Top Volunteer Projects in Costa Rica

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About

Experience Costa Rica and "pura vida" while helping local communities! Volunteers will be placed all around Costa Rica and work on projects of their choice. GoEco offers something for everyone, from wildlife lovers to medical students.

Highlights
  • Discover the meaning of "pura vida"
  • Get up-close with sloths, leopards, parrots and other fascinating animals
  • Ethical wildlife volunteer tasks and interactions
  • Gain medical experience while helping in local clinics
  • Contribute to the conservation of sea turtles along the stunning coasts

Popular Programs

Two-toed sloth at an animal rescue center

Help sloths and other indigenous animals at one of several wildlife rescue sanctuaries! Volunteers on this program can begin their experience with a week of Spanish lessons and cultural activities in San Jose before heading off to their placement. Volunteers will be placed in one of three outstanding rescue centers. Tasks include preparing food, feeding the animals and maintaining the sanctuary and its enclosures.

Sea Turtle Conservation in Costa Rica Volunteering

Volunteer for sea turtle conservation in Costa Rica! Volunteers may be placed on the Caribbean Coast, or at one of two placements on the Pacific Coast. Volunteers will participate in night patrols, morning surveys and tasks to protect nests. When possible, volunteers will assist in releasing the hatchlings from the hatchery and into the sea! The first week of the program includes Spanish lessons and cultural activities in San Jose.

Female medical volunteer with a baby in San Jose

Join a health care or medical volunteer placement in San Jose! Gain experience in your field of study and enhance your CV while helping those in need. Volunteers are placed according to Spanish language skills and previous experience. Both healthcare and medical volunteers may be placed in local hospitals, clinics, elder homes or related institutions.

Questions & Answers

Reviews

8.25 Rating
based on 4 reviews
  • Impact 7.3
  • Support 8.8
  • Fun 7.5
  • Value 8.5
  • Safety 9.3
Showing 1 - 4 of 4
Default avatar
Jessica
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Perfection

It's a beautiful country with unique culture and rich in exotic animals and plants. Why wouldn't you go is the best question I can ask! This is you're one and only life. Why not make it meaningful?! Give back to this pristine ecosystem and leave this earth better than you found it. :)

What would you improve about this program?
A tad bit more perpetuation as far as packing goes
Default avatar
Lyndsey
3/10
No, I don't recommend this program

Gandoca - not a turtle conservation program

I will share with everyone the email I sent directly to GoEco on my return from my Turtle Conservation trip to Costa Rica:

It was in 2010 that I participated in a week volunteer trip at an animal sanctuary in Namibia, it was THE best experience of my life! I vowed to make volunteer trips around the world a part of my life forever, and went back to school to change my career path in order to make this possible. In 2013 I decided that my next volunteer trip would be to Central or South America working on a turtle conservation project, and so began to study Spanish in preparation. Now in 2015 I am happy to say that I am in the position to make yearly volunteer trips of weeks/months, and so was thrilled when I discovered GoEco, the world’s leading Ecotourism Company, whom I could continue to use for my future yearly trips. My first participation in a GoEco project was to be the turtle conservation trip that I had been in preparation for over the past 2 years.
On June 14th I landed in San Jose, Costa Rica, to commence a 3 week volunteer trip organised through your company. The trip, as defined in the 'full details' section of your website (http://www.goeco.org/area/volunteer-in-central-america/cost…) was to consist of a mandatory one week orientation and Spanish course followed by 2 weeks at a Turtle Conservation Project on either the Pacific or Caribbean coasts. The exact location of my project would not be chosen until my arrival - this is one thing which I really find disadvantageous, after making payment the options should be given, so that if there is not a project that matches what the payee is hoping for, they are able to change dates to match one that does.
One thing that I read and was told over and over again before arriving at my project; ‘go without expectations and you will have a great time’ I did this (it is actually my life motto) but had an extremely disappointing experience, and wanted to give you an account of my experience and some suggestions as to how it could have been improved.

