ISV - Volunteer Projects in Costa Rica

This program is no longer offered. View more programs from ISV (International Student Volunteers).

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About

Costa Rica is filled with a colourful array of animals, white beaches, lush rainforests, rivers, volcanoes and smiling communities. The national motto is "Pura Vida," meaning Pure Life, and the volunteer projects offered by International Student Volunteers (ISV) reflect this sentiment in every way. ISV works with grassroots initiatives to address social and environmental issues facing this Central American country, in methods that directly benefit locals. Projects range from wildlife conservation, community development, children's programs and environmental management.

You could be observing the feeding behavior of endangered species, mapping habitats, monitoring dolphin populations, or taking beach patrols to protect turtle nests. Community development projects involve working alongside locals in recycling, reforestation, trail building, organic farming and habitat restoration. For more details on how to preserve Costa Rica’s valuable biodiversity, visit ISV's website today!

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Questions & Answers

I don't believe you can scuba dive. You can however snorkel, in fact they take you to a small fishing village in which you can snore at with beautiful corals.

Reviews

9.66 Rating
based on 141 reviews
  • Impact 9.3
  • Support 9.4
  • Fun 8.4
  • Value 9.4
  • Safety 9.4
Showing 1 - 8 of 141
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Carol
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

ISV Costa Rica Program 2016

When I first learned about what ISV was, I immediately wanted to sign up- and I'm so glad I did! Traveling to Costa Rica in the summer of 2016, was the best experience of my life that I've had so far. My career goal is to become a veterinarian, so when I found out that ISV had programs involving wildlife conservation I was hooked. Luckily I was placed in the Osa in Water project, which involved many aspects of sea turtle conservation, and I was thrilled! The project site was on Playa Blanca, and we traveled to several neighboring beaches where we would set up nets in the ocean in order to capture either Hawksbill, or Black sea turtle species. Once we had one trapped in the net, the researchers would haul it onto the boat, ride to shore, and we would conduct the data research of measuring the turtle's carapace, plastron, and tail length. If it was a new turtle that we had never encountered before, we would give it a number tag on its left and right flipper in order to monitor its travel patterns. We would also take a tissue sample from its hind flipper so the researchers could further study blood lines. On days where we weren't working directly with the sea turtles, we would plant Mangrove seeds, which are a vital food source for the Hawksbills. We would also do beach clean ups, and different maintenance work along the project site. It felt so rewarding, being able to help conduct this project successfully. Something I would definitely do again!

What would you improve about this program?
The project was great!
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Dulce
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Gracias Costa Rica! Pura Vida!

Sharing a story of your experience in Costa Rica is very challenging, there are just so many things I learned and how now applied to my daily life. Costa Rica changed my perspective of living and life in general in a positive way. One thing that I wont forget is how aware people are of there environment and try to provide ways to reduce pollution. I was able to appreciate small basic needs, like the ability to have clean drinking water. I also learned to try and live more eco-friendly and reduce the impact of trash. The moment I realized how beautiful and rich Costa Rica is was when I kayaked to Rio Tropicales lodge. The beauty there is hard to describe and difficult to forget. Trees everywhere surround you and you have this huge river that sound like a lion roar at all times of the day. Hiking around and being able to feel the rain pour down your face has never felt to relaxing.

What would you improve about this program?
Allowing people to explore more of the community and town. Being able to communicate and emerge people with the culture and environment.
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Kylee
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

My first time abroad with ISV

The whole trip was 5 weeks long since I did the optional spanish class week. My project was in Playa Blanca in the Osa Peninsula. The Gulf we stayed on was incredible! The first morning we were there we woke up early to watch the sunrise. The water was calm, there were hardly any clouds and the sun painted the sky brilliant colors of orange and pink. We watched as turtles surfaced for air while feeding in the tranquil gulf. It was a rare sight to see in the rainy season!
We stayed in cabins close to the beach and worked along side a group of sea turtle researchers called LAST (Latin American Sea Turtles). We helped with turtle data collection as well as reforestation of mangrove forests in the intertidal zones of multiple beaches. With ISV we also had numerous group discussions about the importance of sustainable development and how our work in Playa Blanca related to sustainable development and ecotourism. Though we were there for turtles, planting the mangroves was surprisingly my favorite part! It made me feel like I was really making a difference!
The last 2 weeks of the trip was our Adventure Tour. We got to travel all across the country, stay in hostels and hotels that supported ecotourism and conservation, learn about national parks and experience the flora and fauna of Costa Rica! We saw 7 sloths in one day! 3 species of monkey, countless species of insects, and so much more! We did white water rafting, hiking, ziplining, repelling, horseback riding, tubing, kayaking, surfing, and stopped at a couple hotsprings along the way! The tour was adrenaline packed and fun for everyone including myself!
I was unlucky in that, during my project with the sea turtles I was injured and ended up breaking my ankle. But, being as stubborn and determined as I am, and with the invaluable help I received from the staff at the ISV Costa Rica office and numerous local guides along the way, I was able to participate in almost everything! With any other travel group that would have been impossible! ISV cares so much for their volunteers and without their help I would have missed out on so many memories and adventures! I will definitely be traveling with ISV again in the future!

