(Updated July 2023)
From the sandy Caribbean and Pacific coasts to the lush interior rainforests, to volcanoes and hot springs, there’s a reason why Costa Rica is the tourism capital of Central America. Like other countries throughout the region, Costa Rica is influenced by Spanish culture, and has been since the Spanish colonization of the Americas – although there are parts of the country with strong indigenous and Jamaican cultural influences. And with its fast-growing economy and increasing focus on tourism, the country is a safe, gorgeous place to travel, with incredible culture and opportunity for adventure.
Types of Volunteer Opportunities in Costa Rica
Although Costa Rica is a popular destination for ecotourists, adventure travelers, and beach bums, there’s still a need for volunteers like you: particularly in wildlife and environmental conservation, and English teaching.
If you’re interested in wildlife conservation, consider working with a project that focuses on protecting endangered animals – especially sea turtles like hawksbills, green turtles, and leatherbacks, which migrate to Costa Rica’s coastline to lay eggs every year. For environmental conservation enthusiasts, Costa Rica has a diverse landscape that must be protected to preserve its species’ natural habitats. There are many volunteer groups and NGOs working to prevent deforestation – which threatens the country’s biodiversity and ecological landscape. As tourism expands, it is more important than ever for travelers to be mindful of their impact on the environment. There are many organizations that promote sustainable eco-tourism, and it is a good idea to check out their resources before planning a trip. Even well-meaning tourists can damage ecosystems without realizing it, so it is important to be aware of the potential impacts of our travel choices.
If you want to make a difference for children and communities in need, there are lots of opportunities to teach English and other subjects in classrooms, adult learning centers, after-school programs, and more throughout Costa Rica. The English language is increasingly vital to the Costa Rican economy – both to support tourists from other countries and to conduct business internationally – and education is an excellent way to promote income generation and poverty alleviation. Help a Costa Rican learn how to speak English and you’ve opened them up for new employment and earning opportunities.
Volunteer Organisations in Costa Rica
Volunteer opportunities abound in Costa Rica regardless of your level of experience or your age, and signing up for a meaningful program like the ones on this list will introduce you to people from all over the world, and you’ll make friends that will last a lifetime. Read on to learn how you can join other volunteers in Costa Rica and start your adventure!
If you’re looking for a fabulous Costa Rican adventure, International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ) should definitely be on your radar. This organization partners with NGOs all over the world to place volunteers on meaningful projects spanning from teaching, to environmental conservation, to construction, and much more.
With sixteen different project opportunities to choose from in Costa Rica, IVHQ offers year-round availability – and depending on when you travel, you may be working alongside 40 to 80 fellow volunteers.
If you are intrigued by turtles and love the marine environment, then IVHQ’s turtle conservation project is a great opportunity for you to help save sea turtles. Volunteers will gain hands-on experience in sea turtle and marine conservation while living in beautiful Costa Rica. You will work on the Nicoya Peninsula or the Caribbean Coast, where sea turtles come ashore to nest during the season. You will assist a Costa Rican biologist with sea turtle research and protection, including sustainable egg protection. Volunteers will get their hands dirty and work hard in a physically demanding environment, but they will also have the chance to make a real difference in the lives of sea turtles. Day and night duties may include:
- Patrolling the beach
- Building hatcheries to protect sea turtle eggs
- Helping with beach cleanup
- Counting and tagging sea turtles
- Locating nesting sea turtles
- Collecting eggs and bringing them to the hatchery
A minimum of two weeks (costing $905 to start) is needed to gain the most from this rewarding experience, and you will live on one of IVHQ’s four beach locations in dormitory-style housing with other volunteers in Costa Rica. For more details, head to their page.
Because of the booming tourism industry, being able to speak English is a highly sought after skill for locals in Costa Rica. IVHQ’s English teaching programs offer volunteers the opportunity to gain valuable teaching experiences while making a direct impact on the lives of locals. There are two teaching programs located in San Jose or Manuel Antonio. As a native English speaker, you are able to help children, teenagers, and young adults to practice their pronunciation and conversation skills that will augment their formal English language training. These lessons will help secure future employments in the travel industry. During your stay, you may work in local schools, orphanages, community centers, or even in their homes with a variety of tasks such as tutoring students, planning small workshops, assisting local teachers with their daily work, and organising educational games and activities.
