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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 and Pacific Region
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, monitoring animals, cleaning cages and trails, and general maintenance
Number of Participants10 international volunteers (Alajuela), 65 volunteers (Turrucares), 20 international volunteers (Central Pacific), and 20 volunteers (Puntarenas Sanctuary)
Age18 - 70
Arrival Day Sunday

What's Included

AccommodationHomestay (Alajuela), volunteer dorm (Turrucares), volunteer double rooms (Central Pacific),volunteer house (Puntarenas Sanctuary)
Food2 meals a day during Spanish course and 3 meals a day while at the 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 ($6 - $30 round trip), cost to return by taxi to accommodation for departure (approx $12.00)


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 world's 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 volcanoes, to Caribbean and Pacific beaches, to high mountains, and marshy lowlands, this country has it all.


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
3-4pm (Monday-Thursday)                  Latin 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 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., 6 days per week with one day off.  

Location:  In the Province of Alajuela, this wildlife center is approximately 2 hours by bus from 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. A few can return to the wild, those that cannot, remain at 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 staff has many years of experience, and are friendly and flexible.

You will volunteer for approx 6 hours a day, and get 1 day off.

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.

Central Pacific Project. While undergoing reforestation and due to the appearance of wild animals (lost their habitat, injured, mistreatment by humans, etc.) in this private reserve, the owners financed an animal rescue center with the income received from their ecological hotel. Supervised by the Department of the Environment, with veterinarian care and support by local staff and volunteers, a percentage of the animals return to their habitat, others remain in a secluded area or are placed in another center.  Some of the animals currently at this center are monkeys, tropical birds, raccoons, and coatimundis; others are added when found in surrounding areas. This project also has a butterfly garden, stables, a waterfall and a hotel. 

You will volunteer for approximately 6 hours a day, 6 days a week, and get 1 day off. Volunteers are organized in shifts, depending on the needs of the project coordinators.

Location:  This is a natural reserve, located 20 km from the central Pacific coast.  It is approx. 3 ½ hours from San Jose.

Puntarenas Sanctuary: The sanctuary was created in 1994 to protect scarlet macaws, great green macaws and other wild parrots. These birds have been victimized by humans; they were hunted, removed from their natural habitat to be sold and their environment destroyed by deforestation. Volunteers will be involved in caring for a variety of birds, jaguars, ocelots, spider monkeys and tortoises. There are currently four projects at the sanctuary: wildlife management, environmental education, ecological tourism, and reforestation.

You will volunteer for 6 hours/day, with one day off per week.

Location: The sanctuary is located in the Province of Puntarenas, north Pacific side of Costa Rica, approximately 4 1/2 hours from San Jose.

Some of the daily chores you will be assigned include:

  • Preparing food for the animals
  • Washing the animals’ eating and drinking areas
  • Feeding the animals
  • Washing utensils & cleaning kitchen where food is prepared
  •  Separate ripe and green fruit and store in proper areas
  • Distributing food on the trails and around the rescue center
  • Placing fresh water in the bird cages
  •  Providing a caring environment for the animals, checking for injuries
  • Monitoring activities:  weekly walks on trails to monitor wild animals and supply fresh fruit; look out for any new wild animals on the premises and report; visit the observation area to check the animals and monitor their behavior.
  •  Maintenance chores:  repairing, cleaning, planting, installing, building, painting, reforesting, etc. facilities.



For an additional $200 volunteers can join this project as an Intern. Internships are designed to provide participants with professional experience for career exploration and development. You must be a university student majoring in Conservation/ Marine biology or Environmental issues. To ensure a valuable experience, you need to join this internship for a minimum of 4 weeks.  An intermediate level of Spanish proficiency is usually required and, regardless of the Spanish level, at least one week of Spanish Immersion course and orientation prior to the start of the program is recommended.
This Internship program includes accommodation in San Jose with a host family for the first week  (2 meals included), accommodation at your respective project site - which could include cabins, tents, or a volunteer house, Spanish course, orientation,  bi-weekly follow-ups and 24/7 support during the program with a final evaluation. Interns will be required to work 8 hours 6 days per week.


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. Three meals a day are included. 

Turrucares Rescue Center: You will stay in a volunteer dorm, sharing rooms and bathrooms with other volunteers. Three meals a day are included. 

Central Pacific Project.  You will share rooms and bathrooms with other volunteers. Three meals a day are included. 

Puntarenas Sanctuary: You will stay in the volunteer house, sharing rooms and bathrooms with other volunteers.  Three meals a day are included.

Food:  The food follows the daily Costa Rican diet which consists of rice, beans, pasta, vegetables, occasionally red meat or chicken, and different kinds of tropical fruit. Vegetarian meals are also available and should be communicated before departure.

Laundry: Volunteers have to wash their clothes and hang out to dry, except for those staying with a host family at the Alajuela center.  At the homestay, your clothes are washed on a weekly basis, however, you must wash your underwear.  Remember to bring biodegradable detergents to wash your clothes.
Internet:  Internet connection available at all the animal rescue centers.  

Minimum Requirements

  • Minimum age 18 +
  • Minimum 3-week stay: 1 week orientation/Spanish course + 2 weeks at wildlife project
  • Basic Spanish knowledge. If not, you shold be prepared to enroll in additional weeks of Spanish lessons
  • Able to cope with basic conditions  
  • Physically fit
  • Love and respect for animals
  • Flexible and open-minded to do all kinds of chores, depending on project needs
  • Adaptability to the weather in Costa Rica (tropical climate - high temperatures and humidity during the rainy season) 
  • All volunteers coming from South America or Africa must have a yellow fever vaccination certification in order to enter Costa Rica

Important Notes

  • Most rangers and other Costa Rican personnel at the site do not speak English (conversational Spanish is required).
  • Work usually lasts 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 clean, 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 are available and can be purchased at the CRLA offices.)
  • Sunny, hot, and humid weather.
  • There will be some leisure time, so bringing books and table games is recommended.
  • Depending on the project, direct contact with the animals might be restricted.

 Please note: Once your booking is confirmed, you will receive an e-mail with detailed information regarding the conservation projects. Our partner in Costa Rica will also contact you 1-2 weeks before arrival in order to conduct a brief, pre-departure interview via Skype. On arrival in Costa Rica you will attend a general orientation meeting (1st Monday at school) as well as two orientation sessions with the local placement team.



Here's an excerpt of Jessica's experience:

  "It is an incredible experience and definitely a dirty job! I loved every second of it and wished I would have stayed longer. When I was there they were transitioning to a new location which had bigger rooms and a lot more space for the animals!"
Read the rest of her story on the GoEco blog

Here's an excerpt of Shantelle'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 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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