Wildlife Rescue Center at the Caribbean coast
Work with rescued, mistreated and injured animals on Costa Rica’s laid-back Caribbean coastline, where reggae music fills the air and surfers line up on the horizon. Based just 4km from Puerto Viejo, a traveler hangout with a bohemian vibe, where tie-dye rules and Creole street food sizzles, you’ll help to rehabilitate the animals and re-introduce them to their natural habitat in a controlled, safe manner.
The rescue center was founded way back in 2004 by a European couple passionate about wildlife. After visiting Costa Rica several times and seeing firsthand the shocking mistreatment and killing of animals, they decided to move here and dedicate their lives to protecting the wildlife. Before long, the rescue center was inundated with reptiles, mammals and even a baby jaguar, highlighting the need for the sanctuary. Soon, the founders bought a large part of private primary rainforest so that they could gently re-introduce the animals to the wild. The rescue center receives no financial aid from the Costa Rican government, so they are dependent on the money and manpower of volunteers. By spending some time here, you’re not only helping to cared for injured animals – you’re also helping to keep the rescue center alive.
As a volunteer, you’ll work with monkeys, wild cats, sloths, racoons, anteaters and marsupials, so its safe to say that every day will bring new surprises. Your responsibilities will include everything from diet preparation to cleaning, monitoring and, finally, accompanying the animals as they are slowly re-introduced back into the wild.
Why join this project?
Care for injured, endangered and mistreated animals of all shapes and sizes.
Help rehabilitate the animals and return them to their natural homes.
Live on a laid-back Caribbean beach with soft sand, reggae beats and a real hippie vibe.
- Fast Facts
- Your first week
- Where you will stay
- Dates & Availability
- What others say
- Best time to visit
Passionate about protecting wildlife?
During this project, you’ll take an active role in protecting the wildlife of Costa Rica, nursing abused, injured and endangered animals on the gorgeous Caribbean coast. Working for a non-profit organisation, you’ll set the animals on the road to rehabilitation and get them ready to be released back into the wild. The rescue center takes in all kinds of exotic animals, from monkeys to wild cats and sloths to raccoons, so it promises to be a varied and heartwarming experience. In addition, the organisation owns a private portion of jungle, where they ease the animals back into their natural habitat and protect them from poachers around the clock. It’s a really hands-on project, so you’ll have direct contact with the animals, caring for them and helping them recover from their traumatic experiences. The project believes that, like humans, animals need close, gentle contact to recuperate and build the strength to face their futures successfully.
Volunteering with this project, you can work at the rescue center itself or at La Ceiba, the project’s private reserve, where you’ll focus on accompanying the animals as they are slowly released back into the wild. At the center, you’ll be responsible for preparing the food, cleaning out the enclosures and observing the recovery of the animals. It’s a great place to get interactive with both the animals and the visitors to the center. At the same time, you’ll work within in a caring, tight-knit team and encounter all kinds of new experiences.
If you opt to work at La Ceiba, a private reserve tucked away in the rainforest, you’ll help directly with the re-introduction process. Covering 50 hectares of untouched primary forest, it’s a perfect spot for real nature lovers – secluded, peaceful and packed with wildlife. Here, you’ll lend a hand with releasing the animals back into the wild. It’s very involved, you’ll be given a high level of responsibility and the pricing works differently from volunteering at the rescue center. Challenging and rewarding in equal measure, it’s something that will stick with you forever.
Min 3 weeks. You can combine working in the rescue center with a week or more in the remote Ceiba reserve, where you’ll help to release the animals back into their natural habitat.
Location of project:
The rescue center is located on Playa Chiquita, just 4km from Puerto Viejo, a colorful Caribbean beach town with a thriving Creole culture. Puerto Viejo is around 22okm (roughly 5 hours) from San José. La Ceiba private reserve is a further 4km inland from the rescue center, tucked away deep within the beautiful jungle. It’s an isolated spot with no shops nearby, so you’ll need to bear that in mind.
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.
- Support during the reintroduction of the animals into their natural habitat.
