Volunteer in Cuba with Coral Reef Conservation

Join as a volunteer on our Coral Reef & Coastal Habitat restoration project in the village of Cocodrilo, located on the southern coast of Cuba’s Isle of Youth. Use your diving skills to contribute to the Coral Reef Restoration project in the clear blue waters of Cuba, while also help restoring the costal habitats on land according to community needs. You might also get the chance to contribute with Sea Turtle Monitoring during nesting season (May to October) on the beach near Cocodrilo.

You can join for 1 week up to 4 weeks and we have places available all year round.

Individuals and students all welcome.

Costs for accommodation in our shared volunteer house, food, materials & training start from £815

Volunteers in the waterCoral Restoration Turtle nest monitoringCocodrilo CoastVolunteers ready for a diveFood prepared for all volunteers Coast of CocodriloVolunteer houseCoral reef conservation volunteersLionfish catch by volunteersSunset Cocodrilo CubaVolunteer in waters of Cuba

About the Project

The Coral Reef Conservation Volunteer project in Cuba has been established to further empower the remote community of Cocodrilo, located on the south coast of the Isle of Youth, through sustainable means.
 

Coral Reef & Costal Habitat Restoration 

Volunteer with Coral Restoration project Cuba

The Coral Reef & Costal Habitat Restoration Volunteer will contribute to an ongoing initiative to improve and monitor coral reef and coastal health off the southern coast of the Isle of Youth in Cuba. Volunteers will conduct work in the following areas based on the community’s needs:

  • Coral reef monitoring
  • Coral gardening
  • Fish surveying
  • Seagrass surveying
  • Lionfish monitoring and capture
  • Trash removal
  • Invasive species removal

Volunteers will snorkel to conduct this work, except for Coral Gardening and Lionfish Monitoring, which require volunteers to scuba dive. Data collected will help support the environmental planning of the protected area. You will be in the water for about an hour every day. Volunteer activities on land will fill the remaining 3-4 hours of the morning and are based on the needs of the community.
 

Sea Turtle Monitoring 

Volunteers might get the chance to also assist with sea turtle monitoring during nesting season (May to October). It takes place at El Guanal Beach, on the southern coast of the Isle of Youth. The beach is remote, located in a protected area, and is mainly visited by Green and Loggerhead sea turtles. As a volunteer, you will walk the beach and collect data on the nesting turtles, nests, and eggs, and contribute to a recently started local sea turtle conservation initiative. You would be working during the night (10pm-4am)

 

Volunteer Requirements

As a volunteer on the Coral Reef Conservation Volunteer project in Cuba, you need to be able to speak intermediate level of Spanish. Certain tasks of the project requires volunteers to be certified in scuba diving. If the volunteer is not certified, you will still be able to assist with other tasks on the project that will be done snorkeling or on land. You need to have the ability to work independently as well as in a team. Physically able to work outdoors with potentially high sun and temperature exposure, and to walk long distances on the beach. 

Dates & Costs

Coral restoration in Cuba

We will get back to you as soon as possible about the dates for 2019. These will be published as soon as we have confirmation of when/if it will be running.

Volunteers can join for 1 to 4 weeks to stay and help out with a local marine conservation project throughout the year. Volunteers should arrive on a Sunday and leave on a Sunday. Select the later flight on the Sunday, so you travel for departure (La Habana to Nueva Gerona) in the afternoon or evening. For return (Nueva Gerona to La Habana), select the earlier flight (should be in the early or late morning). It will not be possible to arrive/leave on other days of the week. 

The price for 1 week is £815, 2 weeks is £1140, 3 weeks is £1470 and 4 weeks is £1795. The costs include shared accommodation in volunteer house, food (3 meals a day), airport pick up and drop off in Nueva Gerona, training and supervision, in-country and pre-departure support. 

The costs don't include flights (international or domestic), travel and health insurance, visa or any personal expenses. You are required to possess appropriate travel health insurance which will cover you throughout the duration of your time abroad and includes medical evacuation. You should also acquire insurance for extreme sports, if you plan to take on activities such as scuba diving.

Lodging, Food and Travel

Volunteer House in Cocodrilo

Housing is provided for all programme participants and will consist of shared living in the volunteer house. The house has 2 bedrooms, where participants will share a bathroom, but volunteers will have a private room as long as availability permits. Maximum 3 people can stay in each bedroom. Currently, the Cuban government only allows 2 volunteers at a time in Cocodrilo and thus we cannot accept more than this till this might change again.  

Staff will do laundry up to two times per week and provide three meals a day – cooked in-house by a private chef. Vegetarian and vegan options are available.

The villa is a very short walk from the ocean and town center. Cocodrilo is a small town, safe, and everyone is very friendly. This is the perfect opportunity for volunteers to immerse themselves in the culture.

The Volunteer Villa in Cocodrilo has a Cuban cellphone that you can use to receive international calls and make calls within Cuba while you are in Cocodrilo. Because there is no internet or wifi, this will be the way you communicate with your family and friends.


