Under
18

Unearthing New Experiences

Rainforest and Wildlife Conservation Teen Volunteering in Costa Rica

Live with other teens on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast while learning about rainforest conservation.

Durations: 2 weeks
Fieldwork hours20 hrs of fieldwork per week
Participant ratio1:6 staff to participant ratio
Free parent consultation

Program information

Get ready for the adventure of a lifetime in Costa Rica! Work alongside our local partners to champion sea turtle conservation, aid in coastal cleanups and engage in community recycling projects. You’ll also learn about sustainable farming practices and engage in cultural exchange initiatives. With GVI, every experience is an opportunity to create lasting impact and unforgettable memories.

Under 18s brochure

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Overview
Dates & Prices
Itinerary
What's Included
Speak to alumni
Arrivals &
Flights
Your Impact
publications
Our Ethics
Program ethics
Qualifications & Training Options
Parent Info
Support & Safety

Program overview

In the heart of Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, teens aged 15 to 17 come together for an unforgettable experience. With its lush jungle and stunning beaches, Gandoca sets the stage for an adventure like no other. Our focus is on making a real impact – whether it’s preserving sea turtles, cleaning up coastlines or supporting sustainable farming. Come join our Gandoca crew and contribute to meaningful change!

Teens on this program actively participate in sea turtle nesting projects and contribute to beach cleanups, sustainable farming initiatives and recycling projects.

Throughout this program, teens will receive training, guidance and support from world-class leaders in the field, carefully chosen for their expertise and ability to inspire and mentor young people. This hands-on experience will help participants develop valuable skills such as intercultural competency, teamwork, resilience, self-awareness, and leadership – essential qualities for their future college applications and employability.

In July and August, be ready for long, sunny days. You might encounter some local wildlife like insects and bats, but it’s all part of the adventure. Mosquito repellent will come in handy. Keep in mind, sometimes luxuries like warm water and electricity might be unavailable, but it’s all part of the authentic experience of living in this beautiful place!

GVI has been running ethical and responsible programs for under 18s since 2012. We prioritise health and safety, going the extra mile for our younger participants. We’re proud to meet British Standards 8848. With over a decade’s experience in Costa Rica, we’re dedicated to locally-led projects that prioritise community needs, long-term involvement and local capacity-building.

Upon arrival at their destination, all teen participants are met by a GVI staff member. They offer continuous support throughout their program, ensuring their safety and well-being every step of the way.

 

Highlights

Sea turtle conservation

The opportunity to get involved in different parts of the nesting process and conduct hands-on sea turtle research.

Experience the rainforest

Observe Costa Rican wildlife in their natural habitat. Species may include sea turtles, monkeys, amphibians and neo-tropical birds.

Epic adventures

Set off on an incredible adventure with fellow thrill-seekers, exploring mind-blowing destinations and creating unforgettable memories.

Change the world

Take part in hands-on conservation projects, guided by inspiring mentors and championing the United Nations’ sustainability goals.

Discover new cultures

Immerse yourself in different cultures,  indulge in local flavours and connect with a worldwide crew of fellow changemakers and adventurers.

A force for good

Be a part of a program that’s all about ethics and sustainability, working on projects that create a lasting positive impact on the world.

Unleash your potential

Develop crucial life skills, expand your horizons, and help tackle global challenges within a nurturing and empowering learning environment.

A secure journey

We’re dedicated to the highest standards of health and safety, ensuring you a worry-free and protected adventure at every twist and turn.

 

Activities

Educational lagoon tour

Learn about the mangrove ecosystem’s importance in combating climate change. Identify biodiversity within the lagoon ecosystem.

Beach cleanup

Contribute to coastal restoration efforts and learn about recycling initiatives. Gain insights into the impact of consumerism and environmental practices.

Sea turtle conservation patrols

Assist in monitoring turtle nesting and relocating nests to protect them. Discuss evolving indigenous attitudes towards turtle conservation.

Visit an organic farm

Tour a local cacao farm, exploring sustainable farming practices. Understand the benefits and challenges of organic agriculture.

Mangrove reforestation

Plant mangrove seeds and discuss their environmental benefits. Research and present findings on mangrove ecosystems.

Recycling project

Participate in local recycling initiatives and discuss environmental issues. Compare local attitudes towards recycling with those in your home country.

Community organic gardens

Help create organic gardens to promote food accessibility and education. Assist in educating students about sustainable farming practices.

Spanish classes

Learn basic Spanish phrases and discuss language privilege. Reflect on language barriers and their impact on communities.

Cultural awareness workshops

Learn about Afro-Caribbean and indigenous cultures in Gandoca. Reflect on personal cultural experiences and perceptions.

Cooking class

Prepare traditional Costa Rican dishes with locally sourced ingredients. Discuss the importance of sustainable food practices.

Visit the Sepecue community

Travel by boat to Talamanca Bribri Indigenous Territory, home to Costa Rica’s second-largest indigenous population. 

Sustainable agricultural tour

Experience farm-to-table dining and learn about organic agriculture. Understand the connection between sustainable farming and environmental conservation.

Waterfall hike

Discover a secluded waterfall and enjoy nature-inspired activities. Appreciate the beauty of Costa Rica’s wilderness.

Hike through wildlife refuge

Embark on a full-day hike from Gandoca to Mazanillo, through lush jungles and pristine beaches. Spot monkeys, sloths and diverse wildlife along the way.

Beach time

Relax and explore the tranquil beaches of Manzanillo. Reflect on the importance of indigenous communities to the region’s environment and culture.

