Trekking in Costa Rica

Costa Rica: Volunteering in the ‘Happiest place on Earth’

Jenny Collins, of NGO Frontier, gives us the lowdown on volunteering in Costa Rica – once voted the ‘happiest place in the world’!

Costa Rica’s stunning landscapes of cloud forests and volcanoes, plus the friendly Costa Ricans themselves, offers a big clue as to why this country was once voted the happiest country in the world on the Happy Planet Index. But if you’d rather give something back to the country as you explore it then there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer. Costa Rica sits just above the equator in Central America and benefits from a tropical climate which plays a part in encouraging the high levels of biodiversity in the country, and this is where helpful travellers come in…

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The Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtles Conservation project allows volunteers to monitor these important species in their own environment. Volunteers live in the middle of the rainforest in the Corcovado National Park (one of the most remote parts of the country) so really get the opportunity to be at one with the wildlife.

The work: Volunteers carry out extensive biodiversity surveys. Work includes walking primate transects to spot the white-faced capuchin monkeys, squirrel monkeys, Jeffries spider monkey and mantled howler monkey which thrive in these biologically rich forests.  Volunteers also survey populations of exotic birds, insects and amphibians, patrolling turtle nesting beaches (except between December and April when there are no turtles in this region), or track big cats.

Accommodation: This varies from tents to hammocks on a handmade deck, made from locally sourced materials. The camp is a 20-minute walk from Playa Piro, where the beach stretches for over 15 miles.

Part of camp life will involve cooking on a rotational basis. Costa Rican food is simple but delicious, with a focus on rice, beans and good quality fruit and vegetables. You could learn to make Gallo Pinto, the staple food of the nation, which is fried rice and black beans. Other favourites include light and crispy tortillas, most often stuffed with delicious cheeses and vegetables.

Much good work has already been carried out by volunteers on the project and new research projects are often set up on location. Recently the volunteers identified deforested locations that have been abandoned in recent decades and which were once used as land for plantations. These areas are missing many of the important species native to the area so Frontier are collaborating with the local Osa Conservation group to initiate a re-vegetation programme. Native species are being used and seeds taken from local areas to establish seedlings within the nursery. In the long-term, it is hoped that the re-establishment of native plant species will encourage more wildlife to return to the area.

Recommended for… Wildlife lovers and anyone who fancies getting back to nature and helping to conserve important areas of biodiversity.

Be aware that… Living in a forest can be tough as well as a great experience and it’s always good to be prepared for all eventualities so that there are no nasty surprises during your time on camp.

‘Good’ credentials:

  • The project supports the local economy by sourcing much of the supplies, including all of the food, from the local community
  • Helping to conserve the local areas will ensure the Costa Rican people can continue to create a sustainable income from tourism


About the author: Jenny Collins works for Frontier, an NGO dedicated to safeguarding biodiversity and ecosystem integrity, and building sustainable livelihoods for marginalised communities in the world’s poorest countries. Find out more about Frontier’s volunteer projects, ethical adventure trails and gap year planning.

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Kerry Law

Kerry Law (Founding Editor, Goodtrippers): I'm a PR and writer living in London. Since taking my first trip aged 2yrs (all the way from from NZ to the UK) I've loved travel. As a keen advocate of ecotourism and responsible travel, I decided to start Goodtrippers...

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