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 and releasing baby turtles into the ocean. You will also meet lots of new people and have time to explore the pristine wilderness of the Osa Peninsula.
You can join for 1 week up to 12 weeks from July to end 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 £399.
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 Volunteer Programme
The programme has been working with local communities to protect sea turtles in the Osa Peninsula for 12 years, and is based at Guaria de Osa, in Rincon de San Josecito Beach, on the north of Corcovado National Park.
When is the best time to come?
Volunteers are needed at Playa Rincon Beach from the beginning of July to the end of December for 1 to 12 weeks in duration, every year.
Rincon de San Josecito Beach
The programmer’s site at Guaria de Osa offers volunteers the chance to protect the turtles on this beautiful, pristine and remote wilderness paradise. It is the home to over 100 turtles per season, most of them Olive Ridley, but also a few Green and Hawksbill Sea turtles.
The Rincon site is located at the end of the road leading to Drake Bay, almost 3 hours walk to the San Pedrillo Ranger Station of Corcovado National Park. It’s a really remote area, with a small community around, and the best sunsets of the world!
Before the project was established on this beach, there was no one to protect the nests and as a result, all the nests had been removed by the poachers. Since the project started, just less than 5% of the nests are poached, so it is a very successful project as a result of this. The hatchery is the best method to keep the nests safe from illegal extraction and also from the increasing rise of the sea level.
As a volunteer, you will be working under the direct supervision of a Scientific Supervisor throughout your time at the programme. Activities include:
5th to 12th November 2018 - 4 places
12th to 17th November 2018 - 4 places
17th November to 3rd December 2018 - fully booked
3rd to 17th December 2018 - fully booked
17th to 24th December 2018 -fully booked
27th December to 7th January 2019 - 2 places
14th to 28th January 2019 - fully booked
8th to 22nd July 2019
22nd July to 5th August 2019
5th to 19th August 2019
19th August to 2nd September 2019
2nd to 16th September 2019
16th to 30th September 2019
30th September to 14th October 2019
14th to 28th October 2019
28th October to 11th November 2019
11th to 25th November 2018
25th November to 9th December 2019
9th to 23rd December 2019
Although we are flexible with the end dates, we ask that all volunteers arrive on a Monday. Please email Victoria.McNeil@workingabroad.com for any questions with regards to dates, durations etc. For all the above dates, we have 4 places available, unless stated.
The cost for 1 week is £399, 2 weeks is £603, 3 weeks is £808, and 4 weeks is £895, 5 weeks is £1070, 6 weeks is £1245, 7 weeks is £1420, 8 weeks is £1595 and 12 weeks is £2295. This cost includes three meals a day, accommodation, snacks for patrols, equipment (for patrols), guide during the volunteering, and training. What is not included is your airfare and transportation to the project, lodging in San Jose, travel/medical insurance and personal expenses. It is mandatory for you to take out travel and medical insurance for the duration of the project.
Food & Accommodation
The accommodation is located in a hotel on the beach of Rincon de San Josecito, Osa Peninsula. The Hotel is located in front of the sea, with one of the best views of the sunsets of the area!
Volunteers stay in mixed cabins with a private bathroom in rustic but cozy accommodation - this also includes bed linen and three meals per day.
The camp has several common areas with hammocks, trails and a gazebo and laundry for hand washing. There is electricity, but the cell phone reception or WiFi, its really poor.
Los Planes and Caletas are two small towns nearby with only one very basic grocery store (local shop), but it is home to a number of remote hostels and hotels. The wildlife around Rio Claro is impressive, with an extensive virgin coastline surrounded by primary and secondary forests, filled with exotic birds, mammals, amphibians and the four species of monkeys in Costa Rica.
While Caletas and Los Planes do not have much to offer in terms of services, volunteers can visit Agujitas on their day off. Agujitas has the largest population in the area with the highest services, supermarkets, shops, restaurants and sodas and hostels and hotels.
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 localised flooding - 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. It can be very difficult to plan activities too, as priorities can suddenly shift according to what resources are available at the time, and volunteers will often find that the work plan changes with very little notice. 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.
