Volunteer in Costa Rica at a Community-Based Sea Turtle Conservation Project on the Southern Pacific Coast

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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. We have places all throughout 2016 available.

Individuals, groups and students doing research are all welcome.

Cost includes lodging in main camp, 3 meals a day, training & supervision, materials; starts at £370.

A volunteer comes face to face with a baby olive ridley Rio Oro beach Volunteers seeing Rio Oro Beach for the first time! A baby olive ridley heads for the ocean Preparing for a performance at the turtle festival A baby leatherback turtle rests in a volunteers palm A baby green turtle hatches An olive ridley nest starts to hatch A three-toed sloth wonders through camp Volunteers practising how to make nests Drake Bay Backpackers Teaching environmental education at the school Volunteers sowing seeds in the veggie garden A scarlet macaw A rare hawksbill nest hatches on Río Oro Beach Playing volleyball at Drake Bay Backpackers Learning how to make Costa Rican tamales Watching the hatchlings crawl out to sea A volunteer with a green turtle on Rio Oro beach Volunteers at Drake Bay Backpackers An Olive Ridley sea turtle nest A Green sea turtle nests on Río Oro Beach at dawn Baby Green sea turtles ready for release A green turtle track at Rio Oro beach Volunteers relaxing at the waterfalls A volunteer with a baby Olive Ridley sea turtle Volunteers arrive to the camp at Rio Oro Volunteers having lunch at the Rio Oro camp Sea shells on Rio Oro beach Tagging an Olive Ridley turtle

An Olive Ridley heads back out to sea

The Project

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

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.

When to Come

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.

Río Oro Beach

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.

Weighing eggs at the turtle hatchery


As a volunteer, you will be working under the direct supervision of a Scientific Supervisor throughout your time at the programme. Activities include:

  • Performing night surveys on the beach to find nesting turtles and help protect them from illegal extraction and predators (4-6h per day).
  • Relocating eggs, building new nests.
  • Monitoring nests and baby turtles. 
  • Tagging female turtles.
  • Collecting biometric data on the beach.
  • Releasing baby turtles into the ocean.
  • Nest excavation (exhumations)
  • Maintenance of beach and camp.
  • Helping with local environmental education and ecotourism projects.

Volunteers on Rio Oro beach

2016 Dates & Costs

5th July to 19th July
19th July to 2nd August
2nd August to 16th August
16th August to 30th August
30th August to 13th September
13th September to 27th September
27th September to 11th October

11th October to 25th October
25th Ocotober to 8th November
8th November to 22nd November
22nd November to 6th December
6th December to 20th December

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 £370, 2 weeks is £545, 3 weeks is £720, and 4 weeks is £795, 5 weeks is £945, 6 weeks is £1095, 7 weeks is £1245, 8 weeks is £1395  and 12 weeks is £1995.  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, Lodging, Travel

Facilities at the main camp

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.

Dorms at Rio OroIt 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.


Volunteers crossing the Lagoon at Drake Beach

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 Corcovado Foundation’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.

Volunteers having lunch at Rio OroHow 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.

Interactive Map & Background

Please see the interactive map below:

Video showing the work of volunteers on the project:


The beautiful coastline of Costa Rica where sea turtle volunteers will workAbout 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.

A map of where volunteers will be working



Map of Costa RicaMap of Osa peninsula for sea turtle programme

Volunteer Testimonials

We gathered some feedback from a few of the most recent volunteers on our Pacific Sea Turtle Volunteer Project, heres what they had to say: 

Volunteer group at Rio OroDo 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.”

Volunteers kayaking in their free timeDo 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!"

A caterpillar at Rio Oro

I think the program is fantastic. I enjoyed a lot. I wish I was here longer.

Matthew, Australia

The work you do is so great so move forward and never give up.

Cameron, USA

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.

Beth, UK

Family was very welcoming-glad we stayed at homestay the whole time. Everyone in the village is so friendly.

Having fun at the Tree Festival

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.

Martyna, Poland

Homestay was an amazing experience; a great way to get to know the community.

Jil, Luxembourg

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.

Lasse, Germany

Our room was clean and the family was always really friendly and the food was great. I would always come back.

Sofia, Germany

The family we stayed with was so sweet. They accepted us as their babies and took care of us.

Barbara, Canada

I had a great time and don't want to leave. Four weeks became six, which is a good sign!

Amy, UK

Excellent! There were was always something to do; impossible to get bored.

Maddy, UK

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.

Annick, Switzerland

The local patrol leaders were great. They always made effort to talk to me even though we couldn’t understand each other!

Rachel, France

The local patrol leaders are friendly and charming. I always felt safe to patrol with them.

Marie, USA

I had a really enjoyable time and it was so rewarding. I wish I could have stayed much longer.

Kortni, USA

I had the most amazing time of my life. Completely unforgettable. This has changed me for the better.

A volunteer finds a baby turtle on Drake Beach

Kristyna, Czech Republic

The homestay was very accommodating of my dietary requirements and willing to help me learn Spanish.

Tatiana, Belarus

The homestay gave us a big part of the house with a private bathroom, very friendly with simple Spanish.

Jesse, Canada

The homestay was the best experience and it improved my Spanish.

Ryan, USA

Loved it. Camp is well-equipped. Felt at home, thanks!

Logan, Canada

I really enjoyed the environmental education festival and interacting with the kids.

Sandrine, Canada

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!


Aurélie, France

I want to come back!

Gaia, Italy

I had a great time with the local leaders. Best people in the world. I learned a lot from them.

Niels, Germany

Thanks for everything that you have taught me, and for an incredible experience.

Jan, Netherlands

The coordinators were very approachable and open to listen to concerns and recommendations. Great job organizing so many volunteers!

Volunteers showing tourists how to build nests

Ruth, South Africa

I always felt welcome to speak to any of the coordinators, for questions, problems etc.

Teresa, Spain

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.

Tania, UK

Everyone was awesome, super friendly and helpful.

Jessica, USA

The coordinators are extremely helpful and great to get on with. All have been nothing but kind.

Andres, Spain

Excellent - very organized, very flexible. Good job! Fun to work with and I learned a lot.

Julia, Spain

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.

Harriet, UK

I am very grateful for everything. It was one of the best experiences of my life. Thank you!

Barbara, Hungary

Playing with the local children

All in all best volunteer experience yet!

Olivia, USA

Amazing people and amazing place. Overall once of the best experiences of my life!

Margarita, Bulgaria

All the coordinators were amazing, and the locals were very friendly too. Beautiful facility.

Helena, Australia

The floating river tour is awesome! Best experience of my life feeling really full of nature.

Alexandra, UK

The tours were excellent and flexible.

Charles, France

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.

Painting faces at the tree festivalKelly, UK

Thank you for sharing your passion and experience about the turtle program, ecotourism and the community. It has been an amazing, enriching experience.

Mikhaila, Australia

I never want to leave!                                        

Sara, Spain

How to Join

Volunteers on Rio Oro Beach

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. 


Apply Now

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