Volunteering abroad is a great way to give back while traveling, and one of the best places to do so is Costa Rica. There are volunteer opportunities all across the country in conservation, animal protection, agriculture, medicine, or humanitarian work. Costa Rica has some incredible organizations and initiatives underway that are always looking for volunteers.
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Thanks to our personal experience and recommendations from other expats and locals in Costa Rica, we’ve compiled this list of great places to volunteer in Costa Rica, volunteer programs to look into, and general tips for truly making a difference.
Here are some of the most important things you need to know if you’re interested in volunteering while you explore Costa Rica.
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Types of Volunteer Work in Costa Rica
There are many different opportunities for volunteering in Costa Rica, and all of them have great potential to make a positive impact.
When choosing one, make sure to consider your interests as well as your potential impact, both negative and positive. Here are some of the best choices of volunteer programs within Costa Rica.
Teaching English is one of the most popular choices for international volunteers in general. Volunteering in Costa Rica as an English teacher allows you to help the community to learn a second language and how to better communicate with both tourists in their home countries and the international community at large.
Several organizations need volunteers to teach English, especially in and around San Jose. Be sure to take your time and research every organization, as program fees vary greatly. Also, English teachers are needed all over the country, not just in the capital city. Since you’ll be working with children, the application process will be more involved and requires extra steps such as criminal background checks.
Work in Conservation
Environmentalism is of the utmost importance in a place as biodiverse as Costa Rica. With such rich and valuable forests, plants, animals, and oceans, Costa Rica’s ecosystems need lots of looking after.
As a volunteer in conservation, you’ll have the chance to help with various conservation projects, such as working at a tree nursery, improving hiking trails, and working on reforestation projects.
Help with Beach Conservation Efforts
Costa Rica is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in this part of the world, and protecting their delicate ecosystems takes work. There are several conservation projects that are constantly running volunteer programs. Work includes trail maintenance, beach cleanup, and assisting with ongoing research projects.
Maximo Nivel has been running volunteer programs since 2003, and offers an all-inclusive beach conservation program on the Nicoya peninsula. Fees include accommodations, two daily meals, orientation, and airport pick-up.
Contribute to Conservation Efforts in a National Wildlife Refuge
A great conservation organization to volunteer in Costa Rica with is Osa Conservation. As a volunteer, you’ll be involved in programs focused on restoration and biodiversity monitoring, organic farming, sea turtle conservation, and general station maintenance at parks and nature preserves on the Osa peninsula. Program fees include 3 meals a day, and a full week of training.
Help in a Cloud Forest Reserve
There are several cloud forests in Costa Rica, with Monteverde being the most famous. Volunteer opportunities at Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve are typically restricted to trail maintenance, but there are more activities for volunteers at smaller, privately owned cloud forest reserves. Cloudbridge is one such reserve, and volunteers have the opportunity to assist in reforestation efforts, reserve maintenance, and tourist assistance.
Costa Rica is known worldwide for its incredible wildlife. Volunteer programs with an animal protection or rehabilitation project is a great way to give back to the beautiful animals that have been threatened by humans.
SIBU is one of the premier wildlife rehabilitation programs in Costa Rica that seeks to help injured or displaced animals become self-sufficient and be re-released into the wild. Volunteers can help with animal care, construction, farming, and more. Fees include on-site accommodation, and there is a minimum time commitment for non-local volunteers. While SIBU welcomes committed volunteers from all backgrounds, there is a particular interest in candidates with experience or education in wildlife rehabilitation, conservation, or administrative duties such as fundraising and marketing.
Another great animal sanctuary is the Rescue Center, a grassroots organization that focuses on helping endangered species in Costa Rica. They have an on-site animal hospital where most of their volunteers work. Volunteers clean and maintain animal enclosures, prepare food and build toys for the animals, and participate in educational community projects. Fees include accommodation, three healthy meals per day, and fun night activities like night walks and movie nights.
If you’re interested in helping out with a specific type of animal, the following are a few more tailored and unique programs.
Be a Toucan Research Assistant
At the Toucan Rescue Ranch, you can join a volunteer organization that works to keep Toucans and other animals strong and healthy while they are researched by scientists. You’ll chop and prepare food for the animals as well as perform general maintenance and upkeep around the facilities. The organization is committed to conservation, education, and research for Costa Rica’s flora and fauna.
Help at the Jaguar Rescue Center
The Jaguar Rescue Center is an ethical organization that works to protect endangered species in the rainforest. Their nursery provides nourishment and veterinary treatment to animals in need. As a volunteer in Costa Rica at the Jaguar Rescue Center, you’ll have the chance to work with specialists to help injured, sick, or orphaned animals get back on their feet. There is a small fee to volunteer here, but your money goes directly back to the organization.
Be a Turtle Volunteer in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is famous for its sea turtle population and Leatherback sea turtles are particularly at risk; oftentimes, their eggs are poached straight from the beach. However, thanks to organizations like the Corcovado Foundation, great work is being done in the way of sea turtle conservation.
