Turtle conservation project
Help protect the native sea turtles of Costa Rica, learn Spanish and get a huge dose of Caribbean sunshine at the same time.
This non-profit organization is run by volunteers for volunteers, so it needs all the help it can get. Its sole mission is keeping the sea turtles safe and finding a way for the locals and turtles to live together in harmony. Poachers, fishing nets and pollution have led to a serious decline in both the Leatherback and Green Sea Turtle population.
As a volunteer, you’ll patrol the beaches, lend a hand with turtle rehabilitation at the rescue center and help out at the hatchery. At the same time, you’ll contribute to improving the living standards of the locals, who will act as paid guides during your beach patrols.
It’s beautiful, community-centered stuff. Started in 2006 by two Dutch friends, the project quickly became a leading light in turtle conservation. Staffed entirely by open-minded volunteers, the atmosphere on the beach is packed with kindness and enthusiasm. You’ll need to be prepared for a totally immersive experience, as the location is remote and you won’t find a wisp of Wifi for miles around. The whole place is solar-powered, so there’s no electricity, although there are a few (weak) cellphone hotspots dotted along the beach that might let you send the odd text message. Castaway doesn’t even begin to cover it. Prepare to be out of touch with technology for your duration of your stay. Tap into with the gorgeous scenery around you and forget the rest of the world for a while.
Why join this project?
Lend a really important hand to keep the native sea turtles alive and kicking.
Help educate the local community to live in harmony with their turtle population.
Learn Spanish on a castaway Caribbean beach and feel part of an inspiring community.
Want to protect turtles on an isolated Caribbean beach?
This project is all about inspiring humans to live in harmony with nature. As a volunteer, you’ll protect the sea turtles of Costa Rica and help the locals achieve a balance with their native wildlife at the same time. It’s all about an isolated community working together to create a safe, happy home for the turtles – and for each other. Started by two Dutch friends back in 2006, the project is run entirely by passionate volunteers and volunteer managers. As a result, the beaches radiate an atmosphere of real energy and dedication.
Minimum of 1 week, recommended maximum 2 weeks, you can always extend locally
Location of project:
A beautiful, wild and isolated beach on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, around 1km north of the mouth of the Pacuare River. The project covers almost 10km of the coastline and the beach is part of the 50km stretch between Tortuguero National Park.
San José Juan Santamaria Airport
- Patrolling the beaches at night with a local guide to protect the turtles from poachers, come rain or shine.
- Lending a hand at the hatchery to help the turtle population survive and thrive.
- Caring for recuperating turtles at the rescue center.
- Helping with the day-to-day running of the project.
As the beaches are patrolled at night, be prepared to work irregular shifts through hours of darkness. During the day, you’ll help out at the hatchery and rescue center, or lend a hand behind-the-scenes. No two days will ever be same! You will work between 5 and 8 hours per day.
Getting to the project:
You will be met at the bus stop in the centre of Bataan, a small banana plantation town approx 2.5hrs away from San Jose, at 11:30am. Public buses from San Jose to Bataan depart at 9am, so you’ll definitely need one night in the city before you set off for the project. All of your bus details will be included in the confirmation email that you receive when you reserve a placement. If you arrive from Limon, just cross over the street to the San Jose bus stop and you’ll find your representative waiting. From Bataan, you’ll continue by 4×4 through the banana plantations to the dock and then by shuttle boat through the canals to the project itself.
- Minimum age 18.
- Full medical insurance.
- Reasonable level of fitness
- Bring a headlight with red led light (this is obligatory to bring)
- Private transfer from the International Airport San José to the Hotel
- 1 overnight in a comfortable hostal in San Jose, breakfast included
- Donation fee for the project
- Private transfer from your San José hotel to the public bus terminal Los Caribeños,
- Bus ticket from San José to Bataan, Local transportation between Bataan and the project
- Dorm accommodation with shared facilities at the project
- Food: while at the project all meals are included
- Local transportation on Monday or Thursday between the project and Bataan.