On this project, you’ll work full-time hours, volunteering for 8 hours per day, 5 days per week. The working day normally begins at 7:30 and finishes at 16:30. You will be given 2 days off per week, but, as the center is open 7 days a week, these won’t necessarily be on the weekend. The first week, your first day is an orientation visit and you will start the Tuesday.
Getting to the project:
The project is based on Playa Chiquita, around 3km from Playa Cocles. You can reach Puerto Viejo from San José in around 4 hours by public or shuttle bus. Transport to and from the center is not provided and your best bet is to rent or buy a bike in Puerto Viejo. You can rent bikes from around $5 per day, or buy one outright for around $70 and sell it off to the next volunteer.
- 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 hostel in San Jose, including breakfast
- Shuttle transfer from San José to Cocles
- Volunteer fee for the project
- Accommodation: Shared apartment-style accommodation in Cocles (3 km from the center in Puerto Viejo) and 1 km away from the center. If you choose to stay in La Ceiba, you’ll stay in a private home buried in the jungle, you will share your room (there are 2 to 4 beds in each room)
- Food: Tea, water and coffee at the project. The rest of the meals are not included, but both in Puerto Viejo and La Ceiba, your accommodation will have a fully equipped kitchen.
- Support: Pre-departure helpdesk, local in-country team and 24 hour emergency support
What’s not included
- Medical insurance
- Your transport to your next destination after you finished your project time
- It is not possible to combine this project with Spanish lessons, as it is a full time job
Day 1 (Saturday): Arrival into San José airport (airport code SJO)
Welcome to Costa Rica! Today you will be met at the airport by our english speaking driver and transferred to your hotel in San José. Here, you’ll receive a welcome package that includes your travel itinerary, arrival information, a rundown about the wildlife conservation project, sightseeing recommendations and travel tips, and vouchers for your confirmed services and transfers. The rest of the day is free for you to recover from your journey or set out and explore the city. San José is a metropolitan city of about 300,000 inhabitants, perched in a high valley between green volcanic mountains. San José is a pretty compact city and most of the main sights will be within easy walking distance from your hotel. Wander through the shady parks, visit the museums, take a walk through the colorful Mercado Central, stop for a casado (traditional plate of rice and beans, beef or fish, plantain and salad), watch the world go by over a freshly brewed Costa Rican coffee and soak up the local atmosphere. If you are already in Costa Rica, we can arrange the Saturday night in San José for you, or you can make your own way to Puerto Viejo on Sunday and head straight for your accommodation with the project. Please contact us for more information.
Day 2 (Sunday): On your way to the Caribbean – Puerto Viejo de Limon
After breakfast this morning, you’ll be picked up by a shuttle service and set off on the journey to Puerto Viejo de Limon on the Central Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica. The bus will drop you off near your lodge accommodation at Cocles, 3km from the town of Puerto Viejo itself. You’ll stay at lodge accommodation with other volunteers in the area surrounding the project, sleeping in standard private rooms with shared facilities or apartment-style rooms.
During the 5-hour bus journey from San José to Puerto Viejo, you’ll see fantastic landscapes unfold from the window. You’ll drive through the rainforest of Braulio Carrillo National Park, with beautiful views, rivers and lush vegetation. Next, you’ll pass by pineapple and banana plantations until you see the Caribbean Sea and rainforest opening up before you. Puerto Viejo is a little beach town with a laidback pace that wins the hearts of many weary travelers. Visitors often plan to stay for a couple of days and leave weeks, months or even years later. It is firmly on the backpacker and surfer trail, so expect tie-die trousers, coconut shell earrings and the constant echo of reggae music. Recently, an international mix of residents has flooded the town, but this hasn’t dented the strong Creole culture, which can still be seen, heard and felt in the reggae, Caribbean food and relaxed character of the old-time locals from Jamaican origin. The inland area of the Southern Caribbean part of Costa Rica is home to the Bribri indigenous tribe and you’ll most likely encounter the friendly Bribri people during your stay. The mix of cultures gives the town a open-minded, tolerant atmosphere where everyone feels at home.
