Head off the beaten track and onto a remote stretch of Costa Rican coastline to help conserve adult and baby turtles. Patrol the beach at night time to spot nesting mother turtles, and help to release hundreds of babies out to sea. Get involved in the local community, from teaching children to conserving the beaches to get a real glimpse of life in rural Costa Rica.
Duration: 1 – 12 weeks
Dates: Early July – mid December
Arrival day: Monday
Return day: Wednesday
Eligibility: General level of fitness required
- Witnessing nesting turtles emerging from the sea at night under a glittering Milky Way
- Watching hundreds of baby turtles clamber out of their nest – and then releasing them back to the ocean
- Swinging in a hammock on a golden sand beach looking over the rolling waves – is this heaven on Earth?
- Meeting the locals, eating their yummy food and being welcomed into their friendly community
Costa Rica is home to stretches of lush turtle nesting beaches all along its unspoilt coastline. In such a tropical paradise, it is hard to imagine the extinction of the turtles, however the sea turtle population is rapidly plummeting. Due to natural predation from animals and severe human interference such as turtle egg poaching, industrial fishing and selling turtle shell products, all turtle species from the Pacific Coast are, to some degree, in danger of becoming extinct.
Working alongside an influential NGO, the local community and other volunteers, you will be protecting nesting turtles and their eggs, and ensuring that more adult and baby turtles can make it safely to the sea. The hard work of volunteers over the past few years has resulted in the survival of thousands more turtles.
Project tasks can include, but are not limited to:
- Beach patrols and data collection
By night you patrol the beaches, watching for nesting turtles coming up out of the sea. This is an incredible sight – one which many volunteers will never forget. Research and measurements on the turtles are recorded, and the eggs transported to a hatchery, where they can hatch in safety. This all takes place under the Milky Way, seen in incredible clarity due to the lack of light pollution.
- Working in the hatchery
By day and by night you check the hatchery for hatching turtles. As the turtles hatch, you collect data on the incubation period and hatching success rate. The research is linked to a worldwide study, and helps with global campaigns to end industrial fishing close to land. Baby turtles generally start hatching from early – mid August onwards.
- Helping around your new home
You will also be asked to do a few chores around the project house to keep it clean and tidy. Local children often pop by to practice their English and coax you into some of their games – you are encouraged to join them!
- Conservation projects
An important role for you as a sea turtle conservation volunteer is preserving the turtle’s nesting habitat and educating local people about the importance of this task. You can be helping with beach clean ups, teaching local children about sea turtle conservation and assisting with any ad hoc research and data collection tasks.
- The project is open from July – December, the turtle nesting season
- Mother turtles can be seen throughout this period – nature permitting of course!
- Baby turtles start hatching from early – mid August onwards
There are two project sites, each with its own charm and beauty:
- The paradise beach project: A buzzing little community of both Costa Ricans and American expats, this project site has a stunning white sand beach and plenty to keep you busy, with excellent surfing and other outdoor activites, and lots to explore. Find out more…
- The tropical beach project: Volunteers here are spoiled with a beach front property in a close-knit community of about 100 residents. The beach is stunning, lined with coconut trees and facing a small fishing port over the estuary. This is a beautiful base, with great access to the beach, excellent surfing, strong community ties and a real opportunity to work with locals and improve your Spanish. Find out more…
- One night’s accommodation at a guest house in San Jose at the beginning and end of your project
- Simple beach-side accommodation in Costa Rican houses or cabins
- You will be sharing a mixed dorm with up to 5 other people
- Bathrooms are en-suite with refreshingly cool showers
- By rural Costa Rican standards, the accommodation is very good – but it may feel rustic to you!
- 3 meals per day provided at the project site
- Breakfast is a DIY affair – cereals, fruits, toast, spreads etc
- Lunch and dinner are prepared by the local community- a mixture of traditional Costa Rican foods as well as more western influenced foods
- The staple diet is rice and beans, although you will also find a lot of meat, especially beef and chicken, salad, tortillas and soup
- The project caters for all dietary requirements, however please remember that you are in a very rural area and the same products that you are used to back at home won’t be available here
Airport: San José (SJO)
Arrival day to San Jose: Monday. Transfer from the airport to guest house in San Jose
Arrival day to project: Tuesday. Public transport transfer from San Jose to project site
Departure day from project: Tuesday. Transfer from project site to San Jose. Overnight in guest house
Departure day from San Jose: Wednesday. Transfer from guest house to airport
You will be well looked after by our team on the ground in Costa Rica. Working with expats and locals means that you will be well supported both culturally and linguistically! Friendly, passionate and enthusiastic, they will help you to settle in to your new way of life.
