By Darren Griffiths

Volunteering in Costa Rica: How to Have a Unique Experience

23rd January 2024

Have you thought of volunteering in Costa Rica, especially with animals, as a way to have a cheap and incredibly fulfilling Costa Rica vacation? In this guide to volunteering in Costa Rica, we cover the 10 most popular volunteer opportunities in Costa Rica, our three favourite animal volunteering programs, as well as how to really immerse yourself in Costa Rican culture.

Environmental Conservation in Costa Rica and Adventure Tourism

By now, everyone knows that Costa Rica’s ecosystems are incomparable, and the reason visitors continue to flock to this hidden gem of Central America.

Toucan, Costa Rica
Toucan, Costa Rica

With over 20 protected areas, and 6% of the Earth’s diverse wildlife, Costa Rica is a pristine location for any nature lover.

Hiking, bird watching, paddle boarding, and kayaking are some of the more common outdoor adventures for travelers.

More thrilling options might include ziplining, ATV riding, waterfall rappelling, or rafting. But what can you do to make your Costa Rican adventure truly unique?

Read below for tips on how to have an unforgettable adventure in Costa Rica.

Most Popular Volunteer Abroad Projects in Costa Rica

Volunteering abroad has gained in popularity over the years and with good reason.

construction volunteers in costa rica
Construction Volunteers in Costa Rica

Those who visit Costa Rica to embrace the “pura vida” (pure life) feeling of this beautiful land are often exposed to the lush jungles, exotic beaches, majestic waterfalls, and towering volcanoes.

However, the underdeveloped neighborhoods and local communities which need support are often overlooked.

Most volunteer projects in Costa Rica take place in the capital city of San Jose. The capital city houses the majority of the population, and areas vary in terms of socioeconomic status, education, and funding.

As a volunteer, you may be placed on a construction project which helps to develop the local communities.

Costa Rican oxen and cart
Costa Rican oxen and cart

Construction volunteers help to build or renovate classrooms and schools, healthcare facilities, orphanages, community centers, and homes.

These projects are often privately funded, and therefore a volunteer contributes greatly to the development of these communities.

Banana Plantation in Punta Arenas, Costa Rica
Banana Plantation in Punta Arenas, Costa Rica

The 10 main kinds of volunteer projects that you can research about in Costa Rica are:

1. Wildlife Conservation

Volunteer programs work in national parks and wildlife reserves to help with the conservation and rehabilitation of native species.

This is our favourite kind of volunteering program (which is why we’ve listed it first), but it can come with program fees.

We love that volunteering in Costa Rica provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with jaguars, monkeys, and other endangered animal species you won’t find at home.

2. Turtle Conservation

Costa Rica is known for its sea turtle nesting sites, and volunteer programs aim to help protect and monitor turtle populations.

3. Environmental Conservation

Examples of Costa Rica volunteer programs include helping with reforestation, sustainable farming, and other initiatives to promote ecological balance.

4. Teaching English

Undoubtedly one of the most popular volunteer programs globally is teaching English.

In Costa Rica, volunteers work in schools or community centers with adults and children in their local communities who are interested in advancing their language skills for professional and academic purposes.

5. Healthcare and Medical Assistance

There is no one volunteer program across the Costa Rican healthcare system.

Volunteers help out in clinics, hospitals, and with public health campaigns to support local community healthcare initiatives.

6. Community Development

Projects focused on improving infrastructure, education, and overall well-being of local communities are common in Costa Rica.

7. Sustainable Agriculture

You’ve probably heard that Costa Rica is one of the most sustainable countries in the world, and you can help keep it that way!

Dairy farm, Coronado, Costa Rica
Dairy farm, Coronado, Costa Rica

Volunteers can work on organic farms or agricultural projects promoting sustainable and eco-friendly practices.

8. Youth Empowerment

Programs that focus on empowering and educating young people through various activities and mentorship. For example, you can volunteer with Childcare Volunteering & Volunteer Teaching IVHQ and work in kindergartens, child care centers, and with children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

9. Women’s Initiatives

San José, Costa Rica
San José, Costa Rica

If your interest in volunteering in Costa Rica stems from a passion for supporting women’s initiatives, you’ll find many volunteering opportunities (mainly in Costa Rica’s capital) that center around supporting women’s rights, education, and empowerment.

