO number also rings abroad – just in case you need to connect with us down there: (303) 684-557.
You arrive to the country more prepared and more ready to learn.
We’ve spent countless hours building out pre-departure preparation courses for you. We don’t want anything to get in the way of your experience. Spanish Immersion realities like culture shock, unmet expectations, situational realities can derail you from learning all you can.
You don’t just live in a community, you get integrated.
Yes you’re a language tourist, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be treated like an outsider! Most any program can throw together a host family experience for you, but we take it much beyond that on our Spanish immersion trips. Your host family is invested in you. You will get to know your family and their values through some specially designed interviews. Additionally, you will partner with a local community organization to work on projects. These projects are in Spanish and make you rub shoulders with everyday people.
You have confidence that the community work you participate in is ethical, sustainable, and actually needed.
One common complaint of international volunteering is that the work Americans do abroad is more about them feeling better. The purpose should be the community they’re supposed to be serving. This happens with one-off activities that have no long-term longevity. Furthermore, sometimes work is irrelevant to the true needs of the community. Our team of well-seasoned leaders take care to satisfy the highest standards for international volunteering on our immersion trips.
Why have we chosen Costa Rica and Ecuador for Spanish Immersion?
Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful countries in Central America. Its lush landscapes and beautifully diverse ecology give you the opportunity to experience the best of Central America’s rainforests, jungles, volcanic mountains and beaches all within a few hundred miles. Costa Rica is a small country replete with beauty and invested in conserving its ecology. In addition to its unmatched beauty, Costa Rica is one of the most stable countries in Central America, and has a long history of welcoming North Americans with hospitality. Its hospitality is matched by an eager willingness to care for its visitors and ensure their safe travels.
Ecuador is also a very stable country to run our Spanish immersion programs in. Not only that, but it is a little less-known to the typical American traveler. It’s amazing mountains, rich indigenous history and culture, & lush Amazon jungles provide a unique opportunity for Spanish immersion travelers to see get into nature as they learn Spanish.
Are there minimum language requirements for CGI’s Spanish Immersion Programs?
Our only requirement of our participants is the willingness to learn Spanish. We don’t have minimum Spanish requirements for our participants, we believe that everyone can learn amazing amounts of Spanish on a high quality immersion program. And our job as immersion program coordinators is to set up the experience to be manageable for the beginner and still challenging for the advanced speaker.
We are not a tour company that happens to provide trips to Costa Rica. We are immersion experts. If you’re looking for an intentional Spanish language experience abroad, we might be a good fit for you. If you’re looking for a travel program without a Spanish language focus, there are probably other organizations that would be better for you to work with.
Proper preparation is key if you want to arrive to your destination ready to soak in all the benefits of Spanish Immersion. If you don’t spend time preparing and you just show up, you will waste precious time in-country trying to ramp up and acclimate yourself to a new culture, establishing realistic expectations, and learning things that you could have known already. We value every second you have in-country; so you will spend approximately 10-15 hours in a specifically designed online pre-departure course for your immersion program. This will help you hit the ground running when you arrive and maximize your language growth and cultural experiences while on immersion.
What about volunteer work on Spanish Immersion; how do you make sure that the community work you do is actually relevant, helpful, ethical & sustainable?
Great question! Our guiding principles for Outreach Work on Spanish Immersion are extremely important. Watch the video to learn more about our guiding principles that are our framework for vetting volunteer opportunities on our immersion programs.
Your host family is a true highlight of your experience on this Spanish Immersion program, and plays an integral role in your Spanish language development.
When we say that you’re joining a 24hr immersion program – that’s what we mean! The learning never stops from the time you wake to the time you go to bed.
Of course there are options to stay in a little casita all to yourself, or even rent a room in the Common Ground house if you need any special arrangements – but you won’t regret your time with your host family!
The language development and cultural knowledge you gain by staying with a Costa Rican family that is truly interested in getting to know you is hard to quantify.
Living with a host family who solely speaks Spanish was a wonderful, occasionally overwhelming, yet beneficial experience. My Spanish comprehension improved dramatically during these 2 weeks, and several of my coworkers have commented on my improved Spanish communication skills. I enjoyed the evenings with the families and felt like a wonderful break having someone else cook and care for me!
What can you expect from the host family lodging aspect of the trip?
You’ll share breakfast and dinner with your host family. ¡Buen provecho!
Average homes in most of Latin America aren’t large, but all of our host families have a private space for you to sleep and keep your things (even valuables) safe. You’ll most likely share a bathroom with others in the family. Your host mother will probably clean up a little while you’re out during the day in an effort to help you feel comfortable and well taken care of.
This is the main reason we want you to stay with a host family while on our Spanish immersion program. Your family will want to know all about what you did on a given day and what your plans are for tomorrow. They will help you learn different ways of saying things and more importantly, provide you with a cultural experience that can’t be “learned” – it must be lived to understand.