As a part of the sea turtle volunteer program in Costa Rica, you’ll work on the beach helping the organization relocate and protect nests. You’ll also have the chance to work in the turtle nursery, which is one of the most popular options for volunteering in Costa Rica.
For this program, there is also a small fee to participate in this experience, but it covers your stay as well as room and board on site.
Help to Save the Monkeys
SalveMonos is a great organization that focuses specifically on monkeys. As a monkey volunteer, you’ll help with conservation efforts like reforestation, research activities, and care for the animals themselves in designated sanctuaries.
Work On a Farm
Working on a farm is an awesome choice for volunteering in Costa Rica. Oftentimes, farmers work exclusively with their families and are understaffed. Having volunteers, especially during harvest, makes their work much easier. In addition, you’ll be in the perfect setting to get to know your host and form a relationship with them in order to better serve them and their community.
A great way to volunteer on a farm in Costa Rica is by going through WWOOF, or Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Locals have to submit their farms to the website and call for volunteers, so you can be sure that your help is wanted and needed by the community. The WWOOF organization has a great commitment to sustainability. In Costa Rica, there are various opportunities currently open.
Work with Children and Communities
If you’re more interested in social work, people, and local communities, there are plenty of volunteer projects to be found in Costa Rica.
One is the Aldeas Infantiles, an organization that works with at-risk children who are suffering from their circumstances. They especially focus on youth that live in poverty, deal with domestic violence, or don’t have parental care.
Another great non-profit to volunteer with is CEPIA (which stands for Culture, Education and Psychology for Infants and Adolescents). Volunteers will work with kids and teens to get them involved in extracurricular activities, help them look after their health, and help them become great members of society as they grow up.
One final organization to check out is Hogar de Vida (Homes of Life). This is a Christian non-profit that runs foster homes for young children in Costa Rica. As a volunteer, you’ll help with outreach programs, assist with the children, and complete basic office work. Because there are few fluent English speakers at either location, a basic understanding and speaking ability of Spanish is necessary.
Where to Find Opportunities for Volunteering in Costa Rica
If you’re not looking for a specific type of volunteer program and just want to see what kind of options are out there, we highly recommend Workaway, a volunteer exchange program with opportunities all over the world. Currently, there are over 300 opportunities listed for volunteering in Costa Rica. All opportunities are submitted by locals.
Opportunities include working on organic farms, helping in eco-hostels, contributing to community projects in indigenous reserves, and so much more. Many hosts welcome digital nomads, and lodging is provided to volunteers. Meals may or may not be provided, so make sure to do a bit of research about the area you’ll be working in.
GoAbroad is also a great place to find opportunities for volunteering in Costa Rica. They collect and curate opportunities from across the internet and currently have more than 150 listings in Costa Rica.
Most of the volunteer programs featured on GoAbroad are related to conservation efforts and teaching, but there are opportunities to use specialized skills and experience you may have, such as medical care and environmental research. Program length, fees, and requirements vary from project to project, so you’ll have no problem finding an opportunity that works for you.
Is My Volunteer Experience in Costa Rica Ethical and Sustainable?
While most volunteers have their hearts in the right place, it is always important to do your research ahead of time and determine, to the best of your ability, if your chosen volunteering program is ethical and sustainable. While most programs do a great job, some are just out to make a profit.
It is your job and responsibility as a volunteer in Costa Rica to make sure you work with only reputable projects that make a positive impact.
Like much of Central America, Costa Rica is a vulnerable country on many fronts, especially when it comes to nature and wildlife. In the effort to help, volunteers run the risk of inadvertently causing harm to animals, plants, and people in Costa Rica. To make sure your volunteer experience makes a difference, a little research is required beforehand.
- While choosing your volunteer program, make sure to select one in which you’ll have the proper training to do the tasks necessary. You also need to evaluate whether or not money is a driving factor of the organization. Inquire where program fees are directed to, and consider why volunteer work is required for the organization to run. If they are reaping large profits that could be going to the community instead, they may not be worth supporting.
- In addition, be aware that volunteer workers can often take away job opportunities from locals. For this reason, construction projects and childcare opportunities should be strictly vetted, if not avoided altogether.
- Perhaps the most important tip is to find out whether or not the volunteer project is something the community supports. It doesn’t matter how good the intentions are. If the local community is against it, don’t support the program.
- Finally, make sure you are volunteering for the right reasons. If you simply want to boost your resume or make yourself feel good instead of truly wanting to make a difference, perhaps volunteering in Costa Rica simply isn’t for you.
If you want to volunteer abroad, Costa Rica is a great place for you. There are tons of options and great opportunities for you to make a positive difference in the communities you visit. Remember to first make sure your volunteer experience is ethical and sustainable, then have a great time making a positive impact in Costa Rica.
Have you volunteered in Costa Rica? Share your experiences below!
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