ISV - Environmental Volunteer Projects in Costa Rica

Provider: ISV

International Student Volunteers (ISV) works with grassroots initiatives to offer volunteer projects in Costa Rica. These volunteer programs directly benefit the local communities of Costa Rica. For volunteers in Costa Rica, ISV offers projects in wildlife conservation, community development, children's programs, and environmental management. However you wish to make an impact, there is a volunteer project for you with ISV in Costa Rica.

If you choose wildlife conservation, you could be observing the feeding behavior of various species, mapping habitats, monitoring dolphin populations, or taking beach patrols to protect turtle nest's. In Costa Rica's communities, you could be involved in recycling, reforestation, trail building, organic farming or habitat restoration. For more details about ISV's volunteer projects in Costa Rica, visit there website and sign up today for the experience of a lifetime!

Program Info

Location: 
  • Costa Rica
Volunteer Types: 
Building
Community Development
Conservation
Environmental Conservation
Wildlife Conservation
Education
Program Length: 
2-4 weeks
Cost: 
$2,000 - $5,000 (USD)
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Languages: 
Spanish
Application: 
Online Application

Videos

Program Reviews (70)

96%
Positive
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  • Impact
    92%
  • Support
    93%
  • Fun
    93%
  • Value
    93%
  • Safety
    93%
  • Annika
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    Newcastle Australia
    University of Newcastle
    Best Time EVER
    04/05/2015

    To be completely embussed in the culture of the country and not speaking much Spanish myself I felt it was a safe and exciting way to travel. I made so many friends and all the tour guides were relaxed and easy to talk to there were even some tears when we had to part. I was in the Osa Peninsula for two weeks where we planted 850 mangrove with a mud fight to finish and we got to actually handle and work with sea turtle, they are such amazing creatures! the week we spent in Heredia was a great way to welcome us to the tour and allow the group to bond, as well as the cool activities Intercultura offered such as a weekend in Montverde we got to hold a toucan and boa constrictor. As a person who is afraid of heights zip lining was exhilarating and beautifully peaceful at the same time! I haven't even got to the adventure tour yet!
    I strongly advise this, I fell in love with the Country.

    How could this program be improved?

    Perhaps encourage participants to learn a bit of Spanish prior and perhaps be a little more lenient on the last night of the two weeks volunteering, it would have been nice to relax with a drink and also support the local community.

    Photos:
    Getting a bit wet White Water Rafting
    The view from Monteverde
    Casually on an Ox
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  • Kieren
    Age: 19-24
    Male
    Brisbane, Australia
    Queensland University of Technology
    A great alternative to standard travel, directly volunteering still better
    03/09/2015

    Let me begin with this: I absolutely adored volunteering for the turtle project in Ostional beach, Costa Rica in January 2015. Our main role was to assist in the research of why Leatherback and Black turtles are heading towards extinction by collecting data from adult and infant turtles. We also took direct action to eliminate dangers such as plastic pollution littered along the beaches, transplanting nests to safer environments, and fending off predators such as birds and dogs (if you so choose to). It's an experience to escort little hatchlings down the beach and watch them swim off, starting the next leg of their journey.

    I would recommend, however, to join a volunteer group through a non-profit third-party or simply contact the volunteer project itself.

    I would recommend this project to people who are interested because it is a great alternative to standard travelling: you are giving back to communities in need; you are minimising your impact as a tourist; and you are experiencing true connection with the communities you will be visiting.

    How could this program be improved?

    The program was run smoothly. I have no other suggestions.

    Photos:
    Freshly hatched negras tortugitas (black turtles) waiting for their release onto the beach.
    Exhuming a black nest to collect nesting and hatching data.
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  • Sumaya Daffala
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    Port Elizabeth South Africa
    Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
    community development
    03/04/2015

    The highlight of the experience was the impact of completing the kindergarten for the younger children to start school and receive an valuable education.

    I appreciated the efforts that my host family made, by bringing morning snacks as we worked

    I had underestimated the heat and it was a challenge to keep working during the peak hours of the day. I found the task of removing the rust from the fence particularly difficult but always tried to keep the main vision in sight and remember the reason that I had volunteered to attend this program,

    How could this program be improved?

    provide an updated version of the travel manual to insure participants bring the right equipment and clothing

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  • Marlee Ericson
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    Mankato, Minnesota
    Minnesota State University
    Experience of a Lifetime
    11/16/2014

    I enjoyed every single day and individual experience that I encountered during my three weeks. I spent my first week Spanish and Culture program in which I learned more in one week than I ever could have imagined. I had an amazing host family, great teachers, and had the opportunity to make many amazing friendships as well as explore the capital of Costa Rica. The volunteer portion of my trip was life-changing. My host family turned into a second family; amazing people that I feel like I have known my entire life thanks to their open arms and compassion. I felt like I truely made a difference in the community I volunteered in. It was hard work, but I was working with incredible passion with the same motivation and passion that I had. It felt like together as a team we could accomplish anything. My project leader was amazing. He is such a fun-loving yet hardworking guy who truly loves his job. I learned so much from him and could not have asked for a better leader to spend my two weeks with. When we weren't working on our volunteer project, we took part on some awesome activities. From jumping off cliffs next to waterfalls, to having community dinners and celebrations, to simply spending quality time with my host family, I enjoyed every minute of my experience. My three weeks spend in Costa Rica was a life-changing experience that I will never forget, spent with people from all over the world with whom I have made lifelong friendships.

    How could this program be improved?

    I wish I could think of a suggestion to make, but there is honestly not one thing I would change about the program. Everything was incredibly organized and great.