Starting Friday at 5:30pm you’re free to explore Costa Rica! We don’t plan any outreach work on Monday mornings so that you can maximize your weekend adventures and enjoy what Costa Rica has to offer in relaxation, eco-tourism, and adventure travel! After you apply to join our Spanish immersion program, we’ll provide you with a list of optional excursions that know will make a fun weekend for you.
Here are a few of the common optional excursions that our students and professionals take while on Spanish immersion:
3 days and two nights at the beach on the Pacific coast. Manuel Antonio boasts a national park with monkeys, sloth, and many other interesting critters. This is a must!
Enjoy a day trip to Poas volcano just outside the Central Valley. This tour lasts about 5 or 6 hours, and you get a chance to hike up to the vista points to see down into the crater.
3 days and two nights in La Fortuna with active Arenal Volcano. Join the zipline canopy tour, bathe in thermal pools, there is very little more relaxing.
If you like coffee, this 3-4 hour excursion in Heredia is an absolute necessity. Learn the process of cultivating, harvesting, and roasting coffee – and the history of coffee presented by entertaining actors. It’s a wonderful tour and a great spot to stock up on coffee to take back home.
3 days and two nights out at Tortuguero National park. See amazing wildlife abounds, and turtles laying eggs
A beautiful island off the port town of Puntarenas. This is an all day tour, about 12 hours total. Take a catamaran ride out to the island for an elegant meal on the beach and spend the rest of the afternoon snorkeling, playing soccer, volleyball, or just relaxing in the shade of the palm trees.
Costa Rica has been producing cacao for centuries – but only in the last decade has it actually been producing fine chocolates. Sibú Chocolates is one of the pioneers in organic, sustainable Central American chocolate, and it’s some of the best chocolate you’ve ever tasted!
The Toucan Rescue Ranch is a great 2-3hr experience to see endangered animals in Costa Rica that have been rescued.
The owner is a wonderful lady and personally takes you around her rescue and introduces you to her birds, owls, sloths and other animals that she is rehabilitating.
Our trip leaders will seek the attention of a health care worker in Costa Rica and make decisions along with parent/guardians/emergency contacts back in the US. We will be in touch with parent/guardians/emergency contacts as soon as possible. We will also help the participant initiate the process for claims on the travel/medical insurance policy that was purchased.
Usually this is not an issue. We have several host families that can accommodate to food allergies and dietary restrictions. Please let your trip coordinator know ahead of time so we can prepare for this accommodation.
If there is an issue with your host family, trip leaders will be very involved and be able to make a quick switch to find a family that is a better match for you.
Yes. Year after year more and more host families have Wi-Fi in their homes. Additionally you are able to connect to Wi-Fi at the language school. There are also 2 Internet cafes in the center of town that you can use for a minimal price.
You will be involved in at least 3 virtual pre-departure meetings beginning 1-2 months before your departure. During these meetings you will have a chance to meet the other participants, learn specific trip details and itineraries, start working in groups on your volunteer projects, and a number of other things.
From about May/June through October/November it is rainy season. The sun may shine in the morning (and it will be humid), but it will certainly rain in the afternoon (but it’s usually not a cold rain). December through April is dry season. It will be sunny, humid, and may rain here and there.
October – March Costa Rica is on Central Time. April – September it is on Mountain Time. October – March Ecuador is on Eastern time, April – September Ecuador is on Central Time.
This is actually the #1 reason we chose to have our Spanish Immersion Programs in Costa Rica and Ecuador. Costa Rica have a long history of peacefulness and political stability, and it hosts over 1.5 million tourists a year. Tourism is a very large portion of the country’s economy, which means that in general tourists are treated very well. For many years Ecuador has attracted a great deal of international attention and tourism to its Galapagos islands and the interior of the country is stable and peaceful as well. One of the biggest factors contributing to your safety while on Spanish immersion with Common Ground is that you’re traveling with a group, and you have a Common Ground leader with you. We’re there by your side day to day to help you keep your focus on improving your Spanish.
The bulk of the time you spend in Costa Rica is in a small town called Santo Domingo de Heredia. This town is about 20 minutes N of the capital city San Jose. The language school where you will walk to every morning is about 600m south of the downtown area on the main road. In Ecuador we stay in host families as well. Otavalo is a beautiful colonial and mountain city about 1 hr outside of Quito – it’s known for its large outdoor indigenous market surrounded by beautiful mountains.
You will be staying in a middle-class home setting. You can expect the home and your bedroom to be small. Your bed probably won’t be as comfortable as your bed is here in the US. Most homes have tile floors, no carpet. Most families do not have dish washers nor clothes driers. You may be given a couple different keys for the home: one for the exterior gate off the street, and another for the actual doors to the house.
Your host families may speak a little English, particularly if they have school aged children. However, we encourage them to not let you know. The best way for you to continue learning Spanish is to have to use it!