While there is no need for a teaching background to volunteer for these programs, IVHQ’s local team and placement staff will give you educational materials and a crash course to help you get started. However, if you’d like to stay longer in Costa Rica or make the greatest impact during your trip, check out IVHQ’s online TEFL course page to learn how to become internationally accredited to teach English well before your arrival in the country.
IVHQ’s program fee includes airport pickup, orientation, homestay, food, and 24/7 in-country support. There are also affordable Spanish lessons if you’d like to get a more immersive experience during your stay. For more information on the Costa Rican programs offered by IVHQ please click here.
What Volunteers Say: Review from Carter
My volunteer experience in Costa Rica was the trip of a lifetime. I participated in the construction program in San Jose and worked for 8 weeks building a school. I only worked in the mornings, so I had the afternoons to explore the city. On weekends I explored the various excursions and national treasures Costa Rica has to offer. IVHQ provided a supportive and encouraging environment for me to volunteer. The organization placed me with an amazing house mother. All of my breakfasts and dinner were taken care of; I only bought lunch after work every day. The best part of my experience were the friends I made. I met people from all over the world, and made friends that will last a lifetime. The experience was something I will never forget, and I recommend IVHQ to anyone who is interested in exploring another culture and giving back to the community in which they are staying.
Based in Latin America, Maximo Nivel offers volunteer abroad, intern abroad, study abroad and teach abroad programs in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru. Since 2003, Maximo Nivel has placed more than 25,000 travelers on adventurous and high-quality projects, with university credit available for most of their programs. In addition, for travelers who would like to learn Spanish, this organization also offers a Spanish immersion opportunity to enhance your language abilities regardless of your skill level. For volunteers and interns, Maximo Nivel partners with local organisations to provide impactful and affordable programs.
While visiting Costa Rica with Maximo Nivel, you’ll be able to explore the country’s capital, San Jose, as well as the beach town of Manuel Antonio, where you will immerse yourself in Costa Rican culture, pick up some Spanish, and explore two amazing but different communities. San Jose may be more conservative than your home community, while Manuel Antonio is more of a relaxed beach town. Maximo Nivel’s program fees in Costa Rica fee include airport pickup, host family housing, breakfast and dinner, orientation, training, and much more.
One of the many ways you can explore Costa Rica is through Maximo Nivel’s English teaching program, where you’ll spend a week or longer educating underprivileged students in public schools, community centers, after-school programs, orphanages, shelters for street children, or through other educational programs. Depending on the needs of your project site, your tasks may include creating lesson plans, teaching classes, tutoring students one-on-one, and organising educational games and activities for three to four hours each day, morning or afternoon. In addition to that, you’ll help with cleaning and setting up classrooms, fundraising, and collecting donations of books and other educational materials/. To sign up, you must be 17 years old, a native English speaker (or qualified through Maximo Nivel’s English diagnostic test), independent, resourceful, flexible, and creative to adapt to the different types of projects you will take on throughout your stay. To learn more about teaching English in Costa Rica, click here.
You also may want to check out Maximo Nivel’s medical and healthcare volunteer programs in Costa Rica. Volunteers are highly needed in the medical sectors due to low government funding and a large rural population that does not have equal access to healthcare. Many of these medical facilities who mainly treat low-income families are often short on funding and staff, which is why assistance from volunteers like you is so important. Volunteers are grouped into either the healthcare program or the medical program. The healthcare programs are for those who are unlicensed and still in training such as those in pre-med, nursing school, or first 2 years of medical school. Volunteers placed in the medical program are licensed medical professionals, or in 3rd or 4th year in medical school. You may work in a hospital, clinic, assisted living facility, or other location providing healthcare services with other volunteers. Depending on your level of training, demonstrated expertise, Spanish language skills, interpersonal skills, and how long you’re staying onsite, there are different levels of involvement from you. Some examples of care include general care and companionship, distributing medications, conducting workshops, shadowing a doctor or nurse, running medical campaigns, preparing equipment, organising patient records, and much more. To sign up, you must be 18 or older; provide proof of academics or professional training; bring your own scrubs, stethoscope, and closed-toe shoes; and be flexible and willing to take on various tasks based on season and project needs. To learn more about medical and healthcare volunteering in Costa Rica, click here.
If you want to embark on a fun, high-impact trip to Costa Rica, check out Maximo Nivel’s volunteer adventure, which invites you to spend five days on a community service project and six days traveling through Costa Rica. For the volunteer portion of your trip, you can work with kids, teach English, help with a construction project, assist with animal care, and much more. After that, you’ll go on a cultural night or city tour; visit Poas Volcano, La Paz Waterfall, and take a coffee tour; embark on a catamaran Tortuga Island tour, and spend three days at Manuel Antonio National Park.
