Volunteer Costa Rica Map
Day 1 Arrive San José
Arrive in San José at any time. There are no planned activities so check into our hotel and enjoy the city.
Located in the central highlands, San José enjoys a moderate climate. The heat and humidity of the coast and lowland areas may affect you, with a general sense of lethargy and/or loss of appetite. This is no cause for alarm, it is simply your body’s reaction to the heat. Be sure to drink plenty of water (bottled water is available everywhere) and do not attempt too much in any given day. We prefer fan-cooled rather than air conditioned rooms to avoid having to acclimatize to the heat and humidity every time you go outside. This is also a more eco-friendly approach.
Like most cities, San José has its good and bad sides. It is the centre of government, theatre, and art, as well as of air pollution and congestion. It has beautiful parks and museums, and a few beggars on the streets. It is big and often noisy, but even from its crowded downtown streets, you’ll often enjoy a view of the surrounding lush mountains.
Start your exploration of the city in the main plaza, a great place to people-watch. A mime, juggler, marimba band, magician, or storyteller may be performing for whatever is collected when the hat is passed. Artisan booths are common, creating a regular arts and crafts fair atmosphere.
A source of pride for the ticos (as Costa Ricans are known) is the National Theatre. Inaugurated in 1897, the building was paid for by coffee growers through a voluntary tax on every bag of coffee exported. The National Museum, housed in the Bellavista Fortress, offers exhibits on pre-Columbian art, colonial art and furniture and religious art within a 19th century building that was converted from a military fortress after the army was abolished.
The Museum of Costa Rican Art, located in La Sabana Park, was once the international airport; the museum is now housed in the old terminal building. The Jade Museum is on the 11th floor of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros building. In addition to the marvellous collection of jade objects, there are pre-Columbian ceramic and stone works as well as displays with archaeological and ethnographic information. The Gold Museum is located underneath the Plaza de la Cultura. Its spectacular collection of indigenous gold art belongs to the Central Bank of Costa Rica.
The best and least expensive places to buy souvenirs in San José are the markets. The two main ones are the ones in Plaza de la Cultura, which is an outdoor open market, and the Central Market, where handicrafts are sold along with boots, fish, flour, herbal remedies, shirts and everything else you can imagine. Always watch your belongings and be ready for crowds. If you plan on spending a few days in San José after your tour, there are a number of activities within the city and area that you can participate in, many of them outdoors.
Probably the hardest thing you will do in San José, other than get safely across busy streets, is keep the street numbering systems straight. Street and avenue numbers are posted on buildings at the corners of some intersections. Keep looking as you walk, and you will eventually find one.
Day 2-7 Sea Turtle Conservation Project (5B,5L,6D)
Following an early morning departure from San José we travel approximately 5 hours by bus to Playa Matapalo, a small village located on the central pacific coast. We spend the next 5 days working alongside local and international volunteers to help protect endangered sea turtles.
The best time to visit this project is from June - November with the best chance of working with the turtles during these months. Volunteer activities include long night beach patrols to protect the nests, data collection, area clean-ups, general cleaning and maintenance, the construction of breeding grounds and other infrastructure, as well as the possibility of monitoring of the baby turtle hatchery, counting baby turtles and releasing them.
Estimated Travel Time: 6 hours
Approximate Distance: 220 km
Day 8-10 Monteverde (1B)
Today we travel to the misty mountain air of the Monteverde Cloud Forest. Spend two days exploring Monteverde and the Forest Reserve, truly a nature lover's paradise. Local guides are extremely knowledgeable about the area and passionate about conservation of this precious ecosystem. The unique community has several local co-operatives worth visiting including artist collectives and a cheese factory. If you're there at the right time of year, you may be lucky enough to see the Resplendent Quetzal, one of the most beautiful and elusive birds in the world. Optional activities include traversing a series of suspension bridges through the jungle canopy, a butterfly garden and a thrilling canopy zip line.