Visa to Cuba

Cuba requires all visitors to enter with a tourist visa, also called tourist card. Tourist visas must be purchased at the airline counter when you check in for your flight, as you will be required to have a tourist visa to board the plane. Prices of visas will vary depending on airline. Tourist visas are only valid for 30 days, so make sure your trip is less than 30 days. Please contact your airline/travel agency about the visa process, as some might also be providing your tourist visa upon buying your ticket online. The visa process might also change without notice, and thus please confirm how to obtain your tourist visa with the relevant Consulate or Embassy. 

Volunteers having breakfast at house

Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months after your expected departure date from Cuba. You are required to possess appropriate travel health insurance which will cover you throughout the duration of your time abroad and includes medical evacuation. You should also acquire insurance for extreme sports, if you plan to take on activities such as scuba diving.


Travelling to Cocodrilo

We recommend buying a round trip flight to Havana from your home country. To purchase tickets for the Isle of Youth, search for a round trip flight from Havana (La Habana) to Nueva Gerona for your desired dates.

Make sure to consider the timing of your flights in order to ensure you can make your connections. You must be at the domestic terminal three hours before the flight to Nueva Gerona is scheduled to depart. If it is not possible to arrive to Havana from your home country at least 5 hours before the flight to Nueva Gerona, then we recommend you stay in Havana the night before the flight to Nueva Gerona to ensure you can make the connection.

Upon arrival to Nueva Gerona, you will enter the small airport and pick up your bags at the carousel. When you exit the airport, a representative will be waiting for you with a taxi. From the airport, we will take you to the immigration office in Nueva Gerona. There, the representative will pick up the travel permission you need to enter Cocodrilo. After visiting the immigration office, the 2.5-hour journey to Cocodrilo begins.

In case your flight arrives late in Nueva Gerona, you will be taken to the volunteer housing in Nueva Gerona, where you will spend the night. The journey to Cocodrilo will then be the next day. 


Medical information

Dengue fever does occur in Cuba. To best protect yourself from risk, avoid being bit by mosquitoes by wearing long-sleeves and pants, especially at dawn and dusk. Please contact your GP for any further vaccination advice and recommendations.

Map & Background

 

Cuba is an archipelago made up of over 4,000 islets. Cuba is the largest country in the Caribbean and has a population of about 11 million people. Cuba hosts many endemic species and is well known for its strong system of natural protected areas.

Isle of Youth 

The Isle of Youth (Isla de la Juventud) is the largest island of Cuba after Cuba proper. The population is around 100,000 with the largest city and capital being Nueva Gerona in the north. The "Isla de la juventud" is one of the most colourful places of the Caribbean, as much by its related legend to privateers and pirates like by its natural wealth that surrounds it.


Weather

The climate is tropical, with the dried season being November to April and the rainier season being May to October. June is the hottest month with an average temperature of 27°C and the coldest month is January at 21°C. Average rainfall for Havana is lowest in February (10 mm) and highest in June (80 mm).

Volunteer Testimonials 

Jamie Preira, from the US, joined as a volunteer for 3 weeks on the Coral Reef Restoration project in 2018:

Growing up in Miami, Florida I was constantly surrounded by Cuban culture – the coffee, the music, the language, and the people. Cuba has always felt like a fairytale place that I would only hear stories about or see pictures of – it was this fascinating yet “forbidden” place in my mind. The project broke down that barrier and helped me go on a trip that’s felt out of reach my entire life; doing something I love doing – SCUBA DIVING! All of this while volunteering for a wonderful cause – restoring coral reefs!

Having lived in Colorado for 7 years now, my biggest fear heading into this trip was the language barrier and that I was traveling alone. Not to mention I felt a little rusty with my diving skills. Being forced to overcome my fears, because that was my new reality, those fears actually became the most empowering parts of my trip. Everyone I met in Cuba was always willing to help in any situation and everyone was very patient with my Spanish. The community of Cocodrilo was especially patient, kind, and friendly. My fear of traveling alone was quickly overcome by all of the new friends I was making in Cocodrilo. Reinaldo (aka Nene - the dive master and representative for the project in Cocodrilo) was an amazingly patient and kind dive instructor. My fears of being rusty at diving were also quickly overcome the second we got into the water.

Getting to Cocodrilo is definitely an adventure and if you go into that with that mindset, you will enjoy the experience so much more. Knowing that the small airports, possible airplane delays and long bumpy car ride will take you to one of the most beautiful and unique places on earth is the right mindset to have. I spent a few days before my travels to Cocodrilo in Havana and Vinales and I enjoyed experiencing Cuba in this way before heading to Cocodrilo. The best part about traveling with the project on this adventure was how supported I felt. It can be daunting thinking about arranging car rides in a foreign place, getting to the airport, traveling around an unfamiliar country in general, and dealing with delays in another language. But with the project, I was taken to the airport by Enrique when it was time to fly to Gerona, and then received the same phenomenal service when I was arriving and departing from Gerona. It made my travels so much easier knowing that I was always going to have someone waiting for me on the other end of a plane ride.