    Photos:
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  • Kelley Cote
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    Seattle, WA
    University of Washington, Seattle
    Costa Rica Whale and Dolphin Research Program
    11/12/2014

    My program coordinator was amazing. Day to day was alright. Food for breakfast and dinner was excellent, but lunch had to be taken on the boat. Those in charge of food were negligent of a particular student's peanut allergy, which was unfortunate. Work we did on boat days felt productive. Lessons by program coordinator were good. Days not on the boat were often a little dull or otherwise felt unproductive. Would not have been against doing some more manual labor, etc.

    How could this program be improved?

    Amount of work we accomplished. I wish we could have helped even more.

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    Response from ISV
    11/23/2014
    Thanks for taking the time to leave your feedback. It's difficult for me to comment in regards to the circumstances around the peanut allergy as we do go to great lengths to encourage full disclosure from volunteers of their allergies and medical issues so that we can ensure a safe experience for all. I am sure that as soon as ISV personnel were made aware of the peanut issues that we would have addressed it immediately with our project partner. Really happy to hear that you enjoyed the boat work monitoring cetaceans - this is valuable work that has already had positive outcomes for more sustainable management of the Fjord marine ecosystem - thank you for your part in gathering the scientific data which makes that possible. As for your time off the boat- we've taken this on board and always debrief with our partners at the end of every project and review what could be improved upon. Thanks again for volunteering with ISV and we're really pleased that you would recommend us as without volunteers, these projects wouldn't exist. Sincerely, Narelle ISV
  • Dalton Loveday
    Age: 19-24
    Male
    Canada
    University of Waterloo
    Just Book It Already!
    11/12/2014

    When I was younger, I did not know if I would ever have an opportunity to travel. I was never one of those people who spent their money on parties or cars or whatever else you can think of. I saved my money from all the work I had done for the only thing that was important to me: to one day travel the world and make a difference. When I heard about ISV, I took the time to read about the organization and realized that this was my first chance to make my dream come true. I booked my plane ticket to Los Angeles and the rest was almost completely taken care of by the organization. At first, I was worried about travelling because this was my first time travelling by plane and I was by myself. I realized quickly that there was nothing to worry about! The group of travellers I met were amazing, and the village we went to had some of the most friendly people I have ever met. I felt very welcome my entire stay with my Costa Rican family, and the slight language barrier was not an issue. Helping construct the road between the two parts of the village and in the coffee farms was very rewarding, and there was still plenty of time after the work was done to have fun! Our group leader, Jonathan, was a great guy who always kept you smiling throughout the entire trip. Not only was helping the community great, but the wildlife was phenomenonal as well. Any doubt's I had had about traveling alone before I left for Costa Rica were quickly erased as soon as this life-changing adventure began. Having the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica was an amazing experience, and I can't wait to continue traveling the world! If you are considering traveling with ISV, please don't waste this opportunity!

    How could this program be improved?

    Better organization of flights to Los Angeles (I thought we were meeting with a group leader there).

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  • andy goose
    Age: 25-30
    Male
    milwaukee, wi
    University of Wisconsin
    I had fun exploring the jungle!
    11/11/2014

    The group leaders were friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful. The host family was great. I was able to go off path in the jungle and see it in ways most are not allowed. The conservation program had a goal I could really get behind.

    How could this program be improved?

    More night activities would be great.

    Photos:
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  • Ashlie Fallon
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    Tempe, Arizona
    Arizona State University
    Absolutely Amazing
    11/10/2014

    Once you travel with ISV, you will never want to travel as a 'tourist' again. Spending time with the locals, at their local hangouts and keeping sustainability in mind is an incredible way to travel, and simply going to another country without this local experience is now a major let down. ISV has every detail figured out, so all you have to do is go, work hard, have fun and make a difference. This experience was life changing and I would do it again in a heartbeat!

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  • Kelsey Crawford
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    Grand Rapids, Michigan
    Grand Valley State University
    The Unforgettable Adventure
    11/10/2014

    If you love adventure, volunteering, trying new things, or just want a unique way to experience the world while making an impact, ISV is the best program. Not only was it affordable and adventure filled, but you would be amazed at the close bonds created with everyone in your project, the unforgettable sites and tours you are lucky to experience, and the outstanding places you stay at! A trip like this is one in lifetime and I try to explain it and recommend it in my everyday life, because it will never leave my mind, but no words will ever describe this experience! Zip lines down a volcano, a 3 day white water rafting trip, hot springs, surfing, waterfalls, rainforests, wildlife... the list goes on! And the immersion into the Costa Rican culture is a huge plus! ISV has changed my life for good!

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  • Julia
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    Austin, Texas
    University of Texas, Austin
    A Memory To Last Forever
    11/10/2014

    The impact that volunteering abroad left on my life was more than I ever expected. ISV did a great job will setting up a project that would have a important impact on the community, and one that you could actually see when the project was completed. The people, including my host family and the other students, will be a great part of my life for years to come.

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  • Melinda Zapata
    Age: 25-30
    Female
    Montreal, Canada
    Concordia University
    An experience of a lifetime
    11/09/2014

    My experience as an ISV student volunteer is an unforgettable one, I highly recommend anyone to try it out. The volunteering in the community or animal conservation, the exploration, meeting people form around the world is irreplaceable.

    How could this program be improved?

    Make it more affordable, thus accessible.