Enjoy an included "El Trapiche Tour" to learn more about Costa Rican culture, including sugar cane processing, coffee production and other aspects of local agriculture. This hands on included tour is not to be missed and will leave you with a better understanding of Costa Rica.
Please note that if you booked the Adrenaline Theme Pack, on day 9 you will have a bird’s-eye view of the rainforest canopy as you soar through the trees on a Tarzan swing, a giant rappel and a 450-foot-high zipline. Tour is approx. 2.5 hours long.
Monteverde or Green Mountain, is exactly what you find at the end of the long, rutted dirt road through the mountains. The surrounding pastures were once covered with dense forest, but today only a small piece of it remains. That piece of forest has been preserved as the Reserva Biologica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. Cloud forest is much like a rainforest, but much of the moisture comes not from falling rain but from the condensation left by the nearly constant cloud cover that blankets the tops of mountains in many parts of the tropics. Monteverde Reserve covers 1600 hectares of forest and is home to a great variety of wildlife. More than 2,000 species of plants, 320 bird species and 100 different species of mammals inhabit this small area. The Santa Elena Reserve, another park contiguous with Monteverde, is less well known and visited but also worth seeing. All proceeds from this park profit the local community.
Quakers from the United States founded the village of Monteverde in the 1950s. Looking to leave behind the constant fear of war and objecting to being forced to support continued militarism through their taxes, the Quakers chose Costa Rica because of its commitment to a non-militaristic economic path—Costa Rica’s army was dissolved in the 1940s. Since its founding, Monteverde has grown slowly as others who shared the original Quaker founders’ ideals moved to the area. Although the Quakers came here to farm the land, they recognized the need to preserve the rare cloud forest that covers the mountain slopes above their fields. The community is very different from those on the coast, and offers several souvenir shops and the Quaker cheese factory, which is definitely worth a visit. Make sure to try their ice cream!
Estimated Travel Time: 7 hours
Approximate Distance: 260 km
Day 11-13 La Fortuna
Travel by bus, boat and bus to La Fortuna, a town located at base of the Arenal Volcano, an excellent base for area explorations. Take an unforgettable night hike around the base of the volcano to see the top glowing an eerie red, accompanied by a soundtrack of monkeys and the rumblings of the volcano in the distance. Hike the area’s nature trails, swim in chilly La Fortuna waterfall or join a canopy tour and catch a bird’s eye view of the forest greenery. Other optional activities include full-day white water rafting on the Toro or Arenal Rivers, mountain biking, caving, horseback riding, or a tour of the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge. Like much of Costa Rica, the area is a birders’ paradise, with over 600 species as permanent residents. Finally, after a long day of exploring, take a relaxing soak in lush cascading hot springs. Soak in one of the natural thermal baths and rivers under the shade of the surrounding canopy.
Please note that if you booked the Adrenaline Theme Pack, on day 12 you will have an action packed day with both canyoneering and an option of your choice. Canyoneering is approximately 2.5 hours long, with four waterfall repels through the lush rainforests around Costa Rica’s Arenal Volcano.
For your second option, you can choose ONE of the following: Stand up paddle (2 hours), half day hike (3 hours), venado cave (2 hours) or kayak (2 hours).
Set on the northern plains of Costa Rica, Arenal Volcano sits on the southeast shore of artificial Lake Arenal (77 square kilometres, or 48 square miles). Separating the mountain ranges of Guanacaste and Tilarán, the lake was created by a hydroelectric dam. Winds sweeping off the Caribbean Sea reach speeds of 48 to 72 km/hr (30 to 45 mph), across Lake Arenal you can find one of the best locations in the world to go windsurfing. Arenal is especially impressive at night, when the glowing molten lava is blasted into the ink-black sky. Even during the day, its reflection on Lake Arenal is truly enchanting.
Estimated Travel Time: 4 hours
Approximate Distance: 50 km
Day 14 San José
Return to San José for some last minute shopping and a final night on the town.
Estimated Travel Time: 5 hours
Approximate Distance: 150 km
Day 15 Depart San José
Depart San José at any time.