Volunteer in Costa Rica

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  • Overview

    The illegal animal trade is the third largest in the world, and unlike other rescue centers, our animal reserve in Costa Rica is focused on rehabilitating wildlife and releasing them back into the wild. While volunteering for 2-4 weeks at this center that was founded to give endangered, injured and abandoned animals a home, your group will gain experience in environmental conservation and animal rescue while fully immersing yourself in Costa Rican culture with your host families.

    Read about the animals at the project!

    What Our Alumni Say About this Program:

    “The staff members at the wildlife sanctuary were some of the most passionate and generous people I know. They were instructive, kind, friendly, and made me feel very welcome. All of the staff members that I worked alongside have wonderful senses of humor and explain the tasks that need to be completed. Do not fear if you do not know how to speak Spanish because they will figure out a way to communicate to you what needs to be done”. — Sarah Peters, Greenheart Travel volunteer alum

    Read more alumni reviews of the program on GoOverseas.

  • Eligibility

    This program is open to groups of people who meet the following requirements:

    • All group members are minimum 14 years of age
    • Beginner level of Spanish preferred
    • Be in good physical shape due to the manual labor nature of the work
    • Be open minded and curious about the environment and culture of Costa Rica

    What kind of group are you?

    • A school or teacher looking for international experiences for groups of students
    • A service-based or religious organization
    • A business looking for unique team-building opportunities
    • A group of friends looking to get culturally immersed and have fun

    Greenheart Travel combines significant service work with exciting excursions and cultural activities depending on your group’s needs. We can accommodate groups from 10-25 individuals with project lengths ranging from 1-4 weeks.

    For customized group itineraries and pricing, please contact us to talk to a personal program manager at travelabroad@greenheart.org. 

    *We are also able to accommodate corporate volunteer groups and families. Please inquire with a program manager. 

  • Project Details

    The rescue center has grown tremendously in recent years, which means more animals get arrive every day. These animals may be injured by natural causes or anonymously dropped off. Regardless of the circumstance, it is always our goal to release as many animals as we can back into the wild. Without your help, there would not be enough hands to feed the animals, build and clean the cages, maintain the beauty of the compound, or connect with the local community through outreach.

    How You Will Make a Difference:

    You will have the opportunity to work alongside volunteers from around the world to support wildlife conservation efforts in Costa Rica.

    • Help feed, observe and administer general care to the animals
    • Assist in various conservation projects alongside the project director, Adriana!
    • Work in the greenhouse
    • Help maintain trails on the reserve
    • Help with construction of new habitats for the animals
    • Contribute to community outreach projects in the area

    Here’s an example of what your schedule might look like while volunteering in Costa Rica. Please note this is a sample – the needs of the compound change each week. 

  • Excursions

    Groups have the opportunity to take part in an exciting selection of optional activities and excursions near the project site for an additional cost. All you have to do is register and pay at reception once you’re on your program. All activities last a half or full day and are fully chaperoned, and range from $40-100 USD.

    Here’s a list of possibilities:

    • Canopy zip lining
    • Hiking to a waterfall
    • Hot springs
    • Hiking a volcano
    • Mountain biking
    • Kayaking
    • Rafting and white water rafting
  • Costs and Inclusions

    Inquire here for group pricing

    Want to improve your Spanish language skills? You can add individual morning Spanish lessons for $150 per week!

    Please refer to the payment schedule here.

    What’s Included in your program fee:

    During your program:

    • Accommodations with a Costa Rican host family
    • 3 meals per day
    • Airport pickup and drop off to/from San Jose airport
    • Medical/accident insurance
    • 24-hour long distance and local emergency support
    • On-site arrival orientation and training

    Pre-departure resources and training: 

    • Personal assistance from a Greenheart Travel program manager
    • Comprehensive program handbook
    • Online pre-departure orientation with Greenheart Travel
    • Culture & etiquette guidebook
    • The Greenheart Travel Atlas, an interactive guide to your cross-cultural experience


    • Donation to support the Greenheart Odyssey, an award-winning youth leadership development program
    • Certificate of Completion upon request for successful completion of the program

    What’s Not Included:

    • Flights to and from Costa Rica
    • Exit fee from Costa Rica (approximately $29)
    • Spending money for souvenirs, snacks or excursions


  • Start Dates

    We have start dates each Monday of the year. You should apply at least a month prior to your start date. 

