Traveling to Costa Rica is amazing, but if you want an even more unique experience it’s time to consider that you can volunteer in Costa Rica. There are countless options for every type of volunteering desire. The problem is finding the best options, which is why we compiled this detailed list for you!
Volunteer in Costa Rica – My Experience
Thomas and I actually met while volunteering for a year in a community for adults with disabilities in Virginia. It was the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived (as you can see from the picture above) and it was the best year of both of our lives. Volunteering is really important to both of us because we realize the impact that one person can have and how deeply volunteering changes you as well.
I have recently been looking for a new volunteer opportunity to take on. My main job is running this site but at the moment it does not require as much work as it did when we were setting it up. Plus, if I sit on my computer working all day I go crazy. I also can’t be exploring Costa Rica all the time. I’ve decided that it would be nice to volunteer a bit every week so that I get out of the house and can help my local community in some way.
In doing research to find volunteer opportunities for myself I realized just how difficult it is to find good options in Costa Rica. I know there are organizations which need help, but a quick Google search only shows expensive programs that you have to pay a lot of money for. That’s not our vibe and I’m sure it’s not yours either. Anyway, I dug a bit deeper, contacted some people I know in the area, and have come up with a lot of helpful tips for finding volunteer opportunities in Costa Rica.
Volunteer in Costa Rica – Responsible volunteering
It’s always nice to know that the volunteer work you are doing is really making a difference. If you care a lot about responsible volunteering you should do your research before you agree to a volunteer opportunity. You need to think about where your money is going, are you actually making a difference?, by volunteering are you taking jobs away from locals?, etc.
My internal struggle
I struggle a lot with not always knowing if people want help. Ticos (the name for people from Costa Rica) are really proud people. They absolutely love their country and are not always huge fans of foreigners. I can completely understand this. I will always be considered a foreigner here, but I still feel a part of this country. I get really defensive when any other foreigners say how things could be run better and what needs to be fixed in the country. When foreigners are coming here to make things better, I don’t always know how people here feel about it.
Another thing that has been bothering me recently is not knowing if by volunteering I am taking a job away from a local who could use the money.
I guess, in the end, you just have to ask a lot of questions before agreeing to anything and go with your gut.
The two types of volunteers
Many of the opportunities I have listed below are from organizations that directly impact the people and country of Costa Rica, but I also included a lot of opportunities at places like hostels or organic farms.
Obviously, you are not going to be making a deep difference in the community by volunteering at a hostel or farm, but I included these for those of you who are mainly looking for an affordable way to travel within Costa Rica or just want to take on a unique experience.
Now let’s get on to all the good opportunities I found!
Note: Everybody will have different volunteer objectives. If you are interested in an opportunity I have listed you will need to do the research yourself to determine if it is an opportunity you feel comfortable with on a responsibility level.
Volunteer in Costa Rica – Sea Turtle Conservation
You can find sea turtles on both the Caribbean and Pacific coast of the country. In fact, we recently wrote a complete post about how to see sea turtles in Costa Rica. Because Costa Rica is an important turtle nesting destination, and every single species of sea turtle in Costa Rica is on the endangered species list, there are a lot of organizations that work to help the sea turtles.
I can’t figure out the exact location of this place, but it seems to be a bit south of Tortuguero in a really remote part of the country. Volunteer duties include patrolling the beaches at night for turtles, manning the hatchery, and helping in the rehabilitation of adult turtles. Their rates vary by month (you can easily find more info on their site) but include dormitory style accommodations and three meals per day.
The Sea Turtle Conservatory is the creme de la creme of turtle volunteer opportunities. They have locations throughout the world including in Tortuguero, Costa Rica. Prices are a bit on the high side for volunteers, but include 3 meals per day, in-depth knowledge, transportation throughout the country, and more! Plus, Tortuguero is an awesome place to be!