CRLA - ‘go without expectations and you will have a great time’ my one expectation was to improve my Spanish, even if this was just a slight improvement.
As mentioned above the first 'week' was a mandatory week in a Spanish language school. This was the main reason that I chose this trip over the vast majority of options out there, having been studying Spanish for 2 years I thought that this would be a perfect chance for my abilities to be improved. The first thing that I want to say about this mandatory week is that it is only actually only 4 days. Now I wasn’t expecting it to be a full 7 days, but as it states that this would be a week I was hoping for 6, and expecting at least 5. I would suggest changing the wording for this so as not to mislead participants, also, as it is only 4 days, knowledge of this would enable people to plan an activity for the remainder of the week.

I found the mandatory language week a complete waste of time, and speaking to other volunteers during my trip I was not alone, everyone agreed that they got nothing from this ‘week’. The problem that I had personally was that I was placed in a class way below my level, not only did this not enable me to learn anything new or revisit important subjects, it was also such a low level that I wasn’t even exposed to much speech. Having been studying the language for 2 years, I have full knowledge of the grammatical rules, but my ability in conversation is very low. I understand that this is likely why I was placed in such a low grade, but as a volunteer student with only 4 days of classes, I feel like this could have been handled much better. Students who attend the school as a 4 day course prior to commencement of a volunteer project should either be placed into a separate ‘volunteer’class were they can be taught things that will actually help them during their time volunteering; conversational skills for transport/getting around as well as in areas to do with the work the volunteers will be doing during their stay (conversations about the processes of turtle conservation). Or, be asked what it is they are hoping to gain from their time there, in my case I wanted to be exposed to the language itself, especially in areas associated with tenses, and then placed in a class accordingly. Basically, the school need to look at and therefore treat volunteer students differently to the those who are with them for 1 month+ Another general observation I have for CRLA is making the classes Spanish only, being in an absolute beginner class my fellow classmates spent the entire class speaking in English, apart from the odd sentence coaxed out of them by the teacher. Having attended some Spanish classes in Australia, from the very first lesson there is zero English spoken even if you’ve had no previous Spanish experience, and this is extremely beneficial.

The information given to us from the volunteer coordinator at CRLA regarding the project at Gandoca was incorrect, whether this was a deliberate act or just lack of continual research and up to date information on their part I have no idea. We were told that Gandoca was a turtle conservation project; false, there was a hatchery; false, we would require a mosquito net, which incidentally they sold at CRLA; false, we would eat what the family ate; false, there would be 6-10 hours of work split into shifts throughout the day; false.
Another factor I find peculiar with the aspect of the language school/volunteer program, is the fact that they do not arrange transportation to the project, and that your last night at the project is actually spent back in San Jose with the host family. I was under the impression that signing up for 14 days at the project would mean that I had 14 days at the project, this is actually only 12 days as you do not arrive until the Monday and then leave on the morning of the Saturday so as to return to San Jose. Personally, and again the other volunteers that spoke with agreed, I would rather have the school use the money they spend to place me with a host family for the last night on organising transportation to the project instead. This would also allow for another day at the project which is what volunteers pay for. If I am unable to make a return flight home on the Sunday because I leave the project that morning, than it is on me to arrange accommodation for the Sunday night, which again would mean that I would need to know the location of my project prior to commencement of the trip. Also, I have no idea why arrival at the project is a Monday, if I’ve booked and paid to do 14 days at a turtle conservation project, than my arrival day and departure day should be the same.

Gandoca - ‘go without expectations and you will have a great time’ my only expectation was to be placed in a Turtle Conservation Project.

I chose Gandoca over the only other option because it was closer to what I was wanting from my experience, which was to be in an isolated location surrounded by Spanish, where I could participate in all the experiences of turtle conservation including hatchery work. The other option was located in a town with cafes, bars, restaurants etc, the accommodation was not near the beach that would be monitored, a beach which also had tourists trying to spot turtles, and there was no hatchery. Had these two options been given to me on payment I would have opted for a different date so that I could be in a more rustic setting. However, so long as I was involved in turtle conservation, I would be happy, as that is what I went to Costa Rica to do, and had spent two years preparing for.

