Volunteer with sea turtles in Costa Rica as one of our marine conservation volunteers, and join this Olive Ridley and Green sea turtle programme in the spectacular Osa Peninsula on the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica.
As a marine conservation volunteer, you will take part in night surveys, monitoring nesting sea turtles, relocating eggs to the hatchery, releasing baby turtles into the ocean, and helping with local environmental education and ecotourism projects. You will also meet lots of new people, have time to explore the pristine wilderness of the Osa Peninsula, and have the opportunity to immerse yourself in genuine Costa Rican culture.
You can join for 1 week up to 12 weeks from July to January every year.
Individuals, groups and students doing research are all welcome.
Cost includes lodging in main camp, 3 meals a day, training & supervision, materials; starts at £420.
The Osa Peninsula
The Osa Peninsula is one of the most intensely biodiverse places on the planet and contains 2.5% of the world’s species crammed into an area the size of New York City! The Corcovado National Park, which takes up a third of the peninsula, is the crown jewel in Costa Rica’s park system and is home to more than 500 species of trees, 140 species of mammals, 370 species of birds, 40 species of freshwater fish, 120 amphibians and reptiles, more than 150 species of orchids and more than 6000 species of insect and butterfly. The waters around the peninsula are home to over 25 dolphin and whale species, all four species of Pacific sea turtles, sharks, manta rays, tuna, blue marlin and sailfish – to name but a few – and the Caño Island marine reserve in Drake Bay is a globally important mating area for humpback whales from both the northern and southern hemispheres!
The programme has been working with local communities to protect sea turtles in the Osa Peninsula for 11 years, and is based at the Río Oro National Wildlife Refuge - the most important nesting beach on the South Pacific coast of Costa Rica.
Volunteers are needed at Río Oro Beach from the beginning of July to the end of December for 2 to 12 weeks in duration, every year.
The programme’s site at Río Oro beach offers volunteers the chance to protect one of the most important nesting habitats on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. The beach receives over 4000 Olive Ridley and Green sea turtles each year, and the area is a pristine and remote wilderness paradise! Volunteers are practically guaranteed to see turtles nesting, and often they will see dozens during their stay.
The Río Oro site is located on the unsealed road between Puerto Jiménez and Carate (the nearest village), where the road terminates just a few kilometres from the La Leona ranger station and southernmost entrance to the Corcovado National Park. Carate itself has another sea turtle project that protects Carate beach. Volunteers from both projects have the chance to collaborate with conservation activities and spend free time together, and there are often a large number of volunteers working in the area.
As a volunteer, you will be working under the direct supervision of a Scientific Supervisor throughout your time at the programme. Activities include:
20th December 2016 to 3rd January 2017**
4th July to 18th July 2017
18th July to 1st August 2017
1st August to 15th August 2017
15th August to 29th August 2017
29th August to 12th September 2017
12th September to 26th September 2017
26th September to 10th October 2017
10th October to 24th October 2017
24th October to 7th November 2017
7th November to 21st November 2017
21st November to 5th December 2017
5th December to 19th December 2017
** - if you choose 20 December 2016 to 3 January 2017 dates, you will leave Rio Oro on 31st December and spend the last 3 days at Drake Bay (relaxing or doing tours, there are no turtle activities then).
Although we are flexible with the end dates, we ask that all volunteers arrive on a Tuesday. Please email: Victoria.McNeil@workingabroad.com for any questions with regards to dates, durations etc. We can make exceptions where you come for just one week (although minimum 2 weeks is strongly advised), but then you only go to Río Oro and you should arrive and depart via Puerto Jiménez.
The cost for 1 week is £420, 2 weeks is £645, 3 weeks is £870, and 4 weeks is £985, 5 weeks is £1180, 6 weeks is £1380, 7 weeks is £1580, 8 weeks is £1775 and 12 weeks is £2565. This cost includes three meals a day, accommodation, snacks for patrols, equipment (for patrols), guide during the volunteering, training, transportation between Río Oro and Drake Bay and back up and support. Airfare and transportation to the project, lodging in San Jose, travel/medical insurance and personal expenses are not included in the cost. It is mandatory for you to take out travel and medical insurance for the duration of the project.
Food & Accommodation
Accommodation is at the Hacienda Río Oro eco-lodge near to Puerto Jiménez in the Osa Peninsula. Volunteers stay in mixed dorms with private bathrooms in a luxurious new tented camp at the site and accommodation includes three meals per day. The camp also has several communal areas with hammocks, football, volleyball, ping-pong and hand-wash laundry facilities. There is no ‘grid’ electricity nor cell phone reception at the site, however, the Hacienda Río Oro is equipped with solar panels and generators that provide lighting and power at night, and limited Wi-Fi internet is generally available for essential communications.
