Costa Rica – Jaguar Research and Conservation

Please Note: This program is temporarily unavailable. Check out our alternative programs in Central America or schedule a one-on-one call with one of our expert volunteer advisors.


Participate in professional wildlife expeditions that aim to collect data on the local jaguar population. This project is ideal for volunteers who wish to gain experience in wildlife research and conservation methods.

Program Highlights:

  • Provide valuable data to conservationists at the reserve through surveys
  • Gain hands-on experience and skills in the area of wildlife research
  • Ethical wildlife-related volunteer tasks
  • Learn from highly-trained researchers about wildlife observation and research methodologies
  • the opportunity to track jaguars in their natural habitat
  • Contribute to the conservation of turtles (seasonal)
  • Live in the Costa Rican jungle


Your Schedule at a Glance (Minimum two-week commitment):

Arrival Day, Saturday: Arrive at Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) on time to make it to the project team meeting point in the morning. Many volunteers choose to arrive at least a day earlier (or more) and make it to the meeting point on Saturday to start the program.

Week One: Your first week of the project will consist of training and skill building in wildlife research. You will learn how to identify tracks, complete surveys accurately as well as how to evaluate the data.

Week Two: With your training complete, you are now ready to put your skills into practice and conduct the required research. You may participate in biodiversity assessment surveys, amphibian surveying and more, in addition to the jaguar tracking and turtle care.

Remaining Weeks: The remaining weeks will follow a similar schedule of participating in various research projects. You will also have one to two days off per week, which you can use to rest and relax on the beautiful Costa Rican beaches. Departures are on a Saturday.

Long term & Short term internships are also available. For the long term internships the focus is on Wildlife Conservation; the first 3 months of the internship is the same as the short-term volunteers and includes a certificate in Leadership Training. The second half of the long term internship is a work placement with one of the project partners or as field staff, depending on needs at the time. Inquire for more information.

Location icon Location of the Project: Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica

Project length Project length: Min 2 weeks – Max 12 weeks

Arrival Airport Arrival Airport: Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO)

Volunteer Work Volunteer Work:  Research, observation

Age Age:  18 – 70

Number of Volunteers Number of Volunteers: Up to 7 international volunteers on this project, but up to 20 international volunteers on the base (on various other projects)

Important Note Important Note: Volunteers must submit application and relevant documents at least 8 weeks before program start date since we need to apply for your scientific permit. This program requires a high level of fitness. Volunteers must be comfortable with carrying all their belongings with them to base and with hikes as long as 15 miles in the sand.


What’s Included

Accommodations Accommodations: Shared dorms, mixed gender

Food Food: Meals prepared by the volunteers

Airport Transfers Airport Transfers:  Airport transfer included upon arrival the evening before the start date

Orientation Orientation: Structured and intensive training program provided upon arrival

Support Support: Comprehensive and professional pre-departure travel guidance, 24/7 GoEco emergency hotline, experienced local field team.


What’s not Included

Flights, visas (if required), travel health insurance, international and domestic airport taxes, personal expenses.

This project takes place in the rainforest of Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean (eastern) side of Costa Rica. The volunteer camp is accessible only by boat and foot, and is nestled in a coconut plantation only 50 meters from the beach!


At the core, the goal of this project is the ongoing completion of biological surveys that contribute to increased scientific knowledge and the overall conservation efforts of this particular area. In the field you will work collecting important data and learn a vast array of research skills. With many dawn patrols in the plan, you will get to see some spectacular sunrises on Totrugero’s breathtaking Caribbean beaches. At the station you will learn the technical side of working in the field, analyzing, processing and recording data.

The first two days are spent running through introductions to base, GVI and also Health & Safety procedures.For volunteers staying two weeks, training for the jaguar and other survey projects will be given during the first week. Volunteers are expected to participate in other surveys as well. They will also be doing the ‘jag walk’ (15 mile walk) on the Thursday of the second week.

Although jaguar-related research activities will your main focus, during your time you will also gain a holistic understanding of the Costa Rican rainforest and its ecosystem by conducting other important research, which may include studies of turtles (seasonal), aquatic birds, amphibian monitoring and biological assessment surveys. Volunteers will go on two surveys a day, with the exception of Friday afternoons and Saturdays which is free time. Once a week volunteers will also be on kitchen duty.

