The earth is in your hands

Costa Rica Conservation Experience

Volunteer on long-term conservation initiatives in Costa Rica

Critical science

Critical science

You'll contribute to vital conservation research targeted at protecting the earth's most valuable ecosystems.
Ethical engagement

Ethical engagement

Using the UN's SDGs as a framework, we've made a commitment to positive, constructive and sustainable impact.
Beautiful adventures

Beautiful adventures

You'll spend your days exploring some of the world's most breathtaking, exhilarating and remote wildernesses.

Program information

Live on a remote research station while partaking in our conservation focused service learning course. Learn about rainforest ecosystems while assisting with turtle, jaguar, bird, and forest conservation projects. Complete educational assignments which complement the on the ground experience.

Covid-19 Response
What's It like?
Your Impact
Our Ethics
Program ethics
Parent Info
Support & Safety
What's Included
Live Updates

Program overview

Immerse yourself in a Costa Rican conservation project and gain real world experience. This inter-disciplinary course, accredited by universities and colleges around the world, introduces students to international service-learning and sustainable development, both in content and practice, in Jalova, Costa Rica.

Upon arrival to base, you will be educated about the history of the UN SDGs. You will learn about the specific goals of your location, the long-, mid- and short-term objectives, and also clarification of how your personal, shorter-term involvement contributes to these goals on a global level. Our aim is to educate you on local and global issues, so that you continue to act as active global citizens after your program, helping to fulfil our mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.

GVI’s base in Jalova is a research station in the Tortuguero National Park. The park is border by the Caribbean sea where you will find a beach that’s home to one of the largest nesting colonies of Green Turtles in the world. The other three sides of the park are home to protected rainforests. All transportation into the park is via canoe or motor boat along the canal and river systems. Students will spend their time surrounded by amazing scenery and wildlife in the canals, tropical rainforest, and Caribbean beaches.

Experience life in an authentic Costa Rican community living, eating and working with the local research teams all while enjoying life in the Costa Rican jungle.

As a group, you have the opportunity of contributing to on-going conservation projects. The exact work will greatly depend on the needs of our partners at the time. This is a great opportunity for students to work as a team in achieving an overall goal that will have long-lasting effects for the environment, community members and local partners.


Program details

Program type
Schools, University
GVI Latin America, Costa Rica, Jalova
Wildlife Conservation


The following itinerary is an example of the activities and project work that participants might get involved in on this program. More specific details of the program are finalised several months before each start date. The itinerary shown below has been followed by our staff and group volunteers in the past.


Day 1

On arrival, the group will be met at San Jose’s International Airport by a GVI representative or staff member. Students and accompanying teachers/chaperones will be transferred to their hostel accommodation and given time to settle in and rest from your travels.


Day 2

In the morning you’ll depart for our base in Jalova. The group will meet for an orientation session and after health and safety training and a base tour. The week’s logistics, duties and responsibilities will be explained and the GVI staff and local partners introduced. The day ends with a welcome dinner for your group.


Day 3

After receiving training on the various species of interest, you’ll learn about camera trap installation, used for spotting elusive species like jaguars. In the evening go on a forest survey or a night walk to monitor turtles.


Day 4

Spend an adventure-packed day in beautiful Tortuguero National Park. Trek through the forest and go on a waterfall hike, spotting tropical wildlife along the way. Head out at night for a forest walk or to spot mother sea turtles making their nests on the beach.


Day 5

After a morning beach cleanup along the Caribbean coast, take part in a plastic presentation. In the afternoon you’ll be trained in setting up butterfly traps. After dinner and an evening forest walk you’ll learn about moth surveys.


Day 6

Wake up early for a morning birding session. Have lunch in Tortuguero and spend the afternoon shopping in the village. Take part in a daily reflection session and join in a team building activity before enjoying a last meal together at base.


Day 7

Departure day. Say a tearful “adiós” to the beaches, jungles and wildlife of Costa Rica. GVI field staff will transfer your group back to the airport and bid them a fond farewell! Reflect on the friends you’ve made and how much you learnt during your conservation program.

Covid-19 Response

Health and Hygiene

For over 20 years, GVI has prioritised the health and safety of our staff, participants, partners and local community members. In response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, GVI has created the GVI health and hygiene team to put in place new standards of cleanliness, norms and behaviours that meet or exceed international recommendations to ensure the ongoing safety of GVI’s participants, staff and communities around the world. Internationally recommended practices, such as advice from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the governments Australia, UK and US, continue to be monitored and the standards are likely to change if and when international advice changes.

