Costa Rica Animal Volunteer Program Overview
Do you want to stand guard over baby sloths as they learn to climb? How about making sure the deer wandering the property have a salt lick? Come and spend the summer in Costa Rica volunteering at a wildlife rescue center and do just that while making friendships to last a lifetime!
You will help out at the shelter in the morning, preparing breakfast for the animals and helping them heal on their road to recovery*. You’ll also assist with a variety of tasks imperative to running the shelter such as cleaning the animals’ cages, preparing medicine, light construction work, or any other work that is needed. After lunch, you’ll have the choice to take Spanish lessons at our school in the village, or to return to the rescue center for more work with the animals. By mid-afternoon, we will head to the beach to relax, snorkel and surf. We will also go whitewater rafting and biking, and visit the local indigenous BriBrí tribe.
Plus, you can even cross another country off your bucket list with a day trip to Panama! Evenings are spent embracing the beat of the Caribbean by listening to village music, enjoying authentic dinners, and strolling the streets of the village.
*Due to Costa Rican law only the professionals we work with will directly handle the animals. Our participants will be able to observe and assist when appropriate. Our experience at the shelter will be ethical and impactful.
On this trip you will:
- Earn up to 80 hours of community service credit at a wildlife rescue center
- Learn about the ongoing efforts to protect endangered animals
- Feed and nurture animals while assisting with their recovery
- Learn about the inner operations of an animal rehabilitation center
- Relax on stunning Caribbean beaches
- Practice your Spanish and improve your fluency with lessons taught in a fun and easy-to-learn format*
- Visit a native tribe of Bribrí people, learn about their way of life and enjoy their traditional cuisine
- Try whitewater rafting, snorkeling, and surfing in clear Caribbean waters
- Cruise down the coast for a day trip to Bocas del Toro, Panama*
- Fly through the jungle canopy on a zipline adventure
- Eat delicious Tico cuisine
- Take a guided night walk through the jungle to see nocturnal animals come alive
*This is an optional excursion
DAY 1: DEPART FROM MIAMI (MIA)
DAYS 1-21: PUERTO VIEJO > TURRIALBA > CAHUITA > PANAMA > THE BRIBRÍ TRIBE
After arriving in San Jose we will take a private bus to Puerto Viejo, our new jungle home for the next few weeks. We will have an introduction to the animal rehabilitation center and receive a training session before jumping into our service work! We’ll get to know all of the animals at the shelter and spend our mornings taking care of them and keeping the shelter operating smoothly. Students will work only with animals that are safe, but you will see the staff’s efforts to rehabilitate snakes (including some of the most poisonous snakes in the world) and other injured and orphaned animals. Volunteer work is need-based and always varies, but in past years we have rescued a sea turtle and nursed him back to health before returning him to the ocean, cared for orphaned sloths and monkeys, repaired cages, given medicine to a variety of animals, worked on various maintenance projects, and overall gained a better understanding of the work that goes into running and operating an animal shelter, the dangers that face animals in the wild, and preventative actions to improve the environment and help these animals in the future.
After all of our hard work, we will need some time to enjoy everything this gorgeous country has to offer! We will incorporate plenty of fun activities into each day to help you maximize your time in Costa Rica. With optional Spanish lessons, beach time for surfing and snorkeling, horseback riding, soccer, fishing, sailing and beach volleyball, you are sure to love your time spent in Puerto Viejo!
In addition to our laid-back beach activities, we’ll include some adventurous activities in the jungle, such as ziplining through the rainforest, whitewater rafting down one of the most famous rafting rivers in the world, and afternoon hikes. If you aren’t feeling very adventurous, no worries! We always offer options and there will be alternative activities if you prefer not to partake in the more adventurous sports.
To better understand Costa Rican culture we will take a trip to the indigenous Bribrí tribe to meet them and learn more about their daily life. We’ll also visit a chocolate making facility to learn how this delicious Costa Rican product is grown and produced, and of course, sample some treats as well!.
By the end of your three-week adventure, you will have not only gained an appreciation for the animals of Costa Rica, but also learned more about rescue and rehabilitation work, immersed yourself in the culture, had thrilling adventures, and made some lifelong friends (with both humans and animals)!
