Get away from the hustle and bustle of home and step into the quiet towns and villages of the Bribri Reservation in Costa Rica. As your team lives and serves in the tight-knit community of Shiroles, you’ll meet people who care deeply about their natural environment, provide for their families through agriculture, and work hard to maintain their indigenous culture. But you’ll also find this to be one of the poorest communities in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica mission trips are open to groups of all ages, including youth mission trips, which provide students a well-rounded, international experience—practicing their Spanish, teaching local children through Kids Club, and rolling up their sleeves for work projects. It’s a rare opportunity to experience life in a little-known corner of Central America and connect with indigenous people who are often overlooked. Will you serve alongside hard-working people who have a vision to improve their community?
Want to preview Costa Rica Mission Trips? Check out EM Vision Trips for team leaders.
EM's Costa Rica mission trips are to the southeast region of Costa Rica called Talamanca. You will be working on the Bribri Reservation, which consists of many miles of some of the least developed areas in Costa Rica.
The main city on the Bribri Reservation is the city of Bribri. This is the first town that you will come to as you enter the reservation. Beyond the town of Bribri, there are only dirt roads, and they basically consist of a loop that runs through several small communities including Suretka and Shiroles. This area is the most developed portion of the Bribri land. As you go farther into the interior of the Reservation, there are many villages scattered throughout remote Talamanca mountain range that are only accessible by foot. While the actual population of the Bribri Reservation is unknown, it is estimated that there may be around 11,000 inhabitants.
Suretka is a main port on the Telire River, and it is the point of departure for many people traveling to the less developed areas. From here banana boats pass to and from the village of Coroma where they pick up bananas and plantains. There are also passenger boats that carry people up river to visit Coroma and more remote villages. EM occasionally brings experienced and adventurous teams to villages such as Coroma and the even more remote Alto Coen.
The Bribri are indigenous to Costa Rica, and their traditional culture dates back hundreds of years. They were originally discovered by early Spanish explorers, but because of the rugged mountainous terrain where they reside, their culture has been preserved more than that of most tribes. It was not until the late 1800's that the Bribri began to have regular contact with Europeans, and the Bribri land was virtually inaccessible until the 1970s. Traditionally, the Bribri were governed by a hierarchy of chieftains, but this has gradually eroded with growing European influence.
Today, the Bribri are very much their own distinct culture, but there is a great deal of outside influence. They are ultimately under the Costa Rican government, but they have their own president and governing council. Most Bribri desire access to modern healthcare and education but still value their traditional culture and way of life.
The natural landscape is a mountainous jungle. The lush vegetation produces many tropical fruits, and the Bribri will also tell you that there are numerous medicinal herbs and plants. Temperatures are generally hot and humid and mosquitoes can be an issue. During the rainy season, which includes the summer months, torrential downpours are not uncommon. Local wildlife includes monkeys, anteaters, iguanas, geckos and various species of tropical birds. Throughout the jungles, it is believed that wild boars and occasionally jaguars still roam. Rivers and streams run all throughout the Bribri Reservation, and they are a primary means of transportation and survival.
Most Bribri households are without electricity and running water. Many still live in traditional huts, but some also have European style concrete and board houses. It is often the case that large families live in very small areas. In the developed part of the Bribri Territory, some people do have electricity and modern technology such as radio, TV, and cell phones. The Bribri lands are very rural, and most people depend on farming to make a living.
In the interior, the Bribri live with little or no modern amenities. When EM staff and volunteers first visited the village of Alto Coen, they found that the villagers had not seen Americans for many years. Alto Coen is only accessible on foot, and a boat ride is the most common way to gain access to the trailhead. Men from the village occasionally travel back to more populated areas to get food and supplies, and they have obtained farm animals such as pigs and chickens, but for the most part, they live off the land. They can survive entirely from food that grows in the jungle, and they make their homes from trees and leaves. Beyond Alto Coen, there are villages that are even more remote.
The Bribri Reservation is the poorest section of Costa Rica with the lowest income per capita and limited access to education and healthcare. In the developed area, there are schools, and there is a medical clinic near the town of Bribri; however, there is a great need for improved facilities in both of these areas. Income is so low that people often barely can afford food and clothes and adequate shelter is difficult to maintain. Because of this, many families live in homes that are very small and dilapidated.