If you want to intern abroad, Maximo Nivel is offering a micro business internship, where you’ll work with a local entrepreneur or business in marketing, client relations, administrative work, accounting, and much more. You’re invited to stay four weeks or longer on this internship, where you’ll learn about and take an active role in business development and management practices. This program is perfect for students pursuing a degree in business or a related field – to apply, you must have intermediate Spanish language ability and be currently enrolled in a bachelor’s or master’s program in a related field, or have at least one year of experience or vocational training.
What Volunteers Say: Review from Morgan
I recently volunteered with Maximo Nivel in Costa Rica, before even getting to my host family and experiencing for myself all that Maximo had to offer I was told amazing things by the girl sitting next to me on the plane who had volunteered in Guatemala with Maximo.
They were welcoming and really made you feel safe and secure about the foreign country and circumstances you were involved in. They helped to make sure continuously throughout the program that I was okay and adjusting well. They had an answer to my every question as well as were there to offer guidance about places to go and not to, good places to eat (even accompanying me for a lunch date!!), and things to do on weekends off.
They offer an amazing program to learn Spanish and English and tandem conversations to really put what you had learned into action. They were flexible about the location you lived and worked in and always were ready with a solution to any problem.
I’d recommend Maximo to anyone (in fact my aunt is even interested in joining team Maximo!) love the Maximo team in Costa Rica and I miss them all already.
Founded in 2006, GoEco has more than 150 initiatives throughout the world. Created by experienced volunteers, GoEco has placed more than 10,000 volunteers abroad in the past decade, including many great programs for volunteering in Costa Rica. The organization has been recommended by known publications like USA Today and the Boston Globe and was recognized as the Top Volunteer Abroad Organization in 2015 from GoAbroad. If you’re looking for volunteer programs in Costa Rica, GoEco is an excellent choice.
What’s awesome is that GoEco has numerous unique projects in Costa Rica. For instance, you could join the Sustainable Organic Coffee Farming initiative and assist farms in the growing, harvesting, and producing fair trade coffee. Hosted in the gorgeous mountainous town of Monteverde, you get to wake up to the gentle, thin mist covering the canopy that is famous for creating the cloud forest. This program requires a minimum of 2 weeks time. To learn more, click here!
Or, if you may want to volunteer at a renowned wildlife sanctuary in Costa Rica that conserves scarlet macaws, great green macaws, and other threatened animals called the The Puntarenas Pacific Sanctuary. You will begin your program with an exciting Spanish language and culture immersion week in San Jose. Then six hours away at the refuge, the work consists of daily care for these rescued wildlife such as preparing food, monitoring the animals, and maintenance of their habitats. Minimum requirement is 3 weeks. For more information, check it out here!
For those interested in medical care, GoEco has you covered as well. One notable project is the Health and Medical Care in the San Jose program. It’s suitable for pre-med, nursing, health, and medical students, as well as licensed professionals hoping to volunteer (responsibilities vary based on experience and your placement). The program gives you a great chance to gain practical experience treating patients and you can even learn Spanish. Find out more on GoEco’s site!
Another wildlife program possibility is the Animal Rescue and Conservation program! This particular one works with three different sanctuaries in Costa Rica -all which rescue and rehabilitate sloths and other native species.
Marine volunteers and sea turtle fanatics will love this sea turtle conservation program! The location switches between locations on the Pacific and Caribbean Coasts, depending on the time of year.
Since 2004, Global Leadership Adventures has offered programs abroad for teens and high schoolers combining community service with experiential learning and adventure. With an emphasis on safety – outlined in GLA’s five-point safety system – this organization sends thousands of travelers worldwide each year on projects ranging from public health to community development, and beyond. And as a leader in youth development, Global Leadership Adventures’ co-founder was recognized by President Obama for making a positive impact in Africa. Global Leadership Adventures has several different programs open right now for volunteering in Costa Rica, including Spanish immersion, environmental conservation, teaching, and more.
One of GLA’s many travel opportunities to volunteer in Costa Rica invites you to live in a coastal beachside village to learn about coastal sustainable development and promote awareness, to help with beach cleanups, and many different community beautification projects. You will get to connect with community leaders and locals to learn about local life while learning to promote sustainable tourism. When you’re not volunteering, you’ll have the chance to go zip-lining, surfing, hiking, and much more during your stay in Costa Rica.