Typically, each volunteer will be allocated around five-six work shifts per week, the workload will equate to around 4-6 hours of work per day, six days per week. There is, of course, always more work available, so if you are ever bored, just ask a Coordinator or Research Assistant how you can help.
Tours and Free Time
We know that volunteers not only come to work but also to discover the incredible nature of the Osa Peninsula, and the programme offers unforgettable tours and activities in two different places. The Hostel offers horseback riding and kayaking trips through the incredible Rio Claro and volunteers are free to walk the trails that surround the place. In addition, volunteers have the option to visit Corcovado National Park, and other places on the Osa Peninsula, such as Caño Island.
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.
As a volunteer, you will be allocated one free day every week, during which you may decide to take advantage of the tours offered by the Hotel, explore the local nature on foot, or simply use the day to relax. In addition, the programme makes an effort to organize an inexpensive group excursion or activity once a week, so that everyone gets a chance to spend some free time together; however, these are dependent upon weather and workload. At all other times it is expected that each volunteer will be fully engaged with the work schedule. It is important to note that, in addition to the pre-arranged schedule, other tasks will emerge on a daily basis as we respond to changing conditions, construction projects or activities with the community, and the availability of materials or labour.
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.
Arrival information - We recommend that volunteers fly into Palmar from San Jose (or take a bus) and from there, take a colectivo taxi to Sierpe and then a boat to Drake Bay. From there, the boat will drop you off at San Josecito beach.
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.
Matteo Ferrarini, from Italy, joined the project as a volunteer for 4 weeks in August 2018:
My volunteering experience was absolutely amazing; I really liked working with sea turtles, I think the conservation project was run in a professional way and I learnt a lot about how is the work in the conservation field, that is very useful for me because I'm studyng to work in this field. Beside that I also really enjoyed the way of life there, that was simple and genuine, and also the work not strictly related with sea turtles like doing the classes with the local kids or making coconut oil that we used to cook. Also the coordinators of the project were great.
Samantha Miller, from USA, volunteered with her 15 year old daughter for 2 weeks in July 2018:
Natalie and I had a wonderful time volunteering at the Sea Turtle Conservation Project. We learned about the environmental challenges the turtles face. We also went on night patrols, helped measure turtles and relocated the eggs to the hatchery. We especially liked the fact that we were able to meet people from all over the world and get their perspectives in a variety of topics.
Tineke Lothe from Norway, joined as a volunteer for 1 week in August 2017:
I had a great time volunteering. It was an amazing place, I loved the project and the other volunteers were lovely!! I am really happy I chose to go there! I had gotten the impression that it was only a few nightshifts per week, however, it was almost every night – which was quite intense and hard. Despite this, it was a great volunteer experience and I would love to do it again!
Andy White from the UK volunteered for 10 weeks from October 2016 to January 2017:
Volunteering with the Pacific Sea Turtle Program was a truly memorable and life-changing experience. Having the opportunity to work closely with such amazing, prehistoric creatures was unlike anything I'd ever done before and something I would recommend to anyone with an interest in animals, conservation or the natural world in general.
While challenging at times, particularly during the torrential downpours at the start of my ten-week volunteer period, each day provided an exciting new adventure. The comradery between the international mix of volunteers was really positive, with everyone pulling together and having a blast while doing so. I made many new friends while on the project and getting to know people from such a variety of different cultures was eye-opening and thoroughly enjoyable.
The Pacific Sea Turtle Program provided the perfect platform for me to develop numerous interpersonal and professional skill, particularly as I was given the opportunity to take on a leadership role, passing on what I had learned to new volunteers and heading up night patrols and morning censuses.
As someone who has always been passionate about nature, being in such a beautiful, wild location with a group of inspiring and dedicated individuals was unforgettable. Magical census sunrises, babysitting hatchlings as they set out on their incredible journey, the mesmerizing dance of a nesting Olive Ridley and turtle tagging during midnight patrols under a sky full of stars are just a handful of the memories that will live with me forever.
I feel honored and privileged to have been able to support the Sea Turtle Program and would unreservedly recommend it to anyone with an interest in conservation!
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 Playa Rincon de Josecito 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.