Shillo
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Experience of a Lifetime

Volunteering in Costa Rica with ISV was one of the best decisions I've ever made. I learned so much and met so many great people. The experience helped me strengthen my Spanish speaking skills, humble my ideas of living, increase my appreciation of nature, conquer some of my fears, gain knowledge of animal life, and so much more. I can tell that this experience has made me a better person now that I am back home. I am more patient and more aware of my impact on the environment. I would highly recommend that people interested in responsible tourism to go to Costa Rica with ISV.

What would you improve about this program?
Just getting ISV known more among students.
Kayla
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

A Month in Costa Rica

As a marine science major, I was extremely excited to be traveling to Costa Rica to work with sea turtles for two weeks. This had been a dream of mine since I was three, and ISV gave me that opportunity. Of course I was nervous to be living with a local family since I barely know Spanish, but after a day, I felt like a part of their family. I learned so much about the culture; it was a very humbling experience. The village where I lived was small, and although people didn't own much, they were happy and willing to take me and my group in. By the end of the two weeks of living with my host family, most of the village recognized me and even knew my name. It was hard to leave the family, especially the two little kids who were like siblings, but I will always remember them. As for working with the sea turtles, it was very hard and tiring work, and it was better than I could have imagined. We went on night patrols since the turtles usually lay their eggs at night, and we counted how many eggs a female would lay, measured the length and width of the shell, and tagged the flipper. On the very first night we found 26 turtles, which is way more than usual. A couple of nights later, a phenomenon known as Arribada occurred. This is the large gathering of nesting turtles in populations of Ridley Turtles. It only happens at four beaches in the world, and during about three days of the month throughout the summer. All I can say is that I was very lucky to see this! I learned so much while working with these amazing creatures, and this project confirmed my dreams of majoring in marine science.
So as I mentioned in the title, this was a month-long trip. After two weeks of working with turtles on the Pacific Coast, we met up with another group who had been doing a different project, and we spent the next two weeks traveling all over Costa Rica. In each place that we stopped, we had various activities that we could participate in, such as white water rafting, zip lining, rappelling, surfing, etc. These were all very exciting, but there were also relaxing activities such as sitting in natural hot springs and even a Thai massage on the beach. This adventure tour offered something for everyone, and the tour guide was very friendly and helpful in any situation. Even though this tour was more "touristy," I still learned a lot about the beautiful country and the different people who live there. This program was the most valuable experience of my life so far, and I will definitely continue to travel in the future.

What would you improve about this program?
This program was very organised and no large problems occurred during my project, however, the overview that we received before-hand could have provided more realistic expectations about how we should dress on the tour. It had implied that shorts and tank tops were "frowned upon," but as it is a very hot and humid country, most of the locals wear shorts and tank tops just like I do back home. Many of the people in my group had to buy clothes there because the clothes they brought were too hot. Also the program should be more clear about how flights work. I booked my flights through a travel agency that they provided, but many other people booked their own flights because they didn't know about the travel agency. This caused confusion about arrival and departing times, as well as to if transportation would be provided or not to the airport by the company.
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Alixandra
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Thank you, ISV!

I didn't know what to expect when I applied for this program. These days, young people traveling is very common. Family vacations or road trips with friends or even simple day trips to the town over. But there's something about volunteer projects that are different. Putting your entire soul into something bigger than yourself is one of the most rewarding and life-changing experiences. Seeing the world in a whole new light!

By the end of my junior year, I felt the strong urge to just pack up and leave. The staff at ISV made sure to make the application process as easy as possible. I don't think there was ever a day where I had tried to call the office and wasn't able to reach them. While on the trip, I never once feared for my safety or feared that I would be misguided. ISV knows exactly what they're doing. Put your trust in them!

