Beauty and Progress, But Still In Need

by Linda Pugh

Why Costa Rica?

Volunteer in Costa Rica and you are certain to have an unforgettable experience, in one of the world’s most beautiful and eco-diverse locations. When you consider the incredible landscape and the variety of things to do, it’s hardly surprising so many travelers visit this wonderful part of the world every year!

Poas volcano is an active volcano in central Costa Rica. The area is a popular spot for sightseeing.
Poas volcano is an active volcano in central Costa Rica. The area is a popular spot for sightseeing. Photo Courtesy of Linda Pugh

Costa Rica is one of the world’s most popular travel destinations, bringing in over 1.5 million visitors every year. The attraction of the country lies in its incredible natural beauty, its biological diversity, and the comfortable style of living. As the most developed of the Latin American countries, it is relatively well-off in comparison to some of the neighboring nations and the political system is stable, making it a safe and attractive option, particularly if you are a first-time traveler.

With a massively varied landscape - ranging from rainforests, to volcanoes, to beaches – there is something here for every kind of travel, whether you like basking on the sunny beaches or trekking up mountains in time off. But with so much to offer as a holiday destination, and the relative standards of living, Costa Rica is perhaps not an obvious choice of location for volunteering. The truth is, while things have improved greatly in recent times, there is plenty of work to be done, primarily in the environmental field but also with some of the more disadvantaged groups.

What can you do here?

Environmental and wildlife conservation are two of the most important areas where volunteers are needed in Costa Rica. While, in terms of landmass, it only makes up around 0.1 percent of the world, it contains an enormous 5 percent of the world’s biodiversity, with over a quarter of the country made up of protected forests and nature reserves. Some popular volunteer placements include working to protect sea turtle eggs and hatchlings from poachers and other natural predators and environmental conservation in the national parks. Gain experience in the field of conservation in this lush land. Such an eco-diverse country is the ideal location to really experience hands-on work with the environment.

Unique Community Needs

There is also plenty of work to do within communities. Community projects in Costa Rica differ from similar projects in alternative countries, as the needs are a little different. Voluntary teaching placements in Costa Rica are very well structured, as Costa Rica is proud to have a good education system, with a 96 percent literacy rate. The focus of many of these teaching projects is to improve English in rural communities, for the purpose of giving people the ability to communicate with the growing number of tourists visiting the country, therefore giving everyone the opportunity to gain an income from the tourist industry.

While Costa Rica is relatively developed in relation to other parts of Central and South America, this of course does not mean everything is perfect, and other community projects include working with the families of victims of prostitution, women’s empowerment, and nutrition projects for the families of women who have been abused or troubled with addiction. Unfortunately, these are social issues that can occur even in more developed nations, and the help of volunteers is still greatly sought after to help with projects targeting these problems. There is a huge variety of opportunities in terms of community volunteering projects so whatever your skill set or your passion, there is something for you!

Where will you live? One of the great benefits of volunteering in Costa Rica is the relatively high standard of living. Because Costa Rica is more of a developed nation, staying in a homestay with a local family you will likely experience similar living conditions minus a few luxuries, such as air-conditioner! You’ll get all the wonderful cultural immersion experiences that go with becoming part of a local family, but you’ll be able to do so without sacrificing comfort. The living costs are a little higher than in other Latin American countries, but you are paying for a standard of living, which plenty of people would say is worth the price tag. 

Why is it important? With the influx of tourists to Costa Rica, the importance of Responsible travel becomes ever more apparent. While tourism has a positive impact in many ways, it is hugely important to ensure the positive sides of the tourism industry are focused on and encouraged, and the negative aspects are not given the chance to takeover. Responsible travel is about thinking about the impact you have as a traveler, making sure your money goes to the right places, and making sure your fantastic experience in Costa Rica does not take anything away from the wonderful natural surroundings. 

Volunteer work in Costa Rica gives even more of an opportunity to make sure the impact you have is a positive one. If you can leave Costa Rica having had a fantastic time in one of the world’s most beautiful locations AND having made a positive difference, you will surely have had a truly worthwhile trip!