Wildlife conservation, community and environmental volunteer projects and internships worldwide

Playa Tortuga Conservation Volunteer Project, Costa Rica

1 week to 6 months from

£445
16+
minimum age

  • Live in a tropical rainforest reserve on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica
  • Hands on work researching caimans and crocodiles
  • Take part in sea turtle research and patrols
  • Get involved in tree boa and mammal surveys

Volunteer Testimonials

Manu Menegazzo, from Italy, volunteered for 2 weeks in January 2019: 

I just want to thank all the people involved on the Playa Tortuga project! They gave to me a fantastic time and a wonderful experience. I didn’t expect to wake up every day with a smile, because every day was just amazing. I spent 2 weeks there and not one day was boring. I had the opportunity to release round 4 nests of baby turtles and see these run to the sea is something magical. I just feel lucky because all the biologists involved me in the job during the day and night time. The crocodile monitoring at night was amazing with around 6/7 hours on the boat looking for crocs and caiman in the mangrove river. Some night we’d do the night walk and we would see crocs and different kind of frogs and a tree boa.

During the day, walking into the rainforest checking for birds, bats and monkeys gave me a good tip to learn a lot about the habit of these animals. I cannot wait to do again this kind of experience again, because even just from the cleaning the beach, you can understand our impact on the world and I really appreciate being part of the change there.


Volunteer croc monitoring nightValerie Brewster, from USA, volunteered for 10 days in March 2019:

I could not have asked for a better experience with the Reserva at Playa Tortuga!  All of the staff were absolutely incredible and went above and beyond to include me in as many events as possible, but also to teach  me as much as possible.  Even in the “off” season, which was the time that I went during there were numerous research projects and events that I was able to participate in, in a very up close and personal way.  Also, the accommodations were very comfortable, clean and the meals provided were amazing! I would highly recommend this volunteer location to anyone who asked.


Sean Hiddleston, from the UK, volunteered for 3 weeks in 2018: 

Nothing but positives to report! I had an incredible time in Costa Rica. I was lucky enough to help with the first two turtle releases of the year. Can’t overstate how amazing it is to watch them make their way to the water for the first time. Other highlights were the tree boa monitoring and the crocodile/caiman boat trip.

On my days off, I went on a canopy tour and a snorkelling day. I particularly recommend the snorkelling as we saw dolphins, whales, turtles, sharks, and eels (amongst others). Everyone I met at the reserve was friendly and accommodating, and it was clear they all genuinely cared about the animals. The facilities at the reserve were better than I was expecting. All in all, fantastic trip!


Smith family volunteers Costa RicaThe Smiths family, from the UK, volunteered as a family for 1 week in 2018:

It was 0200 hrs, walking along the beach with only the light from the stars, that’s when I knew we had definitely made the right choice in Volunteering at Playa Tortuga. We started as a family of 4, Dad, Mum, 2 kids, (13 and 6), as novices in volunteering, not sure what to expect or how useful we could be in just 7 days. By the end of the week we were spotting monkeys digging up turtle eggs, walking down rivers in the dark to find crocodiles and taking fin samples from hammerhead sharks.

Volunteering at Playa Tortuga was without doubt one of the most enjoyable parts of our Costa Rican adventure. The full time members of the team were very welcoming and under Oscar’s guidance (Project Director), clearly enjoyed their work and valued the help of the volunteers.

The turtle walks during the night were at times quite draining lasting 3 / 5 hours, which at high tide became more demanding as you have to wade through a fast flowing river. This meant that our 6 year old son was not allowed to participate, but our 13 year old coped really well and declared these ‘adventures’ as her personal highlight. That said, our 6 year old certainly still enjoyed himself and got involved in other projects, working with Butterflies, bird watching, checking the turtle hatchery and beach cleaning duties.

Smith family feedback Costa RicaIf you are lucky enough, you will get to see a turtle laying her eggs on the beach. Once she has finished, under the guidance of one of the full time team you will dig up the nest and remove the eggs,  taking them to the hatchery further up the beach. In the week that we were there, only 2 turtles were spotted. Luckily one of us was on patrol that night and managed to witness this first hand. An amazing experience with such a powerful animal, but this cannot be guaranteed.

