Unfortunately I had only 2 ½ weeks on La Gran Vista, but it was a wonderful time just the same! Donald taught me a great deal about ecological farming, how matters can be arranged in cycles to eliminate waste and use your resources efficiently, and what problems Costa Ricans face. He also took me to meet his family, which a enjoyed a great deal! I also met his colleagues and got to listen in to meetings with local farmers. Xinia made me feel very welcome in her house and her family. She is an excellent cook, I will miss her food a great deal when I get home. I learned new recipes from her and got to practice my Spanish. Outside the house I got to see so many colorful birds, such as  toucans and vultures, monkeys, an anteater ad even a sloth with baby! The weather was great, the work satisfying, the people exceedingly friendly. Overall it was a really wonderful experience which I can only recommend to anyone!!

Christina Hansen, Germany

Donald and Xinia Villalobos of the La Gran Vista Finca have honestly provided me with one of my most memorable weeks here in Costa Rica! My only regret is that my time here has been so short. La Gran Vista has been an incredible experience for many reasons. Living here has showed me the value of honest hard work and the ways in which people are able to provide for themselves sustainably. I don’t think I have ever met a harder working family (including Louis, Lazaro and George of course!) and these are lessons I will keep with me my entire life. Also, the family is incredibly kind and I am so thankful for this chance to experience Costa Rican culture first hand. Just being able to practice my Spanish and learn more each day has been wonderful. Visiting with Xinia in the kitchen each day really made me feel welcome. Also she is an AMAZING cook and I could probably write a book on how delicious our meals were! The tour of the farm really made me see and understand how living a sustainable lifestyle and living in harmony with the earth is possible! These are lifestyle changes that I truly hope to make and share with others. I can’t express fully what a beautiful experience I’ve had here and I want to thank you for La Gran Vista project.

Yolanda Bodie, USA

I had a very enjoyable time at La Gran Vista. Donald and Xinia were great hosts and made the entire group feel right at home. Donald gave us a thorough overview of doing agriculture in a sustainable manner, from growing many different crops, to composting, to using Californian red worms to make fertile soil, to using the pig waste to create biogas. I had a good time working with Donald, Lazaro and the students to construct the replacement fence. I cannot imagine how Donald would have made the fence without our effort. I like knowing that the fence will allow Donald to let his horse finally roam freely over his land. I hope that Lafayette college has the opportunity to return to La Gran Vista in a future year!

Josh Smith, USA

Many thanks to Donald and Xinia for these wonderful 2 weeks! Thank you to Donald for your welcome the day I arrived, for the presentations, the tour and all the explications! I sure learned a lot with you. Thank you to Xinia for her your generosity, for the food (which was the best I have ever eaten in Latin America), and also for all the explications you gave me the morning a accompanied you to the chicken coop. I learned a lot about la Pura Vida!, about life on a  farm…but it was life on a farm where ecology is a very important dimension. That inspired me a lot! It will be very easy to convince my girlfriend to come back here with me! See you soon!

Nicolas Thorin, France


I think the students [I was here with] benefited tremendously from their experience on the Gran Vista Farm. Students expressed great delight in learning about all the different aspects of the farm. They also expressed gratitude for the experience and felt a sense of accomplishment I finishing the fence project I personally enjoyed the week a great deal and want to thank Donald, Xinia and the rest of their family for their hospitality. I hope to someday return with more students and possibly on my own in the future on another trip with my wife. I will be recommending to everyone to also do this trip!

Justin Hines, USA

Donald! It really was a pleasure being here at La Gran Vista – sharing your home, your food and your work. At first I was a little hesitant to come on this trip – I feared that all I would be doing was manual labor on a farm that I could do back home and that was basically senseless. However, luckily I was proved wrong! With every task we performed we were presented with a lesson and a reminder about the role we played on the planet and how we affect it every day. You constantly reminded us about the sinking ship, but always infused it with optimism – that we can always do something to make a difference and bail out of the ship slowly. This really was all you promised and more – although I’m burnt, scratched, bleeding and tired, I’ve had never had more fun! Thanks so much, and hopefully I’ll make it back to visit another day!