In the less populated jungle communities, there are very few schools and medical facilities. Where there are schools and clinics, they are minimal and are in need of improvement. Further, teachers and doctors are in short supply. Some of the rivers that run through the area are very treacherous, and in the remote areas, there are not adequate bridges. Lives have been lost from people trying to cross the rivers by swimming or deep wading, and there have even been fatalities from inadequate bridges. In Alto Coen, the village is divided by the Coen River, and they are in the process of building a 400-foot suspension bridge with aid from EM volunteers and the Costa Rican government. There is a similar need for bridges in many other remote villages.
The Bribri have their own indigenous language, and in villages such as Coroma and Alto Coen many people only speak Bribri. In the developed area, most people speak both Bribri and Spanish. As the Bribri have more contact with the outside world, Latin-American culture and the Spanish language are becoming more prominent. In fact, some of the Bribri children only speak Spanish. In recent years, the Bribri language has been written down, and there is now a Bribri translation of the Bible.
Many of the Bribri on the reservation would call themselves Christians, but there is also a great deal of adherence to ancient Bribri religion. In the more remote areas, there is definitely influence from Christianity, but most people do not seem to have a deep understanding of the gospel or any significant knowledge of the Bible. In these places, some form of the traditional religion is generally practiced.
The Bribri are very spiritual, and their god is named Sibķ. They have a rich tradition of mythology, and this is used to explain various aspects of the natural world. As is common among indigenous tribes, the Bribri have a great deal of respect and awe of nature, and they tend to be animistic. The spiritual leaders of the traditional Bribri are medicine men or shamans, and they possess in-depth knowledge of the medicinal uses of natural plants and herbs.
For general information about Costa Rica, consult The CIA World Factbook.
The Bribri and Cabecar tribes dwell primarily in the Talamanca Valley and surrounding mountains, which make up the region of Talamanca in southeastern Costa Rica. Their occupation of these lands dates back hundreds and perhaps even thousands of years. While they have been influenced by the modern world, they retain much of their historical culture and lifestyle. The indigenous people are very savvy, but because of ongoing poverty and economic challenge, they will truly be blessed by your service.
Your team will partner with the local churches and community leaders and practically serve the people around you by meeting tangible needs. You will build meaningful relationships, and if you come with a genuine heart to serve and connect with people, you will encourage those around you as you become a living picture of God's love.
Your team will assist with significant work projects which may be focused on serving an individual family or a community as a whole. Examples of potential projects would be building an addition or repairing a floor for a family's home or working on the facilities for a local school or church. You may be pounding nails, mixing cement, of even digging a hole. Whatever your specific task you will have a significant role in touching the life of another person in need. Previous construction experience may be helpful, but none is required. It is most important that you come with a willing heart, and you are ready to serve to the best of your ability.
In this community, connecting with the local children through children's ministry is an important part of what we do each day. Teams coming to this community must expect to participate in Kids Club. Experience Mission will provide the curriculum for your teams use. This Kids Club curriculum will be sent out to Team Leaders in the spring via email. Your team may be asked to participate in multiple Kids Clubs and avenues of ministering to children.
Teams will be responsible to bring the craft supplies needed for their specific crafts and should budget appropriately. While we do our best to make sure the craft materials are cost effective, teams may feel free to augment any materials to make them more suitable to their budget. Experience Mission will supply scissors, staplers, paper hole punches and rulers. There are plenty of opportunities to connect with the local children through games like soccer or Frisbee. Tuck in a hackysack, soccer ball, or jump rope as they are sure to come in handy.
* Experience Mission works closely with local leaders to identify work projects and ministry opportunities that address authentic needs within the community. We ask that you come with a servant's heart and willingness to adapt to the unique qualities represented in each location. Opportunities can vary significantly from one week to the next. Your team may work at one location or serve at multiple locations each day. Due to the changing needs of our community partners, we cannot confirm your specific activities until your team arrives.
Below is a basic schedule for the week, but we approach this with flexibility because our ultimate focus is on relationships.
Each morning, there is time set aside for devotions and quiet time. Experience Mission has devotionals/journals that are available for purchase or teams can supply their own. This is a valuable time and we strongly encourage everyone to spend it with God journaling their thoughts and experiences as the days unfold.
Our staff will lead a time of debriefing and a short devotional in the evening (what we call "Evening Gathering") and it is always a great addition to have musical worship. Our programming does not include musical worship as we can't guarantee that our our staff will have this ability. Please let us know if you have anyone who sings or plays guitar on your trip so that we can help to coordinate the musical aspect of worship when able. If teams aren't able to help in the area of music, it may not be a part of the trip.