You have to commit to working up to 6 hours per day, 5.5 days a week, but in reality the workload is lighter and we could enjoy large parts of the day as a family to explore the local area. There are some great waterfalls and beaches nearby, accessible with a 4 x 4 car, which we would certainly recommend if you are staying at the project. There is a local bar and supermarket across the road for essentials, you are not allowed to drink alcohol on the projects premises, but without a car your options are limited. We would recommend that if taking children, hire a 4×4 vehicle for your stay. It allows you to get to local beaches and attractions easily without having to rely on public transport which appeared somewhat ad hoc.

Food is provided for you, but only lunch, (Mon – Fri) is prepared for you. All other meals you have to cook yourself, but the larder is well stocked so you need not go hungry. There is a common room that all volunteers share with games and a table tennis table. Mixing with the different nationalities and wide range of people made our experience a great one. You work closely with all the other volunteers, there were 16 of us in total, and discussing life experiences and debating current issues was a particular highlight. 16 strangers all brought together with a common purpose made for an easy and entertaining mix.

Accommodation is basic and clean. We shared a family room which was cosy with 4 of us. It was also very hot, no air con. During the rainy or ‘Green’ season it was very humid with temperatures around 22 degrees at night. That said we all slept well, tired after either swimming in waterfalls or completing a 4 hour patrol of the beach. It was a good feeling to work in a project, which although small provides a wealth of different experiences. We would recommend this trip to single travellers or families with children.


Esther López volunteered for 2 weeks in August: 

It was a wonderful experience working with such a great group of people, I would repeat it without a doubt. My expectations were met. I encourage new volunteers to join this research group, if what they want is to learn and really collaborate with nature.

David and family Costa RicaDavid Siouville joined with his partner Chris and their two children Fern and Sian for 1 week in August:

It was a privilege to have spent albeit a short time with the Playa Tortuga project. The staff are clearly passionate in their work and are so devoted. It is the first time we have done any volunteering work and the project was an ideal choice for us.The community spirit was wonderful and the fact you are living so close to everyone at the project helps everyone to bond that much more quickly.

Whilst our youngest enjoyed her time there in hindsight, I don’t think she was mature enough to get the most out of her time. On the other hand our eldest daughter (13) absolutely loved her experience and threw herself into each task she was permitted to be involved in with gusto.We were very proud of the way she engaged so openly with many of the other volunteers, even though they were much more senior than her. Chris’ various aches and pains did cause her to struggle at times, which took the shine off of her time there to a degree; although we would stress that was not the project’s fault.

I found the experience much more enjoyable than I had expected. The fact you are amongst the forest and the wildlife is on your door step make sthe experience that much more real. Whilst Chris’ physical limitations may hinder her doing something like this again in future I can see myself and certainly Fern doing some more volunteering work in future. Fern was adamant she wanted to come back at some time.The accommodation was certainly cosy for four, but that was largely our choice, as both the girls chose to sleep in one room with us rather than have a separate room of their own. Yes, it was hot and humid, but that is what we expected.

Overall a fantastic experience which we would recommend to anyone who is prepared to muck in. You don’t have to be super fit (we most certainly don’t fit into that category), but you do need to be of a reasonable fitness to get the most out of your stay. Many thanks go to Oscar, Adrian, Gabby, Melissa and Brian and all the other staff.


Yellow tree frogArmida Madngisa volunteered at the project for 2 weeks in June: 

I had a great time at Playa Tortuga. All I can say is that most definitely future volunteers will gain so much knowledge and experience all at once. Not one moment felt the same and there isn’t even time to feel bored or homesick. The people at the Playa Tortuga project take good care of every volunteer. It is also a great way to explore and know a new country, especially for first timers. This is the second time that I did volunteer work via Working Abroad, mainly because the communication is fast. I would definitely ask Working Abroad to help me for a third time when the time is right.

You can also read the blog on her time volunteering at the project here: www.nature-myview.com/blog/reserva-playa-tortuga-a-volunteers-view 

Miriam volunteer Costa Rica


Miriam Anderson joined as a volunteer on the project for 3 months from January-March: 

I had an amazing time! The people that work there and volunteers are such incredible people, and made my time there so much more fun.