The work GVI is contributing to across the globe remains important and the following measures allow our participants to continue to join GVI’s programs and continue impacting positively on their world and the communities we work with. The following changes to our existing protocols have been made by the GVI health and hygiene team to strengthen our health and hygiene protocols and ensure that international standard safeguards are in place to protect our participants, staff and host communities.

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Essential information you need to travel safely during the COVID-19 pandemic - including destination ratings, flight bookings and tests.

Read up on our COVID-19 protocols

What's It like?

If you’d like to find out what the experience of joining a GVI project is really like, simply contact us and we’ll put you in touch with one of our many Alumni.

We’ll try to match you to an Alum based on your location, nationality, age, stage of academic career, gender, and program interests. This allows you to gain insights into the experience that is most relevant to you.

Depending on your location you might be able to speak to an Alum over the phone or online, or meet up with them face-to-face at a coffee shop nearby. We also run a series of small events around the world where you can speak to GVI Alumni, Ambassadors and staff members.

Get a first-hand perspective

Meet us

Your Impact

All of our programs have short-, mid- and long-term objectives that align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). This enables us to report on our collaborative impact across the world in a streamlined manner, measuring which UN SDGs we are making a substantial contribution to. Furthermore, this will help our local partners and communities measure and visualise their contribution to the UN SDGs.

Prior to your arrival on base, you will be educated about the UN SDGs. Then once you arrive on base, you’ll learn about the specific goals we have in this particular location, our various objectives, and also clarification of how your personal, shorter-term involvement contributes to these.

Our aim is to educate you on local and global issues, so that you continue to be an active global citizen after your program, helping to fulfil our mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.

Tortuguero National Park is a key area for many interlinked conservation efforts. It’s a popular nesting area for vulnerable and endangered sea turtles. It’s a natural stronghold for jaguars, and one of the few places in the world where these cats are known to prey on sea turtles. The park is home to several species which have been identified as important for the health of the local ecosystem and global diversity by the Costa Rican Ministry of Environment, Energy, and Telecommunications (ICE).

Rainforest Biodiversity Surveys
We assist ICE with conducting a Biological Assessment Survey of the four major habitat types around our area of Tortuguero Park. We note a wide range of species on our surveys, including the rain frog, red-eyed treefrog, three species of toucan, spider monkey, mantled howler monkey, white-lipped peccary, eyelash palm pit viper and Baird’s tapir (due to its elusive nature, this species is rarely encountered). Staff and participants walk several marked paths in the forest, noting sightings, tracks, and vocalisations. Only species identified with 100% certainty can be recorded. The data is sent to ICE, who use a standardised methodology to monitor the condition of each trail over time. This helps them to understand the health of the local environment and whether their current conservation efforts are working.

Sea Turtle Research
We also assist the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) with sea turtle research and protection by patrolling the southern end of a 29 kilometre-long stretch of Tortuguero National Park – using internationally recognised protocols – during turtle nesting and hatching season (from around March to December each year).

Tortuguero has played a key part in the conservation of sea turtles worldwide. Archie Carr, the pioneering American conservationist, began his studies of green turtles in Tortuguero in 1954. Since 1958, the STC has continued to study green turtles (which are currently endangered), and other turtle species, like the critically endangered hawksbill and the vulnerable leatherbacks who frequent this area.

From April to October, a team walks the beach each night looking for nesting sea turtles. Depending on the time of year, you might not see a single turtle, or you might see multiple turtles in one night. When a turtle is encountered, different kinds of research activities might be carried out, depending on what stage of the nesting process she is in – emerging from the sea, selecting a nest site, digging a body pit, digging her egg chamber to lay her eggs, covering her egg chamber, disguising her nest, or returning back to sea. This might include checking for distinctive markings to see if she’s been to the beach before and making a note for future researchers if she returns, tagging her flippers, measuring her carapace, counting her eggs, marking her nest, or checking for abnormalities in the mother turtle or eggs.

From April to November, a team patrols the beach during the day to look for previously-marked nests to determine whether any of them have hatched, been eroded by the sea, been attacked by predators (like raccoons, white-nosed coatis or ghost crabs), or been poached by humans. This information is used to investigate whether any areas of the beach are more susceptible to nest loss. Depending on the season, we also take note of mother turtle tracks from the previous night.

Between June and December, hatched nests are excavated to determine hatchling success and survival rates, reason for losses in egg development, and determine the actual status of the nests, including whether or not they were partially or fully poached.

Throughout the year, our teams carry out beach cleanups, ensuring there’s a good nesting place for mother turtles, and an uninterrupted passage for hatchlings to make their way to the sea.