This leads me to my biggest disappointment with this trip, and the thing that you must rectify if you only act on one aspect of this letter, Gandoca IS NOT A TURTLE CONSERVATION PROJECT. Whilst this may have been a conservation project in the past, and I’m going to assume it was and that things have changed since then rather than this just being sheer incompetence, it is no longer.
The Gandoca Turtle Conservation Project does not exist, what is there is a fruit farm, ran by a reformed family who once ate turtles and their eggs but are now interest in their conservation, who happen to have a family member whom does not live on site, but whom is a turtle conservationist. There was once a hatchery but this had been washed away during storms several times, and so had not been rebuilt, and so there is no longer any nest monitoring. As this is a fruit farm all members of the family are involved in the running of the farm which is a full time job, there is nobody there during the day to run a turtle conservation project, and therefore how can one exist?
Kendal, the turtle conservationist living off site, also works on his family farm during the day, but comes to the ‘project’ at 8pm to take the volunteers on night patrol. As there is nobody to lead and work with the volunteers during the day there is nothing to do, days consist of waking at 8 for breakfast, sitting around for 12 hours, and then going on a 4 hour night patrol; not what I had signed up for. We were told during our induction that we may be able to join the ranger on patrols during the day, but that this could not be guaranteed as it would be the rangers’ choice, and they had new rangers every 8 days. We did join the ranger one day, and spent 4 hours with him, relocating one nest, had this happened every day then Gandoca could be labeled a Turtle Conservation Project, but this only happened once and from the mouths of the family members, ‘could not be guaranteed’. With no supervisor we were not able to do any work during the day as stated in the document we signed at CRLA, however we still collected rubbish on our own a couple of times just so that we were doing something in the terms of turtle conservation.

Nothing comes close to my disappointment in paying to join a Turtle Conservation Project and being placed on a fruit farm, but my next complaint from Gandoca is the food. I had read and had been told that the food in Costa Rica consisted of a lot of rice and beans, but that the family would try to give us variety where ever possible and would be eating the same as the volunteers they were hosting, this did not happen. During my entire stay in Gandoca a tomato, a couple of broccoli florets, a couple of slices of carrot and probably half a pineapple was the grand total of the fresh food that I ate, with other fresh fruit offered on maybe 3 occasions. Breakfast almost always consisted of about half a scrambled egg each, with a lot of onion and 4 slices of buttered bread (there was so much butter on these slices that it was actually possible to squeeze it out into I’d say at least 2tbs of butter), lunch and dinner was boiled rice, heated black beans, fried plantain and more buttered bread, we also only saw actual meat on a handful of occasions. I was well prepared and had not been expecting much from the food, but what I did expect was to be eating what the locals ate, which was not the case, the family often ate differently to what we were offered. What was particularly irritating was the fact that if we were going to be placed on a fruit farm instead of a Turtle Conservation Project, we would at least be offered a variety of fresh fruit daily!

Last thoughts:

The strange thing about my time at Gandoca was that every night following a night patrol, I would go to bed happy, but then 8am would come and I had 12 hours of nothing until the next night patrol, if there even was a night patrol. It was these 12 hours of nothing that led to my decision to leave the project 4 days early, if I wasn’t going to be making a difference then I could at least be having fun and seeing more of Costa Rica. Considering I am an experienced volunteer (I’m a weekly volunteer at Taronga zoo and have volunteered at other organisations in the past) and my attitude towards conservation, hard work and doing what needs to be done to make a difference, I’m sure that you can agree that my decision to leave the project several days early speaks volumes of the project. Yes, during my time there I helped relocate 2 nests, a total of 301 eggs, and helped remove several bags of rubbish from the beach, yet I still left early as I could not stand the thought of being stranded in Gandoca longer than my intended time (a possibility due to the weather), I’ve never once considered leaving a volunteer commitment early in the past!