Hanna Leach, from USA, describes her time volunteering at the project in March: 

My group and I had an amazing time volunteering at Reserva Playa Tortuga! Our journey down from the states went smoothly, and we arrived to a warm welcome. Over the course of the week we were able to help interns and the reserve with different research projects they were conducting by going on different treks. On these treks, we looked for different mammals to count and observe, and for snakes/caimans to catch. We were able to do some extra volunteer work like doing a beach clean up and clearing out a back room at the reserve. The reserve had us help with their butterfly garden and recycling project. We took labels off of plastic bottles, rinsed them, then sorted them. The reserve is currently building a greenhouse made entirely of these recycled bottles, which they had compiled from the surrounding community.

It was an amazing experience not only to volunteer, but also to learn about the environment and biodiversity in Ojachal. For example, we learned about the parasitic trees that grow off of other trees’ nutrients. Also, the research my classmates and I got to help with was full of surprises, like wading through waist deep water while looking for snakes and tracking a group of monkeys through the rainforest. Clearing the beach was a great experience, and to our surprise we found many shoes! We filled two bags of recycling and one bag of trash in a few hours. I personally loved being able to help at Reserva Playa Tortuga and it helped me decide that I would like to pursue a career as a tropical biologist.

Some minor details to consider include informing volunteers that, although the rooms are non-smoking, there might be smokers at the reserve, and the windows are screened. Also, as stated on the website, you do need to be very fit to be a volunteer; the interns keep a fast pace on their treks. None of these things were major, we still had a wonderful experience, and would definitely recommend volunteering at Reserva Playa Tortuga.

A special thanks to Working Abroad for all of their help! Without you we would not have been able to have this amazing volunteering experience.


Fenja 
Squirrell describes her time at the project volunteering for 4 weeks from Nov-Dec 2016:

Wow, what a country! Costa Rica is by far the most beautiful country I have ever visited, filled with jungles, beaches and so much wildlife! I had a brilliant stay at the reserve where I learned so much about the various species of animals both in the jungle and on the beach. The staff were so knowledgeable and helpful in identifying the reptiles, amphibians and birds which I took pictures of. I most enjoyed spending my time trying to get a picture of the hummingbirds. They were excellent at teaching and explaining about the various field studies we did such as caiman crocodiles, olive ridley sea turtles and bird point counts.

The staff were all clearly passionate about conservation and protecting the wildlife in the reserve. We had some great finds during my stay including a sloth (not seen on the reserve for 2 years) and catching the biggest caiman caught on the reserve measuring 1m 63cm! It was truly unforgettable experience and I made so many lifelong friends from around the world!

Miss Fox LOGS group Costa RicaHere is a review from a teacher who led a group of students from the Lewes Old Grammar School in the UK to the Playa Tortuga Project for 3 weeks in the summer:

Myself and a colleague chaperoned twelve 16-17 year pupils to take part in the marine research programme at Playa Tortuga in Costa Rica. From a personal point of view and having experienced many different parts of the world, this experience was one of the best! We spent 3 weeks living and working in Playa Tortuga where pupils worked on three different projects; marine turtle project, mammal projects and the butterfly garden project.

A little about the projects – First of all the manager of the reserve, Oscar, was superb and planned an excellent schedule for the trip. Each day the pupils would take part in a different aspect of one of the research projects. The pupils were able to be extremely hands on helping researchers capture caimans and crocodiles, setting up motion cameras in jungles and even collecting turtle eggs!

About the reserve: the reserve was excellent and all members of staff were around and helpful throughout the whole stay which really eased the pressured placed on us as teachers. The pupils were able to enjoy the natural environment in which we were staying whilst remaining safe which is always a priority when taking pupils on abroad trips.

LOGS group at Playa TortugaWhilst out in Costa Rica we also took part in activity day trips including; a mangrove boat trip, high wire zip lining, whale watching and a trip to Cano Island. All trips were AMAZING and could not be faulted. Vicky from Working abroad planned everything for us, from getting picked up to and from the reserve to choosing safe and reliable companies. I would strongly recommend doing any of these trips as they were a real highlight for myself and the pupils.

Overall I would 100% recommend Working Abroad as a company to run any working trip and I look forward to planning many more trips through the company in the future!

No writing to describe this trip would ever be enough to summarise what a truly amazing experience it was!

