Costa Rica offers a huge number of volunteer opportunities. Word of mouth is a powerful influence on future participants, so the majority of programs in Costa Rica are very conscientious about pleasing their volunteers. Almost all placements require a commitment of two weeks or more.
Lonely Planet does not vouch for any organization that we do not work with directly, and we strongly recommend travelers always investigate a volunteer opportunity themselves to assess the standards and suitability of the project.
Amerispan Study Abroad (www.amerispan.com) Offers a variety of educational travel programs in specialized areas.
Sustainable Horizon (www.sustainablehorizon.com) Arranges volunteering trips such as guest-teaching spots.
Cloudbridge Nature Reserve (www.cloudbridge.org) Trail building, construction, tree planting and projects monitoring the recovery of the cloud forest are offered to volunteers, who pay for their own housing with a local family. Preference is given to biology students, but all enthusiastic volunteers can apply.
Fundación Corcovado (www.corcovadofoundation.org) An impressive network of people and organizations committed to preserving Parque Nacional Corcovado.
Monteverde Institute (www.monteverde-institute.org) A nonprofit educational institute offering training in tropical biology, conservation and sustainable development.
Tropical Science Center (www.cct.or.cr) This long-standing NGO offers volunteer placement at Reserva Biológica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde. Projects can include trail maintenance and conservation work.
Finca La Flor de Paraíso (www.fincalaflor.org) Offers programs in a variety of disciplines from animal husbandry to medicinal-herb cultivation.
Punta Mona (www.puntamona.org) An organic farm and retreat center that focuses on organic permaculture and sustainable living.
Rancho Margot (www.ranchomargot.com) This self-proclaimed life-skills university offers a natural education emphasizing organic farming and animal husbandry.
Reserva Biológica Dúrika (www.durika.org) A sustainable community on an 85-sq-km biological reserve.
WWOOF Costa Rica (www.wwoofcostarica.org) This loose network of farms is part of the large international network of Willing Workers on Organic Farms (WWOOF). Placements are incredibly varied. WWOOF Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Belize have a joint US$33 membership, which gives potential volunteers access to all placement listings.
Be aware that conservationists in Costa Rica occasionally face harassment or worse from local poachers and that police are pretty ineffectual in following up incidents.
Asociacion Salvemos las Tortugas de Parismina Helps to protect turtles and their eggs, and improve quality of life for villagers in this tiny community.
Earthwatch (www.earthwatch.org) This broadly recognized international volunteer organization works in sea-turtle conservation in Costa Rica.
Las Pumas (www.centrorescatelaspumas.org) A feline-conservation program that takes care of confiscated wild cats, both big and small.
Reserva Playa Tortuga (www.reservaplayatortuga.org) Assists with olive-ridley-turtle conservation efforts near Ojochal.
Sea Turtle Conservancy (www.conserveturtles.org) From March to October, this Tortuguero organization hosts ‘eco-volunteer adventures’ working with sea turtles and birds.
It is difficult for foreigners to find work in Costa Rica. The only foreigners legally employed in Costa Rica are those who work for their own businesses, possess skills not found in the country, or work for companies that have special agreements with the government.
Getting a bona fide job necessitates obtaining a work permit, which can be a time-consuming and difficult process. The most likely source of paid employment is as an English teacher at one of the language institutes, or working in the hospitality industry in a hotel or resort. Naturalists or river guides may also be able to find work with private lodges or adventure-travel operators, though you shouldn’t expect to make more than survival wages.
If you’d like to spend more time in Costa Rica than a vacation allows, experiencing what it’s like to live and make a difference to the local community, it’s all possible by Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) with i-to-i TEFL. No previous teaching experience or local language knowledge is necessary. Get your free i-to-i TEFL e-book now to find out more about TEFL, what TEFL jobs are available and how it can get you exploring the globe...