This depends. In Ecuador you may have another participant from our program staying with you in your host family. Usually in Costa Rica you are paired 1:1 with a host family. When possible we like to limit the number of students to one per family. This increases your opportunities to speak Spanish. If you’re traveling with a sibling we’ll make an effort to place you in neighboring host families so that you’re at least close to each other. If you’re traveling with your spouse for some or all of the time, then yes we can place you in the same family.
Having a student is a significant boost to our host families’ income. Because there are more families requesting students in the town than we have need for, we are selective in who we employ to host you. The host families that our students stay with are screened for various things:
- Criminal and/or questionable social activity
- Suitability of the living quarters that you will occupy
- General “likeability” and friendliness
- Availability of a family member at the home during the hours you are scheduled to be there
- Age and sex of the family’s children. We would not place a teen girl with a family that has teen boys for example.
- Proximity to the language school
Certainly, there aren’t a ton of different faith options in town, but there is a nice Catholic church in the middle of town with several service times throughout the week, an evangelical church close to the town center center and several other faith worship options in nearby towns.
Yes, you will be able to shower every day. There is no guarantee that your shower will have warm water, but you’ll certainly have access to a shower.
You can drink water from the tap almost anywhere in Costa Rica. In Ecuador you need to drink bottled water. If you’re on our program and we’re headed to a place where water is not safe to drink, we’ll certainly let you know and have you get bottled water.
Absolutely. Most of the time the program cost is spread out over 3 payments. If you need other specific arrangements, we can probably be flexible with you. If you’d like to make just one payment, that’s fine too. Acceptable forms of payment are Visa, Master, Discover, Check and Cash.
Yes. Shortly after your register, you will receive a list of clothes, personal items, donations you need to begin collecting, and other miscellaneous items to pack as soon as we receive your application.
Typically 60 – 90 days. If you have any questions about how to get a passport, you can find information here.
Some do, not all. This depends on your service provider and your specific phone, so check with your service provider first. If your specific phone isn’t capable, most service providers have world phone rental options. This isn’t usually the most economical way to call home when you’re in Costa Rica or Ecuador. You can purchase local chips you arrive to the country. We recommend using Skype, What’sApp or FaceTime. If you won’t have a computer with you, your Common Ground trip leader always will and you’re welcome to use our computers to call home.
Absolutely. Of course it’s always a good idea to have a little cash on you in Colones (Costa Rican currency) or USD for Ecuador (Ecuador is on the US dollar), but honestly you don’t need much right away when traveling with a Common Ground Spanish Immersion group. After you get settled into your host family, we’ll make sure you have the opportunity to get local currency right away. We do not recommend exchanging you money at the airport as they generally have unfavorable exchange rates. Credit & Debit cards are accepted throughout the country, and ATM machines are more and more common every year. The ATM is convenient, and usually provides a good exchange rate. It is important to notify your bank that you will be traveling abroad, and you’ll probably want to inquire about any foreign transaction and/or currency fees.
You will most likely have the same guide and driver for your group the whole time you are on the program with Common Ground, and our destination is further than walking distance. In the mornings we will head to our volunteer site together (either walking or on the private bus). In the afternoons we will leave the outreach work site and head to the language school. During the weekend excursions we will certainly be on the private bus with guide and driver chaperoning our travels.
A good rule of thumb is $2-$3/day that our driver is shuttling you around, and $3-$5/day that a guide is leading you. They work very hard for you, and we take great pleasure in thanking them generously at the end of our programs.
Many spouses, fiancées, friends and other family members join our groups for a portion of the program. We’re happy to arrange this for you with both your host family, and any private hotel accommodations that you require while on vacation portions of the program. If this is something you’re considering, we just ask that you let us know early on so that we can make appropriate arrangements for you. This is not a last minute decision that you can make, it does require special arrangements, so we ask that you notify us at the time you submit your application.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to not budget enough money for additional expenses. The challenge is that this is a question that depends heavily on your tastes and the specifics of the program you’re applying for. To give you an idea of the typical expenses you may be responsible for: a normal lunch will usually run $5.00-$7.00; dinner runs $7.00 – $15.00. Optional excursions are something you should also plan for, but each program is very different. These excursions really add some amazing experiences to your Spanish Immersion Program. Tips excluded (see tips FAQ question), if you were to not include any additional excursions, and live as frugally as possible for the time you’re there, you should plan on $150 for a 2 week program and $300 for the 4 week program.
The best approach however, is to take a look at the specific itinerary for your program that highlights the expenses you’re responsible for, and begin planning your additional expenses accordingly.
Of course you need to be current on your standard immunizations before you travel on Spanish immersion. We always suggest that you consider taking some sort of malaria prophylaxis. Additionally, when traveling anywhere in Central America there is also a risk of Typhoid, Yellow Fever, and Hepatitis A and B. We suggest you consult both the CDC website for Costa Rica and CDC website for Ecuador and check with your primary care physician to prepare for your Spanish Immersion in Costa Rica or Ecuador.