Wildlife rescue center
Arenal, Costa Rica
Care for rescued animals, learn Spanish and stay at a welcoming homestay at the same time, volunteering for this inspiring project tucked away in the mountains of Costa Rica. Dedicated to wildlife protection, environmental conservation and meaningful cultural exchanges through education, it’s a wonderful place to lend a hand for a few weeks. Back in 1995, the project was founded by a local veterinarian who has devoted his life to protecting injured and orphaned animals. Nowadays, it serves as a rescue center for wildlife of all shapes and sizes. While some of the animals heal sufficiently to be released back into their natural habitat, others are not so lucky. At the rescue center, creatures too weak to return to the forest live in ethical enclosures that recreate their natural homes and treated with respect at all times.
Many of the animals have been involved in road accidents, attacked by local dogs or shocked by electricity poles. Others were confiscated by the government after wildlife traffickers were caught trying to smuggle the animals out of the country. Costa Rica has no set up for these confiscated animals to go, and without wildlife centers like this one, they would be sadly put down. This is what makes the project so special. There’s no state funding for these rescue centers, so all of their income comes from volunteers programs and private donations. They exist purely because of the passion and warm-heartedness of dedicated human individuals. By volunteering with the project, you’ll be bringing much-needed funds as well as a willing pair of hands. In this way, you’ll really make a difference.
Why join this project?
Care for orphaned and injured animals in the beautiful mountains of Costa Rica.
Stay at home with the locals, learn Spanish and feel the difference in no time.
Explore the heart of the Arenal volcano area and its many options for adventure sports: ziplining, canopying, waterfalls, cloud forests and mountains in your spare time.
- Fast facts
- Your first week
- Where you will stay
- Dates & Availability
- What others say
- Best time to Visit
Want to care for rescued animals and learn Spanish at the same time?
This project will bring you the best of both worlds. You’ll volunteer in the animal rescue center, stay at home with the local families and learn Spanish – all at the same time! Over the years, road accidents, electricity poles and smuggling have taken toll on Costa Rica’s beautiful, exotic wildlife and this project cares for injured and orphaned animals of all shapes and sizes. You’ll take a hands-on role at the animals rescue center, based just 27km from La Fortuna, the adventure capital of Costa Rica. Amongst other things, you’ll assess the rehabilitation of the animals, feed them, clean their enclosures and help release them back into the forest.
The project is also passionate about supporting the rural communities surrounding La Fortuna and will provide all kinds of opportunities for you to get to know the friendly locals in the area. The aim is to create meaningful cultural experiences, where people from all over the world learn about animal conservation and, most importantly, learn from one another. During your spare time, you can wobble across treetop bridges on canopy tours, explore the tropical hills by mountain bike and gaze up at smoking volcanoes.
Minimum of 1 week. For this project you need to arrive on Mondays. The departure is always on Saturdays.
Location of project:
The institute is located in a small rural town called Javillos, just 27 km away from La Fortuna, the popular base for exploring the Arenal volcano. Around 300 families live in Javillos, a sleepy place with gorgeous scenery and brightly colored houses. In the surrounding area, there’s elementary school, a church, a handful of local markets and several sunny open plazas where the locals play soccer in the cool evening hours. Javillos is approximately 100km from San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital. It takes around 2 hours to reach the area by shuttle/bus from San Jose, and, in total, 3 hours to reach the institute itself. The shuttle buses will always right on the doorstep of the institute.
San José Juan Santamaria Airport.
- Receiving and evaluating newly arrived animals at the rescue center.
- Introducing animals to their new living quarters and helping them to settle in.
- Making sure the rescue center runs smoothly by maintaining all of the facilities.
- Carefully planning the diet and preparing the food of the animals.
- Assisting with the daily care and, sometimes, helping to release the animals back into the forest.
- Helping out during surgical procedures for the animals, where necessary.
This is a full time job. You will be working from 8 am till 4pm with lunch at the institute. If you opt to take Spanish lessons, you’ll work part time and study from 8:30am to 12pm before setting off to volunteer with the animals or the local community.