- Access to your own personal ‘My Oyster’ account – our online portal where you can find out much more about the program and manage your booking
- Dedicated contact time with an experienced destination manager to discuss the project, answer any of your questions and for us to find out more about you
- Help and advice from our UK office before arrival and whilst you are away
- In-country support
- Pre-departure information covering medical, safety and project advice
- Financial protection: ATOL (if we book your flights); IPP (if we don’t book your flights)
- Thorough orientation on arrival
- Accommodation (see the ‘accommodation’ section above for details)
- Advice on visa requirements
- Oyster plants a tree in Africa with TreeAid to help offset your carbon emissions
- Transfer airport to San Jose guest house and guest house to project site
- Transfer project site to San Jose guest house and guest house to airport
- 2 nights guest house accommodation in San Jose
- Oyster Worldwide volunteer t-shirt
- Oyster luggage tag
On your return:
- Welcome home pack
- Certificate of Recognition (on request)
- References (on request)
- Flights – as an ATOL bonded company, Oyster can book flights for you
- You need a valid passport that meets the requirements of the country you will be travelling to
- Insurance (covering your time with Oyster and any planned independent travel)
- Any costs associated with changing your return flight date if you need to
- Independent travel costs
- Home country travel costs
- Spending money for additional trips, food and entertainment
- If you will be flying through the USA you need to comply with US regulations- make sure you have an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) at least 72 hours before you leave
- Departure tax from Costa Rica is $28. This is not included in your flight.
“The 5 weeks that I spent in Costa Rica were unforgettable. Seeing my first nesting turtle was a dream come true- and then to release hundreds of baby turtles back to sea was beyond my wildest dreams! I have been delighted with our volunteer contribution ever since and have seen the project grow from strength to strength over these years” says Anne, Destination Manager
The main aim of the project is to increase the number of baby turtles that will survive from each nest. It is generally believed that, for every 1000 turtles born, just one will survive until adulthood. Through aiding the hatching process and making sure that the baby turtles make it to the sea safety, the volunteers are helping to reduce that staggering statistic.
The predominant role of the volunteer is the nightly beach patrol. The beach patrol is generally organised into two shifts of about 3 – 4 hours depending on the project site and the tides.
The number of turtles that are born and that survive is on the decline. At the beach sites where turtle eggs are protected in hatcheries, approximately 80% of the eggs hatch and make it to the sea. In sites where there is no hatchery, maybe 15% of the eggs will hatch and make it to the sea. In beach sites with no protection whatsoever, the survival rate is even less. The difference here is quite staggering.
Turtle eggs, once laid, are at risk from all sorts of factors. Nests are endangered by racoons, coati, termites and skunks, and if it manages to make it to fruition, the baby turtle’s effort to reach the sea is often scuppered by vultures and crabs! Volunteering in Costa Rica means that you can help increase the number of turtles hatching and hence prevent a beautiful species from becoming extinct.
- Beach patrols: Beach patrols take place at night time, as this is when the turtles come out to nest. Patrols usually last up to 4 hours- they include walking up and down the beach looking for turtles and nests, recording data, taking the eggs to the hatchery and releasing baby turtles into the sea.
- Hatchery monitoring: You will spend about 2 hours per day monitoring the hatchery, and this can be in the daytime or the night time.
- Writing up data / cleaning equipment: You will spend some time each day writing up the data collected on the previous night’s beach patrol, and cleaning down the buckets, gloves and other items used on the patrols.
- Nap time: Most people find that they like to take a nap at some point during the day. As your night’s will be slightly disrupted with the beach patrols, it is good to get in some extra sleep during the day.
- Free time: Meals are served three times a day, and in between these you can explore the coastline, the rainforest, chill out in a hammock with a book and drink fresh coconut juice straight from the coconut. Village communities are centred round the football pitch, so there is plenty of opportunity to get involved with local games. You will find that you live a very laid back Tico lifestyle.
You can read about an example a volunteering day on our blog.
If you’ve ever thought to volunteer abroad with animals or indeed volunteer sea turtles themselves, then this is the project for you.
The sad fact of the matter is that the turtle populations around the world are plummeting. Costa Rica turtle conservation gets you stuck in to actively protecting these vulnerable creatures. To volunteer with sea turtles, protecting adult and baby turtles, is not just an important thing to do, it is also a step in the right direction to preserving this species for generations to come.
The setting of these projects comes in a close second to why you should do this. Several of our volunteers over the years have chosen to travel Costa Rica either before or after the project- and each one has said that the project beaches were the most stunning that they have seen in the entire country. Patrolling the beach under the Milky Way, relaxing in a hammock beneath the palms, releasing baby turtles out to an azure sea… the location just makes this project unforgettable.
Nesting season is from July until December. We take volunteers from the beginning of July until the middle of December.