- Support: Pre-departure helpdesk, local in-country team and 24 hour emergency support
What’s not included
- Medical insurance
- Spanish classes optional, these can’t be booked in advance, but you can coordinate this locally- aprox cost 80 USD per week
- Return journey from Bataan onwards
Working with this project, you’ll find that every single day is different, bringing new rewards and challenges. You’ll need an open mind and flexible attitude towards last minute changes, but in general, this is what your first week might look like…
Day 1 (Sunday or Wednesday): Arrive into San José airport (airport code SJO)
Welcome to Costa Rica! Today you will be welcomed at the airport by our English speaking driver and tranferred to your hotel in San José. Here, you’ll receive a welcome package that includes your travel itinerary, handy arrival information, general information about the wildlife conservation project, travel tips, as well as vouchers for your confirmed services and transfers.
You will have the rest of the day free to recover from your journey and get a good night’s sleep before tomorrow’s first night patrol at the project. However, you can also spend a few hours exploring the city! We definitely recommend stocking up on some groceries and grabbing some cash at an ATM today (banks are closed during weekends), at the project is located in the jungle on a very isolated beach.
San José is quite a compact city, so most of the main sights are within easy walking distance. Drop by the parks and museums, wander through the colorful Mercado Central, stop for a casado (traditional plate of rice and beans, beef or fish, plantain and salad), try some local coffee and soak up the atmosphere.
If you are already in Costa Rica, we can arrange the Sunday or Wednesday night in San José for you as well, so that you’ll be ready to start your program on Monday or Thursday. Volunteers always start on a Monday or Thursday (March – August). Please contact us for more information.
Day 2 (Monday or Thursday): On your way to the Caribbean as well as Orientation and the First Volunteer Work– Pacuare River mouth on the Caribbean beach
After breakfast this morning, you’ll be picked up by our English speaking driver and transferred to the Los Caribeños public bus terminal. Here, he’ll buy you a ticket for the 9am bus to Bataan on the route to Puerto Limon (in case there is no availability, you will get a ticket for the next bus available and the project will be informed, as public bus tickets can’t be purchased beforehand and Bataan can only be reached by public bus).
During the 2.5-hour ride from San José to the Caribbean, the fantastic landscape will unfold before your eyes. You’ll pass through the spectacular rainforest of Braulio Carrillo National Park, where you’ll see beautiful rivers and lush tropical plants from your window. Next, you’ll weave between pineapple and banana plantations before reaching Bataan, the meeting point of the project.
In Bataan, a representative will be waiting for you. Here, you can do some last minute shopping before being transferred to a 4×4 taxi that will drive you through the banana plantations to a small dock. Now, the real adventure begins! From the dock, you’ll set off on a shuttle boat ride through the narrow canals and mangroves to the project, located on an isolated Caribbean beach 1 km north of the mouth of the famous Pacuare River. You’ll be accompanied by the loud roar of howler monkeys on the way. On sunny days, it’s possible to see 3 different types of monkeys including everyone’s favorite cheeky swinging white-faced monkeys. You’ll also see many species of birds, fresh water turtles, iguanas, Jesus lizards, caimans and – if you are really lucky – crocodiles!
On arrival, you’ll be greeted by the manager and given a health and safety introduction as well as a general explanation of how things work. Next, you’ll be shown to your accommodation, a dormitory-style beach cabin that sleeps up to 6 people. There’s no electricity at the project, but solar power is used to pump water from the fresh water well and provide lighting in the public areas. It’s really important to bring a headtorch with a red LED light option, both for evening and for your night shifts.
After settling in and meeting some fellow volunteers, your Turtle Patrol Training will begin. Be aware that you will be expected to work with the turtles on your first night, as you are often replacing volunteers that have left earlier that day. Be sure to get good night’s sleep the night before arrival!
Most of the local people in the area participate in the project, as it brings them some much-needed income. This means that the locals will usually be your guides during your turtle patrols. Throw in your co-volunteers, usually from every corner of the globe, and this mix of cultures creates a relaxed atmosphere where everyone feels at home. You’ll meet your fellow volunteers at dinner, hear their turtle stories and pick up some project tips.
