How to be an Ethical Tourist in Costa Rica

gina zammit travel writer

Volunteering, and striving to be an ethical tourist in Costa Rica can be a confusing and overwhelming undertaking. It’s difficult to sift through thousands of organizations and charities and find one that’s right for you.

This is when for-profit companies capitalize on well-intentioned travelers, and aide in finding worthy causes — however, they charge extraordinarily high fees to both the volunteers and the organization/charity.

It is best for all involved to avoid using a service like this and donate your money and time directly to the cause. Of course, you’ll have to do some digging on your own, but if your philanthropic dreams are rooted in Costa Rica, here are some wonderful causes that accept volunteers on a case by case basis.

sea turtles volunteering costa rica

Conservation of the Sea Turtles Program

The Ostional National Wildlife Refuge is one of the most important areas in the world for nesting of the Olive Ridley turtle. For three to five days each month, hundreds of thousands of sea turtles appear (totaling 1 million each year) and begin nesting on the beach. 

sea turtles volunteering costa rica

Since 2009, volunteers have helped with census work, egg excavation, beach cleanup and night patrol (to guard the eggs). 

sea turtles volunteering costa rica

To learn more about volunteering, call the Volunteers Association ASVO 506-8843-2324, email Wendy Cruz, or contact the Ostional National Wildlife Refuge directly at 2682-0400.

costa rica

Mar Viva Foundation Program 

In 2000 the Mar Viva Foundation fought to implement responsible fish practices in an experiencing gross overfishing. Together, with the fisherman, they formed a co-op and brainstormed ideas for many of the outstanding issues.

The foundation provides housing and requests volunteers stay 8-10 days. For more information, visit

Play Time Project

Of course, since “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy“, you’d be remiss not explore the beautiful Tico terrain before or after your volunteering experience.

Some must stops are…

jungle safari costa rica

Jungle Crocodile Safari. Cruise over the Tárcoles River on a relaxing boat ride to see these mysterious living dinosaurs.  A knowledgeable bilingual guide is on board to provide information about the fauna and flora of the river while facilitating you the opportunity to photograph and film the wildlife at close range — and please, avoid the tours that feed the crocodiles! 

birds costa rica

Search for wildlife. Whether you’re looking to spot monkey, macaws, or their famous sloths, wildlife can be found just about everywhere, so keep your eyes open and your camera ready!

macaw lodge costa rica

Macaw Lodge. I could spend weeks at this hotel, and still not want to leave. It is one of the most beautiful and relaxes places I’ve ever visited. The attention to sustainability and detail is truly amazing (the finished project took nearly two decades to complete!), and if you ever get the chance to visit, make sure you give my tree some water 🙂

ziplining costa rica

Zipline. Ziplining was invented in Costa Rica, so pick any one of the many scenic tours and face your fear of heights!

Have you volunteered abroad? I’d love to hear about your experience!

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