Jaguar Population and Turtle Predation Research
The jaguar is the only member of the Panthera or “big cat” genus found in the Western Hemisphere. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List has given the jaguar the status of being “near threatened”.

Tortuguero is a haven for jaguars – having possibly one of the highest highest population densities in the world, due to the ample supply of turtles. This makes it an excellent location for studying jaguar behaviour. It also means there is a great responsibility on park authorities and the Costa Rican government to ensure that threats as a result of human activity – like poaching, and habitat and food source degradation – do not threaten jaguar numbers in Tortuguero. Tortuguero is also one of the only places in the world where jaguars are known to feed on adult sea turtles.

We assist SINAC with identifying the availability of prey species in the area, noting any changes in jaguar feeding behaviour, and determining whether the predation of marine turtles by jaguars is having an impact on the marine turtle populations. This assists SINAC to develop well-rounded and consistent conservation policies within the national parks. To improve and expand our research, we collaborate with Coastal Jaguar Conservation.

Direct observations of jaguars can be very difficult to achieve because of their elusive nature. Several projects of elusive species worldwide have turned to remote observation techniques in order to estimate population sizes. Camera trapping projects have been used to estimate tiger density within national parks in India. Projects in Costa Rica such as the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network, and the Jaguar Project in Corcovado National Park have had success with camera trapping of jaguars. Since 2006 we have assisted the jaguar camera trap program by collecting data for them. It is constantly evolving as new, more effective methodologies are developed.

Once a week, from February to November, starting in the early morning, our team walks a 29 kilometre-long stretch of the beach. They note jaguar tracks and check on permanent camera traps set up to identify new or known jaguars in the area. Permanent cameras are set up in areas of known jaguar activity in the vegetation lining the beach. We also collect jaguar scat or faeces for use in jaguar feeding behaviour and genetic studies.

During turtle nesting season, from March to October, we monitor the number of sea turtles preyed upon by jaguars. When a predated turtle is found, we note the species of turtle, assign an identification number, and check for tags. We also record the time and location, biometric data, and a description of the style of predation. Kill cams are set up on predated turtles to witness jaguar behavior as they return to the kill. In addition, data is collected on weather and beach conditions at specific areas.

Aquatic Bird Research
We monitor 30 aquatic bird species identified by SINAC as important indicators of the overall ecological health of the National Park. These include exotic species like the neotropic cormorant, the rufescent tiger-heron, the cattle egret, the green ibis, and the amazon kingfisher. Early morning surveys are conducted by canoe along five of Tortuguero’s canals and last approximately three hours. Species are identified and specifics such as their sex and breeding behaviour are noted.

The aim of this project is to help researchers and governmental authorities understand when and where resident species migrate to. It’s generally believed that seasonal migration takes place within Costa Rica. We are the only organization to study the waterways at the southern end of the National Park. Each volunteer has a great impact on the preservation of the wetlands, a recognized RAMSAR site. The project also helps SINAC with developing an accurate management plan for Tortuguero National Park. In addition, we collect information on all incidental species seen on the canals. Sightings of megafauna like endangered manatees are extremely important to SINAC as they provide evidence towards justifying the boundaries of the National Park and whether to extend them.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

All of our programs have short-, mid- and long-term objectives that align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). This enables us to report on our collaborative impact across the world in a streamlined manner, so all our staff and volunteers know which UN SDGs they are making a substantial contribution to  help our local partners and communities measure and visualise their contribution to the UN SDGs.

Prior to your arrival on base, you’ll be introduced to the history of the UN SDG. Then, once on base, you’ll learn about the specific goals of your location, the long-, mid- and short-term objectives, and also get insight into how your personal, shorter-term involvement contributes to these goals on a global level.

Our aim is to educate you on local and global issues, so that you continue to act as an active global citizen after your program, helping to fulfil our mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.

The specific United Nations SDGs we work on in Tortuguero park are Goal 15: Life On Land and Goal 14: Life Below Water.

Our partners

Project objectives


GVI Jalova’s Long-term Objectives:

1. Increase scientific knowledge of Tortuguero National Park.

2. Increase awareness of GVI Jalova projects and the ecological value of the Tortuguero National Park.

3. Build local capacity to support long-term conservation of biodiversity and sustainable community development in Costa Rica.

4. Minimise our environmental impact on Tortuguero National Park and raise awareness of environmental issues amongst volunteers and visitors.

Our Ethics

Below is a list of core ethics and best practices we believe are essential to the operation of high quality, ethical volunteer and sustainable development programs. We believe that all responsible volunteer and sustainable development operations should focus upon these principles. If you are considering volunteering, these are some of the key considerations you should question, to ensure that your time and money contributes towards positive change.


