Costa Rica Sea Turtle Conservation & Volunteer Trip Overview
Did you know that the sea turtle population is declining rapidly? Six out of seven sea turtle species are going extinct, and in Costa Rica, the Pacific Leatherback population has declined 90% since 1980. Travel For Teens is committed to making a difference for this ancient species, and we invite you to join us this summer on a sea turtle conservation trip to Costa Rica!
We partner with an organization in Montezuma dedicated to protecting the four species that frequent this area’s beaches. These turtles are at risk of extinction due to a variety of factors, including human activities. Our goal will be to monitor the turtles that nest on Montezuma Beach and assist with a strategy for future conservation efforts. Some of your volunteer duties will include evening patrols to look for nesting turtles, collecting nest data, and even releasing baby turtles safely into the ocean!
This program is also unique because of its community outreach efforts. We will work closely with the local village school and spend time with the children who go there while helping out with a variety of projects. This will allow you to make a positive impact on both the sea turtles and the community you are staying in, allowing for an all-around immersive cultural experience.
Our service efforts will be complemented by a variety of fun activities designed to embrace Costa Rican “pura vida,” including ziplining through lush jungle canopies, swimming in stunning waterfalls, relaxing in natural hot springs, and learning how to surf on Montezuma’s beautiful coastline.
If you are looking for an opportunity to give back and enjoy the laid-back lifestyle of Costa Rica, then this is the perfect program for you!
During this program, you will:
- Earn up to 25 hours of community service credit as you work with a local conservation organization to observe and care for sea turtles
- Relax on a catamaran cruise in the turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean
- Hike through the jungle to observe exotic wildlife like toucans, sloths, coatis, agoutis, and more
- Zoom through the treetop canopy on an adrenaline-pumping zipline tour
- Learn to surf on Costa Rica’s incredible beaches with perfect waves
- Stand-up paddleboard along the pristine Pacific coast
- Swim in a waterfall and go for a soak in thermal hot springs
DAY 1: DEPART FROM MIAMI (MIA)
DAYS 2-3: PUNTARENAS
On our first night, we will get to know each other with some group icebreakers and become acquainted with Costa Rican culture. The next morning we will hop on a catamaran to Tortuga Island for a relaxing island lunch before heading to Montezuma, where our service project officially begins!
DAYS 4-8: MONTEZUMA SEA TURTLE SERVICE PROJECT
Montezuma is a very small village with a population of approximately 500 people and it is the perfect place to not only start our service project, but also learn what Costa Rica is all about–away from the crowds and the typical tourist path!
As soon as we arrive, we’ll receive an introduction to the sea turtle conservation station we will call home for the next six days. The center has accommodation for us onsite, which will allow us to participate in night patrols and be ready to spring into action if there is any nesting or hatching activity that happens during the night or early morning. Our days here will be filled with turtle conservation efforts. One day you may be helping to collect nest data, and the next you may be helping baby turtles (hatchlings) make it safely to the ocean! As turtles are wild animals, there is no guarantee of what each day may look like, but that is part of what makes this program so exciting! July is peak nesting season for turtles, so there is a very high probability that you will be able to watch a female turtle lay her eggs or witness babies hatching. Other projects may include building hatcheries, beach cleanups, tagging and measuring turtles, and anything else related to protecting these beautiful creatures.
In addition to our sea turtle efforts, we will also help out the local elementary school. You will be able to form relationships with the schoolchildren, play games with them, and help out with any light maintenance projects around the school. This community outreach will allow for an immersive experience and deeper insight into Tico culture.
Our service work will also include plenty of fun activities! Hike and zipline through the jungle to a beautiful waterfall and enjoy a refreshing swim. Enjoy a surf lesson and learn to ride a wave, followed by a relaxing yoga session on the beach. Try stand up paddleboarding, snorkeling, and a variety of other water activities.
DAYS 9-10: BAGACES
For the next portion of our trip we will stay in beautiful Bagaces. This small town is surrounded by two different rivers, which create some beautiful waterfalls, stunning scenery, and plenty of hiking trails for us to explore! We’ll swim in the Llanos de Cortés Waterfall, often considered one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the country. We’ll also visit Palo Verde National Park, which is one of the best places to view wildlife. The park is home to lagoons, mangroves, limestone, grassland, and forests, and we will keep an eye out for monkeys, sloths, exotic birds, and more! During our time in Bagaces we will also visit the Guaitil Indigenous Reserve, where we’ll discover what life is like for the tribe that calls this area home.
Our accommodation in Bagaces has thermal hot springs on site, fed by the nearby volcano, so we’ll spend our evenings relaxing and enjoying the therapeutic benefits of the mineral water!
DAY 11: RETURN FLIGHT TO THE STATES
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.
"Signing up for a Travel For Teens trip was the best decision I’ve ever made. I was a bit nervous at first about traveling by myself, and I was worried I wouldn’t make any friends. Little did I know that in just a two week time period I’d have a whole new point of view on travel, and friends that will last a lifetime. There was never once a second where I felt homesick because every day was filled with life changing experiences like working hands-on with sea turtles, ziplining, surfing, and exploring the beautiful country of Costa Rica. Our counselors were some of the sweetest, and funniest people I’ve ever met, and were super helpful in guiding us on how to be proper travelers, rather than tourists. I swear time moves quicker in Costa Rica, because those amazing two weeks were over too soon. Our group may have looked incredibly weird to the patrons in Miami Airport terminal 24 who probably do not see very many groups of 12 teenagers huddled in a crying group hug. We eventually all managed to stop crying and go our separate ways, meanwhile planning our TFT trips for the next summer. Overall I returned more confident and open than I was before going on the trip, and am counting down the days till my next trip."
"Your frequent updates saved me/us lots of worry time and made us feel like we were with our daughters on their journey; albeit one-sided (i.e. parents' side). I am certain that you were an integral part of a life-long memory to all of the girls. Thank you!"
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 and hostels 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.
Our first night we will stay in Puntarenas at a family-run hotel located right on the beach. We will be able to enjoy the swimming pool and have easy access to the ocean. The accommodation at Montezuma is a modern hotel with air conditioning. In Bagaces we will stay at an eco-hotel that has its very own hot springs fed from the nearby volcano.
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 have a hands-on experience helping protect the endangered sea turtles. This program allows them to get out of their comfort zone and give back, while also enjoying exciting activities like surf lessons and ziplining. Combining these adventure with meaningful service projects provides for a well-rounded experience.
What is unique about this program?
In addition to working with sea turtles, students will also be able to connect with the local community and volunteer at the village school. This provides an immersive experience and allows students to discover all facets of life in Costa Rica.
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!