This volunteer program is located in one of our favorite parts of the country, Montezuma. The program includes three meals per day and a place to sleep in their house shared by volunteers. You will need to contact them to find out an exact cost for the time you wish to volunteer.
Volunteer in Costa Rica – Construction
Construction help is always needed throughout Costa Rica. This is especially true after a destructive event like Tropical Storm Nate last year or when there is a destructive earthquake. Unfortunately, just like teaching, it is not easy to find these types of opportunities are your own because projects are always changing.
You can’t beat Habitat Humanity! I haven’t participated in Habitat for Humanity in Costa Rica, but I have done a few projects after Hurricane Katrina in the US and had really great experiences. They don’t have a ton of info on their Costa Rica site, but your best bet is to contact them directly and see how you can help them out. I just contacted them, so maybe you’ll see me on a project if you come here! 🙂
Volunteer in Costa Rica – Wildlife Conservation
Costa Rica is home to many unique animals that you may have never seen before. There are several sanctuaries throughout the country designed to help in rehabilitation and even just general survival of these animals. If wildlife is your thing, one of these opportunities may be perfect for you!
The Butterfly Sanctuary, located near La Fortuna, is just as its name makes it out to be, a sanctuary for butterflies. There is not a whole lot of info about the program on their site, but they do require a minimum stay of one month, you will undergo a training program, and then you can expect to do a variety of duties including giving tours to visitors. I actually spoke to a girl who was volunteering last time I visited the Butterfly sanctuary and she absolutely loved it there. She said that she had originally planned on staying for two months but had already extended her stay.
The Jaguar Rescue Foundation is located in Puerto Viejo. They offer a one-month long volunteer program which does not include meals or accommodations. Typical duties include general maintenance, food prep for the animals, and general animal care. Also, FYI, although it is called the Jaguar Rescue Foundation they have a variety of animals.
My sister actually pointed out to me that this amazing place is accepting volunteers. If you don’t know, Territorio de Zaguates is a stray dog shelter located in Alajuela. It was the subject of a viral video from a few years ago.
Their volunteer program is relatively new and is not well defined on their website. The best thing you can do if you are interested in volunteering here is to just contact them and see how you can help.
The Monteverde Butterfly Garden asks for volunteers to commit a minimum of two months to volunteering. As a volunteer, you will be trained to give one hour tours in English. You will then deliver one to four tours per day. You may be asked to do other tasks as well such as gardening, caring for chickens and tilapia, working at the front desk etc. As a volunteer, room and board is included. One thing to note is that you only get one day off from volunteering per week.
Volunteer in Costa Rica – Farming
So many unique fruits and vegetables grow in Costa Rica that you may have never seen before. In fact, we recently wrote a post on our favorite crazy fruits in the country. Farming is a great way to participate in hand on work while enjoying nature.
If you don’t already know about WWOOF, it is your first site stop for any type of farming volunteer work. WWOOF is a database of organic farm opportunities. You do have to pay $16 to access the opportunities in Costa Rica, but I assure you it is really worth it if you want to find great farm possibilities in Costa Rica. Also, WWOOF is not limited to Costa Rica, so definitely check out the WWOOF site in other countries as well if you are flexible on your destination.
La Gran Vista is located in the mountains not too far from the Pacific coast near Dominical. At this organic farm, volunteers are expected to participate daily work on the farm in exchange for a comfortable stay, Spanish classes and more.
Villa Mastatal is a farm run by a local family located in the jungle between San Jose and Jaco. They ask volunteers to work five hours per day between Monday and Friday in exchange for a comfortable room and tasty meals. Tasks of volunteers harvesting crops, care of animals, maintenance of the medicinal garden, cooking, cheesemaking, beekeeping and more!
This farm is located in the woods between San Jose and the Pacific coast south of Jaco. Volunteers are asked to pay $15 a day in exchange for accommodations and all meals. Tasks of volunteers include organic farming, sustainable building, working in the kitchen, and maintaining trails.