Getting to the project:
Local transfers between your homestay and the volunteering project are included in the cost, leaving around 8am and returning at 4pm.
- Minimum age 18.
- As you’ll be working at very close quarters with the animals, the center requires all volunteers to take a tuberculosis test before arrival in Costa Rica
- Recommended vaccines: Rabies, Yellow Fever (this is not present in Costa Rica, but depending from which country you enter Costa Rica this is a requirement to enter Costa Rica) and Tetanus.
- Medical insurance.
- For this project you don’t need to speak Spanish, but it is recommended to have a base of Spanish
- Arrival transfer in San Jose
- 1 overnight in a comfortable hostal in San Jose, including breakfast
- Shuttle transfer from San José to the project
- Volunteer fee for the project
- Accommodation: Homestay accommodation in the village itself, in a private bedroom with shared bathroom. Laundry is also included.
- Food: Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all included in the price of this project. You’ll be treated to a healthy breakfast and dinner at your homestay and given a lunchbox for you work break.
- Transport: between homestay and the project.
- Training: In-country orientation.
- Support: Pre-departure helpdesk, local in-country team and 24 hour emergency support.
- Half day Spanish lessons are available at an extra cost.
What’s not included
- Medical insurance
- While volunteering your transfers to Fortuna or Arenal are not included
Costa Rica’s extraordinary wealth of diverse flora and fauna, variety of climates, contrasting eco-systems and friendly people, make it a fascinating and rewarding destination to explore and roll up your sleeves at a wildlife conservation project. Over 25% of Costa Rica’s landscape is protected, making it the real conservation capital of the world. With this project, you’ll nurse injured and orphaned animals back to health, surrounded by rich jungle and smoking volcanoes.
Day 1 (Sunday): Arrive into San José airport (airport code SJO)
Welcome to Costa Rica! When you arrive, you’ll be greeted at the airport and transferred to your hotel in San José. Here, you’ll receive a welcome package containing your travel itinerary, information about the wildlife conservation project, recommendations and travel tips, as well as vouchers for your services and transfers.
The rest of the day is free for you to recover from your journey and start exploring the city! San José sits in a high valley between green volcanic mountains. It’s a pretty compact city and most of the main sights are within easy walking distance, so you can spend the day wandering through the shady parks, exploring the colorful Mercado Central, stopping for a casado (traditional plate of rice and beans, beef or fish, plantain and salad) and sipping on your first Costa Rican coffee.
Day 2 (Monday): The road to Javillos and your introduction
After breakfast, you will be picked up by your shuttle transfer service and driven to the Wildlife Rescue Institute in the Central Highlands of Costa Rica. During the 3-hour journey from San José to Javillos, you’ll pass through picturesque villages, coffee plantations, strawberry orchards and fern fields, so there’s no chance of getting bored!
Javillos is a small rural town in the county of San Carlos were approximately 300 families live in beautiful, brightly colored houses. The town is home to an elementary school, a church, a handful of open plazas where kids play soccer and several local markets. Just 27 km down the road, you’ll find Arenal Volcano and La Fortuna, where you’ll be offered every adventure activity under the sun, from canopy zip-lining to mountain biking, horse riding, hiking, waterfall rappelling, hot springs, volcano hikes and more!
After arriving around 11:00, you will be welcomed by the staff and taken to your host family, where you will have your own bedroom and shared bathroom as part of the family. Staying here, you can practice your Spanish every day, learn about the Costa Rican way of life and feel at home with locals.
After settling in and enjoying a traditional family lunch, you will be picked up for your introduction tour of the rescue center. First, you will join the half-day visitor tour of the institute, where you’ll learn about the territories, life spans, diets and social behaviours of each creature. You’ll get to know the rescued animals and meet your fellow volunteers. Afterwards, you’ll help to feed the animals before being transferred back to your host family for dinner.
Day 3 (Tuesday) Orientation day at the Wildlife Rescue Institute
Today you will have breakfast with your host family before being picked up around 08:00 and transferred to the rescue center. First, you’ll be introduced your day-to-day contact and then, as a team, you’ll be taken through what is expected from you at the project, the do’s and don’ts, what needs to be done in every installation and how to stay safe while helping the animals. This is also a brilliant chance to ask any burning questions – so don’t hold back!