DAY 22: RETURN FLIGHT TO THE USA
Authenticity is engrained in everything we do. Eat, stay, and travel like a local.
Check out what past travelers have to say about TFT and discover why we are consistently awarded “Top Youth Travel Organization” year after year.
"What an amazing experience! This trip was truly 3-weeks that changed my life and perspective forever. Spending this time in Costa Rica will be the best choice you will ever make, I know it’s the best choice that I made. Expect to join a group of teens that are also interested in exploring the world and helping out animals. I still stay in touch with these friends 2 years later, and even have made trips across the country to New York City to visit my Costa Rica pals! The best part of the whole trip to me was the animals and working at the rescue center. Learn the proper care for these exotic animals and work with other volunteers from all over the world who share the same interests as you. Some of the amazing experiences I had were babysitting the baby sloths, taking a baby anteater into the forest, or feeding the young monkeys. Outside of working at the rescue center I tried so many things that were out of my comfort zone, a night hike in the jungle, salsa dancing in front of a whole restaurant, and ziplining through the jungle. I recommend this trip to anyone who is interested in immersing themselves into a new culture, and not afraid to get dirty and work hard to help this animal sanctuary."
"Love your updates and pics! It’s the first thing I reach for when I wake up!! I wanted to thank you both from the bottom of our hearts for what was clearly a life changing experience. The group looked so close and you guys made it safe for them to have independence. We are eternally in your debt. And we always loved the letters and photos!!"
"Thank you very much for all these updates and all these photos that make us share your beautiful journey!"
Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of teen typically participates in this program? What are the requirements to join?
Teens from all over the world join this program! Typically, our participants are culturally curious individuals who are excited to make new friends, experience something unique, and interested in stepping out of their comfort zones and expanding their horizons.
This program is exclusively for students who are currently in grades 9th through 12th and approximately 14 to 18 years old. Students living outside of the USA are welcome to join!
Where do we stay?
Our hotels are specifically chosen to be in safe areas and well-suited to facilitating group supervision. We stay in centrally located accommodations, usually within walking distance of the main attractions. This means we do not use large, impersonal chain hotels on the outskirts of cities. We prefer to select smaller, family-run hotels where we establish personal relationships with the owners.
In Puerto Viejo, we stay in a hotel surrounded by trees where you can see monkeys, iguanas, and toucans hanging around. The hotel is just steps from the wildlife rescue center where we will be performing our service.
For safety reasons, we do not publish the names of the accommodations we use. We do not feel it is safe to publish the name of a hotel where a group of teenagers is staying abroad. After registering, participants and parents are given access to our secure parent website where you will be able to see the names of all of the accommodations for a program.
Do most travelers go on their own?
Yes! In fact, over 75% of students who travel with us choose to come independently. This encourages teens to step further outside their comfort zone and make new friends. We believe that one of the most rewarding and exciting elements of travel is the new friendships that form along the way. When we travel by ourselves, we are bound to make new friends from all over the country and even the world. The best part is, you can travel again with your new friends on another TFT program the next summer!
If you are thinking about joining a TFT program by yourself but you are feeling unsure, please let us know! We have plenty of references from solo travelers who had great experiences and would be happy to chat with you about it.
Can I bring a friend?
Absolutely! We ask that if you do come with a friend, you and your friend(s) maintain openness to meeting new people and sharing this special experience with the entire group.
What do students like most about this program?
Students love that they are able to explore the country and get a real local experience. This program allows them to discover the rainforest, get out of their comfort zone and do things like whitewater rafting, surf lessons, and zipline. They also love contributing to the local community by working with kids.
What is unique about this program?
The chance to work with exotic animals, whitewater rafting on one of the best rivers in the world, and TFT’s expertise in leading students through Costa Rica make this trip a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
What is included?
Tuition cost includes ground transportation; accommodation; chaperones and guides; program-related activities and admissions; taxes and tips; all breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.
Not included in cost (this is not intended to be an exhaustive list): airfare; visas and visa application fees; personal and medical expenses; activities and admissions that are not program-related or referenced in the itinerary; beverages other than filtered water at meals; participant expenses that are outside of the program description, such as excess baggage fees and damage to hotels; expenses related to unforeseen circumstances, such as transportation strikes and natural disasters.