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  • Amanda Beard
    Age: 25-30
    Female
    Phoenix Arizona
    Arizona State University
    ISV Costa Rica
    11/09/2014

    Participating in the ISV Costa Rica program was the best volunteer opportunity I have ever had. You learn a lot about yourself when your taken out of your comfort zone to volunteer in a foreign country. You'll enjoy making new friends, learning about the local culture and customs and leaving a positive impact on the community. You will however face challenges such as language barrier, mosquitoes and constant rain keeping you indoors when you want to explore. Keeping the above in mind I would recommend this opportunity to anyone who can afford it. Get out there and make a positive impact on the local community and the environment. It will be worth it.

    How could this program be improved?

    Please try and make this more affordable! Go for grants and donations, it never hurts to ask.

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  • Rachel B.
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    Salt Lake City, UT
    University of Utah
    Unforgettable
    11/09/2014

    I would not take back my experiences with ISV for anything. The money is totally worth every penny. I made so many amazing friends and irreplaceable and unforgettable memories. ISV changed my entire outlook on life. I now have a great appreciation for other cultures and especially an appreciation for the community of Ostional, Costa Rica. The Olive Ridley Turtle will always have a special place in my heart because of this trip, as will Costa Rica. I was sad to leave and I hope I get to return one day.

    How could this program be improved?

    The organization was not the best on the pre-trip end. I would have preferred if I had received all of the information more quickly, or at least by the date I was told to expect it.

    Photos:
    Ostional Beach, Costa Rica
    Olive Ridley Turtle during arribada
    The Ostional Beach group making a Leatherback hatchery
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  • Amanda Reynolds
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    Indiana, Pennsylvania
    Indiana University of Pennsylvania
    The best part of my experience.
    11/09/2014

    The best part of my ISV experience was watching the sea turtles lay eggs, we saw mostly Olive Ridley and also a few green turtles, being so close to a creature that was continuing the circle of life was truly amazing. when they would lay eggs they would go into a trance and you were able to get so close and even feel them, they would leg dozens of eggs and a time than would bury them and go back into the ocean. In my particular program you had to walk up a mountain for two hours to get to the camp site, this was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life but i learned a lot about my self in doing it, and the support from our supervisors and other volunteers was incredible. I'll never forget the day we were leaving, our cook, Olga, who must of been at around 50 years old raced down the mountain faster than any of us in our early 20's, we were all shocked while she yelled at us jokingly in Spanish how slow we all were. I will never forget this experience, i would do anything to be back at Nancite Beach, Costa Rica.

    How could this program be improved?

    On the adventure tour, laundry was very expensive.

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  • Autumn Ziegler
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    Minnesota
    University of Minnesota
    LIFE CHANGING AND ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE!
    11/08/2014

    Volunteering in the Golfo Dulce with dolphins and poison dart frogs was such an incredible experience. We spent time canvasing the forest looking for poison dart frogs. We spent time in the Golf monitoring the foraging habits of different dolphin species. There was on day where we came upon a pod of hundreds of Spinner dolphins. It was unexplained and incredible!! I learned so much and had the time of my life.

    The adventure tour was so much fun, we ziplined through tree tops and went white water rafting. It was so much fun!!!

    It was a life changing experience and I hope to have the opportunity to volunteer my efforts with this organization again.

    How could this program be improved?

    It is fairly expensive.

    Photos:
    Gulfo Dulce
    Coconut from Gulfo Dulce
    Sunset at Gulfo Dulce
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Alumni Interviews

  • Meet Kieren!
    Meet Kieren!

    Why did you pick this program?

    Kieren: I chose to volunteer overseas because I had always looked up to people who did so with an envy of wanting to do the same, but I never thought I would be able to do it myself. I had lived a very sheltered life, moving through the ranks of small child to school boy to high school boy and now university boy. My plans were to get a job, get a family, work, then die - but only because I hadn't experienced the world. Hearing about my options for overseas volunteering suddenly opened a door to this whole new world and gave me a new point of view on life.

    I decided to travel with ISV because I had never traveled overseas before. This program, like many others, organise everything for you so all you have to do is pay them your money and enjoy the trip! (If you are more money conscious, you can organise such trips yourself, but if you are happy with paying for convenience, sign up to a third-party volunteer organisation such as ISV).

    What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?

    Kieren: My favourite story to share is not about the countless high-adrenalin activities I participated in such as white-water rafting down rapids as crazy as class five or zip-lining through tropical jungles. No, my favourite story (and what impacted me the most) happened while I was volunteering at a scientific research station in an isolated beach community called Ostional.

    I was living with a host family in their home with a couple of other volunteers. This one-on-one living with the locals enhanced the experience dramatically! There were three children in the household (aged 10, 8, and 2) who were so lovely to play with. They would teach us Spanish words and play games with us in the backyard. Even though there was a language barrier, we could have so much fun together!

    Ostional Beach
    Ostional Beach

    What is the most important thing you learned abroad?

    Kieren: We are all the same! Although some people have more money than others or have different physical characteristics or are raised to different ideologies, we are all essentially the same!

    Tell us about an experience you had that you could not have had at home.

    Kieren: After a day of Spanish classes, some of us at the school decided to walk to the other side of town to play soccer at a local park. It was your typical Hollywood American set-up with a concrete soccer-field-slash-basketball-court and high, chicken-wire fencing all the way around. A children's playground was tucked away in the corner with a tree and a small patch of grass.

    When we arrived there, some locals were already playing soccer and invited us to join them (this took us a while to figure out): gringos verses locals. The pack leader was very vocal and played relatively aggressively, which kept me conscious and wary of my passport and cash strung around my neck. It was a great game ending in a draw of 1-1 and only stopped because we lost both soccer balls over a high fence with a long drop on the other side. This experience was enhanced by the fact we didn't know what they were saying or shouting during the game.