Volunteer in Costa Rica – Teaching
A lot of schools throughout the country need someone to teach English to their students. Not only is English a good skill to have, but it is also really important in Costa Rica because of the high levels of tourism. I had a difficult time finding teaching opportunities to volunteer in Costa Rica. Small local school do not have websites advertising that they need help and they do not have the capacity to set up volunteer programs. For those reasons, you will likely need to go through a third party website in order to find teaching opportunities.
Volunteer in Costa Rica – Accommodation Help
A popular way to travel on the cheap throughout Costa Rica is by volunteering at an accommodation in exchange for a free stay. The places I have listed below are all retreat type centers. This is a popular concept in Costa Rica with eco and yoga tourists. If you are looking to volunteer at a place such as a hostel for a short stay, check out the places I have listed further down in the “General Sites” section of this post.
Punta Mona is a center for regenerative design and botanical studies. You can expect to pay $800 for two months to participate in this volunteer opportunity near Puerto Viejo. Volunteers are given lodging and all meals. There are a range of duties that they need from volunteers including kitchen help, helping with guests, garden work, feeding animals, and general maintenance of infrastructure.
PachaMama is located near Nosara. They refer to themselves as, “a platform for a deep voyage into healing, self-acceptance and expansion of consciousness. PachaMama is also an intentional and alternative off-grid village where people live their normal lives in harmony with nature.” They refer to their program as a work exchange program rather than a volunteer program. You can expect discounted accommodations, free meals, free yoga classes, and daily meditation. People in the work exchange program are expected to commit to a six-week stay and to work 25 hours per week. Duties vary, but you can expect possible kitchen work or work in their juice bar.
Alya Retreat Center is a Kundalini yoga retreat center located about 30 minutes from Nosara. Their work exchange program involves a space for you to put up your tent in exchange for 25 hours of work per week. Meals are not included, but there is a kitchen that volunteers can use. Duties may include tourism management, housekeeping, marketing, kitchen help, permaculture and more!
The Yoga Farm is a rustic yoga center and sustainable living project located in the south-west part of Costa Rica. Their volunteer program consists of accommodations, three meals a day, and a daily guided yoga class for $550 in exchange for 10 to 15 hours of work per week. This work kitchen work, garden work, or whatever work they need help with at that point in time.
Rancho Margot is located in El Castillo near La Fortuna. This unique place in the middle of the rainforest has a working farm with garden and animals, miles of trails, natural pools, yoga classes and more. The volunteer program consists of working six hours a day six days a week in exchange for room and board. There are a wide variety of tasks they need volunteers to take on including, organic agriculture, groundskeeping, and housekeeping. If you have a specialized skill such as beekeeping, construction, cheese making etc.
Volunteer in Costa Rica – General Sites
Although we try to stay clear of organizations that match you with a volunteer opportunity for a cost, there are plenty of great sites out there where people can post their volunteer opportunities and you can contact the places you are interested in directly.
I’m a big fan of Workaway and have actually used this site successfully for short-term volunteer placement. At the time of writing this, there are over 300 volunteer opportunities in Costa Rica in a range of topics including childcare, farming, construction, and more. This is one-stop shopping for volunteer opportunities.
HelpX is similar to Workaway. At the time of writing this, there are over 120 volunteer opportunities listed on their site.
Volunteer in Costa Rica – Environmental Conservation
SINAC is the organization which runs the national parks in Costa Rica. The fact that they have a volunteer program is pretty freaking cool! Their volunteer page doesn’t have a whole lot of info so your best bet is to contact them directly. If you look on their volunteer page there is a small email address at the bottom of the page for their Volunteers Program Officer. I suggest emailing her to see how you can be of help.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve is always looking for individual and group volunteers. Tasks include reforestation, translating documents, working in local schools, maintenance work etc. The cost is $30 per day which includes housing and food with a host family.
