Volunteer activities help travelers make a positive impact on society and nature
Traveling to Costa Rica is always an enriching experience thanks to the destination’s wealth of natural and cultural resources. Now with voluntourism — travel that includes volunteer activities for nonprofit organizations — the rewards are even greater, as visitors make a positive impact on the environment, wildlife and local communities.
Regardless of age, experience level or interests, travelers will find an increasingly wide array of interesting and exciting ways to volunteer their time in Costa Rica. It’s a worthwhile way to make any vacation truly memorable.
Considering that Costa Rica is known for its eco-friendly policies, it’s no surprise that many volunteer opportunities focus on the environment. Volunteers can aid in the sustainable management of wildlife, forest resources and other protected areas with the Association of Volunteers for Service in Protected Areas of Costa Rica (AVSO) (http://www.asvocr.org), which plays a key role in Costa Rica’s conservation, investigation and education efforts. Exciting and rewarding service opportunities are available for individuals, organizations and research can be used for college credit or data for ecologically-themed theses.
Also noteworthy is Costas Verdes (www.costasverdes.org), a non-profit organization devoted to protecting the coastal region. Volunteers can help out with the planting of thousands of trees in deforested areas in the Ostional and Playa Hermosa National Wildlife Refuges and they can also help at Costas Verdes’s nursery, which has more than 2,000 trees ready for planting.
For those interested in the educational value of voluntourism, several interesting opportunities are available from the Tirimbina Rainforest Center (http://www.tirimbina.org/). The volunteer program at the Tirimbina Rainforest Center provides a unique experience for participants in the development of their scientific knowledge of the tropical forest, as they collect data for the center’s long-term research projects and learn about the ecosystem. Volunteers develop skills in collecting and analyzing data, writing reports and can also participate in various activities including tours and educational programs.
The Organization for Tropical Studies (http://www.ots.ac.cr/), a non-profit consortium of nearly 60 universities, colleges and research institutions from around the world also provides educational programs such as undergraduate and graduate study programs in global health, biology and conservation. In Costa Rica, the organization offers individual and corporate volunteer programs that include reforestation projects and activities at any of its three biological research stations, located in three ecologically diverse ecosystems: La Selva Biological Station, in the Caribbean lowland at the northern base of Braulio Carillo National Park; Palo Verde Biological Station, in the northwestern Pacific lowlands; and Las Cruces Biological Station and Wilson Botanical Garden, on Costa Rica’s southern Pacific slope, where an extensive collection of palms, bromeliads and endangered plants are among the beautiful features.
Abundant wildlife is found throughout Costa Rica and voluntourism makes it easy for travelers to help protect the nation’s diverse fauna. Among the organizations that excel in this type of voluntourism is the renowned World Wildlife Fund (http://www.wwfca.org/nuestro_trabajo/especies/tortugas_marinas/conservacion_playa_junquillal/programa_voluntarios/), which works both at sea and on land with fishermen, tour operators, governments, industries, farmers and urban groups — as well as local and national authorities — to protect the Western Hemisphere’s largest reef. With the organization’s sea turtle conservation project in Junquillal, volunteers can help these magnificent creatures while receiving technical training and enjoying an unforgettable experience in the field. The minimum stay for this project is 15 days, although visitors are able to commit for up to a month in this worthwhile program.
The Osa Conservation Area contains nearly 2.5% of our entire planet’s biodiversity despite its small size. MarViva (http://www.marviva.net/index.php/en/) works hand in hand with local fishermen to offer training and strengthening in the development of programs that will allow them, in a way that is compatible with the marine resource, to make a living from different activities related to tourism and responsible fishing. The foundation also fosters community coastal organization with an emphasis on mangrove management and responsible fishing, in order to achieve the active participation and empowerment of local leaders in spaces for discussion and national harmonization in Marine Spatial Planning.
Situated in Costa Rica’s Southern Pacific region, the Corcovado Foundation (http://www.corcovadofoundation.org/es/programa-conservacion-tortuga-marina.html) plays a leading role in strengthening protected areas, promoting environmental education, adopting responsible travel and encouraging community participation in the sustainable use of natural resources in the South Pacific region of Costa Rica. Their program for the conservation of sea turtles runs from July to mid-December in the Osa peninsula. Volunteers participate in various conservation activities as members of the research team. Activities include night patrols, relocating nests in the nursery, recording scientific data, tagging turtles, monitoring the nursery, construction, exhuming nests and releasing hatchlings.
Travelers who want to experience and volunteer in local communities might want to consider vacationing at a co-op such as CoopeSilencio (http://coopesilencio.blogspot.com/p/volunteer_07.html). Volunteers will be housed with one of the families in the village and will be based at the animal rescue center. There is also the option to volunteer at the dairy farm or teach English to students and adults at the local school. The volunteer program at El Silencio accommodates all ages (from 16 years), backgrounds and abilities.
Caminos de Liderazgo, (http://inogo.stanford.edu/programs/leadership-program?language=en) a program out of Stanford University, develops leadership skills, and creates a tourism offering based on the vibrant culture of the region. Participants come together to share their vision for their businesses and participated in activities focused on leadership, tourism, sustainability, and culture. The program is a collaboration between local leaders and entrepreneurs, the CRUSA Foundation, INOGO, SINAC and RBA with the support of businesses such as Nature Air, Travel Excellence and Horizontes. The program will work with about 30 regional leaders to achieve increased prosperity for the inhabitants, their local cultures and biodiversity of the region.
Visitors can also give back by taking stock in Costa Rica’s future. The Integrated System of Art Instruction for Social Inclusion (SIFAIS) is an educational program located in La Carpio that emphasizes self-worth and community. The educational program promotes the self-advancement and social integration of lower income children through classes in art, sports and trades training. Classes are open to anyone, regardless of their ability to pay and the program accepts volunteers of all levels of expertise.
About Costa Rica
Costa Rica is located in Central America between Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south; it is bordered on the east by the Caribbean Sea and the west by the Pacific Ocean. With an abundance of unique wildlife, landscapes and climates this small country proudly shelters approximately five percent of the known biodiversity in the world. In order to protect and preserve its wealth of natural resources, Costa Rica has become a global leader in sustainable practices with protected areas comprising 26 percent of its land mass. With a peaceful spirit, emphasis on education and an economy based on tourism, technology and exportation, Costa Rica offers one of the highest standards of living in Latin America. Visitors to Costa Rica enjoy a highly organized tourism infrastructure among a tropical paradise of lush rainforests, mystical volcanoes and cloud forests and beaches that meet mountains filled with monkeys and macaws. Offering a broad terrain of activities and accommodations, visitors to Costa Rica will find a range of hotel options ranging from small beachside bed & breakfasts to authentic intimate boutique mountain lodges to major international business hotel brands and everything in between. Costa Rica’s accommodations offer something appealing for everyone’s desires. The phrase “Pura Vida” can be heard echoing throughout Costa Rica from coast to coast. Used as a greeting or expression of happiness, the phrase literally translates to “pure life,” however its true meaning is “full of life,” which accurately describes the adventure and wonder that await visitors.
About Instituto Costarricense de Turismo (ICT)
Established in 1955, the Costa Rica Tourism Board spearheads the vital task of regulating and promoting Costa Rica’s extensive of tourism offerings. The ICT and its partners in the private sector work tirelessly to garner recognition, standardize practices, provide insightful research data and foster cultural development for the country’s coast to coast one-of a kind tourism products and resources.