    Pacuare River
    Pacuare River

    What made this trip meaningful to you, or how did this trip change your perceptions or future path?

    Kieren: I have always had a passion for research and digging down to the bottom of things so it was fulfilling to experience the behind-the-scenes of a scientific study in progress, and be a part of that. I have been considering changing my course from environmental engineering into environmental science and this volunteer project gave me valuable experience in the field which will allow me to make a more informed decision.

  • Rappelling Costa Rica
    Rappelling Costa Rica

    Highlights: The highlight of my volunteer project was seeing my first nesting Leatherback sea turtle. She wasn't tagged yet, so I got to see how that was done. I also got to hold a bag under her while she laid her eggs, so we could safely relocate them to the hatchery. These turtles are huge and have an ancient presence. It was something I'll never forget.

    The highlight of the adventure tour was white-water rafting for two days! It was something I never thought I would do, but it was the adventure of a lifetime. We went down Class IV rapids, ate a picnic lunch, and stayed in an eco-friendly lodge. I would do it again in a heartbeat!

    Morning:Our mornings in Gandoca, Costa Rica varied. Sometimes you might have a shift in the sea turtle hatchery, where we would check sea turtle nests for babies. Other days you might be patrolling the beaches until midnight or 4am! And every morning our host family cooked us breakfast. We didn't sleep much, but that way we got the most out of our trip!

    Planting trees with the volunteers
    Planting trees with the volunteers

    Afternoon:Since a lot of our work was at night, we had most afternoons to relax. (Unless you were at the hatchery again). We did a few beach clean-ups during the day. We had to clear the beach of logs and natural debris for volunteers, who made their beach patrols in complete darkness. A lot of afternoons, we explored the town, played cards with our families, played soccer with the local kids, and relaxed together.

    Evening:At night, before we started our shifts, we typically went to the pool bar that was close-by. While some volunteers played pool, others played dominos with our host families and they typically had dancing, too!

  • Volunteers in Costa Rica with conservation
    April's volunteer group in Costa Rica

    Morning/Afternoon: I was working with the poison dart frogs in the rainforest and the dolphins in the Gulf. We took the first 2 days out of our volunteer time to go over what we were looking for in the environment and how to spot the different animals and log their behavior. For the frogs we would take a pretty major hike through the rainforest trying to spot different dart frogs. The rainforest was right behind the kitchen where we were staying so we did not have to travel too far to get into the forest!

    When we hiked we would be out there for about 4 hours and come back before lunchtime. When we were tracking the dolphins we set out on a boat that picked us up from our camp right at the gulf. We would ride around looking for dolphins and then track their behavior and pod size when we did find them. We would be on the boat all day long on these days.

    April on the beach in Costa Rica
    April on the beach in Costa Rica

    Evening: We would always have some free time when we returned to relax, shower, and just visit before dinner. After dinner we would all play games or go over some eco-travel lessons as a group. This was really great bonding time for all of us and we became really close really fast!

    Highlight: At the beginning of our second week a huge rainstorm came and brought us 3 days of nonstop rain. During that time we watched movies, hung out in our cabins, and went to town for a little bit. After that we were really not allowed to do anymore rainforest work because the trail was way too muddy to hike up. We spent the rest of the time on the boat with the dolphins and doing our optional activities like going to a chocolate farm and visiting a wildlife refuge.

  • Turtles in Costa Rica
    Kathryn holding turtles during her time in Costa Rica

    Morning: A typical day working for Widecast in Pacuare would start with waking up at 7-7.30am for breakfast which would be available between 7.30am-10am and consisted of pancakes, scrambled egg, pineapple and/or watermelon and occasionally Galla Pinto (Costa Rican rice and beans dish). We had to wash up our plates after finishing breakfast and then there was time to have showers and get dressed. The mornings were never very busy as many people had night shifts so they were a good time to lounge in the hammocks, write in journals or read books.

    Afternoon: In the afternoons we usually had either Hatchery work or beach cleaning. Hatchery work meant digging in the Hatchery (where the turtle nests were being looked after) creating a two meter wide, one meter deep hole and then bleaching the sand, leaving it for three days, and then filling in the hole. This was to stop ay bacteria or plants from trying to grow in the Hatchery, to give the turtle eggs more chance of hatching and the hatchlings more chance of survival. If we were not doing Hatchery work, we were beach cleaning. We would walk along sections of the six mile long beach with rubbish sacks and rakes, putting any litter found in the rubbish sacks and rake debris into the edge of the jungle.

    Evening: In the evenings, dinner would be 6-8pm and if you didn't have a night shift you could just relax and socialise with the people around you. We used to play games of UNO and make friendship bracelets with our ISV group and the other volunteers who were there helping Widecast. Night patrol schedules were at 8pm-12am, 10pm-2am or 12am-4am and you would walk either Sector A, B or C for the whole 4 hours with a team leader and usually one other, so there was 3 of you on a patrol. You would look for turtle tracks on the sand, nests made and also looking for turtles coming out the sea to lay their eggs and protect them from any poachers also walking the beach. You may have had a Hatchery night shift which were rotated every 6 hours so, 6pm-12am, 12am-6am, 6am-12pm, 12pm-6pm. This involved guarding the Hatchery areas and checking the nests every 10 minutes for crabs, flies or any nests hatching.

