Costa Rica accounts for only 0.03% of the world’s surface area, but contains more than 5% of its biodiversity. Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve is a species-rich and beautiful stretch of rainforest located in the Talamanca-Caribe biological corridor, and is considered as a global biological hotspot home to several endangered or vulnerable wild jungle cat species. These elusive cats – ranging from the biggest jaguar to the margay – remain mysterious. There is very little concrete information about where – or even whether – the cats hold territory. This research program focuses on monitoring and mapping the wild cat population across the reserve to establish their presence, population sizes and territoriality in order to derive effective conservation strategies.
Costa Rica is known for its Pura Vida lifestyle (which translates to “simple life”), progressive and vibrant cities, beautiful beaches and rich natural landscape – perfect for adventurers, budding conservationists or those travellers looking to make an ethical impact on the environment.
When you join a conservation volunteer program in Costa Rica, you’ll live and work in the heart of the tropical jungle in the Costa Rican mountain ranges. Alongside our local project partners, other researchers and participants from across the world, you will set up camera traps, monitor and survey habitats, and collect data on cat behaviour and territoriality. You will also work to identify and monitor individual cats. Species that have been sighted in the reserve include:
Species that are rumoured to be in the area, but haven’t been sighted in a few years include jaguar and puma.
Many of these species are threatened or endangered by illegal poaching, habitat loss and human/animal conflict.
This research is essential to help the Kekoldi Reserve management team establish effective conservation strategies and environmental awareness programs.
There’s very little research about the various jungle cat species found in Kekoldi, among them ocelots, pumas, margay and jaguarundi. Learn specialist cat monitoring techniques from experts on the ground and help us find out more about these elusive cats.
Have the privilege to live and work in one of Costa Rica’s protected indigenous reserves, where you’ll be surrounded by abundant wildlife species in their natural habitat, including sea turtles, jungle cats, monkeys, tropical birds, raptors and reptiles.
Contribute to ongoing environmental projects that address critical challenges aligned to the global United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).
Join local conservation partners and qualified professionals to ensure your efforts are highly ethical, meaningful and sustainable.
Venture outside typical travel itineraries to get exclusive access to extraordinary remote habitats, rare species and unique ecosystems.
Share epic experiences with like-minded, passionate changemakers from all over the globe.
With expert local staff and 24/7 support at every step – you can relax and enjoy the experience stress-free.
Disconnect from the digital world and reconnect with nature, yourself and your purpose.
Some of the example typical activities you could participate in on this program.
Learn how to identify species, collect data and monitor individual animals. You will also receive health and safety training, and training on the ethics of conversation work.
Contribute to wild cat research by setting up and checking camera traps in the rainforest. Monitor feeding behaviour, population growth and predation patterns.
Conduct forest biodiversity surveys focused on key plant, insect, bird, mammal and reptile species.
Assist on research projects focussed on key reptile and amphibian species, including the eyelash palm pitviper, the venomous bushmaster, and the gorgeous red-eyed tree frog.
During turtle season (March to August), you’ll assist with turtle surveys, including both day and night beach patrols to check nests, look for new tracks and monitor female turtles. This could include sightings of leatherback, green and hawksbills turtles.
Undertake bird point counts to assess which bird species are found within the reserve. During migration season, you’ll assist ongoing research on various raptor species, as Kekoldi is home to one of the largest raptor migrations in the world.
Some of the partners we work with on base.
|24-hour emergency desk|
|24-hour in-country support|
|Airport pick-up (unless otherwise stated)|
|All project equipment|
|Food (except on long-term internship placements|
|Safe and basic accommodation (usually shared)|
|Group introductory call|
|Endorsed GVI Specialisation Course|
|Endorsed Leadership Course|
|Sustainable project work|
|Data collection and research|
|Real projects with partners|
|Weekly group check ins|
|Remote Academic Internship Supervisor|
|Remote Career Internship Supervisor|
|Preferential recruitment on GVI positions|
|Job portal access|
|Endorsed Careers Course|
|Career coaching sessions|
Certificates and achievements
|PDF reference - upon request|
|Linkedin reference and skills endorsement|
|Additional drinks and gratuities|
|Extra local excursions|
|International and domestic airport taxes|
|Medical and travel insurance|
|Personal items and toiletries|
|Police or background check|
Unplug and get in touch with nature in Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve. Situated in the heart of the jungle, our base is the ideal location for those with a passion for wildlife conservation and adventure. During field work, you’ll hike the forest looking for signs of jungle cat species, migratory raptors, tropical birds, and a wide variety of primates, lizards and amphibians. You might even encounter more elusive animals like sloths and tamanduas. Morning patrols feature spectacular sunrises over the indigenous forest, and night walks reveal a star-filled sky. We also assist with turtle hatching sites on local beaches.