During the Turtle Patrol Training, you’ll be introduced to your personal day-to-day contact. Your trainer will cover all kinds of important information and instruct you on the do’s and don’ts – the correct protocol to follow on finding a nesting turtle as well as how to record the various data that you will responsible for collecting while she is nesting.
You’ll also find out about your own patrol schedule during the meeting.
As turtle activity happens at night, volunteers tend to rest after dinner in preparation for their shifts, reading a book or playing card games. Then, 15 minutes before your patrol shift begins, you’ll meet your local guide and get ready to save some turtles! These nightly Turtle Patrol Shifts usually last between 4 and 5 hours.
Day 3 (Tuesday or Friday): Helping out with the turtles
Congratulations! You are now officially part of an inspiring, significant project for sea turtles and humans alike. Over your first breakfast, you can share all of your turtle experiences from the shift last night.
After breakfast, you will receive your some important hatchery training. This will allow you to man the turtle hatchery and guard the nests that, sooner or later, will explode with energetic little baby turtles. Turtle hatchlings take place from May until the end of August. If you volunteer at the beginning of the season, you’ll construct the hatchery, which involves a lot of digging, sand sifting and carrying buckets of sand. Your trainer will instruct you on the correct protocol to follow whilst volunteering in the hatchery.
You and one other will be responsible for measuring, weighting and releasing the baby turtles as they hatch. Shifts can be between 4 and 6 hours long and the hatchery is manned by volunteers on a 24 hour basis to stop predators getting into the nests. Crying is completely allowed when you see the babies flapping madly towards the sea and their new lives! It’s a beautiful, emotional experience.
Day 4 (Wednesday or Saturday) to Day 8 (Saturday or Tuesday): Time to get stuck into some good volunteering
The rest of your volunteer time will be a mix of patrolling the beaches for turtles at night (in all weathers) with the local guides, manning the turtle hatchery and caring for recuperating adult turtles in the turtle rescue and rehabilitation centre. You’ll also be involved with the behavioral study and care of rescued adult turtles as they recover in tanks with the guidance of an onsite vet.
During your stay, you may also be involved in turtle exhumations. This is when the resident biologist or research assistants, with your help, dig up a nest of already hatched turtles to investigate why some eggs didn’t hatch. It’s a great daytime opportunity to take photographs of baby turtles in their nest.
On top of all this, you’ll also lend a hand with the day-to-day operational duties of running the project. You’ll help out with raking the beach, washing the dishes, cleaning the bathrooms and preparing the daily meals provided by the project. In your free time, you can play card games, catch some sun, practice your Spanish, swing in a hammock, make friends with locals and co-volunteers, snooze, read books from the project library, watch wildlife, hand-washing your own clothes, take long walks, write your travel blog, and listen to the sounds of the jungle or the waves breaking on the beach.
No two days are the same! You’ll be working with both turtles and people as part of a team and getting all kinds of new experiences. Be prepared for a challenge, but a very rewarding one! The work at the project can sometimes be physically demanding, as you’ll walk for several hours on the beach in all weathers, mainly at night time, looking for nesting adult turtles. During your stay, you’ll be given lectures that cover the lifecycle of turtles with various facts and figures. You’ll learn all about the positive impact of volunteers on the program, which will give you a deeper understanding of the difference that you’re making during your stay. We can guarantee you that it’s heartwarming, meaningful and packed with animal magic.
Around volunteering hours, there will also be time off to chill on the beach or set off to do something more exciting. You can go fishing, sunbathe on the beach, read a book in a hammock, play board/card games, start up a soccer or volleyball match, hike, make new friends from all over the world and learn Spanish.
If you are interested, the project has a language school that offers accelerated intensive Spanish course for beginners and improvers at an additional. You can also head out on a canal trip with Freddy’s Wildlife Boat Tour, a brilliant two hours of cruising the canals and mangroves with your camera whilst enjoying the abundance of wildlife and nature around you.