- August – October: Green season. Generally high temperatures (20 – 30 degrees celsuius) with sunny mornings and wet afternoons. This is the peak time for nesting turtles, and baby turtles start to hatch from August onwards.
- November – December: End of the green season / beginning of the high season. Generally high temperatures (20 – 30 degrees celsius). It can always rain in Costa Rica, but there is generally a bit less of it in November and December. You can generally see nesting turtles into December, although the majority of sightings will be the babies that you are releasing.
- There will always be a mixture of sunshine and rain. Nature cannot be guaranteed, so we would suggest booking the dates that work best for you and enjoying whatever happens!
- There is turtle activity throughout July – December, whether it be with adults or babies (or both!).
- The turtle nesting season is July – December, and mother turtles come to lay their eggs on the beach throughout this season. Sadly there are no guarantees that they come up every day however!
- Baby turtles start hatching from early August onwards, depending when mother turtles lay their eggs.
Whilst late-availability is possible, we would advise booking as soon as you can to guarantee your ideal dates. Our projects are very popular and spaces can fill up several months in advance, especially for the months of June to September.
- Flexible: Working with nature means that things can change at the last minute – the timing of your beach patrol, the weather, dinner time. Pack a good dose of flexibility and you can’t go wrong.
- Positive attitude: We can’t guarantee lots of turtle sightings, we can’t guarantee that you won’t get a frog in the shower and we can’t guarantee beautiful weather. With a positive attitude however, you can guarantee a fantastic time for yourself doing turtle conservation volunteering. The location is stunning, the project is amazing and the opportunity is unique. Embrace it all!
- Initiative: You may need to use your initiative to help on this project. The staff are there to support you, but the thinking and the action is all down to you.
- Sociable: You will be living and working alongside other people. There is lots of fun to be had together, and your free time will be filled with lots of socialising.
- Get up and go attitude: You will have lots of downtime on the project, and it is up to you to amuse yourself. If you want to take trips or do something with your day, it is up to you to arrange it and make it happen! The Costa Rican pace of life is much slower than you might be used to, so be prepared for a setback or two!
Turtles are greatly endangered around the world, and as such this project is created with their conservation and preservation in mind. There are several regulations in place to ensure that the preservation of the turtles is at the forefront:
- When patrolling the beaches at night and a nesting turtle is seen, volunteers must remain quiet and only use the red lamp on their head torches.
- When working around the nesting turtles, volunteers should remain quiet and conduct the research quickly and efficiently without disrupting the nesting turtle
- Eggs are transported from the site where they were laid to a protected hatchery to ensure greater hatching success rates
- On hatching, baby turtles are kept together in one space until they are all hatched to preserve their energy.
- Baby turtles are taken close to the edge of the sea for release. They must walk at least the final 20 metres to see independently of volunteers so that their muscles strengthen and their navigation is improved
- Volunteers will not interfere with the baby turtles’ progress towards the sea.
Oyster sends volunteers to two beach sites on the Nicoya Peninsula in Guanacaste. The two project sites offer varying insights into the Costa Rican lifestyle. The options are:
- The paradise beach project
- The tropical beach project
The village spreads, with its 200 inhabitants, along the length of its 3.2km beach. This is a very small community, and you will soon become one of the locals. The local children in particular love coming to the volunteer house to practice some English and play games.
The beach is flanked on one end by cliffs with crashing waterfalls in rainy season- there are lovely rock pools and shells to be found at this end. At the other end is a mangrove swamp and the river estuary.
For proactive people, there are quite a few free time activities- surfing lessons, exploring the mangroves, playing football, basketball or volleyball with the locals, horse back riding on the beach, a trip to the local butterfly farm, a trip up to the waterfalls in the mountains… In addition to these activities, the beach is beautiful- perfect for an afternoon of reading, walking or relaxing. You need to be proactive to get these things done however!
The beach has a small local community of approximately 100 inhabitants. It is rural, rugged and beautiful, stretching over 4.5km along the Pacific Ocean. To one end of the beach is a river that separates the paradise beach project and the tropical beach project. To the other end is a beautiful estuary facing on to a small fishing port. The surfing here is excellent.
The accommodation is beautiful, located a mere 50 metres from the beach with a large yard full of coconut trees. It is our most comfortable accommodation, with plenty of space to relax both indoors and out. The house has 3 bedrooms, with a total of 8 beds, 2 bathrooms and a kitchen. Bonuses to this project are a small soccer field, outdoor barbeque area and a beautiful view of the ocean! Private cabins are also available – with swimming pool access!
There are some really great community ties here, and the locals love to have the volunteers with them. The locals even help out with the beach patrols, offering a great cultural immersion and the opportunity to improve your Spanish.