    Kathryn getting ready to volunteer in Costa Rica with ISV
    Kathryn getting ready to volunteer in Costa Rica with ISV

    Highlights: A highlight of my trip happened on the second day on arriving to the Widecast site. We were walking along the beach and our ISV leader Andrey spotted a hole in the sand on the edge of the jungle and a single baby leatherback turtle was moving inside the hole! It was a natural nest and we ended up finding 79 hatchlings in the hole, which we carried back to the Widecast station, weighed and measured fifteen of them and then released them into the sea!

    A second highlight occurred on my last night patrol before we left the project. I was lucky enough to see a green turtle camouflage her nest and walk behind her as she made her way back to the sea. She was a meter long by 80cm wide. During the course of my patrol I saw three shooting stars and the whole night is something I will never forget!

    Both my highlights taught me a lot about turtles, I was able to witness their strength and power they possess, and what turtles feel like, as I got to hold the baby leatherbacks and stroke the shell of the green turtle. I had the experience of watching the turtles move across the sand and into the water and how majestic and elegant they are.

  • Turtles in Costa Rica
    Animal conservation in Costa Rica

    Morning: Every morning we were woken up by the beautiful, soothing sounds of the white, salty waves crashing against the beach shoreline. Of course, we were also woken up by the extreme heat of the Costa Rican sun. We slept in mosquito nets; so one thing we always looked forward too in the morning was going to the restrooms. Once you tucked yourself into that mosquito net at night, there was no turning back.

    Afternoon: Since our prime volunteer task took place in the evening and at night, we got to do a variety of different things during the day. Every day we performed some sort of enriching or eco-conscious activity, such as cooking dinner, clearing the forest trails, cleaning the beach, going on hikes, playing volleyball, and of course, getting to know one another. If we were lucky, we also got to help harvest the old nests, and save the babies trapped inside. The baby turtles were without a doubt my favorite part; they were incredible little things. They resulted in amazing footage for my video as well.

    Evening: Although the evenings were a lot less leisurely than our afternoons, they were equally as fun and much more tiring, and exciting. We split our group of 13 volunteers into 2 sub-groups: 1 group would patrol the beach from 8pm until 12am, and then the other group would patrol from 12am until 4am. Of course, whoever was put into the second group was never too pleased and had to make up for the missed sleep by going to bed extra early.

    On patrol, we'd walk up and down the 1km beach until a mama turtle would make her way onto the beach to lay her eggs. We would then collect all the necessary information for the professionals to handle, while protecting the mama turtle from local predators such as crocodiles and spotted jaguars. It was always very enlightening to see the mama turtles in action after having seen the babies hatch earlier. It was essentially like watching the circle of life take place right in front of us.

    Mathew with other ISV volunteers
    Mathew with other ISV volunteers

    Highlights: I would say that the highlight of my volunteer experience would have to be the same as the highlight of my overall ISV experience, Spanish Week and Adventure Tour included. This moment, the highlight of my summer, would most definitely be on the last day of our volunteer project on Nancite Beach.

    All 13 of us put on our volunteer and ISV shirts to take pictures, and in the process we ended up having our own little party on the beach; just laughing, dancing. We were celebrating our incredible experience and all the hard work we put into helping not only the turtles, but all of Nancite Beach - sand, mangrove, and all. It was so incredible to stand there with each other. I remember feeling pure joy and ecstasy. A moment for life, that's for sure.

  • River rafting in Costa Rica
    River rafting!

    Highlights: The best part of the volunteer experience was the relationships that I formed. Our host family took us in like we were their own children. They were so genuine and hardworking, I found myself amazed by them every day. And it wasn't just our family who was like that; it was every person in the village. And don't even get me started on my fellow volunteers.

    The three people that I lived with during the volunteer experience were so great and I really enjoyed how close we got over such a short period of time. The rest of the group was awesome as well and I got to know many more of them during the adventure tour. My highlight of the whole trip was the adventure tour. To be able to rappel a waterfall, raft three and four class rapids, float down a river, zip line through the rainforest, enjoy hot springs and swim in two oceans and three rivers in one trip is just life changing. I've never experienced anything like it, and it was wonderful.

    Morning: In the mornings we would wake up early to begin our hike. Our gracious mama tica (host mom) would have breakfast ready for us. Breakfast ranged from pancakes and eggs to cereal and coffee. And every morning we would have a different fresh fruit. With good food to fuel us, we would meet our guide for the day and start out on the hike. The hiking was sometimes a bit difficult, but the sunrise, the rainforest, and the monkeys made it worth it every time. My team was helping collect data about the nutmeg trees in the area, so we would hike anywhere from two to five miles to the trees or traps that we needed to collect data from. Some mornings, we would observe what animals interacted with the trees and other days we would count the seeds that were caught in traps. Our guides taught us so much about the land and the culture during those walks, it was hard to walk away thinking that they were anything but fountains of knowledge.

    Woman in front of a waterfall in Costa Rica
    Tiffany's amazing find!

    Afternoon: We would often get back from our hike before it was time for lunch at noon, so we would cool off in the ocean. You usually went on the hikes in teams of 3-4 with a guide. So, when each team came back we would meet up at the beach. After some good ocean time, we would have lunch with our families. Lunch was made up of rice and beans plus fresh vegetables and meat. After some free time to journal, nap, or kick the soccer ball around, we would meet up as a group again. In the afternoons we would work on a project for the village that we were staying with. In my case, we made eco-bricks out of their trash that could be used as building materials and we helped with a tree nursery.