Note: As the turtles at the project need constant help, the volunteers coordinate their rest days on the spot, usually after 10 days of volunteering. You won’t necessarily get weekends off, so you need to be prepared for complete project immersion!
There is a 7 night minimum stay at the project. If you are staying longer, the next few weeks will follow a similar pattern to the week described above. Time will fly by, so make the most of every minute during your hands-on turtle experience!
Your last volunteer day (Monday or Thursday)
On your last day, you’ll leave by boat at 5am for the journey back to Bataan. We definitely recommend that you pack your things during daylight hours on the day before your departure. Turtle patrols are usually optional for volunteers on their last night, but you’ll be involved in some final hatchery work during the day.
Now, it’s time to take your final photos of the giant butterflies, iguanas and leaf-cutter ants around the project and a few shots with your fellow turtle friends. Having said your fond farewells to everyone at the project, it is time to go your own way, either heading home or exploring more of Costa Rica.
You’ll sleep in a dorm-style cabin right on the beach that houses up to six people. You’ll need to expect the simple life here. With no electricity and no wi-fi, it’s time to tune out of technology and tune back into nature. The cabins are located in the jungle on an isolated beach, so there are no shops nearby. It’s all about the bare necessities.
On arrival in Bataan, you can pick up a few last minute things at a supermarket before heading off by 4×4 and boat to the project itself. All of your food will is included in the price of your volunteering stint and the project happily caters for vegetarians.
This project runs from the 1st of March till the 31st of August. This is the time frame the turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. The program has space for 15 volunteers at the same time. Placements fill up fast, so it is recommended to book in advance! Turtle hatchlings are present from May till August. The Months March and April you will help contract the hatchery.
The program always starts on Monday or Thursday and it ends also on Monday or Thursday.
Reviewed May, 2015
This is a great opportunity to get a first hand experience of what wildlife conservation is all about. LTF is very organized in their daily (and nightly) activities and really care for the well being of the turtles. The Leatherback turtles are truly living relics from the past. You got to see one in person to appreciate the size and beauty of these mysterious animals.
Collecting their eggs and burying them in the hatchery (for incubation and protection) were both once in a lifetime experiences. You do not need to know Spanish to volunteer as most of the other volunteers and the staff speak English as well. However, to converse with the locals, you will need to brush up your Spanish skills!
Tips for other travellers
1) Please remember that there is a lot of hard work involved during the day and odd hours during the night. Do not expect to be sitting around sipping pina colada in paradise though you do get some downtime during the day. However, you will be a lot fitter when you leave 🙂
2) Please bring long sleeved tops, full pants and socks (all dark colors) no matter how hot and wet you think it will be. The sand flies (and mosquitoes in the wet season) will feast on you otherwise and trust me, you don’t want that.
3) Bring your camera and binoculars to observe the wildlife around the camp.
4) Food is healthy and tasty (vegetarian) with a lot of variety for lunch and dinner.
5) Give yourself a few days before or after the program to explore the rainforests and volcanoes of Costa Rica. This is a paradise for nature lovers.
Rajesh from USA
Reviewed May, 2015
Overall, a great experience! My two weeks were an ideal mix of good, solid work with the turtles and time to relax and get to know the other volunteers from around the world. I’d recommend this project to anyone interested in having fun while putting forth a solid effort to help an important cause- both in helping the turtles and in working to build a sustainable enterprise within the local community. Also- the food is amazing!
Tips for other travellers
I recommend staying at Hotel Aranjuez.
Emily from Canada
“Amazing life changing experience!”
Reviewed April, 2014
I recently finished volunteering for 3 months with a non profit organisation protecting sea turtles in Costa Rica and i really want to spread the word. Working with the turtles was definitely one of the most rewarding and life changing experience of my life. The project area is on a unique place at the caribbean with lots of wildlife! My daily activities included beach patrolling and hatchery work. Living conditions were basic as expected, however, the amazing food was a welcome surprise. The rewards not only consisted of the opportunity to bond with a diverse group of people but also
to actively participate in an organisation that truly helps both; the marine wildlife and the local community. If anyone is interested in cheap voluntary work in Central America, i couldn’t recommend LTF more!
