Costa Rica earned its name. It truly is a country filled with rich coast, flanked by the Caribbean Sea to the east and the South Pacific Ocean to the west—the country boasts hundreds of miles of golden beaches. Plus, it is home to a warm and friendly people that welcome volunteers with open arms.
It is a country of great hospitality but also of great need. Although choosing this Central American treasure for your volunteer adventure might already seem like a "Duh!", this list of seven is a great taste to all the meaningful travel experiences headed your way. Here are seven reasons to volunteer in Costa Rica!
One of the biggest concerns for many people interested in international volunteering is safety. The fear of living in a dangerous place and putting their lives in danger is something that the majority of people do not want to face. This fear is often overwhelming and sometimes overstated.
When going to a poor community, helping people is not going to cause a major problem, but making the wrong decisions can. Costa Ricans appreciate the effort and courage volunteers show when going abroad, leaving their families and friends behind, to give their time in order to make the lives of others better. While in Costa Rica the people will fully embrace you and offer assistance and guidance whenever possible to help ensure your safety. Costa Rica is actually one of the safest developing countries in the world and is often named the safest country in Central America.
2. Pura Vida: A Friendly Culture
Costa Rican citizens, or Ticos as they are commonly known, are born with a smile on their face. They are appreciative of even the smallest bits of joy and good in their lives. They are thankful for living in their country, for having a family, and for sharing all they have with everyone around them.
Pura vida literally means the pure life but the words have become a slogan for the country and international volunteers should expect to hear the term several times a day. It is used to say hello, goodbye, have a good day, express excitement, to show something is wonderful, and the list of optimistic expressions could go on and on. It encompasses the Costa Rican way of life and attitude. Throw your arms up, smile wide, and shout the words and you’ll blend right in.
3. Rich in Resources
Costa Rica is very rich in natural resources as well as paradise-like landscapes that draw thousands of tourists. They have made extensive efforts to protect these natural resources, nearly one-fourth of the country is protected land, and their efforts are for more than tourism. Costa Ricans care about their natural resources and animal populations. Plus, they have fertile farmland and rely heavily on hydropower and other resources.
Tourism is one of its main sources of income, and partly because of that, they are very welcoming to foreigners. The Central American territory is a nation of only 4 million inhabitants; so it may seem small, but it offers a large variety of lands and scenery. Volunteers can take a break from work to climb volcanoes, take a dip in blue rivers, and hike through the jungle.
4. Diversity in Work and Fun
Help is needed everywhere from the valleys to the rainforest where some of the most famous volcanoes are found such as Volcan Arenal. It also offers the chance to take a refreshing bath in the waves of two oceans - the Atlantic and the Pacific. It takes less than four hours to drive from one coast to the other so the choices of settings, relaxing spots, and possibilities for recreational sports are endless. It also helps enrich your experience since it is so easy to see so many different areas. People can help while enjoying breathtaking nature all around them.
5. Tasty, Tasty Food
Something Costa Rica can be very proud of is its tropical fruit and organic food. Costa Rican pineapples are among the best in the world. They are very sweet. Coconut, guava, mango, and star fruit are others you can expect to try fresh during your volunteerism.
Also, the famous gallo pinto, is a traditional favorite enjoyed by many Costa Ricans everyday. It means spotted rooster and consists of beans, rice, and seasonings. The proportions and spices change but the popularity of this dish does not.
6. Spanish Language Immersion
The national language is Spanish and a volunteer trip to Costa Rica is an excellent opportunity to try and and learn a little of the language or perfect your skills. English is easy to find in the capital city of San Jose and in tourist spots but is less common in rural areas. Costa Ricans are known for speaking slowly and clearly which also helps someone just beginning their language skills. They are patient and typically enjoy helping people learn.
They use a variety of slang that is easy to add to a growing Spanish vocabulary. For instance, the cultural term “tico” is often added to the end of words as a way to not only make it purely Costa Rican, but to demonstrate endearment or mean small in size. For example, blanquitico means small and white. Language schools are affordable and easy to find so if this is endeavor you would like to undertake it is easy to mix volunteerism with a language education.
Costa Rica is developing fast. Nevertheless, there is still much poverty and it affects everyone from children to senior citizens and from the big city to mountain villages. The need for volunteers is immense. Helping there will not only pay in terms of work experience abroad, but also in emotional and personal growth. The Ticos teach everyone to appreciate every minute of life. Many volunteers feel like part of the community by the time they leave and stay in contact with their host families and friends for life. This country seems to enchant all those who choose to visit it.
Next steps to volunteer in Costa Rica
Now that you have the inside scoop, it's time to choose where you want to volunteer, who you want to volunteer abroad with, and what project you will work on! Choosing a program isn't as hard as it sounds, especially if you follow these five easy-peasy steps:
Decide where to go. Figuring out where YOU should volunteer in Costa Rica is paramount. Have a short list of locations that sound ideal for your goals and skills (i.e. if you don't have experience working with animals, you might reconsider volunteering in Corcovado National Park). Don't let the howler monkeys hold you back—choose a place that's right for you.
Pick your project. Common projects for volunteers in Costa Rica include animal conversation (like volunteering with sea turtles!) and teaching English. Do some reflection on what skills and knowledge you bring to the table, and which project would best benefit from your time and energy. If you want to volunteer in a Costa Rica orphanage, be sure to ask yourself these questions first.
Choose from the best volunteer abroad programs in Costa Rica. Pay attention to past participants’ reviews, program/university reputation, location, and how the project's needs match your skills. Some programs may even share contact info for ambassadors or past participants if you want the REAL dirt. Here are more considerations to make as you figure out how to choose the right volunteer program for you. Pro tip: You can use MyGoAbroad to compare programs side-by-side.
Plan your finances. Sort out funding before you go to afford daily essentials and splurge on travel (in addition to program costs and airfare). Be sure to raise a little extra money to donate to the organization that you'll be working with. Learning how to fund your volunteer abroad adventure is essential prior to your travels! Can you volunteer in Costa Rica for free? Find out!
Get prepared! Preparing to volunteer abroad is as fun as it sounds. With the days til departure number dwindling and your excitement boiling, it can be easy to overlook the details. Lean on us to help guide you through your pre-departure process—that's what we're here for.
And that's just scratching the surface of why volunteer in Costa Rica!
The Pura Vida lifestyle is addictive—just ask any past volunteer in Costa Rica and they'll reminisce the good old days in Central America, connecting with others and making a difference. Costa Rica volunteer projects are truly once in a lifetime experiences. Find yours today and start improving the lives of others—and yourself—ASAP.