schools,university

The earth is in your hands

Costa Rica Conservation Experience

Volunteer on long-term conservation initiatives in Costa Rica

Fieldwork hours10 - 20 hrs of fieldwork per week
Participant ratio1:8 staff to participant ratio
Free parent consultation
Call me back

Program information

Gandoca is the southernmost Caribbean coastal town of Costa Rica, and is surrounded by the Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge. Whether you’re helping protect sea turtle nesting sites, working alongside the local community, learning to cook local cuisine, hiking through lush jungle, or learning about the area’s rich indigenous and Afrocarribean traditions, this expedition promises to be the adventure of a lifetime.

Overview
Itinerary
What's Included
Parent Info
Support & Safety
Your Impact
Our Ethics
Program ethics
Speak to alumni

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 Gandoca, Costa Rica.

Historically, the community in Gandoca has been fully dependent on the sea turtle conservation project to attract tourism to the area, which remains less developed and accessible than other coastal communities. However, as turtle nesting and hatching season is only six months long and involves only a small part of the community, our impact goals also include working alongside indigenous leaders, schools, local farms and other businesses to promote sustainable agriculture, economic development and the ecological health of the entire region.

Work alongside our local partners to promote sea turtle conservation and assist with coastal clean ups, community recycle projects, sustainable farming practices, and cultural exchange initiatives. Immerse yourself in the beauty of the Spanish language and visit one of the world’s highest concentrations of raptor birds.

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.

Choose your bespoke itinerary

Select one of three expedition types where the activities are customised to meet your group’s specific goals.
Impact expeditions
Advanced activities
Communication skills
Emotional intelligence
Conservation initiatives
Community projects
Most Popular
Challenger expeditions
Comprehensive activities
Leadership skills
Teamwork
Self-awareness
Resilience
Explorer expeditions
Exciting activities
Self-confidence
Cultural sensitivity
Positive mental health
Teamwork

Program details

Itinerary

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.

Day 1

Hola, amigo! After settling into your homestay, you’ll get a health & safety briefing, be trained on how to work with turtles, and learn some key Spanish phrases.

Day 2

Take a tour of Gandoca! After exploring the jungles and beaches, meet the community and learn more about the region’s Afro-Caribbean culture.

Day 3

Take a boat tour of the lagoon and mangroves, learning more about the animals that live there and why this wetland ecosystem is so important.

Day 4

A big day! First up, you'll learn some more Spanish while cooking traditional Costa Rican tamales. Then off to the beach: to clean up plastic pollution and look for nesting turtles!

Day 5

Tour a local organic cacao farm. Then another Spanish lesson, before we head back to the beach to monitor turtle nests and protect hatchlings.

Day 6

Start the day at the lagoon, collecting and planting mangrove seeds for a reforestation project. Then help out at the community recycling program and learn the principle of “reduce, reuse, recycle”.

Day 7

Work alongside community members in their organic garden, where greens are harvested for free school lunches. After practising your Spanish, head to the beach for turtle surveillance!

Day 8

Travel by boat to Talamanca Bribri Indigenous Territory, a forested area in the foothills of the Talamanca mountain range which is home to the second-largest Indigenous population in Costa Rica.

Day 9

Spend the day with a Bribri elder and his family; touring the community, playing cultural games, and sharing traditional stories around the fire.

Day 10

Travel to Finca la Subversiva, an organic farm, where you will have a complete farm-to-table dining experience. After lunch, we’ll hike to a secluded waterfall to swim and play games.

Day 11

Hike from Gandoca to Mazanillo through one of Costa Rica’s most biodiverse jungles and along the Caribbean coast’s pristine beaches. Expect to see monkeys, sloths and a variety of reptiles and birds.

Day 12

Our last night in Gandoca! After looking for as many wild and wonderful jungle animals as we can on a morning hike, it’s time to greet your hosts. Can you thank them for their hospitality in Spanish?

Day 13

We’re off to Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve, which has one of the highest concentrations of raptors in the world. You might also encounter raccoons, sloths, iguanas and basilisks.

Day 14

Adios, amigos! After a morning at Costa Rica's national history museum in San Jose, reflect on the friends you’ve made and the lessons you’ve learned before your flight home.

What’s included?

What's included
General
Groups
A rest and relaxation activity/excursion
24/7 backup and support
A dedicated trip co-ordinator
Access to local medical facilities
Comprehensive health and safety procedures (Emergency Action Plans and Risk Assessments)
First aid equipment
All meals
Group leader and teacher
Highly experienced and well qualified GVI field staff
In-country transport is arranged
Pre-departure information
Up-to-date safety and country information
What's excluded
Not included
Groups
Pre-departure withdrawal insurance
Travel insurance - unless otherwise stipulated
Medical insurance - unless otherwise stipulated (medical aid details will need to be provided)
Flights - unless otherwise stipulated
Personal kit
Visas
Vaccinations
Additional spending money

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.

GVI is a proud member of the Gap Year Association.

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.

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.

Safety

View support and safety protocols

Support

View risk mitigation

Health and safety case studies

How GVI upholds health and safety

It takes courage to book a GVI program, get on a flight, and head off to somewhere new. Volunteering offers a level of cultural immersion that typical backpacking or holidays just ...

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 health ...

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 a n...

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 arou...

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.

Project objectives

 

GVI Gandoca’s Long-term Objectives:

1. Increase scientific knowledge of Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve.

2. Increase awareness of the ecological value of the Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve.

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

4. Minimise our environmental impact on Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve and raise awareness of environmental issues amongst participants 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

01

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.

02

Clear Objectives & Sustainable Outcomes

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

03

Impact Reporting

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

04

Working Against Dependency

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

05

Responsible Exit Strategies

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

06

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.

07

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.

08

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.

09

Transitioning from the Orphanage Model

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

10

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.

Learn more
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.

Learn more
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.

Learn more
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.

Learn more
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.

Learn more

Speak to alumni

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