I write this email to give you a full account of my time at the project organised through your company in the hope that improvements can be made and that Gandoca can be removed as a Turtle Conservation Project, so that nobody else has the disappointing experience that I had. There is nothing that can be done to change the experience that I had, one thing that I always said to the other volunteers was that it might not be the experience we were wanting, but it was still an experience, nobody got hurt and I will never forget it, but I have yearly volunteer trips to look forward to, this is not the case for many. That been said, I can only imagine how unforgettable it could have been had I actually been placed in a Turtle Conservation Project, and this is something that you are able to rectify for future volunteers. Unfortunately, there is little you can do to change my feelings of disappointment, and it is highly unlikely that I will be using your company for my future trips when it is so easy to organise them through projects firsthand, once burned twice shy…

Response from GoEco

We were very upset to read about Lyndsey’s experience at our Gandoca Turtle Conservation project in Costa Rica as we have only ever received positive feedback about this volunteer opportunity. We contacted the volunteer provider as part of an inquiry into her experience and have posted their comments below:

Language course: As indicated in the final confirmation: Language School runs for 5 hours/day group classes, Mon-Thursday - scheduled for one week.In this particular case Information about the course being for only 4 days was communicated before arrival - the idea was that volunteers could enjoy a long weekend before travelling to the project.

Regarding Spanish classes: Volunteers are evaluated based on their current Spanish level (taking into consideration - speaking and understanding ability). We do not have "special" classes for volunteers; they join our regular group. We regret that Lyndsey did not mention to our Spanish coordinator or to her teacher that she wanted a more challenging class because we could have easily moved her to another group. If a volunteer’s expectation is to improve their Spanish, they can enroll in a 2, 3 or 4-week language program.

Project Selection: Volunteers may make a "tentative" selection of a project before arrival, but since there are several options available in the various categories (sea turtles, animal rescue, community development), participants often think it is to their advantage that they have the flexibility to make a final decision when they arrive to the site.

Orientation meeting before volunteering: THIS PROJECT IS NOT A FRUIT FARM - the project has a sea turtle conservation program on the Caribbean coast. This is a well-known site for sea turtles nesting and hatching. Gandoca has a turtle conservation program, run by people from the community with the support of the Department of Environment. It has existed for over 10 years; their season goes from February through July. During June and July there are a few adult turtles arriving and also nests yet to hatch. However, this year, due to the weather condition affecting the Caribbean coast the hatchery and a few nests were washed away, because the heavy rains continued during the project the rebuilding of the nest was postponed. Even though this happened, the Project Coordinator confirmed that volunteers patrolled the beach, saw adult turtles and relocated nests.

The community does have a fruit farm where volunteers may work during the day (most work related to the turtles is done at night).

*We thank Lyndsey for her comments regarding meals. We have already talked with the project coordinator about improving the variety of food, adding more fruits and vegetables.

Working Hours: The average work hours are from 6-10 hours depending on the season. In this specific case, the heavy rain fall every day affected the activities and shifts more than usual. One important detail is that none of the turtle projects have patrols during the day except for watching the hatchery. This specific project offers the volunteers the opportunity to work at the community plantations during the day so they get to help the community and do not get bored.

Transportation to the project: transportation is provided to the bus terminal in the city where they can take the bus to the project. Most of our projects are located 5 to 7 hours from San Jose; providing transportation for these projects would increase the fee for the volunteers, which is something we try to avoid doing.

Arrival at the project: spend 14 days at the project: Volunteers have the option to travel to the projects during the weekend; there are only a couple of projects that require that volunteers travel on Monday for administrative reasons. However, the volunteers usually plan tours for the weekend, especially because they do not have much time to travel around while volunteering or before departure. Although the "volunteering project" part of the program is for two weeks this has always included the days travelling to and from the project as well as a last night at the homestay in San Jose so volunteers can be taken to the airport the next day to fly back home.