After lunch, you’ll listen to an informative talk about Costa Rica and an educational interactive meeting on ‘Wildlife Trafficking’ – one of the biggest threats to animals all around the world. The project is dedicated to wildlife protection, environmental conservation, and inspiring cultural exchanges through education. It serves as an animal rescue center, a Spanish school and a volunteer center – all rolled into one. The project aims to give injured wild animals the care and respect that they deserve whilst nursing them back to health in order to release them into the wild. It also educates the public about the struggle faced by these animals. The institute receives no financial aid from the Costa Rican government, so it relies upon the money and manpower of volunteers to keep the rescue centre alive.
Day 4 (Wednesday) to Day 6 (Friday): Getting stuck in..
You’ll be picked up by the local shuttle transfer around 08:00 for the journey to work every day. After a couple of hours, you’ll take a well-earned coffee break and carry on working until lunch. You’ll be transferred back to your host family around 16:00 and the rest of the day is free for you to relax. At the center, you’ll lend a hand with cleaning the enclosures twice a day, help with painting and repairing and prepare food for the animals. In addition, you’ll assist with creating a more stimulating environment for the animals and make them feel more at home, observing and recording their behavior. Your timetable will be varied and you’ll be working with all kinds of animal species.
If you also decide to take Spanish classes, your lessons will run either from 08:30 to 12:00 or from 12:45 to 16:00. All of the classes are given in Spanish with a high focus on conversation techniques, individually or in small groups. On the first day, you’ll take an evaluation exam to determine your level and your teacher will provide all the materials. All you need to bring is your brain and a dictionary!
Day 7 and 8 (Saturday and Sunday): Free time!
After working hard all week, you will now have some well-deserved free time. Chill and hang out or do something more exciting – the choice is yours! There are all kinds of activities up for grabs in the area, from tropical white-water rafting on the Sarapiqui River to zip-lining or canopy walking over suspension bridges amongst the rainforest treetops. You can saddle up for some horseback riding, take a kayak tour of Lake Arenal, head off on a mountain bike or try a local chocolate tour. And don’t forget to soak in one of Arenal’s natural hot springs – it’s heaven!
The next few week will follow a similar pattern – working, taking Spanish classes and enjoying your free time in Costa Rica. Time will fly by so make the most of every minute! It’s an experience packed with challenge and reward.
Your last volunteer day (Friday)
On your last day of work at the rescue center, you can say your fond farewells to the animals, volunteers and staff before setting off home to pack your backpack.
Today you will wave goodbye to your host family and hit the road again, after a conservation adventure to really remember.
You’ll stay with a local family in Javillos, where you’ll have your own private room with shared bathroom facilities. All of the homestays have been very carefully selected by the project, so you’re in for a warm welcome and a wonderful community experience. You’ll be treated to three healthy meals a day and laundry service is included. In total, the project can accommodate up to 35 volunteers across all of its homestays.
Your host family will be middle class by Costa Rican standards, but please bear in mind that the way of life is simpler here and be prepared to adjust a little. You can help your host family by asking if you can lend a hand with the the farming, gardening or painting. They’ll appreciate every last second of your time and it’s a great way to get to know the community.
This project runs all year round and volunteering project begins every Monday.
“A Magic Journey”
Reviewed May 23, 2015 Your heart will be touches by the beauty of the animals. Your hope in humanity’s goodness will be inspired by the compassion and excellence of Proyecto Asis. Paradise, fun, and life memory!