It is important to be aware that there is no village nearby, although there is a small bar within walking distance and weekly social events are organised with the volunteers from the neighbouring turtle projects at Piro and Carate. Volunteers are also free to visit the town of Puerto Jiménez on their days off and as part of planned excursions. Puerto Jiménez is the largest and most developed town in the Osa Peninsula and has banks with ATM machines, supermarkets, bars, restaurants, souvenir shops, a post office, an airport and a number of other amenities. There is a local ‘colectivo’ truck that travels from Puerto Jiménez to Río Oro twice daily and costs $6 each way (2.5 hours). There is no ATM in Drake Bay, however the hostel accepts credit and debit cards in order to pay for any tours.
Working Conditions & Requirements
All volunteers should be at least 18 yrs old age. English is required and Spanish is very helpful, even if basic, but a small amount of Spanish would go a long way. A strong interest in conservation is required, as is good team work spirit and flexibility. You should also be in good health and fit - you need to be able to work 2-3 nights per week (rest the next day) and walk several kilometres on soft sand. The work at the project can be extremely tough and is not necessarily for everybody. Weather conditions can be extreme, especially since the nesting season coincides with the rainy season, with heavy rainfall and storms often a daily occurrence (rainy season = turtle season!). The majority of the work is nocturnal and it will be necessary to adjust to sleeping in the daytime, often enduring high temperatures and humidity. The way of life is rustic, but the environment is full of jaw-dropping natural beauty and extraordinary biodiversity. After a little time at the project you will no doubt find yourself adjusting to the life of a local.
Tours and Free Time
We know that volunteers come not only to work but also to discover the incredible nature of the Osa Peninsula, and the programme offers unforgettable tours and activities at two different sites. The Hacienda Río Oro offers horse riding and kayaking and several farm activities, such as cheese making, and volunteers are free to trek around the trails surrounding the site. Additionally, the programme provides free transportation to and from the project’s very own non-profit hostel Drake Bay Backpackers, which was created especially to support the programme.
The hostel is located in the village of El Progreso, Drake Bay, and offers all of the most popular tours in the area, including trekking in the Corcovado National Park and snorkeling or diving at the Caño Island marine reserve. All volunteers may choose to spend some time at Drake Bay Backpackers, and it is highly recommended that you plan to depart the programme from Drake Bay so that you can take advantage of the hostel, relax and enjoy some tours during your last few days. Long-term volunteers may choose to stay at Drake Bay Backpackers on several occasions during their placement. Accommodation at the hostel is in mixed dorms and includes three meals per day. The site is equipped with free Wi-Fi, hot showers, volleyball, a swimmable river and trail, yoga, cinema screen and several chill-out areas with hammocks and sofas.
How to get there?
Multiple airlines fly to San José, Costa Rica, via the United States, including United, American Airlines and Delta. From Europe, British Airways, Iberia and Condor all fly to San José either directly or with a short stopover in the Dominican Rebublic. Please remember not to look for San Jose in California, it is San José International Airport (Juan Santamaria) - code SJO.
It is highly recommended that volunteers plan to arrive via Puerto Jiménez (near to the Hacienda Río Oro), and leave via Drake Bay from Drake Bay Backpackers.
Arrival information to Puerto Jiménez - By bus 8 hours and by plane ($15), 40 minutes ($90 to $150). You can book online at: http://www.natureair.com or http://www.flysansa.com. Departure Information from Drake Bay - by bus and boat duration is 8 hours ($21 plus $35-40) and by plane duration is 40 minutes ($90 to $150). From Drake Bay airport, there are several daily departures to San José with Nature Air and Sansa. The hostel provides a free shuttle service to the airport, which is located in the same village of El Progreso.
Please email Victoria.McNeil@workingabroad.com for more specifics.
Please see the interactive map below:
Video showing the work of volunteers on the project:
About Costa Rica
Costa Rica is located in Central America, bordered by Panama on the East and Nicaragua on the West. It is a country of staggering beauty, immense variety of wildlife, active and dormant volcanoes, mountains with extensive trail systems, cloudforest and rainforest, Pacific and Caribbean beaches, indigenous groups and loads more. It is also a very peaceful country with one of the highest ratings for "happiness" amongst its nationals in the world! This project is located in the small community of El Progreso and the beaches where the sea turtles are monitored are Drake Beach and Ganado Beach, in the Osa Peninsula, South-eastern Costa Rica on the Pacific coast.