Teams may opt to add an extra day or two to their trip. EM can help arrange the logistics for these additional days but you may not be accompanied by an EM staff member. If your team adds extra days all expenses incurred will be your teams cost and you will need to bring cash/credit to pay for these in person. EM can provide you with estimated quotes but know that your team is responsible for the costs should they be higher than the estimated quote.
Should you add additional days please be sure to talk with your Servicing representative to make sure your personalized logistics are handled.
Due to staffing limitations and varying school schedules in our community locations, Kids Club and Evening Gathering are not offered during spring break trips. We do encourage teams to come prepared to spend some casual free time with the local children playing games, etc. And teams should plan to prepare their own worship and devotional materials for trips from February-May.
Your team will be staying in a local community building. Team members will be sleeping on hard floors, so mats/air mattresses are essential. Bring your own bedding. It is generally warm at night; however, it is cool on occasion. A travel sheet and a light-weight sleeping bag rated down to the mid-50's are ideal. Accommodations will be dormitory style with male and female sections.
Cold outdoor showers will be available for your team. Be prepared to use outhouses for your restrooms.
Purified water will be made available for your teams at all times.
There is electricity at the facilities, but the electrical service is not as dependable as the in United States, so there are occasional outages.
The rooms where team members sleep can be locked, and trustworthy locals will be keeping an eye on the building throughout the day.
Local residents will provide a banquet style breakfast and dinner that will be mostly Costa Rican food. Your team will experience authentic Costa Rican cooking that we have found to be popular with most Americans. Each morning your team will pack lunches for the worksite. Team members should plan to bring their own plate, bowl, cup and silverware for meals.Due to a limited variety of foods available in Costa Rica, EM cannot accommodate any nut or seafood allergies. Please inquire with an EM staff member for more details.
Destination Airport: San Jose Juan Santamaria International Airport, Costa Rica (SJO)
Team members are responsible to cover the cost of their round trip airfare to the San Jose airport and should make plans to arrive before 1:00 pm on the first day of your selected trip. Our staff will be available to meet you at the airport between 11:00am and 1:00pm. ‚Ä®‚Ä®Return travel should be arranged with your flight departing after 2:00 pm on the last day of the selected trip. If you have trouble finding flights that fit into this time frame please contact us before booking your tickets to make special arrangements.
When you leave Costa Rica, you will be charged an exit fee at the airport for each individual. This will be approximately $30 USD per person, and you should bring cash for this payment. You will not be permitted to leave the country until you pay this fee. Note: Some airlines may include this fee in your ticket price. Check with your airline about exit fees before you leave on your trip.
Passports - Each team member must carry a valid passport. If you have further questions regarding required travel documents we advise you to contact the US State Department - www.travel.state.gov
If you do not have a valid passport, it is of the utmost importance that you apply as soon as possible. The processing time for a Passport can take several weeks once your application has been submitted. An expired Passport is not considered valid.
Other Required Travel Documents - All team members under the age of 18 must carry a written, notarized letter from their parents giving them parental permission to leave the country. They must carry the original notarized copy of this letter. It cannot be a photo copy of the letter.
1) If the minor is traveling without parents, both parents must sign the letter.
2) If they are traveling with one parent, the parent that is not traveling with them must sign this letter.
3) If their parents are separated or divorced and both parents do not want to sign the same letter, they must have a notarized letter from each parent giving them permission to go.
Experience Mission can provide a sample copy of a permission letter or you can create your own letter that must include the following:
1) The full name of both parents and their formal signatures
2) The full name of the child
3) The full name of the Adult Chaperone serving as the Team Leader
4) The specific traveling dates for each country
5) The destination country
6) The reason for travel to the destination country (example - "youth group function")
7) The Airline itinerary (if applicable)
Upon arrival to San Jose, Costa Rica, all transportation IS INCLUDED. Transportation to and from San Jose will be by chartered bus.
Wondering what all goes on during our Shiroles, Costa Rica mission trips? Youíre not alone! Hereís a list of frequently asked questions about this trip.
Is the place where we are staying safe?
Yes. While there is always risk when traveling abroad, we make certain our housing facilities are safe. In every community where we work, we partner with trusted local people who are responsible to ensure team safety.
How will I know where to go at the airport? Who will I meet?