Michelle Fox, teacher at Lewes Old Grammar School, UK.


Eight Conservation students from Bridgwater college in Somerset spent 2 weeks at the Playa Tortuga project in February:

It was a great trip and the reserve staff were very accommodating and helpful. They are very knowledgeable and approachable and we felt looked after at the reserve. We all learned a lot on the trip and it was really beneficial to see the fruits of the student’s labour in terms of footage from camera traps they had put out. It was good that the staff let the students work on a trial and error basis with the cameras as this allowed them to appreciate how they worked and it allowed them to alter them to be more effective.

Bridgwater group at Playa TortugaThe students enjoyed the caiman conservation aspect of the trip and especially liked measuring and weighing the animals and contributing to the data collection, and it was useful that the staff put this into context with talks about caiman and crocodile conservation.

Some of the students and myself did struggle with the heat and humidity, but fans were supplied in the rooms and the main common area had fans, which made the room cool. It was good that the staff at the reserve were aware that the heat and humidity did affect us (coming from a temperate environment) and they accommodated this by not staying out in the field for prolonged periods, and water was readily available.

The closing activity of going to a hotel and looking out onto the pacific and watching the sunset was a great touch and the students and myself really appreciated this at the end of the trip

Overall, it was a great experience, and some of the students want to go back to the reserve to volunteer in the future.

Adam George – Lecturer


Robbie Meldrum volunteered in Costa Rica during August, here are some of his highlights from the project:

The weeks I spent in Costa Rica over August were by far some of the most amazing, exciting and interesting weeks of my life. Before this trip I had never left Europe and had never travelled internationally by myself. Naturally I was very nervous, however I all the information I needed to reach the reserve was provided and it was very easy to plan my journey. All feelings of nervousness were instantly gone once I arrived at the reserve- this was because both staff and volunteers were extremely welcoming and friendly. Everyone was helpful and easy to get along with, I was lucky to have some great people volunteering there during my stay and I even still keep in contact with several of them.

Some of the highlights of my trip were; the incredible journey to the reserve which allowed me to take in some of the scenery, this ranged from seemly endless rainforest, rivers winding through valleys and the vast Pacific Ocean. It was nearly impossible to go a day without seeing some new wildlife and quickly I lost count of all the different species I saw. The animals that stood out were the brightly coloured tropical birds, countless types of colourful lizards and frogs that ranged in all sizes, a large caiman, I was also lucky enough to see 3 adult sloths and of course, an olive ridley sea turtle. Seeing an olive ridley sea turtle laying its eggs was one of the most breath-taking moments of my life which I will never forget. Another big highlight was after telling Oscar (one of the staff at the reserve) that my favourite animal was a red eyed tree frog, he went to the effort to find one so we could get a close look at it while we walking through the forest. On clear nights it was easy to see the Milky Way and an endless amount of stars. Swimming and learning to surf in the Pacific Ocean are also stand out moments. It would be easy to go on and on about all the incredible different experiences this trip allowed for me to have but I’m afraid the list may never end.

The country and people who live there really are amazing and I shall always treasure the memories I made there.

Sara family volunteer Playa Tortuga

Sara McNeillis travelled with her 3 daughters, 12, 15 and 17 yrs old, to our Playa Tortuga Project in Costa Rica where they spent 2 weeks:

We were the second family to stay at the reserva. I went along with three daughters 17, 15 and 12.

Arriving at San Jose gave us an instant buzz, the hot and humid environment enticed us into wanting to start on the conservation projects immediately but we were jet lagged and in need of good sleep. The next morning, we gathered our luggage and made our way to the bus station. We eventually managed to buy our tickets and board the correct bus to Ojochal. The bus ride was very interesting and picturesque. As we came down the mountain, we felt the heat and humidity rising. The first site of the pacific coast was the most breathtaking view. It had been a very long time since I saw the pacific. After quite a long, scenic bus ride, we were dropped off near Ojochal. It appeared as if we were in the middle of nothing. Just a road leading to a dirt track. We quickly proceeded up the dirt track to find the most wonderful little place; Playa Tortuga Reserva.