Our base is located in the heart of the reserve, with the jungle right on our doorstep. You are sharing the jungle with abundant wildlife, who often pass through the property, a...
All airport transports and transport into town will be organised by GVI. To arrange transport for weekend trips or to spend your free time, speak to your program manager. For pr...
Internet connection is limited on base, and usually only available at night. Participants can travel into towns where there is WiFi. There’s also the option of buying a SIM card...
Meals will be prepared by local chefs....
Costa Rica is a tropical country, with a climate ranging from warm and rainy to hot and humid. Being a rainforest, the weather is highly variable and it can rain at any time of ...
The program is physically demanding. Most days are spent out in the jungle on surveys, hiking across difficult, mountainous terrain that is exposed to the heat and elements. You...
Enhanced cleaning and social-distancing measures in place.
We want you to make the most of the chance to live in – and contribute towards – the most diverse and unique wildernesses and communities on earth. Introducing GVI Experiences – immersive adventure, cultural and wellness activities exclusive to GVI that have been specially designed in collaboration with our local partners to support and stimulate sustainable economic development.
Enhance your impact. Expand your adventure. Explore your world.
Joining a GVI program not only allows you to collaborate with communities or work toward preserving unique ecosystems – but it also offers plenty of opportunities to explore the surrounding area or travel further to see what other parts of the region have to offer over weekends.
Field staff are a great source of advice and have helped us put together the following information on local travel options. You can choose to travel before or after your experience with GVI (subject to immigration restrictions), solidifying the lifetime friendships you’ve established on the program. Please note that the below options are not included in the program fee, and would be up to you to arrange at your own expense.
Cahuita National Park is home to the biggest and best-preserved coral reef in Costa Rica. Part of the park’s protected area extends into the ocean – offering up incredible marin...
Spend the weekend in Costa Rica’s capital city, San Jose. You could visit one of the city’s many museums or parks, join a guided food and walking tour of the city, or spen...
Just south of the GVI base, is one of the most popular beach destinations on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. This town is known for Punta Uva beach, where you’ll find kilomet...
Head north up the coast to Tortuguero National Park, one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful national parks. The name “Tortuguero” can be transl...
Organise an adrenaline-inducing journey over the rapids of the Pacuare River. The beautiful Turrialba regi...
Book a tour of the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica
There are endless opportunities around the base for wildlife photography. Staff and other participants often bring camera equipment with them – and spend their free time in the ...
There’s a small library with lots of textbooks and flashcards for species study and identification practice, as well as educational materials about conservation threats and wild...
Frisbee, volleyball, yoga and pretty much any exercise can be done on the beach. There’s also a ping-pong table on base....
An advantage of our remote location is the lack of air pollution. This means that on a clear night, you can look up and enjoy a sky filled with stars. On some nights, you can ev...
Card games are a part of the culture on base. Whether you’re already a master or have never played before, be sure to join a game night – or even host your own....
We’ve added many good books to our on-base library over the years. Pick one that looks interesting, find a spot overlooking the ocean and lose yourself in the pages....
Join staff and other participants for movie nights. We set up the projector and make some popcorn. Do you like your popcorn sweet or salty?...
Our base is home to a variety of bird and frog species. Fellow participants are likely to be just as passionate about conservation and the natural world as you are, so get a gro...
Surfing, windsurfing and kayaking are just some of the many water sports you can enjoy on either of Costa Rica’s two coasts....
Learn more about how the raw products of these everyday treats are produced at one of Costa Rica’s many coffee and chocolate farms....
Explore the natural wonders of the Talamanca mountain range, including the UNESCO-protected La Amistad International Park. Hiring a guide is necessary as the Talamancas aren’t e...
Travel to a few of Costa Rica’s many other National Parks, like Manuel Antonio Park, Corcovado National Park, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve (where you can visit the hummingbir...
Engaging intimately with a new context teaches global awareness, adaptability and critical thinking – skills highly valued in the modern marketplace. Local and cultural immersion is encouraged on all our programs around the world, and will also be one of the most enjoyable aspects of your experience. Luckily, there are many different activities that you can get involved in during your free time, or before and after your program.
On our community programs, the focus is on cultural topics, while on marine or wildlife programs the emphasis is more on the environmental element. Use your evenings and weekends to explore topics like local cuisine and religion, or how sustainable development challenges are affecting local contexts.
The Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve (KIR) is home to the Bribri tribe, one of several indigenous groups that live in Costa Rica. Participants have the opportunity to work closely wit...
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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.
‘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.’
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.
When it comes to support, we ensure that each participant is provided with unparalleled, 360 degree support, from your initial contact with the GVI Family, all the way through your program, and even after, as you become part of the GVI Alumni Team.
As part of this promise, we will ensure, whenever possible, that one of our dedicated staff will be available to meet you at the airport. In most locations, we also set up a Whatsapp group to help with managing airport arrivals. We will arrange with you prior to your departure that, should you arrive in the agreed upon pick up window, a member of our staff will be there to welcome you, easily identifiable in a GVI t-shirt or holding a GVI sign and wearing a friendly smile. This means there will be someone there to greet you as you land, and from there you will be transported to your GVI base to start your adventure and meet the rest of your team.
Enhanced cleaning and social-distancing measures in place.
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.
Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve is a key area for many interlinked conservation efforts as it is home to several species including:
We assist the Kekoldi Reserve science team with biological assessment surveys of the three major habitat and forest types in the reserve. 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 (although these are very elusive, so no promises!) Staff and participants walk marked paths in the forest, noting sightings, tracks and vocalisations. Only species identified with 100% certainty can be recorded. The data is shared with KIR, who uses 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.
We assist Turtle Rescue Cahuita (TRC) with sea turtle research and protection by patrolling the beach, and assisting in hatchery opportunities – using internationally recognised protocols – during turtle nesting and hatching season (from March to August each year).
To participate in the turtle project, you’ll need a good pair of rubber boots, thick socks, and dark-coloured, long-sleeved, lightweight clothing.
From March to August 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 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. You might also determine whether any eggs 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.
Hatched nests are excavated to determine hatchling success and survival rates, the reason for losses in egg development, and the actual status of the nests, including whether or not they were partially or fully poached.
Kekoldi is home to several endangered or vulnerable wild jungle cat species – including ocelot, margay, puma, jaguarundi and oncilla.
Our research assists reserve authorities and conservation teams to determine the population sizes of each cat species, map out the territoriality of individual cats within each of those species, and identify the availability of prey species in the area and the subsequent effect on feeding behaviour. Direct observations of these elusive animals can be difficult, but the use of remote observation techniques like camera trapping has proven very successful in surveying and tracking wild cats across large areas of forest.
Kekoldi has the second largest concentration of migratory raptors in the world, with 3.5 million raptors counted from a single point. It is also the biggest known migration spot for peregrine falcons and plumbeous kites.
We assist Kekoldi Hawkwatch, who study and monitor raptors and raptor predation in the reserve. The study of the health of predators in an ecosystem provides invaluable data about the health of the entire system, environmental changes and pressure, and can help guide overall conservation strategies. The Hawkwatch watch-site is located in the heart of the reserve, and provides a 360º view of surrounding forest – which is part of the Talamanca-Caribbean Biological Corridor that connects La Amistad National Park to the Caribbean coast. This zone is extremely biodiverse, including at least 59 mammals, 43 amphibians and over 400 bird species.
GVI Kekoldi’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.
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.
We aim to design all our projects in collaboration with local organizations and communities and ensure that they are locally driven.
We aim to clearly define short-, mid-, and long-term objectives with sustainable outcomes for all our projects.
We aim to track, record, and publish the impact of each of our projects.
We aim to build in-country capacity by assisting local organizations in becoming self-sustaining.
For each local organization we work with, we aim to have a plan in place for withdrawing support responsibly.
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.
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.
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.
We do not condone and aim to withdraw support of orphanages and residential care centers.
We will live by our Child Protection and Vulnerable Adult policies.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
A GVI program is an investment in your career. No matter which you choose, you will be working toward improving your employability by mastering new social skills, gaining further technical expertise and earning qualifications in many cases. Most of our staff are, in fact, GVI Alumni, and we have helped many of our Alumni discover, move toward, and earn their own personal dream jobs. Each program includes introductory workshops, ongoing presentations, as well as on-the-ground professional support provided by our very own trained staff members. In addition, our training programs are critical for helping us to ensure the long-term impact of our sustainable development projects around the world.
Learn about COVID-19 pre-departure guidelines, base expectations, personal and area hygiene practices and what we are doing to keep you safe.
Learn about the importance of child and vulnerable adult protection best practices and how to apply them while on project.
Introduction to the history and evolution of sustainable development, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) and how these related to your project work.
Learn about our country locations and further opportunities available to you during or after your program.