We want to constantly develop our own understanding of ethical best practice. In so doing, we aim to provide an exemplary industry standard for other education institutions, international development organisations, and social enterprises. Our Badge of Ethics stands for the drive to always do good, better. Find out more, click on the Badge below.

Our 10 ethical commitments


Locally Driven, Collaborative Projects

We aim to design all our projects in collaboration with local organizations and communities and ensure that they are locally driven.


Clear Objectives & Sustainable Outcomes

We aim to clearly define short-, mid-, and long-term objectives with sustainable outcomes for all our projects.


Impact Reporting

We aim to track, record, and publish the impact of each of our projects.


Working Against Dependency

We aim to build in-country capacity by assisting local organizations in becoming self-sustaining.


Responsible Exit Strategies

For each local organization we work with, we aim to have a plan in place for withdrawing support responsibly.


Clear Roles & Specialized Training

We aim to ensure that every participant is assigned a clear role and that they are fully trained and supported to carry out their work by specialized staff.


Respect for all

In all our actions we aim to respect the skills and efforts of all and seek to protect the rights, culture and dignity of everyone who engages with GVI.


Local Ownership

We work to ensure that credit for the results of any project, along with any data collected, research conducted, or Intellectual Property developed, remains the property of local organizations.


Transitioning from the Orphanage Model

We do not condone and aim to withdraw support of orphanages and residential care centers.


Child and Vulnerable adult policies

We will live by our Child Protection and Vulnerable Adult policies.

Continual Development

As an organization, GVI is committed to striving toward best practice, and to educating both our potential participants, our partners, and the world at large about them. Both the volunteering and sustainable development sectors are increasingly, and rightly, under scrutiny. Many recent local and global articles highlight poor practices and questionable ethics. GVI is widely recognized for striving to apply global best practice in the volunteering, education and sustainable development sectors throughout our operations by reputable organizations such as ChildSafe.

However, global best practice is always evolving and we dedicate both time and resources to engage with internationally respected experts and learn from the latest research to ensure our programs both fulfil their potential to create maximum positive impact, and minimise their potential to create unintentional negative impact. Along with and as part of the sustainable development and volunteering community, we are constantly learning and applying this learning to practice. We do not always get everything right, but we seek feedback from our community members, partners, participants and our staff, and react accordingly. We know are already doing a great job, and feedback we have received confirms this, but we aim to do even better and are continuously refining our operations to improve upon our already excellent reputation.

Program ethics

No orphanage programs

We don’t support or allow participants to work in institutional residential care facilities, also known as orphanages. We partner with ReThink Orphanages and Freedom United.

Learn more
Child and vulnerable adult protection policy

Our Child and Vulnerable Adult Protection Policy requires all our staff and participants to complete a criminal background check and to learn why you shouldn’t reveal a child’s identifying factors in photographs. We support the ChildSafe Movement.

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No medical volunteering

We don’t offer any programs where our participants engage in medical treatment. This is because our participants aren’t typically qualified to do this work and would therefore not be able to do this work in their home country. Our participants only assist with public health programs.

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No disability support programs

We don’t offer any programs where our participants work directly with people with disabilities. This is because our participants aren’t typically qualified to do this work and would therefore not be able to do this work in their home country.

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Aligned to local objectives

Each one of our initiatives is aligned to objectives set by a local organisation or professional. Our staff and participants work to support these local actors in achieving their specific goals.

Local employees remain employed

Our participants don’t replace the staff employed by local organisations. Rather, they support currently employed staff with achieving their objectives. Our goal is always to increase local capacity to address local problems.

Local employees remain focused

Participants require training and support to ensure that they carry out tasks correctly. Our staff provide this training and support so that local staff can focus on what is truly important to their organisation at the time.

No entertainment-based activities

We don’t support the use of wild animals for entertainment purposes. This includes riding animals, having them perform tricks, feeding or bathing them or getting close to them to take photos

No orphaned animal sanctuaries

We don’t encourage, support or allow the rearing of “orphaned” wild baby animals kept at a “sanctuary”. The conservation value of these types of programs is negligent and would only ethically be used in extremely rare cases

Guidelines for touching or movement restriction

When wild animals are restricted for conservation purposes we follow the guidelines of Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa (FTTSA), approved by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.

Animal welfare guidelines

We ensure that the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare are followed. These include the freedom to express normal behaviour and freedom from distress, discomfort, hunger, thirst, fear, pain, injury or disease.

Local community empowerment

We ensure that conservation efforts are also always locally led, that community needs are front-and centre of any conservation effort and that our participants, projects and partners work to increase local community engagement in local conservation efforts.