Alexandra van Arx, USA




My time at la Gran Vista has impacted me in more ways than I could have imagined. I came knowing nothing about sustainability and left with lots of knowledge about incorporating sustainable practices into my everyday life. Donald and Xinia treated us like family – the food and accomodatioins exceded all expectations and they were eager to get to know us and spend time with us. I can’t wait for the day I’ll get to spend another wonderful time at La Gran Vista! Pura Vida!

Madisson Barnett, USA

During the past two weeks, I have learned a lot about myself and how far I can actually push myself. We accomplished more physically challenging projects than I could have ever imagined. I do believe that future participants should be forewarned that the Project requires difficult, strenuous, laborious work. I sweated more on every body part than I thought was humanly possible. Overall it was a great experience. Volunteering at La Gran Vista was an unforgettable life experience to me.

Valerie Laws



When I visited La Gran Vista, I learned a lot about sustainability and little things that we can do and take home to help the environment. Little things like short or modified showers and using less electricity. I also learned about composting and living off of plants that you grow yourself. Another important aspect of La Gran Vista was the introduction and look at Costa Rican Culture. I really enjoyed interacting with the natives and picking up some Spanish phrases. The environment was made for balance and many aspects of our current culture have hindered our balance with it. My visit to la Gran Vista has been a great reminder to maintain this balance.

Chelsea Zemmin, USA

This experience was everything that I could have imagined and more. It was an absolute pleasure living and working on the farm. Immediately, I felt welcome and comfortable with Donald and Xinia in their beautiful modern, open and sustainable home. Thank you for an incredible time! Hug the puppies for me!

Lara Ruggerio, USA



The past 10 days have been an amazing experience! Before this trip, I hadn’t been exposed to much sustainable agruculture even though I am very into saving the environment and cherishing the natural ressources that the earth has. This trip, therefore, really opened my eyes and exposed me to unforgettable memories. I loved learning about all the uses for the many plants, the best ways to grow vegetables together and life in general on the farm. The living accomodations exceeded my expectations and I felt very welcomed and comfortable. And the food was most delicious! Thanks for an amazing experience!  

Nicole Catino, USA


My name is Ed Cripps and I'm a Modern Languages student in my third year at Oxford. Between January and April 2006, as part of my GAP Year, I spent three months living with Donald Villalobos and his family at La Gran Vista in Costa Rica (this was the longest a volunteer had ever stayed at La Gran Vista). I worked mainly as an English teacher at the local primary school, but occasionally helped out on the farm as well. Donald sent me a message yesterday asking if I might tell you about the time I spent at La Gran Vista.

It was, quite simply, one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. Donald is the perfect host - generous, thoughtful and witty. He is a very intelligent and sensitive man who manages to strike a lovely balance between stimulating, constructive work and a sense of humor and fun. His sons Max, Larry and Terry, who help Donald on the farm, are just the same and became great friends of mine during my stay. Whilst I stayed there for three months, fellow English volunteers from my company (World Challenge) spent one month stints at La Gran Vista helping out on the farm, and I know that they all loved it (I can put you in touch with them, if needs be). Larger volunteer groups would often visit from the US or Australia, and Donald was just as adept at making them feel welcome.

The accommodation at the Gran Vista, four wooden dorms of four beds with more on the way, is extremely good. Moreover Donald's lovely wife, Xinia, complements Donald's very best qualities, is a superb cook and encourages volunteers to learn Costa Rican recipes in the kitchen (her rice and frijoles are still the best I've ever tasted). One of the best things about life at La Gran Vista is that it caters to all levels of Spanish. Having done Spanish as Level and looking to do Spanish at Unique, I was delighted to be able to speak Spanish all day, every day, particularly with Xinia who speaks no English. But Donald and Larry speak particularly good English, and were just as comfortable and encouraging with those who spoke little to no Spanish.

All in all, I couldn't have imagined a more constructive, edifying and downright enjoyable way to spend three months on my GAP Year, linguistically, professionally and personally.

Ed Crips

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Phone: (506) 8924 8983 ask for Donald Villalobos.


El Peje de Daniel Flores,
Pérez Zeledón, 
San José, Costa Rica.

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