After settling into your accommodation and meeting your fellow volunteers, you can check out the surrounding area, wander around town and pick up some groceries. The best way to get around is by renting a bike, but you can always hop in a taxi until you get a bike of your own. If you want to hit the beach, head to nearby Punta Uva or Punta Cocles, where you’ll find stretches of golden sand with swaying coconut palms and lapping waves. Puerto Viejo has a handful of creative European fusion restaurants, and the pace picks up in the evening with some lively bars and reggae bands. On the weekend, the party really gets started, so don’t miss out!
Day 3 (Monday) Introduction day at the rescue center
Today, will be your first day at the rescue center, which kicks off with a visitor tour and orientation meeting. You’ll need to arrive at at 11:00am to complete some paperwork. During the visitor tour, you’ll get to know the rescued animals and the installations as well as your fellow volunteers! After lunch, you’ll be introduced to the project staff and your personal day-to-day contact. The team will cover all kinds of important information. You’ll find out what is expected from you at the project, given a rundown of do’s and don’ts, learn about how the rescue center operates get essential tips about staying safe while helping these wild animals. You will spend the rest of your day learning the ropes before heading back to your accommodation for a well-earned rest.
Day 4 (Tuesday) to Day 8 (Saturday): Time to get stuck into some volunteering
Work starts every morning with a meeting at 7:30am. Here, teams are put together for the day and the staff will explain everything that needs to be done during the day. You’ll also be given feedback about your activities from the previous day. The morning is set aside for cleaning the cages, preparing meals for the animals and making sure everything is running smoothly at the center. Then, at 9:30am, you’ll sit down for a well-deserved with the other volunteers and staff.
The rest of the day will be dedicated to caring for the animals, as well as training and observations within the rescue center. You’ll work with a huge variety of wildlife, including monkeys, wild cats, sloths, racoons, anteaters, marsupials, reptiles and amphibians. The center operates a really hands-on policy, which means that direct contact with the animals is an important part of the work. You will have a varied timetable and you’ll be working with local and international staff as well as your fellow volunteers. Not only this, but you’ll meet visitors of all ages that come to the center on tours throughout the week. The day ends around 4pm. However, this is a rough estimate, as your work ends when everything is finished and the animals have everything they need until tomorrow.
Note: As the first day (Monday at 11:00) at the project is considered an introduction day and the real work starts on Tuesday, you’ll spend 6 days at the center instead of 5 during your first week.
Day 9 (Sunday): Time off!
After a hardworking week, you now have some time off to to chill on the beach or set off to do something more exciting. Get out and explore all the sights, sounds, smells and tastes that Puerto Viejo has to offer! Beach hop between golden stretches of sand fringed with swaying palms and turquoise waters, surf the breaks at Playa Cocles, explore the little shops and tasty restaurants of Puerto Viejo, hike through Cahuita National Park or try some tropical whitewater rafting on the Pacuare River.
Note: As the animals at the Rescue Center need help around the clock, the volunteers arrange their 5 days of work and their 2 days off with the center. This means that you won’t necessarily get weekends off.
The following weeks will follow a similar pattern of working at the project and enjoying your free time. Time will fly by so make the most of every minute enjoying this special hands-on with the animal’s experience!
Your last volunteer day (Saturday)
On your last day of work at the Rescue Center you’ll have the chance to focus on your favorite activities, giving you the chance to have one ultimate experience during your volunteering stint. Having said your fond farewells to the animals, your fellow volunteers and staff, taken your final photos and packed your bags, it’s time to go your own way, whether you are heading home or exploring more of Costa Rica.
There are two options for volunteers working with this project. If you’re working at the rescue center itself, you’ll live in a shared apartment in Playa Cocles, very near to Puerto Viejo, a laid-back beach town with a bohemian vibe and reggae-rich culture. The apartments are kitted out with kitchens, TVs and Wifi – everything you’ll need to make yourself at home. A cleaning service is also included. Puerto Viejo is a 15 minute bike rude from the rescue center, so you’re only really stone’s throw away.