There are always fun projects to be done, including painting signs, updating the hatchery and working with the community to promote the project. Most days the local children come by for English homework help or just for a quick soccer game in the yard. The community is excited to have the project and is always willing to help when needed.
We are an approved activity provider for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. You are able to put the time that you spend volunteering abroad on this project towards achieving your Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. We are happy to sign off your completion of this programme to show that you have achieved the Residential section of the Gold Award.
We would recommend budgeting up to £50 per week for drinks, treats and trips.
There are no cash machines at the project sites so you will need to have all your money with you for your stay. The closest access to an ATM is an hour away. Costa Rican Colon is not available outside the country so it is best to change some as soon as you arrive. You can also take US Dollars to spend on larger purchases.
Typically you can stay as a visitor in Costa Rica for up to 3 months, although the exact period is at the discretion of the immigration officer on arrival. If you will be flying through the USA you will need to apply for an online ESTA visa before you leave.
You should make sure your passport is valid for the duration of your stay plus 1 day.
Most of our volunteers are independent travellers and you will become part of a group of people from around the world here. It is fine to travel with friends or as part of a small group too however- more the merrier!
The simple answer to this question is, yes absolutely!
It is important to bear in mind however that this may not be like other holidays that you have taken. Remember that you are volunteering, and this means that you will be put to work! This sort of holiday is a world away from sun loungers and cocktails, with our volunteers often heading home tired but immensely satisfied. If you think that you will need a bit of relaxing time on your trip too, do make sure to factor this in when your time on the project is complete.
There are no compulsory inoculations necessary for Costa Rica but check with your doctor to make sure that your polio, typhoid, Hepatitis A and B vaccinations are all up to date, although none of these pose a major risk. None of the project sites are in malaria risk areas, but getting anti-malarials is up to you, as there are areas in Costa Rica where malaria is found. At the very least, a very good anti-mosquito spray and a mosquito net are recommended.
There is a mobile medical unit that comes through the villages, as well as a hospital within an hour of the project.
Costa Rica is considered to be one of the safest countries in Latin America. It is one of the few countries in the world not to have an army!
All transfers are included in this project including to and from the airport so this avoids having to negotiate San Jose. If you do have time in San Jose you will find a lively and buzzing city. You will be based close to the city centre in the pre-arranged guest house in a very safe area. We recommend that you return to the hotel before it gets dark as street lighting is a lot more limited than you might be used to.
At your project site you will be living in a small community which is very friendly and has known and supported this project for many years. The accommodation is lovely and right next to the beach with locks on the doors. The area is beautiful and locals love to show you the area.
The small communities where you will be living have around 200 people. They are approximately 5 hours from the city of San Jose. The closest town with an internet cafe, supermarket and cafe is located about an hour’s walk from the project sites. There is one organised trip to town each week.
There are generally internet facilities available near the project sites, although this can be limited.
You can get a local SIM card in San Jose or the local village if you have an unlocked phone.
Signal can be erratic on mobile phones. Phone cards are available from most local shops, pharmacies and kiosks, and can be used in the public phone boxes, which are readily available.
Costa Rica is 6 hours behind GMT (GMT -6)
In Costa Rica, American 2 pin plug sockets are used.
- Many volunteers simply enjoy chilling out in hammocks, walking the beach, swimming, surfing, helping in the local community, getting involved at the local school and playing games at the beach with the local children.
- For those who wish to explore further however, there may be the opportunity to go surfing or horse riding, as well as enjoying walks around the locality.
- The beaches are unspoilt, making the perfect place for relaxation and exploration as well as protecting the turtles.
- With the amazing wildlife on your doorstep, this project feels a long way from the hustle and bustle of life in busy San Jose.
- Take plenty of books, cards and a board game, writing materials, beach games, bat and ball etc as there is a good amount of free time in between project duties.
Most of the turtle activities take place at night time and in the mornings, so you will find that your days are mostly free for you to explore, relax and get involved with community projects. Top tips: take things with you that you enjoy doing in your free time and be proactive!
Supervision will be fairly intensive during the first few days, when you will receive a thorough induction and work-related training. Once you are comfortable with things, you might not always have a supervisor working alongside you, but there will always be staff and other volunteers around to help, and you will always be accompanied for any high risk activities.
Staff at Oyster’s head office and in-country will be responsible for your safety and welfare while you are at the project. This will start from the moment you are picked up from the airport until the time you are dropped back there. Before and after these times, you will be outside Oyster’s responsibility and should make sure that you act safely and avoid risk. This is also true if you choose to leave the project during your time off. We will give you plenty of guidance and advice about this.
Oyster has personally hand-picked some of the best volunteering projects out there. With so much amazing choice, it can be hard to make a decision. Our Animal Welfare Destination Manager, Anne, has written a guide to help you to choose the best animal volunteering project for you.