By, Kathleen Sullivan, USA
“Part of a family”
Reviewed June 11, 2014 Wow what a great experience! I stayed here only for 5 days as part of a study trip but would definitely recommend to go here, learn Spanish, stay with the loveliest host family and take care of the animals at the centre. As this project is in such a small community you feel part of this very fast and within…
By, Susan Braam, The Netherlands
Reviewed March 23, 2014 It’s a worthwhile organization doing great work with rescued animals. The tour gives visitors a chance to get up close and personal with some amazing animals—holding hands with spider monkeys, feeding birds and a playful coati, and handling a small boa constrictor, among much else. I stayed for five days with my family as volunteers (I’m pretty sure mine is one of the families mentioned in the dumb review below). We got to know the amazing staff, as well as the animals. We’re back in the US now, but my 7-year-old daughter keeps asking about the animals and wondering how they are. I can’t recommend this highly enough. If you go for the tour, it’s great, but volunteering for a week made it even more meaningful.
By, Paul Caputo, USA
“Nothing Like It”
Reviewed February 18, 2014 I worked as a volunteer for a month and a half, and got treated with nothing but open arms- and the same will happen to you if you go there! Very family friendly place, with a very nice staff. If you go there, definitely go on the longer option of helping feed the animals. When i saw visitors walking through there feeding the monkeys, birds, etc. there was nothing but smiles! It really is a life-changing experience. Nothing like this anywhere else. Thank you Proyecto Asis, for the amazing experience!
By, Summer Grandy, USA
“What a wonderful experience!!”
Reviewed October 29, 2011 I spent two weeks in Costa Rica through a program with my veterinary school and Proyecto Asis. It was one of the best experiences of my life! The homestay was fantastic! We spent the first week taking Spanish classes, taught by wonderful teachers and the next volunteering at the center and travelling around Costa Rica. The people there are some of the kindest, most genuine people I have ever met, and the animals themselves are great!
By, Kathleen Sullivan, USA
Arenal and La Fortuna can be visited any time of year and there is always plenty to do, however if you want to see the Arenal Volcano peak free of low-hanging cloud against a backdrop of blue skies, then certain times of the year are better than others. December through February are the rainiest and cloudiest months, then from March to the beginning of August weather is hit and miss and changes fast. The absolute best time for volcano gazing is late August to early November.
How do you get everyday to ASIS?
The people of ASIS picks up all volunteers and take them to the project.
What should I pack?
Clothes that can get dirty, long pants, swimsuit, had, rubber boots, raincoat, beachtowel (for hotsrpings), flashlight. Spanish dictionary if they are taking classes.
What can I bring to the family that receives them?
Our families love it if you bring something special or typical of your culture.
Can I use the phone in the home stay?
Yes, most families have a telephone. You can purchase a phone card for different amounts and use it with any phone.
This project is on the lookout for…
Volunteers of all ages with a real passion for protecting wildlife and supporting rural local communities. It’s ideal for anyone looking for a personal and supported experience, staying in a family environment and taking Spanish classes every day.
I had a great time at Proyecto Asis in Costa Rica. I worked with the animals firsthand almost every day, and I learned a lot about the animals and culture of Costa Rica. Having Spanish lessons helped improve my Spanish, as did living with a host family. I experienced the life of Costa Ricans in my everyday life with the host family in all aspects; the food, the language, the way of life.
I would recommend this program to anyone with a passion for animals and latino culture.Camilla from Scandinavia
Relaxing in the hot springs is a must in Arenal. Eco Termales is our favorite for its views of the volcano. Also, its daily visitor limit means it never gets too crowded.
The Caño Wetlands are one of the best places in Costa Rica to see wildlife year round. As well as many bird species you´ll see capuchin monkeys, sloths, iguanas, river turtles, caiman and the basilisk, a lizard which can walk on water!
Take the Lava Walk to see the Arenal up close! It´s an easy walk to the lava fields and from there you can see and hear huge boulders and billowing smoke being ejected from the volcano peak. You´ll be at a safe distance, but it might not feel like it!
Visit the Fortuna Waterfall on foot or by horse. Plunging down a forested cliff into a deep blue pool, the Fortuna Waterfall is a beautiful picnic spot. The brave can jump into the pool for a very refreshing dip in the chilly waters!
Don’t miss out on exploring the forest from on high, either zip-lining or canopy walking over suspension bridges. The bird’s eye view vista is the best way to see the cloud forest wildlife.
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