Another impactful program you can sign up for to volunteer in Costa Rica is GLA’s initiative for children, where you’ll help improve the quality of life for children in some of the country’s poorest communities. As a volunteer, you will help build a playground, refurbish a soccer field, beautify a library, and much more. Through hands-on learning, you’ll visit a recycling center to learn about sustainability, spend time on a family-operated farm, and visit a wildlife sanctuary. And for the adventure side of your trip, you will explore the rainforest, go hiking and horseback riding, and much more. This program lasts two to three weeks, learn more and sign up here.
Founded in 1998, Global Vision International (GVI) offers a wide variety of meaningful volunteer and intern abroad programs worldwide. More than 24,000 volunteers have traveled with GVI to Africa, Asia, Latin America, and beyond to provide hands-on support for communities in need. By volunteering with GVI, you know you’ll make a difference: this award-winning organization partners with NGOs both large and small to provide local solutions to local needs, with help from volunteers like you.
GVI offers several volunteer abroad placements in Costa Rica for travelers of all ages. For some of our younger volunteers, GVI’s Under 18’s Volunteer and Adventure Experience in Costa Rica is a great way for high schoolers to get involved with community service and explore a different culture. This multi-focus program will have you helping out with construction projects in Cartago, Central Valley region of Costa Rica, embarking on adventure tours and cultural excursions. In addition to your volunteer experience, you’ll take surfing lessons, hike through a national park, go white water rafting, and much more.
With a strong focus on safety alongside adventure, GVI provides trained, world-class leaders throughout the entire trip. Click here to learn more about GVI’s teen volunteer adventure in Costa Rica.
If you’re passionate about wildlife and environmental protection, GVI offers a Wildlife Expedition where you can gain hands-on experience in rainforest conservation in Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. Through this program, you’ll work alongside researchers and fellow volunteers on the long-term management and conservation of Costa Rica’s rainforest. During your stay, you’ll research native species such as jaguars, aquatic birds, and sea turtles, and you’ll learn about the country’s ecosystem while gaining practical skills and knowledge about environmental conservation through guided field experience. A few skills you’ll pick up by volunteering in Costa Rica include survey techniques, setting up and checking camera traps, and tracking animals. This is an excellent opportunity for volunteers interested in pursuing a career in marine biology, conservation, or related fields – you’re invited to stay four to 24 weeks to gain the most from your experience and to make the greatest impact: volunteers like you have provided key data to the Costa Rican government to make important conservation decisions and ensure the biodiversity of the rainforest. To learn more about GVI’s wildlife expedition, click here.
What Volunteers Say
I volunteered with GVI on the Costa Rica Wildlife Expedition back in 2011 and the experience was completely life-changing. I will never forget the first time I was able to watch a turtle lay her eggs on the beach and watch hatchling making their way back into the ocean! I was so impressed by the support GVI gave from the moment I got off the plane until the end of my program and the level of training they provide all volunteers. I would highly recommend this program to anyone (I was on a career break!), just be prepared for rustic living conditions as the base is literally in the middle of the jungle.
Based in the U.S., A Broader View is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing top-notch volunteer assistance to local organizations and communities in need worldwide. With more than 240 placements in 25 countries, you can choose from a great number of volunteer and intern abroad programs: from childcare to community building, to teaching, and much more
In Costa Rica, A Broader View invites you to help out with a teaching program, special needs center, senior care center, museum support, paramedical/rescue program, women’s support program, and so much more. Depending on the project you sign up for, your program fee starts from $995 for your first week in Costa Rica and includes host family or dormitory accommodation, three meals per day, airport pickup, orientation, pre-trip and in-country support, and departure.
If you want to improve futures for women and girls in need, you should definitely check out A Broader View’s women’s support and empowerment program in Heredia. Many women in developing countries – including Costa Rica – suffer from discrimination, subservience, and lack of education, and your support will help better their lives. Day-to-day activities on this program vary depending on needs, but you’ll generally focus on education, self-esteem building, and vocational training to improve women’s economic and social conditions, both for themselves and for their families. If you have experience in the area, you’re welcome to teach math, bookkeeping and accounting; give social media and basic computer lessons; help write resumes; provide vocational training with weaving, embroidery, handicrafts, and baking; and assist with hygiene and family health issues.
