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Costa Rica - Animal Rescue and Conservation

Costa Rica has more than 8,500 species of plants, 220 species of reptiles, 160 amphibians, 205 species of mammals, and 850 species of birds. Volunteers here play an important role in the conservation of Costa Rica's incredible biodiversity and have responsibilities that are vital to the success of the wildlife rescue centers.



Fast Facts

Location of ProjectAlajuela Province, Guanacaste Province
Project LengthMin 3 weeks: 1 week orientation/Spanish course + 2 weeks at the rescue center
Arrival AirportJuan Santamaria International Airport (SJO)
Volunteer WorkPreparing food and caring for the animals, cleaning cages and trails, and general maintenance
Number of Participants15 international volunteers (Alajuela + Turrucares), 6 international volunteers (Guanacaste)
Age18 - 80
Arrival Day Sunday

What's Included

AccommodationHomestay (Alajula), House (Guanacaste), Volunteer lodge (Turruacares)
Food2 meals a day during Spanish course and 3 meals a day during project
SupportLocal in-country team and 24hr emergency support
Airport TransfersIncluded on arrival and departure in San Jose
Orientation Cultural immersion and Spanish lessons in San Jose
Pre-Departure Kit Full project details will be sent following registration
Insurance Comprehensive travel health insurance with volunteer abroad coverage

What's Not Included

Flights, personal expenses, visa (if required), lunch during 1st week language course, local transportation in San Jose (around $1-2/day), transportation to volunteer site from San Jose after orientation week ($4 - $22 round trip), cost to return by taxi to accommodation for departure $9 to $15


Costa Rica is one of the world's most popular destinations for eco-tourists because of its proportionally huge amount of biodiversity. Costa Rica may contain as much as 5 per cent of the worlds plant & animal species - this in a country that is only as large as the states of Vermont and New Hampshire combined. Costa Rica is Spanish for rich coast. As such, one can expect to find this place to be the ideal tropical paradise with bewilderingly diverse landscapes, flora, and fauna. From rainforests, to dry tropical and temperate forests, to volcanos, to Caribbean and Pacific beaches, to high mountains, and marshy lowlands, this country has it all.

Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica


About the Project

Despite being a small country, Costa Rica has a great natural wealth. However, habitat destruction from deforestation, poaching, indiscriminate use of pesticides, the illegal pet trade, and the lack of wildlife protection have caused a decline in the populations of many species to levels that threaten their survival. Rescue and conservation is organized through the Costa Rican government National Park Association, as well as with private conservation organizations. 


First Week Orientation and Spanish Courses

The first week of the minimum three-week program takes place in San Jose. It consists of cultural enrichments and Spanish courses that facilitate acclimation into the Costa Rican culture before the volunteer leaves to begin the project itself.  The courses include Spanish grammar rules, emphasis on pronunciation for increased ease of conversation, and allows plenty of practice time for verbal and written Spanish. The goal of this program is to provide the student with basic language skills and functional fluency. Participation in the orientation week is mandatory as it acts as an important stepping stone for the volunteer before traveling into the rural areas where the reserve is.  (If the participant speaks fluent Spanish before coming on the project an exception may be made to waive the orientation, though it is highly recommended in order to have the most fulfilling experience.  Please contact GoEco to discuss this option prior to registration.)

The first Monday, at 8am, volunteers are asked to take a Spanish test in order to gauge their fluency level and correctly place them into appropriate classes.

Here is an example of an orientation week schedule:

9-12pm                                                   Spanish classes
12-1pm                                                    Lunch break
1-3pm                                                      Spanish classes
3-5pm (Monday-Thursday)                  Dance classes
3-4pm (Tuesday)                                   Yoga Class
3-4 or 4-5pm (Wednesday)                 Costa Rican cooking lessons
4-5pm (Tuesday & Thursdays)           Additional Conversation sessions


Volunteer Work and Contribution

You will be placed at one of the following animal rescue centers.

Alajuela Rescue Center: This center focuses on rescuing the injured and displaced animals that are brought to this project by Costa Rican officials from all over the country. Many are able to be nursed back to health and, when possible, released back into their natural habitat. Tapirs, spider monkeys, green macaws, scarlet macaws, and different types of felines are just some of the animals that are rehabilitated and bred here.

You will volunteer from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday to Friday. Your tasks may include:

  • Preparing food for the animals
  • Feeding the animals
  • Cleaning cages, bathing animals
  • Building enclosures
  • Helping maintain the facilities
  • Guiding tourists

Location:  In the Province of Alajuela, this wildlife center is approximately 3 hours by bus from San Jose.

Guanacaste Rescue Center: The Guanacaste region in which the center is located has undergone great changes over the past five decades. With an increasing number of people migrating to the area, there has been a major increase in housing development and industry that has greatly encroached on native wildlife. Due to a greater need for transportation and its resulting infrastructure, the Guanacaste region is witnessing too many animals losing their lives trying to adapt in their new environments. The center's mission is to rescue and protect these wild animals. They also aim to provide environmental education to adults and children in the nearby communities. 