Matthijs from the Netherlands
“Feliz, Feliz, Feliz”
Reviewed November, 2014
LTF is a great organization with an inspiring mission. The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is gorgeous, and I was able to spend my time working with sea turtles and helping their legacy, as well as see tons of other wildlife, including sloths, which are my absolute favorite! An amazing cultural immersion, as well as rewarding conservation work. Highly recommend!
Julia from Florida USA
What are the daily activities?
You can help with the realization of the project objectives mainly by patrolling the beaches at night (in all weathers) looking for adult nesting turtles together with the local inhabitants in shifts, manning the hatchery and working in the turtle rehabilitation centre taking care of any turtles that maybe unwell. There are daily operational duties too.This means that you will be working irregular hours and no 2 days are the same!!
In the off-season from late November to late February, you can help with maintenance of buildings and the creation of an ideal environment for turtles to lay their eggs. You are also involved with day to day running of the project. Expect to be busy!
In which months am I welcome?
You are welcome all months of the year. The only period in which you can’t see turtles is from late November to late February but there are lots of other essential working activities to be involved with during this time. We have to deconstruct the hatchery and then reconstruct another and prepare the sand for the new season. Beach cabins need to be painted and prepared. Beaches need to be cleared of plastic bottles and trash. Day to day operations continue with cooking for volunteers and bathrooms to be cleaned. You will see monkeys, fish, crocodiles, 145 species of birds, iguanas and fresh water turtles. You may also see dolphins, sloth’s, foxes and wild cats.
What is the availibility?/When to reserve?
Volunteers are needed all year and you can check with us availability for your proposed dates. This project gets booked up very quickly, so as soon as you know your travel plans let us know
What do I have to bring?
- Some dark-coloured clothing for patrolling.
- High factor Suncream
- Mosquito spray/repellent
- Rain clothing
- Head Flashlight (with red light option for turtle work) with batteries.
- Good shoes/training shoes (old ones are best as they will get wet and sandy).
- Alarmclock (Battery operated)
- Books/playing cards
- Basic First Aid Kit
- Black Bag for your backpack should it rain on the boat. Rain is usually very heavy and starts suddenly.
- Anti-itch cream
- Thick long socks
Do you cater to vegetarians?
Yes we do.
Do I need vaccinations?
Vaccinations are a personal decision. Check with your doctor as to what is recommended for Costa Rica so you can make an informed choice.
Are hiking shoes a must, or is it possible to use firm training shoes?
That depends…. Some people like hiking shoes and others training shoes.
You have to imagine that the sand is not hard, but very soft (old ones are best as they will get wet and sandy).
Can you make sure I am in the same dormitory as my friend/partner?
Depending on space we can usually make this happen if you mention this on arrival at the project.
Is there a medical service nearby?
We can get you to a hospital in just under an hour but a basic first aid kit helps.
What about Travel//health Insurance?
Travel/health insurance is highly recommended.
Do you have electricity?
No. We have solar power to pump water from our well and it provides lighting in public areas only.
Do you have internet access?
No. Please let family/friends know that you will be out of contact during the period of your stay.
What can I do in my spare time?
After volunteering you can fish, sunbathe on the beach, read a book in a hammock, play several board/card games, play soccer or volleyball, hike, make friends with co- volunteers/world travellers and of course learn Spanish.
Do I have to speak spanish?
No, You dont have to speak Spanish! But we stimulate you to learn and speak it. It makes it easier to communicate with the local inhabitants because they hardly speak any English.
Are there shops near the project?
We are located in the jungle on an isolated beach with no shopping options. On arrival in Bataan there is the possibility to do some last minute shopping at a supermarket before we head off by taxi and boat to the project.
Does my cell phone work at (or around) the project?
There are some spots around the island that sometimes, with much patience, provide you with a small signal that is enough to send/receive text messages. No guarantees.
Is there a phone connection?
Not yet. You will receive Emergency Contact details for your family in your reservation confirmation email after booking.