You will have access to specific instructions for how to go through customs and where to meet our staff at the airport once you register for your trip. We will also provide you with the phone number of our staff on the ground to call should you get lost. You can expect a call from this person the week of your trip to communicate any special details.
Will there be clean water to drink?
Yes. Purified bottled drinking water will be provided for all team members at the lodging location and during the day at the worksites and ministry sites.
What will we be doing on our mission trip?
Mission trips in Costa Rica typically consist of a mixture of highly physical construction projects and kids club. Be sure to check the details for your specific trip because individual trips may vary.
What shots and immunizations do I need to get before my mission trip?
In addition to being up-to-date on all childhood vaccinations and boosters, we strongly recommend all participants check with the Center for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov) as well as their local physician and closely follow their directions for recommended shots and immunizations. Click here for the CDC travel page for Costa Rica.
Will I need to purchase additional travel insurance on my mission trip?
We strongly recommend that every team member have personal medical insurance. All volunteers should check with their personal medical insurance provider regarding international coverage. If your personal insurance will not cover you, we strongly recommend purchasing additional travel insurance. Short-term travel insurance can be purchased separately through a local insurance company.
If you cannot obtain travel insurance through a local provider, upon team registration, we will direct you to a link for "Travel Insurance" on our website. This link will connect you and your team members to "Group International Travel Solutions," a trusted travel insurance company.
How much do Costa Rica mission trips cost?
Mission trips to Costa Rica are $695/person. The fee covers ground transportation, lodging, all of your meals, trip-related expenses, and funds to support local staff who will be leading your trip.
What seasons so you offer Costa Rica mission trips?
Trips are offered in Costa Rica year-round! Donít see a date that works for you? Contact us about planning a custom trip.
Do you offer spring break trips in Costa Rica?
Yes! Costa Rica is a popular destination for spring break mission trips. Teams for spring break typically arrive on a Saturday and return home the following Friday.
Will we work with children in Costa Rica?
Yes! You will work with children in a variety of settings. Most teams will have the opportunity to lead a Kids Club.
What paperwork is required for this mission trip?
Each team member will need to fill out a team member registration form and liability waiver and all adults are required to pass a background check. Additionally, each team member will need to have a valid passport that expires at least six months after traveling to Costa Rica.
Will I need a visa for a Costa Rica mission trip?
You do not need to apply for a visa ahead of time. You will need to go through customs upon arrival and provide information about the nature of the trip. We will provide you with all the resources you need for this prior to your departure.
Where will my team stay in Costa Rica?
Teams will stay at a local church in Costa Rica. There is access to running water and electricity, but teams should expect rustic-style lodging with no air conditioning and we do recommend bringing along bug nets for added comfort.
Are meals provided for Costa Rica mission trips?
Yes! All meals will be prepared by local Costa Rican staff! This is a unique opportunity to try local Costa Rican cuisine.
When can I arrive in Costa Rica?
We ask that teams arrive between 11am and 2pm on the first day of their selected trip. If you are unable to arrive in this window of time, please contact your mission trip support person prior to booking airfare so that we can ensure that you will have transportation available upon arrival.
Is airfare included in EM trip fees?
No. Airfare is a separate expense, and you will book this on your own.
What local culture will we experience on our Costa Rica mission trip?
Teams will experience authentic Costa Rican culture and hospitality by local guides. All meals will be prepared by local cooks and you will have the opportunity to meet and build relationships with a variety of local people.
How does this trip impact the local community?
All work projects are focused on community development and decisions about what the projects will be are left almost entirely up to local leadership. As a result, real community needs are being met and projects have a lasting impact.
Have more questions about Experience Mission trips? Check out our general FAQs, or call our support team at 888-475-6414.
Experience Mission has specific policies regarding registration and withdrawal. Please refer to the document below for specifics.
All volunteers on a week-long EM mission trip must be part of a team of at least six (6) people, with at least one team member age 21 or older to serve as the Team Leader. Not part of a group? All young adults ages 18-30 are eligible to apply for EMís IMMERSION program.
If you still have questions about this community after reviewing Details & Logistics or you want to take the first step toward bringing your team on an EM mission trip, Fill out a Mission Trip Interest Form and someone from our staff will be in touch with you shortly!
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You must have a group size of at least 2 members to join this trip. Please view the Small Team trips or call our Servicing Department for more options at 888-475-6414.
For most trips, you must have a group size of at least 2 members. Please view the Small Teams tab on each Community page or call our Servicing Department for more options at 888-475-6414.