Previous volunteer Laura Hickey, from the USA describes her time at the project:
Coming to Costa Rica and volunteering was a spur of the moment decision of mine. If I could go back to that moment, the only change I would make would be planning to extend my stay. One week here, while wonderful, surely wasn´t enough for my liking. From the moment I met two other volunteers in our travels to the Hacienda, I felt welcome and excited.
Landing in Puerto Jimenez, we were greeted by departing volunteers and a wonderful staff. When I did some research about the program prior, I felt very prepared for the workload and program.
An unexpected surprise, however, was the family-like atmosphere. Each meal, day,and patrol is shared with others from many different areas of the world, contributing their own personalities and cultures. Of course, I also learned a lot about turtles in my stay here. The nesting process, identification, and general activity of sea turtles was very unexpected and beautiful to be able to witness. You feel a connection with the turtles as you record and possibly relocate their nests. I felt like another parent in the situation. Along with turtles, Costa Rica and the Hacienda have much more wildlife to see and learn about including a variety of reptiles, birds, and small mammals. Overall, I only have great things to say about Rio Oro, the staff, and of course the turtles. I could only wish for more time here.
Previous volunteer Daniel Ridley from Scotland describes his time at the project:
I thoroughly enjoyed my two weeks at Rio Oro working, socialising and patrolling the beach. The research assistants (Ed, Emily, Eva and Alberto) and head of the project, Aida, have made my stay very comfortable and great fun. They are extremely friendly and although their primary job is turtle conservation they are always making sure you are enjoying yourself and are happy with the activities and the general day to day goings on. The people I have stayed with here have all been very welcoming and some of the most interesting and diverse people I have met. Patrolling and seeing turtles has got to be the highlight of the trip but learning about the local area, working to help the project, exploring the surrounding area and hanging out with the other volunteers don´t fall too far behind. It has been an experience of a lifetime here at Rio Oro and I wish my writing skills were good enough to convey my appreciation of my time here. I will never forget the people and the wildlife and I hope I can return soon.
Previous volunteer Mackenzie describes her time at the project:
I came to the project as an environmental science major trying to figure out if the path of a field researcher is one I really want to take. This was the best possible decision I could have made. During night patrol the last 4 weeks I worked on over 20 turtles, helping to measure the turtles' carapace, write down data, camouflage nests, and relocate eggs that are at risk. While the turtles are obviously the main purpose of being here, we have ample free time during the day to go to the beach or the river, travel to Puerto Jimenez, go on hikes, hit up the bar, and relax in hammocks.
The Osa Peninsula is absolutely beautiful and the wildlife you will see is incredible. In addition to all of this, the volunteers and leaders here are some of the most wonderful people you will ever have the pleasure to meet. Thank you Emily, Ed, Eva, Alberto, and Aida for making this such an unforgettable experience and I'll miss you all! I may be leaving with more bug bites than the entire population to Costa Rica has put together and a recently developed fear of rice and beans, but I can't say enough good things about this program. Thank you again and I can't wait to tell everyone back in California about my time at Hacienda Rio Oro.
Previous volunteer Linda describes her time at the project:
The time I spent at Rio Oro was an unforgettable experience. I really enjoyed how remote it was, the rest of the world just seems really far away. All the people were great and because you spend all your time together you become good friends very quickly. I saw turtles almost every night and the work is so fascinating. I think the best part was being on the beach, you look around and as far as you can see, there is no other person, With all the work being at night, you very quickly get used to sleeping at any hour, but it also means you have the days off for tours or activities, or to just chill in a hammock all day. I would definitely recommend coming here and I will never forget the time I spent here.
We gathered some feedback from a few of the most recent volunteers on our Pacific Sea Turtle Volunteer Project, here's what they had to say:
Do you have any comments or recommendations regarding the work at the program?
“I absolutely loved everything about volunteering here. It’s been a really eye opening experience. I will miss this place.”
“I loved watching the turtles lay eggs. Our coordinators (Eva + Elias) were fantastic at showing us how to properly document the turtles.”
“Volunteering here was amazing and seeing the turtles and learning about them was such a great experience. I absolutely loved it here and I will miss it so much.”
"Do have any comments or recommendations regarding accommodation?"
“Most amazing family ever, Edin and Yirlani are two of the most generous, kind, and accomodating people I have ever met.”
“Homestay is such a great way to get to know more about local people and their way of living.”
Do you have any comments or recommendations regarding excursions?
"Tell EVERYONE about Caño Island!!"
"I can't thank Elias and Eva enough. They gave us true adventures and worked very good. The snorkel experience was amazing."