A day in the life of a volunteer:

  • If you are scheduled on a morning survey, you will start the day early! Morning surveys go out at 5:00am which means having breakfast at 4:30am
  • Everyone is back on base between 10:30 am and 2:00pm
  • Lunch is served at 11:00am and there is a briefing at 1:00pm
  • Afternoon surveys go out at 2:00pm
  • Dinner is served at 5:00pm
  • We aim to have volunteers doing two surveys each day
  • From March to October we will also be doing night walks looking for nesting turtles


Please note that the emphasis of the program can change according to the time of year.

Also please note that the work you will be doing will contribute to jaguar conservation in the area, however, a real-life jaguar sighting is quite rare and not guaranteed.

Internet icon Internet: Internet facilities are only available in town (trips can be made on the weekends, at the volunteer’s expense). There is some phone reception on the beach, but it is unreliable.

Laundry icon Laundry: Volunteers wash their laundry by hand.

Accommodations icon Accommodations: Facilities will be more basic than you are accustomed to – please travel with an open mind and a willingness to adapt to local conditions. Accommodation is in shared (mixed gender) dorms with shared bathroom facilities at the field station. There is running water available for washing and cooking, with suitable water for drinking and brushing teeth. Supplies are limited and usage may be restricted when necessary. Bucket flush toilet facilities are available, and participants share responsibility for base duties, including cooking, cleaning, and other chores. There is limited electricity – only a few hours a day generator supply.

Food icon Food: Volunteers take turns to prepare meals for the group. Food is very basic and mostly vegetarian, with meat or fish rarely available. Breakfast could be porridge or occasionally pancakes, lunch is rice and beans, with fruit and vegetables, and a typical evening meal may include lentils, pasta, beans, rice, and vegetables.


Please take note of this project’s minimum requirements:

  • Minimum age of 18
  • Basic level of English
  • Very good physical fitness
  • Full travel & medical insurance
  • Immunizations (please consult your doctor)


Important notes:
All volunteers must hold a Scientific Permit. We will obtain the permit on your behalf; however, you must submit the following materials following registration:

  • Scanned copy of passport
  • Brief CV or resume (1 page maximum), translated into Spanish (must be translated by a professional or native Spanish speaker)
  • High quality passport-sized photo


Volunteers must apply at least four weeks prior to their desired start date to allow for sufficient time to process the permit.


Project Orientation (included)
Upon your arrival, expedition staff will present a structured training program that is given over the course of the first few days. A brief but intensive training period prepares volunteers to begin working on the research programs, after which time you will continue to learn, with each survey becoming increasingly experienced.

Further Traveling Opportunities:
Costa Rica is an amazing country with an abundance of travel opportunities further afield with the following just a snapshot of the many possibilities!

Given your isolated location, a lot of your down time will be spent on base, the rainforest is not a place to go wandering! However there are still some possibilities in the immediate area for you to make the most of your time in Costa Rica. You can visit Tortuguero Village on the weekends, browse its small souvenir shops, visit the delicious bakery and just watch the world go lazily by.

For longer term volunteers on long weekend breaks, you could decide to head off base and further explore the Caribbean region. Hiking, snorkeling, fishing, or canopy and zip-line tours are just some of the activities that are possible in the area. For something a bit more intense, you could raft on the white waters of the famous Pacuare River on class III to IV rapids over the course of 1- or 2-day trips. And if the adventure activities are not for you, then simply relax in a laid back Caribbean village!

Admire the famous and active Volcan Arenal from a distance and relax in the natural hot springs; surf the Salsa Brava – a hotspot of the Caribbean for the advanced surfer; ride horseback on the beach in Puerto Viejo or simply enjoy miles and miles of beautiful beaches kissed by palm trees; spot migratory raptor birds in the Talamanca Mountains and visit indigenous villages to learn more about their amazing culture; discover the cloud forest at Monteverde, visit the hummingbird gallery, enjoy the locally made ice cream and other fresh dairy products or walk among the treetops on the hanging bridges; enjoy the organized wildlife tours of Braulio Carrillo National Park; travel across the country to discover the beautiful Pacific Coast with its hidden white sand beaches; visit Volcan Irazu and discover coffee farms on the way back to San Jose; back in the capital, visit the Gold Museum or the Jade Museum, attend a play in one of the numerous theatres or take in the Latin American vibe with its lively nightlife.

Volunteer Experiences

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