Volunteers working at La Ceiba Private Nature Reserve will stay in a private home called Casa Heliconia, buried in the midst of the jungle (4km inland from the Rescue Center). It’s a small, cosy house that can accommodate up to 10 people in a mix of dorms and shared double rooms. The house has a fully-equipped kitchen and the local shops are a short taxi drive away, so you’ll organise your own meals. You’ll need to prepare yourself for isolated living, with no Wifi, no TV and no mobile reception, although there is an emergency phone available. A laundry and drying service is available for around 10 USD (depending on how many kilos of laundry you’re talking!). It’s a special place, and its remote location is all part of the experience.
This project runs all year round, giving you plenty of opportunities to get involved! Volunteering stints begin on Mondays, so you’ll need to be in Puerto Viejo on the Sunday night before you begin.
Due to its tropical climate, Puerto Viejo gets its fair share of rain, making the weather slightly unpredictable on a year-round basis. However, the showers are always followed by bright bouts of sunshine and they keep the surrounding forests lush and green. If you get caught in a shower, head for a hammock under cover with a good book or an afternoon snooze. The sun will be back in no time!
How do you organize your meals?
Volunteers are responsible of buying and cooking their own meals. Usually they organize this with other volunteers staying in the same accommodation.
How do you get everyday to the rescue center??
The best way is to rent a bike during your stay (about 5 USD per day). Or buy one for around 50 USD
What should I bring?
Comfortable clothes that you usually don’t use, extra-clothing to work (if possible, fast drying clothes). At least a pair of long pants. Recommended not to use open footwear. Bring a padlock. Flashlight (it gets dark early). Repellent
Do I need to bring cash money?
No, credit card is accepted in Puerto Viejo and there are several ATM’s.
This project is on the lookout for…
Volunteers at least 18yrs old, with a real passion for wildlife protection and no fear of being in very close contact with animals. You’ll need to be independent, as you’ll living outside the project and make your own way there everyday. If you’re interested in working in La Ceiba, you’ll need to be prepared for almost complete isolation, as you’ll be living deep in the forest.
Puerto Viejo is a much-loved beach town perched on the shore of the Caribbean in the south of Costa Rica. With a laid-back, lively Creole culture and reggae music permanently drifting through the air, it’s somewhere very easy to get beautifully stuck for a while. The vibe is bohemian through and through, with surfers, hippies and locals all living together peacefully in the sunshine. Expect tie-dye, dreadlocks and a big-hearted welcome.
The Creole influence comes from the Jamaican immigrants that arrived in Costa Rica to work on the railways in 1900, and the flavour of Puerto Viejo is firmly rasta. It’s the kind of place to stretch out on the beach, sip on a cold beer, linger over a sunset and swing in a hammock slung between two palm trees. Firmly on the traveler trail, it’s no stranger to foreigners and you’ll find all kinds of bars, restaurants and streetfood stalls scattered through the town. But beware – Puerto Viejo is highly addictive. Many travelers plan to stay for a couple of days and leave months or even years later…
The nearby Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildife Reserve offers great opportunities for hiking, kayaking and snorkeling in the tropical waters. There are also several protected beaches where sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. Though the beaches in town are not the best for swimming and sunbathing, head east and you´ll find golden stretches of sand, complete with swaying palms and turquoise waters. The nicest are Playa Cocles, Playa Chiquita and Punta Uva, both just a short tuk-tuk ride away. Slightly further afield the tiny beach town of Cahuita situated right next to a stunning national park with the same name is a great place to relax.
Get active at the nearby Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildife Reserve, where you can hike, kayak and snorkel your day away in the tropical waters. You’ll also stumble across several protected beaches where sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs.
Hit the beach at Playa Cocles, Playa Chiquita and Punta Uva, all just a short tuk-tuk ride away. On these beaches, you’ll find yourself in a postcard-perfect paradise with swaying coconut palms and golden sands.
Reef snorkeling. Transparent waters, vibrant coral reefs and a myriad of multi-colored marine creates make snorkeling around Puerto Viejo a must.
An hour away from Puerto Viejo, the tiny beach town of Cahuita is a wonderful place to explore, perched on the coastline right next to a stunning national park with shady hiking trails and playful monkeys.
Feast on fresh seafood in the sunshine, packed with Caribbean flavours and the taste of the ocean. There’s no better way to celebrate an evening off.
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