10. Rainforest Conservation

Projects that involve research, data collection, and educational outreach to protect and preserve the rich biodiversity of Costa Rica’s rainforests.

Our Three Favourite Animal Volunteering Project Types

1. Save Sea Turtles

Six of seven sea turtles nest on the beautiful beaches of Costa Rica, making it the perfect location to participate in a sea turtle conservation program.

sea turtle conservation costa rica
Sea Turtle Conservation in Costa Rica

With Costa Rica being a world leader in ecological conservation and preservation, it is very easy to find a conservation project on either the Pacific or Caribbean coast.

Projects are often managed by local biologists and researchers year-round. International volunteers are welcome.

Volunteers work alongside local staff to help build and maintain hatcheries, relocate eggs for safety and protection from poachers, maintain accurate data and records of eggs and turtles, and participate in nightly beach patrols.

Baby Sea Turtle conservation program, Costa Rica
Baby Sea Turtle Conservation Program, Costa Rica

A sea turtle conservation program is a unique experience that allows you to live on-site among other volunteers.

You will have direct access to experts who can answer any questions you have about the status of the sea turtles or any previous and ongoing research.

You will also have consistent interaction with the locals, whether educating them about the dangers of hunting eggs or collaborating with them on conservation efforts.

2. Adopt a Sloth

Costa Rica is known for its sloth population and its efforts to provide these unique creatures with safety and protection.

sloth costa rica
Sloth, Costa Rica

The Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica helps to rescue and care for sloths that are in danger or injured.

After the successful rehabilitation of the sloths, the center works to re-release them into the wild, while focusing on the protection and conservation of the Costa Rican rain forest–the sloth’s home.

Sloth, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
Sloth, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

The Sloth Sanctuary allows you to “adopt” a rescued sloth. Your donation will go to the nutrition, wellness, and research needed to continue successfully running the program.

You will go home with a personalized adoption certificate, and memorabilia from the sanctuary to remember your experience with the smiliest animals on the planet.

3. Tour Territorio de Zaguates

Also known as the “land of the strays”, Territorio de Zaguates helps to care for the growing stray dog population in Costa Rica.

Territorio de Zaguates costa rica
Territorio de Zaguates, Costa Rica

With over one million strays roaming the country, this one-of-a-kind dog shelter is helping to care for as many of them as possible.

Today, the shelter is home to hundreds of ambiguously mixed-breeds in the mountains of Costa Rica.

Veterinarians working at the shelter help to determine the unique mix of each dog, and proudly produce breed titles as specifically as possible, with names like the “Furry Pinscher Spaniel” and the “Freckled Terrierhuahua.”

The unique titles brought to each four-legged friend guarantee that these breeds can only be found in Costa Rica.

The shelter encourages the adoption of these special dogs, but if not, they can always call the Territorio home.

The attention Territorio de Zaguates received allowed the center to open tours to the public, so visitors can spend time frolicking with the hundreds of pups on the beautiful mountainous fields.

Visiting a dog shelter as unique as this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience you can only get in Costa Rica.

Visit Genius River Bridge

Cocos Island is a designated National Park off the coast of Costa Rica. The island does not allow inhabitants other than the Costa Rican park rangers who routinely guard the grounds.

Genius River Bridge costa rica
Genius River Bridge, Costa Rica

The surrounding waters are filled with schools of fish, and plenty of sharks right behind them. Unfortunately, behind the sharks come poachers looking to hunt the sharks for their fins.

Genius River Bridge is a bridge that was created by artist “Pancho”. The bridge is made up from the nets, lines, and buoys confiscated from the hunters, by the park rangers.

The bridge not only acts as a distinct span across the river but as a dedication to the rangers who devote their lives in hopes of stopping the inhumane act of shark hunting.

Learn Spanish

Costa Rica is one of the countries with several affordable Spanish language centers where travelers can enroll in group or private classes.

spanish lesson costa rica
Spanish lesson, Costa Rica

No matter how long you stay in Costa Rica, most institutes can accommodate your needs.

Spanish institutes are also a great opportunity for you to meet and mingle with the locals, really allowing you to practice your newly developed skills.

Learning Spanish in Costa Rica is much more influential on your ability to learn as you will be able to use the language right away in your everyday interactions.

Whether buying items at the grocery, negotiating at the local markets, booking an adventure excursion, or checking in to your hotel, you will be receiving real-life practice to help hone your skills and boost your confidence.