When I had finally gotten to Costa Rica in July 2016, I was assigned to the project Nancite Beach Sea Turtle Conservation. Let me tell you, Nancite Beach is an amazing place and I'm only saying "amazing" because there are absolutely no words to describe the way I felt being here. Not many people can say they've been to this beach because it's closed off to everyone except researchers and student volunteers. For about two weeks, there were 17 of us on an isolated beach, in the middle of the dry rainforest, working very closely with olive-ridley sea turtles. Our group alone was able to take a variety of statistics on about 27 grown sea turtles and released around 440 baby sea turtle hatchlings into the ocean. The first time we saw the baby turtles, we rejoiced! New life, right in front of our eyes! It was so beautiful that it even brought some to tears. We even went as far as to name them and call them OUR babies, creating an even bigger incentive for ocean conservation.

It wasn't just about the project that made this experience great. The people who I was surrounded with were so full of life and positive energy that made the project as amazing as it was. Being able to connect with people on a new level without phones or service and internet or even hot water was an incredibly different experience. These people helped me grow and learn so much about myself, others, and the world around me. Our project leaders, Esteban, Wilberth, and Michael, were some of the most passionate people I've met. They turned our entire volunteer project into something better and bigger than just "work". Spanish became fun, cooking became easy, and dancing became carefree and light.

Costa Rica has been an experience like no other. This trip has changed my mindset and view of the world. My heart is forever changed. PURA VIDA. I love you, Costa Rica.

What would you improve about this program?
Be prepared to bring more money or pay more than expected. Costa Rica is not that cheap! The prices are around the same as they are in the United States.

If you get assigned to the Nancite Sea Turtle project, BRING HIKING BOOTS. Not just Nike running shoes. The hike to get into the site is strenuous!
Default avatar
Maggie
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

La Vida Tica

Costa Rica is an incredible country and ISV was a great program to introduce first-time travelers to a new environment. The program centered around sustainability and community development and did a fantastic job of challenging participants to think differently and try new things. I especially appreciated this program because while there was plenty of guidance, we had opportunities to create our own memories specific to our own interests. Staying with a host family was a fascinating way to learn new spanish words and phrases and really see how Costa Ricans live-purely and with a huge emphasis on community and family. I would highly recommend this program as it showed me how to challenge myself and create relationships by finding common ground with new people.

Becky
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Impacting Two Worlds with One Trip

Going into my first year of college I knew for a fact I wanted to study abroad and immerse myself into a completely different country, but I never knew where, when, for what, and how.

One day while sitting in my psychology class, a random young lady handed out a flyer about ISV and gave a brief explanation of what the program is before class and where we meetings are held to learn more information. I always have enjoyed volunteering in my communities, but never thought about volunteering abroad or even knew there was such thing for busy students like me. I decided to go to the information session and fell in love with what ISV had to offer. My major is very specific: athletic training, and I am trying to pursue a minor in Spanish, but my whole life I have been interested in marine life and exotic ecosystems. For 5 weeks I would be spending a week learning Spanish (perfect for dipping my toes into what a full language abroad program would be like), spend 2 weeks conserving either wildlife or the endangered rain forests, and for the last 2 weeks traveling to multiple beautiful cities in the country engaging in activities some people will never be able to do in their lifetime. This trip sounded like a once in a lifetime experience, and it reached above and beyond my expectations once I set foot in Costa Rica.

In just a short amount of time I practiced and learned Spanish skills I will continue to use in my future, volunteered in the Osa Peninsula by measuring the diameter of trees and counting seeds all throughout the gorgeous rain forest, spent two weeks traveling across the country, and of course make friendships that may be all over the world, but last a forever. Traveling with ISV was one of the best decisions I have ever made because I know I have made an impact in the world, and the world has made an impact on me. Every experience we encounter shapes us to who we are today, and this will be an experience I will never forget.

What would you improve about this program?
The organization before leaving for the trip could have been a lot better. Calling was helpful most of the time, but I found it hard to get my questions fully answered. In addition, ISV has lists for what to bring on your trip and not everything on the lists were needed nor did I bring things that I had wished I brought after I was in Costa Rica. The last thing that could be improved is just the information about the volunteer project, host families, leaders, etc could have been a little more specific or detailed. I did not know much information before my flight to Costa Rica, which made me very nervous. Although the minor flaws, I loved my trip and would to experience something like this again.