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No veterinary programs

We don’t offer any veterinary programs or animal rescue and rehabilitation programs. We don’t allow participants to do any work they would not be able to do in their home country.

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Parent Info

‘If only every student could do this. It changes your life in all the right ways,’ says Chris Heritage, parent of Luke Heritage, one of our teen volunteers who has participated on two GVI programs, one in Costa Rica and another in South Africa.

We are a parent-run organisation that is incredibly serious about health and safety, and increasing the impact, as well as the long-term career benefits of our programs. Our programs help young people develop the skills to select a career path that is personally fulfilling, and live a life aligned to the well-being of our planet and the global community.

Ken and Linda Jeffrey, whose son Sam volunteered with GVI in Thailand, talk about how the experience affected Sam. He also went on to volunteer with GVI again in South Africa. ‘I know it sounds like a cliche but in a sense, he did go away as a boy and he came back as a young man. Both of us could recommend GVI without any hesitation to any other parent thinking about exploring an opportunity for their children to explore the world and to see different parts of it.’

Parent Info Pack

Download the Parent Pack and learn more about:

Our staff: All our projects are run by staff, selected, vetted, trained, and managed by our central office.
Health and safety: Our safety practices include a child and vulnerable adult protection policy and high participant ratios.
Staying in touch: See what’s happening on base, by following a hub’s dedicated Facebook page.
Free parent consultations: We would love to talk to you about exciting opportunities available for your child.

Download parent pack

Support & Safety

We won’t sugarcoat it — traveling abroad is usually a complex process that carries an element of risk. But this is exactly why we’re passionate about providing extensive support throughout the process as well as the highest safety standards during the in-country phase. We believe that volunteering abroad should not only be impactful, but an enjoyable experience that carries as little risk as possible. This is exactly how we’ve been able to maintain our reputation as the most highly respected volunteering organisations in the sector over the past two decades.

COVID-19 safety

Enhanced cleaning and social-distancing measures in place.

Learn more


Upon arrival at the airport, participants will be greeted by a GVI staff member. All GVI staff are our own and all our programs around the world are run by our staff. All GVI field staff are background checked, Emergency First Response and safety trained. The minimum staff to participant ratio on GVI’s programs is one to six, although on several bases we have a ratio of one to three. When finishing the experience, participants will provide feedback on all aspects of their program.


Once a participant books, they will be assigned a personal support coordinator who will oversee their pre-departure journey. The support coordinator helps to bridge the gap between program enrolment and arrival at one of our field bases. Your personal support coordinator will ensure that you are provided with all the necessary information required to apply for visas, background checks, and any other documentation.

Download our Travel Smart Checklist

Essential information you need to travel safely during the COVID-19 pandemic - including destination ratings, flight bookings and tests.

Health and safety case studies

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GVI's commitment to safety and security

As the saying goes: ‘Expect the best, plan for the worst’. Cliched or not, we take it to heart. This tenet is at the core of how GVI operates when it comes to promoting the heal...

How GVI remains prepared for natural disasters

The weather isn’t just a topic for polite small-talk here at GVI. We have emergency action plans in place for all scenarios. So when the weather, or other natural forces, takes ...

How GVI manages participants expectations

Once GVI has matched a participant to a program that suits their passions and goals, our team aims to set the right expectations for them. In the event that false expectations a...

What’s included?

What's Included
A dedicated trip co-ordinator
Pre-departure information
Flight booking service on request
Insurance on request
In-country support
Group leader
24/7 back up and support
Food and drinking water
First aid equipment
Risk assessments
In-country transport costs
Access to local medical facilities
Up-to-date safety and country information
Highly experienced and well qualified GVI field staff
Comprehensive health and safety procedures (Emergency Action Plans and Risk Assessments)
What's Excluded
Personal kit
Additional spending money

Live Updates

GVI Jalova is partnered with national and international conservation organizations doing research in Tortuguero National Park, on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast. Our research is designed under the direction of the Costa Rica Ministry of Environment (MINAE), to address their conservation research priorities. Using volunteers trained on site by GVI staff, our research focuses on multiple areas of study, including: avifauna of the park's canals and beach; jaguar behavior; rainforest biodiversity and key species; and sea turtle monitoring -- Tortuguero is an important nesting site for green turtles as well as leatherbacks and hawksbill species. Data collected by GVI volunteers and staff is reported to MINAE for their use in decision-making for park management. GVI works hand-in-hand with the Costa Rican big cat organization CJC in their research on the behavior of jaguars in Tortuguero National Park. GVI also partners with the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) to increase the area of beach studied under their sea turtle monitoring program. STC is the world's longest-running sea turtle research program
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