Cocodrilo Coast CubaThe Havana terminal for domestic flights is smaller than for international flights and does not have much to it - there is a place to grab snacks and water, but I would recommend doing that before you arrive at the airport. The plane ride itself was short and sweet. The Gerona airport is quaint - you walk off the plane and into a small room with one baggage carousel. Once I got my bags, I left that room, found Reinaldo (a different Reinaldo from the dive master) and we were on our way to Cocodrilo! It’s about a 2.5 - 3 hour drive on a very interesting “road.” My excitement had me uninterested in the amount of time it was taking or the bumpy nature of the ride but rather taking in my surroundings and the cool, salty air. We stopped after about 30-45 minutes in the car to head to the local immigration office where I had to show my passport and my slip of paper authorizing me to head into this part of la Isla. I felt, and still feel, so lucky to have been granted access to this remote part of Cuba that most Cubans don’t even know about!

Dinner was waiting for me when Reinaldo and I arrived at “Villa Arrecife” and I quickly learned that I was going to be very well accommodated. Between having a comfortable room in a beautiful house and eating SO WELL for every meal, I was able to completely immerse myself in the experience of being in Cocodrilo.

The town of Cocodrilo is small. Really small. My favorite part of it being so small was not only interacting with locals, but really getting to know the people of the Cocodrilo. I made some great friends that I know I will maintain contact with for the rest of my life. Everyone I met was genuine, helpful, friendly, and outgoing. Living in a small town means lots of time together, sitting on the porch, walking to the beach, or watching/participating in a pick up soccer game. You get to spend lots of genuine time together - not looking at cell phones or distracted by computers - it’s magical! One of my favorite parts on the weekend was heading to the "circulo" to listen to music and talk to locals, folks from Gerona, and others from La Fey. Making sure you’ve got everything you’d need is going to be key before you head to Cocodrilo. Being in a small town means there’s not much to buy besides chips, soda, rum, and other things like this. I highly recommend following the  packing list and not skipping over anything!

Volunteer catching lionfish Cuba

An average day consisted of a morning dive volunteering and free time in the afternoon. Diving with Reinaldo (Nene) is a great experience. He’s patient, slow moving, and very communicative which makes it easy to feel comfortable in the water regardless of how much time has passed since your last dive. My 3 weeks volunteering consisted of completing fish counts, conducting trash pick-ups, hunting lionfish or cleaning the PVC pipes underwater where the corals were growing. Afternoons were free time and self-driven. There’s great snorkeling and exploring around Cocodrilo. If you interested in exploring more, going snorkeling or doing more than that, there’s usually someone there who’d be happy to go with you - all you have to do is ask! I was in Cocodrilo for 3 weeks and I was never bored, and I read more books than I have in 3 years! Cocodrilo is the perfect place for disconnecting from technology and the fast-pace nature of your life. It’s a great place to reconnect to nature,recreate those genuine people to people interactions and focus on yourself!

I had such an incredible, life changing experience on my trip to Cocodrilo. I felt extremely prepared and well informed for my trip. During my trip I felt well taken care of and supported by the project Cuba staff. The volunteer opportunities were very accurately advertised and the diving and snorkeling around Cocodrilo were breathtaking. The house (Villa Arrecife) is very comfortable, the community is nice, safe, and engaging. The food was amazing - delicious, filling, and healthy! It felt so empowering to be a part of this program and to be able to help. There is so much to do and so much to see in this small town! I cannot wait to be involved in another program and return back to Cocodrilo!


I had a marvelous time in Cocodrilo. This is a unique opportunity because tourism isn't developed here. I loved the whole experience and miss the wonderful people I met. The diving was beautiful. I definitely want to go back!

- Dena, USA 


Excellent trip! I had an amazing time in Cocodrilo because I was able to learn about coral reefs and the different kinds of conservation methods that are being used in this area. I also got to meet local people and understand Cuba in a way that I had never thought of before.

- Caitlin, USA


This was a great program, in part for learning about the slow but necessary process of preserving, protecting and restoring a coral reef. But more than that, we learned so much about Cuba, a mysterious country to those of us from the US but one that is so full of life, music, and the best people, especially in Cocodrilo.

- Holly, USA 


If you are looking for a really meaningful opportunity to gain experience with on-the-ground community-based conservation in Cuba, I highly recommend going to Cocodrilo! I had the opportunity to be involved in and learn firsthand about the innovative marine conservation/education programs being led by local community members in conjunction with the project. Cocodrilo is an incredibly unique place with a really special potential to serve as a model for eco-tourism benefitting both the community and the environment. Not only was it wonderful to get to know such a great town, but also once you see what's underwater you will be mesmerized. A truly beautiful place.

- Alex, USA

How to Join the Project

Volunteers diving in Cuba

To secure a placement and volunteer in Cuba, 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 25% of the balance within the first 14 days, and the final balance 2 months before arrival. Once we have confirmed your place, you will receive an information package on the programme, suggested items to bring, how to travel there etc.
 

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