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Guide to Volunteering in Costa Rica – For a Meaningful Travel Experience 

Costa Rica volunteerCosta Rica is swiftly becoming the poster child for meaningful travel experiences, least of all for the sheer number of reputable, sustainable and responsible volunteering projects found all over the country. Many return visitors who have been and have fallen in love with Costa Rica are choosing to add a stint of volunteering to their yearly adventure vacation, giving back to a country that – increasing modernity notwithstanding – still struggles with poverty, wildlife protection and environmental conservation.

Volunteering projects offer placements which range in duration from days to weeks and even months at a time and, whilst some require a level of expertise in a given field, many simply require you to offer compassion and a willingness to help.

Finding the right project to dedicate your time and effort to will require a certain amount of research and insight on your part, so we thought we’d lend a helping hand by highlighting a few very important aspects of volunteering in Costa Rica.

Volunteering in Costa Rica – Why Keeping Your Expectations in Check is Essential

Choosing the right project for a rewarding volunteering stint in Costa Rica should take some time. Romantic ideals aside, you should ensure that your chosen project be transparent in what it aims to achieve and, more importantly, what it expects of you. By the same token, you ought to familiarize yourself with volunteering abroad if you’ve never undertaken such a project.

Many first-time volunteers are left disappointed when they realize that they are, more often than not, a ‘cog in the wheel’ of a long-term and complex project. Your day-to-day task may not be as glamorous as you imagine and, even if volunteering for a number of weeks, you may not see the results of your hard work during your tenure. This is the nature of the game, the actual essence of most volunteering projects. ALL the collective work of ALL the volunteers is pooled together to make a project a success, so if you expect instant gratification, you may be left disappointed. Moreover, responsible projects ought to place the emphasis very much on the receiver of help and not the giver and if you’re serious about being helpful you should appreciate this very much.

If it isn’t in the best interest of an animal to continuously be exposed to new people, for example, your work may well be ‘behind the scenes’. Wildlife volunteering projects still need people to prepare food and clean cages, collect data or help with construction. If the aim of a particular project is to reintroduced rehabilitated animals to the wild, you can pretty much guarantee you won’t get to cuddle it. If you’re ecstatic knowing that your personal help has contributed to the release of such an animal, then, by all means, go right ahead. If you’re hoping for a more hands-on experience, however, choose your project accordingly.

Keeping your expectations in check is crucial to ensuring your experience be fun, rewarding and satisfying. At the end of the day, volunteering projects are only successful if volunteers thoroughly enjoy their experiences.

Choosing the right volunteering project

Considering the criticism that many international volunteering organizations have faced over the years, much of which was utterly warranted, you should be ruthless in your research for the right project. For every well-planned organization, there are half a dozen poorly-designed ones that manage to harm the very cause they wish to assist. Offering your time and effort to the right project, therefore, isn’t just beneficial to you but also to the community and cause in question. Much like the kind of planning needed to organize any kind of trip abroad, volunteering also requires meticulous research. If you wouldn’t use the hypothetical yellow pages to choose a hotel abroad…don’t use it to choose your volunteering project.

Seek out a legitimate project that offers a safe placement for you; one that boasts excellent reviews by previous volunteers and, more importantly, one that clearly communicates its intentions and expectations with you. Their work should be prominent in Costa Rica’s media and their successes well documented. Seek out news articles, blogs and forums on every project you come across and it’ll be much easier for you to weed out the great from the sub-par.

Choosing the right volunteering project should also involve a little soul searching on your part. Determining the kind of work that you’re likely to enjoy may be deceptively difficult. Take projects involved with the education of impoverished children, as an example. You may well agree that this is of the utmost importance in any developing country, yet if you don’t really enjoy spending entire days surrounded by children, let alone weeks, it’s best to leave the volunteering spot to someone who will. Not only will you be better off doing something you actually enjoy but those all-too-important children will also have a much better time with a volunteer who enjoys their company. So be brutal in your assessment of your own desires and skills and choose to volunteer in a project whose work you know you will enjoy.

Taking some time out of your life to volunteer abroad is no small feat: choose wisely and it could well be one of the most meaningful and gratifying travel experiences you’ll ever have.

Paying to volunteer – why this oxymoron makes sense

Start researching the most popular and best volunteering projects in Costa Rica and you’ll soon discover that all-too-familiar oxymoron: volunteering costs money. Why on earth should a volunteer PAY to help? Well, for the very logical reason that projects must spend money to receive volunteers.  A lot of money, in fact. It costs money to house you and feed you for the duration of your stay, to recruit you in the first place, to assist you in settling in and in training you. It costs money to organize transport and to build all the facilities to make you safe and comfortable. If a project is responsible, it won’t just leave you to fend for yourself. It will look after you and for that…it needs funds. Considering all of its profits should, theoretically, be poured back into the project itself, it makes sense that you’ll need to effectively pay your way during your stay. Most organizations don’t receive government funding and rely on the donations to carry on their important work, combined with whatever funds are left over after your placement fee is spent (on you). Professional and responsible volunteering project should have no issue providing you with a clear breakdown of how your fee is spent so you can best ascertain if you’re willing to contribute to their project.

The most popular volunteering options in Costa Rica

Animal care, rehabilitation and conservation work plays a huge role in Costa Rica’s volunteering sphere, as does work in remote communities building much-needed infrastructure and helping at-risk communities. There are many projects, all over the country, which rely heavily on volunteers’ help, both local and imported. Before you go ahead and research the best projects in Costa Rica, have a read of National Geographic Guide to Voluntourism, which highlights a few key points you ought to also keep in mind whilst listing the most prominent international organizations around.

Volunteerism has been placed under the microscope over the last decade (for many valid reasons) and the great benefit of this is that it’s forced organizations to be much more transparent in what they do and how they do it. If, by the end of your research, you decide that you’d rather offer a donation rather than your time and effort to a particular cause, do know that your invaluable contribution will be much appreciated by whichever reputable organization you choose to help.

Here at Costa Rica Rios, we’ve been voted One of the Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth by the National Geographic and take our role as ambassadors very seriously. We not only commit to sustainable tourism in a country which desperately strives to uphold it but we contribute to our local communities, employing and training local guides and donating to our local orphanage and any business which needs a helping hand. We do this because we believe that through responsible tourism, everybody wins, Mother Nature included. All of our Adventure Tours in Costa Rica are planned with our mission and values in mind so if you’d like to come and discover all the amazing experiences this incredible country offers, contact us today.

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