Costa Rica Leatherback Turtle Volunteer Vacation
Spend 4 nights working with giant leatherback turtles at a research station along the northern Caribbean coast. Patrol nesting beaches at night and relax and explore the rainforest during the day. The turtle work includes helping to measure the turtles, collect the eggs and move them to hatcheries, and working with hatchlings. Spend the downtime hanging out on the beach or in a hammock, helping to clean the beach, or exploring the surrounding area. This trip is open to individuals and small groups. Profits from this trip will help to save at least 100 hatchlings at a turtle nesting beach per participant.
2018 Dates: May 5-11 / June 11-17 (3 registered)
Private dates available March - June for groups of 2 or more.
2018 Price: $1,495 per person for the dates above. Minimum of 4 registered travelers needed to confirm the dates.
Cost for private trips depend on total number of people:
- 2-3 people: $1,795 per person
- 4-5 people: $1,495 per person
- 6+ people: $1,395 per person
- Additional discounts available for private groups of 9 or more
Includes: In-country transport, meals, lodging, activities, guides, and a donation to turtle conservation.
Excludes: Airfare to Costa Rica, personal items, and tips for the guides.
- Individuals can join the set dates above.
- Private dates available for groups of 2 or more March through June and the itinerary can be customized to fit your group's needs.
- Minimum recommended age is 8 years old, under 18 needs to be accompanied by an adult.
- Group size is limited to 15 people maximum.
Contact us to:
- Request private dates
- Ask a question
- Register by mail
- Call us at 800-215-0378 to register by phone
DAY 1 - ARRIVE TO COSTA RICA
Fly into San Jose International Airport (SJO) anytime on the first scheduled day. Our guides pick you up from the airport and take you to Rosa del Paseo, a comfortable hotel in downtown San Jose. If you arrive early enough for dinner, the hotel will prepare a buffet of local dishes. Get a good night’s sleep tonight, as the adventure starts early the next day. (Dinner is not included in the trip price and costs roughly US $10 at the hotel.)
DAY 2 - LEATHERBACK RESEARCH
Wake up with a delicious Costa Rica breakfast buffet of eggs, gallo pinto (their famous breakfast rice and beans), fresh tropical fruit, and more. After breakfast, board your private bus for a 4 hour ride to the Caribbean. You’ll pass through the country’s largest national park (Braulio Carillo) along the continental divide and then descend into the Caribbean lowlands. The roads pass through pineapple and banana plantations and farms along the way.
The bus will drop your group at a small dock along the Tortuguero canals, where a boat will meet you to take you to the turtle research station. The boat ride to the station passes through rainforest, so keep your eyes out for monkeys, sloths, toucans, and more along the way. Once you arrive, settle into your cabin and later, the researchers will give a presentation on sea turtles and a training. After dinner, you will head out for your first night of patrolling for leatherbacks!
Please note: The station is fairly remote and isolated. The rooms are very basic and volunteers are expected to participate in cleaning up dishes after meals. The station has limited electricity, no hot water, and no internet. Bathrooms are shared. Meals are basic and often include a meat like chicken or beef along with rice and beans, cabbage salad, and plantains. The station is in the rainforest, which can mean insects in the rooms (mosquito nets are provided).
DAYS 3 - 5: TURTLE RESEARCH
For the next three nights, you will spend four hours each night walking the nesting beach in search of the giant leatherbacks. Tasks involved in the research include measuring the turtles length and width (no small task with a giant leatherback!), moving the eggs to a hatchery (where they are protected), and observing the condition of the turtles, looking for scars or injuries.
From mid-May to June, you will have a chance to work with hatchlings, helping to do some basic research (measuring and weighing them) and then releasing them to the water. See the next page for a detailed description of the turtle research and the following for more information on leatherback sea turtles. Green turtles occasionally nest late in the season as well.
During the day, there is plenty of downtime to catch up on sleep, read a book, walk along the beach. We do not recommend swimming at this beach however, due to strong ocean currents that can be dangerous. Planned daytime activities include a boat ride on the rainforest canals to look for wildlife including birds, sloths, monkeys, & caiman.
DAY 6 - CENTRAL VALLEY
This morning, pack up your belongings and after breakfast, catch the boat back to the dock to meet your bus and driver. We will head back inland to the Sarapiqui region to visit Jardin Pierella, a unique butterfly farm to learn about these fascinating insects and other wildlife (2 hour drive). You will see hundreds of butterflies, poison dart frogs, giant walking sticks, and likely sloths and other wildlife. The wonderful family who runs this farm will prepare a delicious traditional lunch.
After lunch, we’ll board our bus again and return over the forested continental divide to San Jose. Head to bed early to be awake in time to go to the airport for your flight the next day or feel free to extend your trip. (Dinner not included this night).
DAY 7 - DEPARTURE
Return home with a new appreciation for the hard work of conservation and to share your experiences. You will be taken to the airport in plenty of time to catch your flight. Remember to pay your airport exit tax (US $29) upon arrival to San Jose International Airport.
"A well-run and unforgettable trip! For any one who is looking to make a difference in conservation, explore a new culture, and/ or go on an adventure in the process, then this trip is for you." - Noelle R.
Is This Trip Right For Me?
Costa Rica is a safe and beautiful country that receives more than 1 million international tourists annually. This trip goes off the beaten path for 4 nights at the rustic and remote Las Tortugas Research Station. This is an active trip that requires a level of physical fitness and an ability to manage sometimes challenging conditions including weather and heat, bugs, and a schedule that can affect sleeping patterns. Electricity at the station is limited (solar panels) which means no air conditioning or hot water, there is no access to wifi or cell phone service, and meals are simple and basic and vegetarians can be accommodated.
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Photo credits: Neil Ever Osborne, Hal Brindley