    Evening: Dinner was always fun. Every meal that we ate, we ate as a household. So, I would eat with three other people from the group for three square meals a day. At dinner, we would talk about the day's events. There was a lot of laughter and with each meal, I felt more like an actual family with these people who I had only met a few days prior. Dinner would consist of rice, beans, meat, and some Costa Rican cookies and sometimes Oreos or ice cream! We would play card games, hang out with our host parents and their little baby boy, watch Will Smith movies on their tv, and enjoy a shower. Our host dad was a prankster, so he would always be pulling pranks that would entertain us and make us laugh. Most nights we would be in bed by eight in order to be rested for the early start the next morning. I would journal for a half hour every night to make sure that I didn't forget any part of the trip!

  • EcoHouse
    EcoHouse for the coffee farmers

    Highlights: The highlight of my entire trip was the entire thing. I made heaps of new friends, saw so many beautiful sights and had the best time of my life. Being able to travel around a new country which has so much to offer with so many wonderful people is honestly one of the best ways to do it and far better experience than travelling there alone. I really enjoyed my entire time there and I really cannot wait to go back one day.

    Morning: My typical morning in Costa Rica began pretty early - I would get up around 6 or 6:30am and have breakfast which was usually around 7am and with my host sister and my host mother would also be up doing something around the house. Then I would get ready to go to work, which in the morning was building an eco house for coffee farmers in the town that we stayed in.

    But first my group, project leader and I would meet at the Salon (community centre) at 7:30 and then we would all go up together and then begin working on whatever we were doing that day for the eco house. Work in the morning was pretty easy because nothing was ever beyond what we could do either individually or as a group and our morning was broken up by a break around 9:45 and then by lunch we would be done with the eco house for the day.

    Girl and tucan
    A Costa Rican tucan

    Afternoon: My Typical afternoon would start at noon with lunch with my group, project leader and one or two members of each of our host families who would make and bring us our lunch everyday. That would be from 12 to 1pm and then from 1 to 3pm we would make eco bricks for a small bridge we made on our last official day of work for the town. Then at 3pm we would finish work for the day and have a free afternoon where we could either go home, play soccer with each other and some local kids or go to the small shop near the salon and hang out there for a few hours. Then from around 5 or 6pm we would all start going home and spend time with our host families.

    Evening: Evenings were pretty relaxing because I would usually shower, have dinner and then do something with my host family (usually just watch TV or talk with my host sister). Then most nights around 8/8:30 I would go to bed. But the first Monday and Tuesday there was church event that my host family and I went to in a town close by and the second weekend that I was there San Pedro (my host town) had a town festival which ran for the entire weekend in the evenings and my group and I went to that while it was on.

  • Lisanne and her volunteer group rafting
    Lisanne and her volunteer group rafting

    Why did you decide to volunteer with ISV in Costa Rica?

    Lisanne: It was simple enough - I was bored. I'm from a small place, for those of you who don't know where Prince Edward Island is, it's a tiny island in Canada (yes, Canada has islands), with a population of about 150,000 (and that's being generous). I love it here, but I had just started university, and wanted to go somewhere while doing something worthwhile. ISV was perfect.

    Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

    Lisanne: Our days were awesome. We woke up in the morning to breakfast. We'd make our way to the kitchen area where the lovely ladies of the place had breakfast cooked up and ready to eat. A typical breakfast was beans & rice, warm milk + cinnamon (which was delicious), some bread-type things, and peanut butter. Oh, and plantains. Lunches & suppers were sort of the same - beans & rice, meat, some bread. And more plantains. Although on a few special occasions we got special Costa Rican dishes - those were amazing. And sometimes on hot days we got ICE COLD pop, those were good days. The people over there are truly amazing, so nice, so humble.

    Our mornings usually consisted of helping out around the place, either cleaning up the property, painting, etc. Or sometimes we had ISV meetings, where our leader, along with the project coordinator, would teach us more about what we were actually doing out there - sea turtle conservation.

    Afternoons was kind of the same deal - either helping around the place, or ISV stuff. When it rained though, well, we sort of got the morning/afternoon off... Those are the days you REALLY get to know your fellow ISV'ers (no electricity, no TV, no internet). It's strange, they become your little family. I got to know those people better in 4 weeks than some people that I've known for years.

    Then there were the night shifts. These shifts would typically last 4 hours each, and go from dusk till dawn. There was about 8 km of beach to be patrolled, watching out for momma sea turtles coming to shore to lay their eggs. If you were lucky enough to spot one, you got to watch her amazing ritual. She goes into a type of trance when she lays her eggs - your responsibility is to catch the eggs and bring them back to the conservation where they'll be protected from poachers and other wildlife egg-snatchers.

    So there's a pretty typical day. There was so much variation though, sometimes we'd go to the manatee observation deck (so cool), sometimes we'd take the boat into town (that's right, *boat*), or to another ISV site to help with whatever they needed over there. It was truly an amazing experience, and I'd do it all over again if I could.

    Lisanne zip-lining in Costa Rica
    Lisanne zip-lining in Costa Rica

    How has this experience impacted your future?

    Lisanne: I did ISV Costa Rica about 3 years ago, and I still ramble on about it. So, obviously it had a HUGE impact on my life. It allowed me to grow as an individual (corny I know, but true). It also implanted the traveler's bug in my system. I don't know if you know about this little guy - he tends to surface around spring time every year, making you unable to think or concentrate on anything but traveling. Ecuador, Brazil, France, Germany, Wales, Ireland, Italy, Mali.. The world is a big place, a very big place.