You will volunteer six to eight hours a day, Monday to Friday. Some of the tasks may include:

  • Cleaning animal cages 
  • Collecting and recycling of non-biodegradable materials
  • Preparation of food, and feeding the animals
  • Providing assistance to the veterinarian upon request 
  • Cleaning existing trails and making new ones.
  • Planting trees
  • Assisting with normal building maintenance
  • Providing tours of the park to visitors
  • Teaching environmental education 

Location: The center is located on the North Pacific area of Costa Rica, approximately 200 km from the city of San Jose.

Turrucares Rescue Center: This center focuses on the care, rehabilitation, and study of Costa Rica wildlife. They work directly with the government, receiving confiscated, sick and injured wild animals. Many of these animals can return to the wild and for the ones that can't, stay in the center.  The center was started when the owners rescued a two-toe sloth and over time the center has received iguanas, snakes, birds of prey, deer, sloths, monkeys, and green turtles. The owners joined forces with a renowned Costa Rican biologist to ensure that the animals receive adequate care and attention.

You will volunteer from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday to Friday. Your tasks may include:   

  • Cleaning and/or washing the cages before feeding the animals
  • Preparing food for the animals (mostly chopping fruits and some vegetables)
  • Feeding some of the animals
  • Providing a caring environment for the animals, checking for any injuries
  • Participating in general maintenance for the infrastructure
  • Cleaning trails and putting up signs
  • Providing information to visitors
  • Participating in activities such as construction, painting ,artwork for project facilities

Location:  This center is located in a tropical dry forest on the west side of the Central Valley, approximately 40 km NW of San Jose.


Living Arrangements 

Accommodations: During the orientation and Spanish course, you will be placed with a host family in San José. 

Alajuela Rescue Center: You will stay with a host family in a private room. Facilities are basic; rooms, showers and bathrooms are clean and provide a comfortable stay. The host families are located within walking distance from the center. There is WiFi available and your host family can do your laundry for you. 

Food - Three meals a day are included.  The food follows the daily Costa Rican diet which consists of rice, beans, pasta, red meat, vegetables and many kinds of fruit. Please note that meals at this center are very simple. Vegetarian meals are also available.

Guanacaste Rescue Center: You will stay at a house within the project. There are three rooms with two bunk beds and private bathroom in each, and a small living area. You are responsible for keeping the house clean. Available services include potable water, electricity, wired internet access, bathroom and a closet in each room, plus a nice small pool and a gas stove. A washing machine is available, but you have to bring laundry detergent.  

Food - Three meals a day are included. Meals consist mainly of rice, beans, plantains, vegetable salads, chicken, beef or pork, eggs, fruits and occasionally corn flakes and milk for breakfast. Meals are provided in the park`s restaurant at 8 am (breakfast), 12 noon (lunch), and 6 pm (dinner) Additional snacks and drinks are available for purchase at the restaurant.

Turrucares Rescue Center: You will stay in a volunteer lodge, sharing rooms and bathrooms with other volunteers. There is a swimming pool on site for you to enjoy during your free time.

Food - Three meals a day are included.  The food follows the daily Costa Rican diet which consists of rice, beans, pasta, red meat, vegetables and many kinds of fruit. Please note that meals at this center are very simple. Vegetarian meals are also available.


Minimum Requirements

  • Minimum age 18 +
  • Minimum 3-week stay: 1 week orientation/Spanish course + 2 weeks at wildlife project
  • Minimum of basic conversational Spanish
  • Able to cope with basic conditions  
  • Love for animals
  • Immunizations (please consult your doctor)  Check the GoEco Information Sheet


Important Notes

  • Most rangers and other Costa Rican personnel at the site do not speak English (conversational Spanish is required).
  • Work lasts at least 6 hours during the day and will include various chores related to animal care as well as maintenance of the facilities, and any special activities being currently developed by the project staff.
  • The facilities are basic; some of the centers are isolated but have all the required services.
  • As it is a tropical jungle environment, there are mosquitoes and other insects. (Mosquito nets available and can be purchased at the CRLA offices.)
  • Sunny, hot, and humid weather.
  • There will be plenty of leisure time, so bringing books and table games is recommended.
  • Depending on the location of the project, during the rainy season (varies -   from May to November) there are fewer opportunities to work during the day.


Here's an excerpt of Hannah's experience:

  "Every day we chose different tasks ranging from preparing a rich meal of fruits and vegetables for the various animals and supplying them with water to cleaning their cages and babysitting infant orphaned sloths and monkeys."
Read the rest of her story on the GoEco blog!



Here's an excerpt of Jennifer's experience:

  "I spent two weeks on the Animal Rescue and Conservation Program in San Carlos in the summer of 2012. San Carlos is a beautiful rural part of Costa Rica; it is much quieter and less busy than San José. I stayed with a host family who were extremely accommodating and kind!"
Read the rest of her story on the GoEco blog!

Check out our Volunteer Blog at blog.goeco.org to read experiences written by GoEco volunteers from all over the world!

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