How do the optional group flights work?
Upon registration, you will be contacted by our International Logistics Team to discuss the program’s flight details. There is no requirement to take the group flight, but there are several advantages to doing so. The group flight is usually chaperoned by a TFT staff member, and it also offers an opportunity for the students to get to know one another prior to the start of the program. Parents are responsible for coordinating transport to the departure airport – however, the logistics team will send out instructions detailing the exact meeting spot and airport point person. For additional information about flights, visit our dedicated flight page.
Who leads the program?
Our staff is a cut above the rest! We seek out two main characteristics in our counselors – extensive knowledge of and experience in our destinations, and a passion for working with teens. Our staff’s backgrounds include living abroad and working in summer camps or other educational settings. Team members are proven leaders and role models, who connect easily with others and form genuine friendships with each student – all while bringing each destination to life.
We celebrate diversity! Our staff represents 49 different nationalities, speak a combined total of 21 languages, and visited 142 countries. Additionally, 80% of our staff lived or worked abroad in their lives. With so many unique experiences to share, you are sure to gain a global perspective.
Our average minimum ratios are one staff member to every seven participants. Each program has one Trip Director with several support staff, depending on the group size. Directors must be at least 25 years old and have prior experience working with TFT.
What are the safety qualifications for our staff?
Our staff members undergo a rigorous hiring process. They receive the same background check as school educators, an extensive training process to go over all safety precautions and protocols, and are required to be certified in CPR and First Aid. We exclusively hire responsible, multi-talented individuals who are safety-minded and are as passionate about teen travel as we are.
What is the average group size?
We pride ourselves on small group sizes to create a more authentic and personalized experience. Our group sizes fall between 14 and 21 students – the perfect size to facilitate new friendships without feeling lost in a crowd! We believe smaller groups eliminate the likelihood of cliques, and allows for a well-rounded, healthy group dynamic.
How does this program connect to other programs?
Our program dates are designed specifically so that participants can opt to combine trips throughout the summer. When connecting to another program, your counselor will escort you to the airport on the last day of the program and assist you in meeting your next group at your new destination.
Families who sign up for more than one program will also receive a 15% discount on the lesser-priced program.
What is the food like on this program?
In a word – delicious! At TFT, we believe food is an integral aspect of the travel experience, and we make an effort to eat at authentic establishments whenever possible. There is no better way to immerse ourselves in the culture of a place then through sampling the local delicacies. We stray away from westernized restaurants and chains that cater to tourists, because every true traveler knows the best food is found where the locals are eating!
The food in Costa Rica is delicious! Expect to eat seasoned rice, beans, chicken, steak, tropical fruit and veggies, plantains, and many other foods flavored with unique Caribbean spices! Vegetarians will have no issues eating well on the trip. Also, unlike in Europe where a light breakfast of coffee and toast is the norm, ticos (Costa Ricans) eat big, savory breakfasts—and so will we!
Of course, we are always willing and able to accommodate vegetarians, vegans, gluten allergies, and other dietary restrictions.
Do we ever get time to go off on our own?
Our staff and teens are nearly always together, but we do provide the opportunity to break up into smaller groups to allow for flexibility and customization within the itinerary.
We offer free time in defined safe areas – for example, shopping in a market or exploring a museum. During these times, students remain in groups of at least two and are given no more than an hour. Of course, the counselors remain nearby and available. Additionally, a lifeguard-certified counselor supervises the campers any time they are involved in water activities.
Do I need any vaccinations for this program?
We recommend checking with your family doctor regarding vaccinations and medical advice for the destination you are visiting. For more information, please check the World Health Organization’s website. Upon registration, we provide a list of recommended vaccinations that can be discussed further with your doctor.
What kind of visa do you need for this trip?
All US citizens that enter Costa Rica are automatically granted a free 90-day tourist visa.
When joining a TFT trip from outside of the US, please be sure to check your country’s specific visa requirements.
Do I need to speak the language?
No, our skilled staff members will help you get around and even teach you a few fun phrases!