    On the professional side, I strongly recommend doing something like ISV if you're interested in any kind of professional school. I'm a vet student (I did ISV during my pre-vet program), and this will set you apart from the others. This experience helped me so much during my interview, it allowed me to give a different spin on answers to typical questions, making myself memorable to my interviewers. And I got in.

    Besides, who wants to be like everyone else? Boring.

  • Why did you decide to volunteer with ISV in Costa Rica?

    Katherine: I decided to volunteer with ISV because I loved the idea that not only would I be able to volunteer, I would be able to enjoy awesome activities that the country had to offer! I chose Costa Rica as my first choice with ISV because they offered a amazing volunteer project, a rich culture to learn from, and beautiful scenery.

    Whitewater rafting in Costa Rica
    Whitewater rafting in Costa Rica

    Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

    Katherine: As a volunteer, I woke up usually around 6am for breakfast served by my lovely host family, Dona Suzy, Don Jorge, and Magalee. I would pack my lunch during this time as well. Depending on the assigned day, I would either venture into the rain forest to find poison dart frogs or I would head out into Gulfo Dulce to research dolphins. When going into the rain forest we would look for as many poison dart frogs as possible while recording their location, environment, and species. This work usually lasted a majority of the morning and afternoon. While on the boat we would record the behavior and locations of any dolphins spotted. Usually I would be out an entire day on the boat. When everyone arrived back from their assigned work, we would all enjoy dinner at the house around 6 or 7pm.

    Katherine Sullivan, ISV Costa Rica volunteer alum
    Katherine Sullivan, ISV Costa Rica volunteer alum

    How has this experience impacted your future?

    Katherine: This experience has impacted me in such a huge way! Personally, I learned that there is more to the world than just the United States and that not everyone is the same. I got to see first hand what it's like to live off the land and not material things. The culture taught me to let go, live free, and to not worry as much. With my volunteer work, I learned that sustainability and hard work are needed to keep the environment rich and alive. Professionally, this experience taught me to be more confident. When I arrived home from my trip, I was a newly energized, better individual!

  • First tell us a little about yourself and your trip.

    Rebekah: My Name is Rebekah Apelt and I travelled to Costa Rica with ISV on January 16th, 2012. I come from Brisbane Australia and am a 21 year old university student. What made ISV great for me and what will convince me to go with ISV again was not the amazing trip they sent me on but how well they looked after all the students especially those with prior injuries and problems. They made they experience so easy by organising everything for you and for first time travellers you can feel very safe knowing there're always people to help you.

    Why did you decide to volunteer with ISV in Costa Rica?

    Rebekah: I was at university one day and needed a place to eat lunch so I went into a room that was normally un-occupied. when I walked in ISV representatives were talking about their programs so I stayed to listen and submitted my no commitment forms just in case, It did sound like a good idea at the time. I discussed it with my parents who looked at the 4 places I could choose from and said no to all but Costa Rica.

    I did a bit of research later to see if there was a cheaper option or a better option then going to Costa Rica with ISV but found nothing to match the ISV program. So I paid my deposit and that was that.

    Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

    Rebekah: ISV has a 3 stage trip, Spanish lessons for 1 week, 2 weeks of volunteering and 2 weeks of adventure tour.

    Spanish Lessons were a great way to learn the language quickly. Amy (Another volunteer I met on the trip) and I stayed with host families who spoke a little English and defiantly challenged us to to learn Spanish faster. Classes ran for 4 days and we had 3 field trips.

    Every morning for the week we woke up at 8 ish and walked the 7 blocks to the school, I was in a class of 6 people. Classes went for 4 hours and finished at one. The afternoon we used for Costa Rican dance lessons, cooking lessons and posting letters home. We had plenty of internet access so I was able to post photos online for this week.

    On Saturday the school took the 60 volunteers to visit a volcano and eat some fresh strawberries. On Sunday they took us to an Island on high speed boats and let us do a bit of snorkelling. We also went out on a Wednesday Night to a festival called Ram Luna. These were all lot of fun and gave us some great cultural experiences.

    My volunteer project was made up of 13 people. Our aim was to get research to make the forest and the golf a national park. We spent the first 2 days adapting the extremely muggy and hot climate that is not so different from North Australia. the rest of the 2 week experience involve us dividing to to groups of 3, 3 people would fix, or build the forest track, 3 people would walk the track in search of 3 types of poison dart frogs and the last 6 people would get in a taxi to the jetty and spend the day on a boat find and monitoring dolphins activities.

    During the volunteer project the group stayed in eco friendly cabins, we were taken care of by a lovely host family who could not speak English, we were lucky to have 2 translators/project leaders with us. On 3 afternoons we did cultural activities, cooking, agriculture and fishing. They were a great experience to help the host family out for a bit.

    After the last 2 weeks it was hard to imagine anything that could be better but the Adventure tour defiantly blew my mind. 32 of the volunteers got on to a private bus which was ours for the next 2 weeks. We moved from place to place every 2-3 days managing to make our way around most of northern Costa Rica. We started with white water rafting and water sliding, then came hiking and shopping, zip lining and waterfall repelling, a swim in hot springs and another hike to boiling mud, some more hot springs, horse back riding, canoeing, surfing lessons and last but not least massages on the beach. This was an intense but amazing 2 weeks of adventure and was defiantly worth every cent.

    It was nice to have a 16 hour plane trip back home to sleep of the 5 intense weeks.

    Rafting in Costa Rica
    Rafting in Costa Rica

    What advice do you have for future volunteers?