Sara family volunteer Costa RicaThe reserva staff were very welcoming and made us feel at home. We were shown to our rooms which were very comfortable.  The area was in the middle of a rainforest near the Tortuga beach. One could already hear the multitude of screeches and tuneful noises emanating from the forest. It was like being in a simulated zoo enclosure, but with the air of authenticity.

We were given a few ground rules and allowed to settle until dinner to unpack. In the evening we met the researchers Oscar and Adrian who both took it in turn to give us instructions to meet them again the next day.

One could not sleep at all with the racket of crickets and other creatures demonstrating their presence. It was also hot and humid.

We spent the morning being shown the butterfly project by Melissa. The project looked at raising caterpillars and looking after butterflies. Two species currently were being observed. The area was hot and humid. The caterpillars were very cute with soft suction pads under their body. We took the caterpillars off the leaves and cleaned out the cages before putting the caterpillars back on the new leaves. Data was recorded during the process. We then went over to the butterfly house and inspected the food, which required changing. All the bowls were taken back to the main house and changed. Following this activity, we were shown the turtle project and told we would be doing night patrol to look for turtles.

We then walked over to the beach which we would be patrolling and looked at the area and sea. The way over to the beach was down a short path through the rain forest which was filled with a cacophany of noise.  Monkeys were howling and chattering, whilst crickets provided the background hum. At the beach we had to cross over two small streams which led to the ocean these provided good entertainment. The beach itself was flat with brown sand, soft underfoot and filled with crabs. We were shown some turtles eggs in a nest in the hatchery.

Sara family volunteerOur first patrol was to start later that night and we were quite excited by the prospect of walking the beach. In the evening we had an early dinner and got ready for beach patrol. The short way to the beach was under tide therefore we had to walk an hour or so to the beach camp, through a swamp. Once we got to the beach camp, we changed our shoes for beach friendly and started the patrol. Three hours of walking up and down the beach looking for turtle tracks. Although we were quite excited about the prospect of seeing a turtle, we didn’t. We enjoyed the walk nevertheless. We were taken back to the reserva. On one of our beach patrols, we eventually managed to see a turtle laying eggs, we watched as she finished laying eggs and cover the nest with her back flippers. She then slowly turned and made her way back to the beach, taking what appeared to be a long diagonal path back to the sea. She stopped along the way for a rest, which seemed to get longer and longer as she got closer to the sea. It was a wonderful experience seeing the turtle return to the ocean and swim away.

The reptile project involved catching and measuring caiman lizards in a swamp. This was a night patrol too as the caimans were easier to spot in the dark. The trail through the rain forest in the dark was exciting and spooky. During the journey we say green iguana with a stripy tail. We also saw a red eyed green tree frog. On our way to the swamp we were able to spot some poisonous bull frogs and some harmless little frogs.  At the swamp we managed to track a few caimans, however they proved very difficult to catch. We left empty handed. It was nevertheless an enjoyable trip.

During our stay we also were fortunate to see a local celebration performed at the village school. It was very interesting to watch different cultural activities.

We used our free days to explore the surrounding area, there is a small town Uvita which had a host of shops and nice beach as well as Playa Ballena a local nature reserve with an interesting geological beach formation. There are many waterfalls in the area with water which is warm and clear enough to swim in. A ziplining tour was also available near Dominical which is also accessible via bus or car.

We cannot thank the reserva staff enough for an amazing programme of activities we had the pleasure to be involved in.

Alex volunteer at Playa Tortuga

Alex Jardine Paterson and Henry de Klee from Eton College joined our Playa Tortuga Conservation Volunteer Project, here’s what they had to say about their time in Costa Rica:

Our recent trip to Costa Rica has been one of the most eye opening experiences of my life so far. From the outset I was in love with the country, before we had even arrived at the Reserve. The people are extremely friendly, and they have an amazingly relaxed and soothing way of life. On our transfer down to the southern part of the Pacific Coast, to a town called Ojochal, we were able to take in some of the stunning countryside. The four hour journey took us through the rainforest, over 200 foot ravines and along the coastline; however it seemed to pass so quickly as there was constantly something to look out of the window at.