    Groups can choose the program length between 2-4 weeks.

    All groups should plan on arriving in Costa Rica on the Monday their program starts. Flights should arrive no later than 4:00 pm, since it takes 3 hours to drive to the animal sanctuary.

    Summer dates do fill up (especially July), so if your schedule is not flexible, you should apply early to secure your place on the desired date.

  • Accommodation

    Prospective host families undergo a rigorous screening process, and participants can rest assured that only suitable host families will be selected. In order to qualify as a host family, the prospective hosts must. All volunteers live with carefully selected local host families near the volunteer project. Costa Rican host families are very welcoming! Most of the host families have hosted foreign students from this program in the past and no Spanish language skills are required to live with them.

    • Undergo and pass an in-person interview with program staff
    • Agree to and pass a home inspection
    • Successfully pass a criminal background check

    Danny Scott with Host Family resized

    What do our alumni say about their host families?

    “I gained a new family in Costa Rica and I just loved living a whole month with them. At first it’s scary, but bring them a present and some photos of home, really try to communicate to them and try out their way of life and you’ll have a great time. I learnt a lot of about myself and how we lived life back home staying with my family. I think it’s a really useful experience. And don’t be scared, they’re all incredibly friendly but most of all they cook you all your food – I can’t tell you how good a cook my host Mum was!” – Guy Whitaker, Greenheart Travel volunteer alum

  • Why Greenheart Travel?

    With so many volunteer options, why volunteer through Greenheart Travel? 

    Greenheart Travel is a non-profit, mission based organization committed to making a positive, long-lasting impact in the communities where we work. We partner with local, grassroots non-profit organizations in Costa Rica to not only to create the most impactful program, but also to guarantee your volunteer work will make a difference.

    Greenheart Travel has been operating volunteer abroad programs for many years. We are proud of our authentic, hands-on opportunities on 4 different continents, which allow you to provide service hours to communities around the world! There are lots of advantages to traveling with us:

    Personalized and Consistent Support

    • Our staff is in Chicago – we are available to answer questions during US business hours
    • Friendly, responsive, and professional communication from staff who have actually volunteered abroad themselves
    • Hands on support and personal attention every step of the way
    • An experienced program manager will personally review your application to make sure this is the right program for you

    Global Community of Volunteers

    • Access to a community of alumni and current volunteers on the program, before you even leave!
    • Automatic enrollment in the Greenheart Club, an online community for Greenheart alumni to find resources, log volunteer hours, and apply for alumni grants and scholarship
    • Offer an online platform to log your service hours, qualifying you for a  Greenheart Grant
    • Exclusive access to Greenheart Travel Alumni Program

    Top-Notch Materials and Preparation

    • The Greenheart Travel Atlas, an interactive guide to your cross-cultural experience
    • Online pre-departure orientation with focus on cultural training
    • Greenheart Travel T-shirt
    • Costa Rica Culture Smart! Guide Book

    Don’t just take our word for it! Check out independent reviews from past participants of Greenheart Travel programs here.

  • For Parents

    The decision to send your teenager abroad can be difficult and there are a lot of questions to consider. We understand your concerns and the Greenheart Travel staff is there for you every step of the way! We want to make the process of traveling and volunteering abroad as fun and painless as possible for you and your child. Here are some of the common questions we get from parents as they consider the program:

    What does it mean to be in good mental health in the program eligibility requirements?

    Moving to a new culture and staying in unfamiliar surroundings without your normal support structure can be very stressful, even to a well-adjusted student. Sending a student with pre-existing conditions on an exchange program could exacerbate whatever challenges the student was previously facing. In order to ensure the safety of our participants, we must be rigorous in our pre-screening of all applicants.

    Therefore, we may not be able to accept students who have struggled with any kind of mental illness within the last 2 years and/or are reliant on medication to address their existing mental health condition.