We have no turtle projects in a location where there are cafes, restaurants, bars or anything similar. The Caribbean Project was going through a "transition season" at the time, which means there are not many turtles arriving.

Monitoring the beach with rangers: The Department of Environment has a small office at Gandoca. In addition to the patrolling done by the community at night, rangers occasionally monitor the beach during the day and depending on the circumstances, volunteers may go with them. This decision is up to the ranger's discretion and because this is a government entity we cannot insist that they have to take our volunteers on patrol with them.

In the CRLA Document - signed by volunteers - the following is stipulated:

"Depending on the project, volunteers may work from 5-8 hours a day. The workload varies greatly from project to project. If you find your project to have too little available work, you should talk with the local project coordinator. If this interaction leads to an unsatisfactory solution, please contact any member of the CRLA staff to let us know about your situation".

"When working in sea turtle projects it is important to take into consideration some important aspects: (1) During low season nightly patrols along the beach normally last 2-3 hours and most of the work that has to be done is maintenance of the facilities and the camp during the day. (2) The rainy season lasts from May to November. During this period, there are fewer work opportunities, especially during the day."

Should a volunteer have any problems with the project this should be communicated to a project coordinator or CRLA staff member and every effort will be made to rectify the situation.

Default avatar
Emily
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Social Work Projects in Costa Rica

The place I volunteered at the most in Costa Rica was at a school called Escuela Granadilla Norte. I was basically an aide in a kindergarten classroom. I felt like my biggest impact was making work a little easier for some of the teachers there. I felt like I could have contributed more during my volunteering hours if I had been teaching English. However, since I wanted to spend my volunteering hours immersed in Spanish, this seemed like my best option. The teachers at the school made me feel incredibly welcome. All the preschool and kindergarten teachers made a real effort to be nice to me and speak slowly to help me understand things. Saying goodbye to the students and the teachers was incredibly hard, but the hard goodbye reminded me how lucky I was to have had such a good experience.

What would you improve about this program?
After I had been working at Escuela Granadilla Norte for about a week, the teachers found out that I had been walking to the school. They chastised me for not busing to the school, since they said the area was not safe for me. I wish I had been told this in my native language (English) before I started volunteering there by GoEco or CRLA staff.
Default avatar
Sarah
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Saving sea turtles in paradise.

At the beginning of 2012 I made a list of things I wanted to achieve that year, and volunteering was on the list. I saw the GoEco site and decided spending a month on the beach in Costa Rica helping sea turtles would be a good choice. After spending a week in San Jose at the Spanish language school I headed to Camoronal. The staff and volunteers at the project were great, and I made some lifelong friends.

Daily duties included beach and camp maintenance, with time off to relax when it got too hot. The night patrols were my favourite experience while at the project. Waking up in the early hours of the morning to walk a dark beach for a few hours may not sound like much fun, but witnessing the sea turtles come ashore and lay their eggs is an incredible experience. Also knowing you were making a difference and deterring poachers, while relocating the eggs to the hatchery, was a great feeling. Hatchery duty was worth the long hours sitting in the dark when the hatchlings emerged. After taking measurements we released them on the beach for their long, perilous journey to sea, hopefully someday to return to the beach to lay nests of their own. They are the cutest little creatures you will ever see as they make their way down to the water.

I loved my time at Camoronal, it was a beautiful place to spend time. The nearest town is a little trek away, but I loved the remote paradise that I called home. And I do get cravings for gallo pinto for breakfast every now and then.

The experience in Costa Rica changed me forever. I am now studying Marine Biology with the hope to eventually work with sea turtle conservation projects around the world. I would definitely recommend this project, and one suggestion I would have for any people interested is to learn a little more Spanish to have more in depth conversations with some of the staff who only speak Spanish.