This program for volunteers in Costa Rica lasts from one to six weeks, and you’ll work Monday through Friday each week for a minimum of five hours a day. You must be at least 18 years of age to travel alone (or between the ages of 12 and 17 to travel with parents or guardians) and know basic/intermediate Spanish – plus lessons are available through A Broader View to help you out. To learn more and to sign up, click here.
Another option to volunteer in Costa Rica with A Broader View is to work in the elderly care center in San Jose. Unfortunately, the Elder Center Home operates on an extremely tight budget and needs extra assistance and donations constantly. The residents you will be working with are 65 and older and come from all walks of life. It is the tradition in Costa Rica for senior citizens to be taken care of by their families, but as economic and social changes develop, the tradition has become difficult to uphold, and many elderly men and women have been placed into assisted-living facilities.
Your responsibilities as a volunteer will vary depending on the center’s needs, but common tasks include playing games, sharing stories, practicing English with the residents, assisting nursing staff with distributing medicine, seeing to the needs of the residents, and day-to-day maintenance of the facility.
You must be at least 18 years old to travel alone and have a basic understanding of Spanish to apply for this program – click here to learn more and to sign up.
What Volunteers Say: Review from Melanie
This experience In Costa Rica was one that I will never forget. Meeting children that have been abandoned by their parents and being able to put a smile on their faces and bond with them is a great feeling. Many days my heart was broken because all you want is for them to have great futures and unfortunately you do not know whether or not they will have great futures. This experience has opened my eyes to the problems that our world faces with the orphans. I do not want my work with them to stop here, I would love to keep in communication with the Costa Rican orphanage. My host mom and house were great, I was able to sleep in a comfortable bed in a room that was always at a good temperature. The meals were delicious, and I have had my fill of Costa Rican food. Security was great. We were at a wonderful residence where all the neighbors were friendly. The friendliness here is amazing. People are always saying Good Morning or How are You Doing when you walk past them. The quality of service here is very good. I love San Jose because it reminds me a lot of USA and it makes me feel at home.
With placements in more than 30 countries worldwide, Love Volunteers places thousands of travelers on life-changing and impactful programs every year for short- and long-term stays. And the organization is growing: since their founding, Love Volunteers has sent more than 20,000 travelers abroad. There’s truly no shortage of meaningful projects to take on with Love Volunteers: from medical care to special needs care, to construction, environmental conservation, and much more, you’re bound to find the perfect opportunity to make a difference for a community in need.
Right now, Love Volunteers is offering six different volunteer opportunities in Costa Rica, including childcare and development, education support in schools as teachers assistants, environmental protection, medical internship, wildlife rescue center assistance, and turtle conservation. For one week or longer, you’ll volunteer in San Jose, Montezuma, Buenavista, or Matapalo, and immerse yourself in Costa Rican culture through your volunteer activities, homestay, and exploring your host community.
One of the conservation projects, the sea turtle and sloth conservation, you can take on with Love Volunteers invites you to Matapalo Beach. You will work to protect and nurture sea turtle eggs, count turtles, measure nests, collect scientific information, patrol beaches at night, assist on egg-harvesting programs, and help release hatchlings to the sea, depending on the time of year that you’re traveling.
If you volunteer outside of sea turtle breeding season, you’ll still be able to assist with other conservation projects, such as developing advanced infrastructure on the beaches – this includes building and lighthouse projects to help reduce vehicle and human traffic on turtle nesting grounds. Throughout your stay, you’ll work six days per week, generally late nights and early mornings, so this program is a great option for volunteers who are physically fit and willing to work hard. To learn more about volunteering for wildlife conservation in Costa Rica, click here.
Love Volunteers also has an opportunity for you to teach in a rural school at Jaco Beach. Through this program, you’ll work alongside a teacher to instruct students in English and other subjects both in the classroom and outside of school. You’ll teach Monday through Friday for up to 4 hours a day. The communal volunteer house where you’ll stay is located only a few meters from the beach and is surrounded by tropical forest filled with exotic animals: a perfect placement for travelers who want to do good and explore a totally different part of the world. For more information and to apply, click here.
Ready to Travel?
Whatever your reasons for visiting Costa Rica – whether you want to explore a new place, pair a volunteer project with adventure, continue your education, or make a positive, lasting impact on others’ lives – you’re sure to have an amazing time and meet wonderful people.
If you’re ready to start planning your Costa Rican journey, click here to learn about the many volunteer abroad organizations right here on Volunteer Forever – and click here to learn about internships abroad, and check out this page to learn about teaching abroad.
Happy travels, and pura vida!