    Rebekah:

    • No where will it say that you will be going out to nice restaurants and need something more classy to where, but you defiantly do quite a bit of that during the adventure tour.
    • If you get travel sick take lots and lots of travel sickness pills because in Costa Rica they don't sell tablets by the packet they sell them individually so you get 2-4 tablets every pharmacy visit.
    • Take a back pack and not a bag on wheels, you don't always have the option of an elevator and the ground may not be anything more then mud. Leave plenty of room in you pack because some how you end up with twice as much as when you left, even if you don't buy anything things get harder to pack neatly as time goes on.
    • Costa Rica does sell sunscreen, shampoo, conditioner, and lots of other things so don't feel you have to take everything with you from the beginning. you have lots of time to buy the things you need.
    • If you love milk chocolate don't be surprised not to find any in the supermarkets.
    • If you love sweetened condensed milk then you are in luck because they put it on everything.

    How has this experience impacted your future?

    Rebekah: This was my first trip overseas and it taught me a lot. This trip has defiantly made me want to see more of the world and meet lots of new and exciting people. It has also shown me other ways of living with out all the technology that we have in Australia and how to live more eco friendly. The Adventure tour pushed me past my comfort zone and showed me were my limits were.

    My Future will defiantly be made up of lots of over seas volunteering and traveling.

Staff Interviews

  • What is your role at ISV? What inspired you to join them?

    Laura Brenes

    Laura: My role is being a group leader. It means that I work with a group of volunteers on a specific project or program. I joined ISV because I love to work in conservation projects, especially sea turtles projects.

    ISV had many years working in Costa Rica in different conservation projects and involving the communities in the places where they have the project. I think it is really important that the communities get involved in these kind of projects. The conservation is not only the work of a few persons, or a few actions of the government or nongovernmental organizations.

    ISV's vision is to combine the volunteer work of a conservation program with vulnerable species and providing benefits to the local communities. And that dual focus on conservation and communities is the main reason of why I joined the ISV team.

    What do you enjoy most as far as your role?

    Laura: As a group leader, I like to work with volunteers because they are people with a spirit of adventure. They also have a passion for conservation, and independent of the country are respectful of nature, customs and local people. I enjoy interacting with volunteers who often teach me new things about different cultures, different practices, and different ways of thinking.

    What I like most is to see how the volunteers work with a lot of sacrifice but also with love, enjoying the experience which a beautiful country like Costa Rica gives them. I also love, how lots of the volunteers return to their country with the conviction to come back to Costa Rica and keep helping the conservation programs.

    What is your favorite story of a volunteer's experience with ISV in Costa Rica?

    Helping the turtle with volunteers
    Helping the turtle with volunteers.

    Laura: The experience that I liked most is from a group of volunteers on a sea turtle conservation project in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. That group of volunteers was not only deeply involved with sea turtle conservation, but also with the community where they stayed.

    This group helped a woman who had breast cancer. Sh had no money to go to the hospital, so the volunteer group collected money for her, so she could arrive at the hospital to receive treatment.

    For me was it was very impressive to see how a group of volunteers from another country selflessly helped a sick person. I think that is an important part of the volunteer experience, to not only help the a vulnerable or endangered species like the sea turtles, but also to be motivated to help people.

    What should every volunteer considering Costa Rica know?

    Laura: Costa Rica is a country blessed by its geographical location in the tropics and in the middle of the corridor linking North America with South America. Depending on the region, two well marked climates can be observed - the dry season and the rainy season. This is mainly for the Pacific region and the Central Valley, as well as a rainy season almost all year on the Caribbean coast.

    Volunteers wanting a hot and dry environment can choose to come from December to April and participate in projects on the Pacific coast. But if they want to enjoy the rainy season, they can opt to volunteer between May and November and choose the Pacific Coast projects as well as the projects on the Caribbean coast.

    In coastal areas there are mainly conservation projects related with sea turtles. But there are many other species of animals that can be observed as well as different types of forest and ecosystems. So bringing comfortable clothing and walking shoes, camera, and binoculars is a very useful idea. People in Costa Rica have traditionally been very friendly and it is an ideal country to make friends.

    What tips/insights do you have for volunteers in Costa Rica?

    Helping the turtle with volunteers

    Laura: If the volunteers want to visit the tropical rain forest, they can go to the Caribbean coast and the South Pacific Coast, where it rains almost all the year. So they have to be sure to bring a coat with them.

    If the volunteers want to visit the dry tropical forest, they can go to the North Pacific Coast. It is important, independently of the region they visit in Costa Rica, that the volunteers always bring sunblock and insect repellent. It is important for the volunteers that come for the first time to Costa Rica to buy a book or read information about this country, mainly about the history, the culture, the main economic production, the religions and also about the conservation history.

    Remember that Costa Rica as well as the other Latin-American countries have problems of security, so be careful with you luggage and carry your passport closely. Coming to Costa Rica could be an amazing experience and volunteers can learn lots of things about conservation and Costa Rican culture. The volunteers just have to open their minds to new experiences.

About the provider

Our mission is to support sustainable development programs around the world through life changing student volunteer programs designed to positively impact our world and to educate, inspire and result in more active global citizens.

Program destinations include South Africa, Costa Rica, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and the Dominican Republic. ISV has won multiple awards, and over 30,000 participants from around the world have experienced our volunteer, educational, cultural and adventure programs.Volunteers can join small teams for two-week projects in conservation or community development, followed by a two week adventure tour. Many university students earn academic credit for their involvement. Local staff carefully oversee programs and volunteers abroad. ISV is recognized as one of the highest rated volunteer and travel organizations in the world. ISV is a non-profit organization in California, USA and its Australian operations are based in Sydney. Begin your ISV Adventure!