Alex volunteer Costa RicaWe aided the team at Reserve Playa Tortuga in a number of ways, from patrolling the beach in three hours shifts each night, to taking a device to the egg hatchery which was inserted into the nests to provide data for the scientists. The data collection was particularly important for the team because the sex of turtle hatchlings is dependant entirely on temperature – a temperature difference of 3 degrees is enough to change the sex of the resulting turtle. Along with the 3 scientists who work full time at the reserve: Oscar, Juan and Melissa, there are also around 4 ‘citizen scientists’, who are local full time volunteers. They help to keep the hatchery under a 24 hour watch, to prevent the eggs from being stolen by poachers. An egg can fetch between £1-2 and with up to 60 eggs in a nest, poaching is a huge threat to turtle populations. As volunteers, we also helped to keep the hatchery protected by spending the nights there a few times a week on a mattress in a mosquito net under the stars!

The Reserve has also been running a crocodilian monitoring survey for the past two years, which we took part in. The survey is conducted to provide baseline data on the Spectacled Caiman and the American Crocodile, as this has never been done for either of these species in this area of Costa Rica. Once a week, we went out to nearby streams, swamps and estuaries at night in order to look for the crocodilians. By wearing a head torch, the reflection from the eyes gave away where they were. The idea was to then capture the caimans, and determine their sex, measure their length, and tag them. (The caiman is a smaller animal than the crocodile, and safer to handle – for the crocodiles, a size estimate was taken by looking at the distance between the eyes, thereby judging the width of the head). However, unfortunately, the two nights that we helped out on it had rained in the late afternoon. This meant that the water was cloudy and so the caimans could evade being captured more easily; and so we didn’t manage to catch one. On one occasion we came very close to one, with it swimming between Oscar’s legs, and coming within 5 feet of Henry and I. Even if none are caught, a size estimate was taken of the ones we saw, and also the locations in which we saw them were noted; which is the main objective of the monitoring.

Another area in which the Reserve helps the local community as well as the environment, is that they provide environmental education to children in nearby schools. Henry and I went to help out with the teaching there for a day. The children were extremely eager to learn and fascinated by what we were teaching them. After collecting a number of water-living insects from a river, we were teaching them how to identify these different species. The insects caught were also helpful to Melissa (the education coordinator of the reserve) who noted down the different species to obtain an estimate of the water quality, as a higher water quality is able to support greater species variety, with insects being a good indicator.

Even when we didn’t go to one of the schools we could still help out with the education side of things by maintaining the butterfly garden located at the reserve. This required us to remove caterpillars from their cages, in order to change their water, clean their cages and provide them with different food. When a caterpillar had formed a cocoon, we dampened it with water to soften the silk attaching it to the leaf, so that we could move it to a separate cage. The emergent butterflies were then transferred to the main butterfly garden. This was where the children usually went to learn about the different butterflies of the jungle, however sometimes they came to learn about the work that went on ‘behind the scenes’ to learn about the life cycle of the different species.

LOGS group Costa RicaSince it was still early in the turtle season we were extremely lucky to manage to see one, there had been a few that had laid eggs during the week, but on different patrol shifts to ours. This Olive Ridley turtle did what is known as a ‘False Birth’, which means that it came up the beach to lay eggs, but couldn’t find a suitable spot, so returned to the sea. It would however come back in perhaps a few hours, or maybe the next day to try again. Although it didn’t lay eggs, the team still needed to collect data from it, regarding its shell size and coordinates of where it emerged from the sea. Also, since it had already been tagged from a previous year, the tag numbers needed to be checked. Henry and I were asked to hold it up of the ground by holding its shell, so that they could read the tags easily. They are surprisingly strong! After this, we let it go back on its way down to the water again.It was an incredible trip, and an amazing experience. Our only regret was that we didn’t stay for longer!


Matthew Silberman, from USA, spent 4 weeks at the project from March-April:

I cannot say enough about my wonderful experience at Reserva Playa Tortuga. I spent approximately four weeks at the Reserve working on several projects including water testing and caiman research. The staff members, whom I now consider close friends, were very welcoming and enthusiastic about the projects.

Aside from the beautiful aesthetics of the Reserve area and the interesting, rewarding work, there were numerous (perhaps unexpected) pluses. The town has a rich culture and the locals were exceedingly friendly. In addition, the food at the Reserve was outstanding. Needless to say, my time at the Reserve was quite memorable and I hope to return one day.

Playa Tortuga Conservation Volunteer Project, Costa Rica

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