Ecocentro Danaus is an ecological reserve located in La Fortuna. This place is filled with cool animals. Tasks for volunteers include plant maintenance, clearing paths, and helping visitors. The cost for volunteers is $25 a day and this fee includes all meals and living in a two-person apartment.
Volunteer in Costa Rica – Miscellaneous Opportunities
Some opportunities just didn’t fit into any other category, so they get their own category of misfit amazing opportunities.
Not an opportunity for those of you that are looking for a way to stay in Costa Rica for an extended period of time, but rather a great opportunity for those of you who are already living in Costa Rica. The Special Olympics as always looking for local coaches of various sports. This is the perfect opportunity for all of you that really want to feel and see that you are making a difference.
Trusted Housesitters is not exactly a volunteer opportunity, rather a work exchange site. How it works is people can list their house or property that needs to be watched for a set amount of time. You can then apply to maintain a house or property in exchange for staying there for free. Usually, the house sits involve watching pets, but not always. It’s a great way to explore Costa Rica while sticking to a budget and staying somewhere for free. You do have to pay a yearly fee to be a part of Trusted Housesitters, but if you are serious about house sitting, it is worth it.
If you are a US citizen you could always apply for the PeaceCorps. There is no guarantee that you will be placed in Costa Rica. In fact, Costa Rica is a popular PeaceCorps request, so the chances of you getting placed here are probably pretty slim, but it is worth a try! Plus, joining the PeaceCorps is one of those life-changing experiences that I think you need to try if you have the drive to volunteer and time.
Fun fact, I applied to the Peace Corps, but before going through the full process I moved to Virginia to volunteer and then met Thomas.
Red Cross in Costa Rica needs various volunteers in different fields. If you are interested in healthcare, this is the place for you, but they also need people to take on other tasks such as community development. You will definitely need to speak Spanish if you want to take on an opportunity with the Red Cross because you will be working directly with locals.
Volunteer in Costa Rica – Our Tips
– If possible, skip the middleman. Sometimes the only way to get matched with a great opportunity is to go through an organization. It can be too much work for an organization to keep up with all the volunteer requests they get, so it is easier for them to have all applications go through a third party organization. However, we find that usually, these are the opportunities which will end up costing you a lot of money. If possible, dealing with the organization you wish to volunteer with directly can help save a lot of money.
– Keep in mind that you can only stay in Costa Rica for 90 days if you don’t have a residency permit or special visa. When you enter the country you will get a stamp in your passport saying you are allowed to stay for 90 days. If you wish to volunteer for longer you will have to cross into Panama or Nicaragua for 72 hours before reentering Costa Rica. Or, of course, you can fly somewhere for a few days and then come back.
– Make sure to see what is included in your volunteer opportunity and get it in writing. Costa Rica is a really relaxed country, which we love, but it means sometimes things are not done the way you expect them to be completed. If you read that an opportunity includes three meals a day on an organization’s website, don’t just assume that this is true. Double check everything! I know this sounds excessive, and under normal circumstances, I would agree, but we have learned from personal experience that things are not always what they seem here.
– Speaking some Spanish is helpful. Some of the opportunities to volunteer in Costa Rica that I listed above require you to speak some Spanish. However, I think that even if the opportunity does not require Spanish it is helpful to have at least a basic knowledge of the language. It will make your daily life a lot easier and will open a lot of doors in the volunteering world.
– Your happiness is also important. If you find yourself in a situation where you think, “I’m not happy with this,” then you may have to consider leaving and finding a better fit. Don’t feel guilty about it. There are certain situations in which you may feel that people are just using you for cheap labor. Sometimes things just don’t work out and in that case, you need to act on what will make you happy.
If you have any questions about how to volunteer in Costa Rica or have any suggestions of great volunteer opportunities, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below. We love to hear from you and would be happy to add more amazing opportunities to this list!
LIKED THIS POST ON HOW TO VOLUNTEER IN COSTA RICA?