Where should I go after I arrive in Bataan?
You will be met off the bus at the bus stop in the centre of Bataan. If you arrive from Limon you will need to cross over the street to the San Jose bus stop and we will meet you there at 11.30am. WE ALWAYS MEET THE BUS.
I reserved for 3 weeks but I might leave after 2 weeks?
Breaking your commitment sometimes has negative effects on the turtles, local community and your co-volunteers. If you are undecided as to whether this volunteering opportunity is for you we recommend making a short reservation with a view to extending if you love it.
What shouldn’t I bring to the project?
Surfboards,diving equipment, laptops or anything that relies on electricity.
I am a young female who has never travelled alone before and I love the thought of helping to save turtles but am a little nervous about the trip.
Many of our volunteers fall into this category and we have taken this into account by giving you all the necessary information you need to get here safely in your confirmation email.
Can I wash my clothes at the project?
We provide soap powder, buckets and sunshine for hand-washing or for a small fee will wash it for you.
My flight home is on the day I arrive/leave the project!
We NEVER recommend leaving or arriving on the same day that your flight is scheduled. Costa Rica suffers extreme rains which sometimes results in long delays in traffic which could result in you missing your flight home. As you are usually replacing volunteers who have just left the project you will be needed to begin working with the turtles the night you arrive. Arriving tired to the project after flying is not a good idea. Most volunteers stay their first and last night in San Jose
This project is on the lookout for…
Anyone over 18yrs old with an open mind, a love of wildlife and a sense of adventure. You’ll be patrolling the beach on foot during all weathers for several hours at a time, so you need to be in reasonably good shape! The project is based in a very remote area, with no internet connectivity or phone reception, so you also need to be prepared for simple living.
The happy turtle project has been fantastic, it has been a super experience 🙂
Staying in Tortoga feliz was amazing and Rob is just a fantastic chef. We where lucky to be spend a week with a super group of volunteers and taking part in the happy turtle project has been a fascinating and happy experience.
Thanks Encounter for helping organizingMaj & Hans - July 2015
The project is situated almost 3 hours from San Jose on a beautiful isolated beach 1km north of the mouth of the Pacuare River. It covers almost 10km of the coastline between Tortuguero National Park and the harbour town of Limon. Right behind the beach, you’ll find the Amazon of Costa Rica, a mangrove rainforest criss-crossed by rivers, canals and lagoons. The area can only be reached by motorboat, making it a wild, remote location. Tortuguero is the largest green turtle nesting site in the Caribbean, but hawksbill, loggerhead, and giant leatherback turtles also trundle ashore to breed. Although the population is now stable, the turtles are still vulnerable and conservation efforts are extremely important to their future.
The area is known for the lushness of its rainforest and the tropical life that it supports. The jungle trails are overhung with vines and bromeliads and the forest floor is dotted with bright, rare orchids. There are over 300 species of birds here, as well as crocodiles patrolling the canals, monkeys, iguanas and tiny dart frogs. The whole place glints with rain and sun and the tropical colors of its rainforest wildlife.
Volunteering here, you’ll be staying in a true tropical wilderness, living in a cabin on the beach. There’s no electricity, no wi-fi and only the tiniest hint of cellphone reception. Prepare to be out of touch with the rest of the world for the duration of your stay. Unplugged from technology, you can tune into your natural surroundings and become part of a welcoming, isolated community.
The beach really is a hidden tropical paradise, so life here is all about the simple things. After volunteering you can fish, snorkel and sunbathe on the beach, swing in a hammock, play soccer or volleyball and go hiking.
As you’ll be in a remote location, you’ll have plenty of time to learn Spanish in total peace at the project’s own school.
Head to nearby Tortuguero National Park and rent a kayak to paddle through a maze of twisting jungle canals and mangroves. It’s a great way to spot wildlife – your own private water safari!
Make a beeline for the Caribbean Conservation Corporation’s Visitor Center to learn even more about the efforts to protect the turtles through Tortuguero. Admission is free, and it’s a inspiring way to get up to speed on the entire area.
Drop us a line!