Do you have any comments or recommendations regarding the Coordinator and/or Assistants?
"Eva and Elias were so wonderful and helpful, they made this trip one to never forget and went above and beyond to show us the Pura Vida life."
"You people are amazing dedicating your lives to save species. I admire your passion, work ethic and all the kindness you show despite the revolving door of volunteers."
"Elias & Eva were wonderful! Really made the trip interesting and fun."
Do you have any comments or recommendations regarding any other aspect of the program?
"Keep up the amazing work especially educating the kids and involving the community. Love the turtle plaques on the houses! That's the future- the kids!"
"Keep on being awesome! You made my stay in Costa Rica a wonderful one and one I won't soon forget!"
I think the program is fantastic. I enjoyed a lot. I wish I was here longer.
The work you do is so great so move forward and never give up.
I can see that a lot of thought has gone into the project. It runs smoothly for such complex logistics. I like the emphasis on learning about the community as well as the turtles.
Family was very welcoming-glad we stayed at homestay the whole time. Everyone in the village is so friendly.
Megan, New Zealand
Staying in a homestay gave me a great opportunity to learn more about the culture and Spanish language. My family was lovely.
Homestay was an amazing experience; a great way to get to know the community.
I think it is great to have to volunteers stay in homestay. I was immersed in true Costa Rican life. I was apprehensive about it at first but loved every minute.
Our room was clean and the family was always really friendly and the food was great. I would always come back.
The family we stayed with was so sweet. They accepted us as their babies and took care of us.
I had a great time and don't want to leave. Four weeks became six, which is a good sign!
Excellent! There were was always something to do; impossible to get bored.
The staff clearly work hard and have created a positive, passionate team of volunteers. They also have made a clear and successful effort to integrate themselves and the organization into the local community.
The local patrol leaders were great. They always made effort to talk to me even though we couldn’t understand each other!
The local patrol leaders are friendly and charming. I always felt safe to patrol with them.
I had a really enjoyable time and it was so rewarding. I wish I could have stayed much longer.
I had the most amazing time of my life. Completely unforgettable. This has changed me for the better.
Kristyna, Czech Republic
The homestay was very accommodating of my dietary requirements and willing to help me learn Spanish.
The homestay gave us a big part of the house with a private bathroom, very friendly with simple Spanish.
The homestay was the best experience and it improved my Spanish.
Loved it. Camp is well-equipped. Felt at home, thanks!
I really enjoyed the environmental education festival and interacting with the kids.
It is great how the community is involved in many areas, and the interaction with the children.
Mariena, Costa Rica
The location is so beautiful!
I want to come back!
I had a great time with the local leaders. Best people in the world. I learned a lot from them.
Thanks for everything that you have taught me, and for an incredible experience.
The coordinators were very approachable and open to listen to concerns and recommendations. Great job organizing so many volunteers!
Ruth, South Africa
I always felt welcome to speak to any of the coordinators, for questions, problems etc.
Amazingly patient coordinators! They always explained everything in detail, good training; they were always approachable, knowledgeable, helpful with everything from travel info to Spanish and health etc.
Everyone was awesome, super friendly and helpful.
The coordinators are extremely helpful and great to get on with. All have been nothing but kind.
Excellent - very organized, very flexible. Good job! Fun to work with and I learned a lot.
They are very friendly and dedicated to the job. One notes the passion with which they do their work and it was a pleasure to learn from them how to run a conservation project.
I am very grateful for everything. It was one of the best experiences of my life. Thank you!
All in all best volunteer experience yet!
Amazing people and amazing place. Overall once of the best experiences of my life!
All the coordinators were amazing, and the locals were very friendly too. Beautiful facility.
The floating river tour is awesome! Best experience of my life feeling really full of nature.
The tours were excellent and flexible.
They were all very friendly and helpful. Thank you for your positive attitudes and for being mindful to those on a budget by scheduling fun activities and excursions around the camp and village.
Thank you for sharing your passion and experience about the turtle program, ecotourism and the community. It has been an amazing, enriching experience.
I never want to leave!
If you are interested in volunteering with sea turtles in Costa Rica at Rio Oro Beach, you will need to fill out the online application form – to secure a placement on the project, please complete and submit the form with your application payment of £195. If for some reason, your application is not accepted, we will reimburse this payment fully. However for those who are accepted, you will be required to pay the final balance 1 month before arrival. Once we have confirmed your place, you will receive a detailed information package on the programme background and scientific objectives, your role as a volunteer, the work you will do, suggested items to bring, how to travel there etc. Upon arrival at the project, all volunteers are asked to sign a Code of Conduct document.