    These include, but are not limited to:

    • Depression
    • Obsessive compulsive disorder
    • Debilitating anxiety
    • Eating disorders

    If the student’s mental health issue has been resolved (post-medication) for over 2 years, we will ask for a note from his/her relevant practitioner (psychologist, therapist, psychiatrist, etc) as part of the application process.

    Are there fundraising opportunities or scholarship offered by Greenheart Travel for this project?

    All funds will have to be provided by you; however we do highly recommend fundraising! Read our guide for fundraising. Many past participants have had success using these resources, including Jaime who wrote a wonderful blog about her unique fundraising efforts. We also just published a 3-Part Fundraising Series and did a webinar about our favorite fundraising tips and published an accompanying blog post.  Don’t forget to check out our scholarship page for available scholarships.

    Can my child apply with a friend/family member?

    Absolutely! We are happy to accept friends and groups.

    Will my child need to get any vaccinations prior to departure?

    When traveling to any destination, make sure their routine vaccines are up to date. Try to schedule an appointment with your doctor 4-6 weeks before they depart for the trip. These vaccines include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, and a yearly flu shot. The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends that they also get the Hepatitis A & B and Typhoid vaccine.

    Are there group flights? Do I book my child’s flights or does Greenheart Travel?

    No. All students fly individually to their destination, and you are responsible for flights. They are not included in the program fee. (We encourage parents and students to watch this webinar together.)

    What should they bring as a gift for the host family?

    It’s a great idea to bring a small gift for your child’s host family. It would be nice to bring something that represents your home town.

    Is the water safe to drink?

    The water in Costa Rica is generally considered safe, but it’s a good idea to start off with bottled water and slowly transition to tap water. If your child begins to feel sick, they should tell the host family immediately.

    What happens if my child gets sick or injured abroad?

    Our volunteers are covered by mandatory health insurance for the duration of the program. You will receive a policy brochure and insurance card via email prior to departure.

    How can they contact friends/family from home?

    While Skype is the best option as a free service, a second option for slow internet connection is to get a local phone card and call from the host family’s phone. Keep conversations to a minimum, around 10 minutes, and make sure your child asks permission before using the phone to make sure the family isn’t expecting a call.

  • Application Process

    Committing to a volunteer abroad program is an exciting time, and we are here every step of the way to make the application process as simple as possible. Below are the 4 steps you’ll need to take to be accepted on a Greenheart Travel program.

    Once you begin your application, you have two weeks to finish.

    1. Start Your Application Here (Approximately 5 Minutes): Greenheart Travel Application.

    2. Sign the Terms & Conditions (Approximately 10 Minutes): After you complete Part 1 of your application, you (and your parent(s) if you’re under 18) will be asked to read through and sign our Terms and Conditions which outline the requirements and policies of the program.

    4. Submit your deposit (Approximately 5 minutes): You will need to submit your $300 deposit at this point in the process. A deposit is required in order to reserve your spot on the program and is subtracted from your total program fee.

    5. Secondary Application Form (Approximately 30 Minutes): This is the most in-depth part of the application process as it helps us get to know you better. You will need to provide detailed information about yourself, why you want to volunteer abroad, and what you hope to gain from your experience.

    6. Acceptance: Once you’ve completed all the steps, Greenheart Travel will thoroughly review your application and will contact you within 2-3 business days about your acceptance the next steps.

    Payment Schedule

    As for the payments, you will be required to pay a $300 deposit when you submit your application, and then a second $300 placement deposit will be due after your acceptance. The final balance of the program is due 35 days before departure. We do not deviate from this schedule and you can pay online via credit card.

    After Applying, Now What?

    Greenheart Travel will thoroughly review your application and will contact you within 2-3 business days to confirm your acceptance. If we find something in your application that we have concerns about, we will let you know immediately. 95% of applicants are accepted on the program they apply for.

    Your program manager will be in touch with you directly about your acceptance. You should expect to receive an orientation packet via email, which talks more about your program, as well as supplemental information about dealing with culture shock and our insurance program. We will also schedule a pre-departure orientation to answer any lingering questions you may have.

  • Schedule a Call

    Have questions or want to talk to us about the program? Set up a time to have a phone call below.

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