Gandoca rainforest hike

Explore Gandoca’s secondary forest on a 3-hour hike, where you could see poison dart frogs, monkeys, birds and snakes.  

Visit the National Museum

Learn about Costa Rica’s history and cultural heritage. Reflect on your trip experiences and perceptions of the country.

 

At the end of the program you’ll receive a professional reference from your program manager. You’ll also have the option of earning a certificate endorsed by the University of Richmond if you choose to complete our Leading Teams for Impact online course.

Program details

Dates and prices

Select a start date:

This is summer!

Chase that feeling! Save up to 15% on selected programs.

Book and pay by 31 July to claim offer.
Payment plans. Flexible payment plans allow you to pay in instalments.

What happens next?

Once you apply, a personal Enrollment Manager will be assigned to walk you through the rest of the process.

Itinerary

The following itinerary is an example of the activities and project work that participants might get involved in on this program. More specific details of the program are finalised several months before each start date.

Day 1

Hola, amigo! After settling into your homestay, you’ll get a health & safety briefing, be trained on how to work with turtles, and learn some key Spanish phrases.

Day 2

Take a tour of Gandoca! After exploring the jungles and beaches, meet the community and learn more about the region’s Afro-Caribbean culture.

Day 3

Take a boat tour of the lagoon and mangroves, learning more about the animals that live there and why this wetland ecosystem is so important.

Day 4

A big day! First up, you'll learn some more Spanish while cooking traditional Costa Rican tamales. Then off to the beach: to clean up plastic pollution and look for nesting turtles!

Day 5

Tour a local organic cacao farm. Then another Spanish lesson, before we head back to the beach to monitor turtle nests and protect hatchlings.

Day 6

Start the day at the lagoon, collecting and planting mangrove seeds for a reforestation project. Then help out at the community recycling program and learn the principle of “reduce, reuse, recycle”.

Day 7

Work alongside community members in their organic garden, where greens are harvested for free school lunches. After practising your Spanish, head to the beach for turtle surveillance!

Day 8

Travel by boat to Talamanca Bribri Indigenous Territory, a forested area in the foothills of the Talamanca mountain range which is home to the second-largest Indigenous population in Costa Rica.

Day 9

Spend the day with a Bribri elder and his family; touring the community, playing cultural games, and sharing traditional stories around the fire.

Day 10

Travel to Finca la Subversiva, an organic farm, where you will have a complete farm-to-table dining experience. After lunch, we’ll hike to a secluded waterfall to swim and play games.

Day 11

Hike from Gandoca to Mazanillo through one of Costa Rica’s most biodiverse jungles and along the Caribbean coast’s pristine beaches. Expect to see monkeys, sloths and a variety of reptiles and birds.

Day 12

Our last night in Gandoca! After looking for as many wild and wonderful jungle animals as we can on a morning hike, it’s time to greet your hosts. Can you thank them for their hospitality in Spanish?

Day 13

We’re off to Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve, which has one of the highest concentrations of raptors in the world. You might also encounter raccoons, sloths, iguanas and basilisks.

Day 14

Adios, amigos! After a morning at Costa Rica's national history museum in San Jose, reflect on the friends you’ve made and the lessons you’ve learned before your flight home.

What’s included?

What's included
General
Food
Safe and basic accommodation (usually shared)
Airport pick up (unless stated)
All project equipment
24-hour in-country support from local staff
24-hour emergency desk
Activities
Sustainable project work
Data collection and research
DofE Residential activity provider
Pre-program training
Pre-departure webinar
Pre-departure training (online)
University of Richmond endorsed leadership course
Welcome training
GVI welcome presentation
Health & safety
Local culture & environment
UN SDGs
Impact & ethics
Child protection
Career services
PDF reference
Certificates
Program certificate
University certificate – specialisation (University of Richmond)
PVSA certificate
What's excluded
Not included
Flights
International and domestic airport taxes
Medical and travel insurance
Visa costs
Police or background check
Personal items and toiletries
Additional drinks and gratuities

Speak to alumni

If you’d like to find out what the experience of joining a GVI project is really like, simply contact us and we’ll put you in touch with one of our many Alumni.

We’ll try to match you to an Alum based on your location, nationality, age, stage of academic career, gender, and program interests. This allows you to gain insights into the experience that is most relevant to you.

Depending on your location you might be able to speak to an Alum over the phone or online, or meet up with them face-to-face at a coffee shop nearby. We also run a series of small events around the world where you can speak to GVI Alumni, Ambassadors and staff members.

Get a first-hand perspective

Meet us

Arrivals

We meet you at the airport.

When it comes to support, we ensure that each participant is provided with unparalleled, 360 degree support, from your initial contact with the GVI Family, all the way through your program, and even after, as you become part of the GVI Alumni Team.

As part of this promise, we will ensure, whenever possible, that one of our dedicated staff will be available to meet you at the airport. In most locations, we also set up a Whatsapp group to help with managing airport arrivals.

We will arrange with you prior to your departure that, should you arrive in the agreed upon pick up window, a member of our staff will be there to welcome you, easily identifiable in a GVI t-shirt or holding a GVI sign and wearing a friendly smile.

This means there will be someone there to greet you as you land, and from there you will be transported to your GVI base to start your adventure and meet the rest of your team.

Flights

Find your flights with our partner, Student Universe.
Flights are not included in your program fee
Visit Student Universe

Please note that if you use this service delivered by Student Universe and / or if you buy your ticket through this portal you are agreeing to the Student Universe Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions. Your agreement regarding flights will be between you and Student Universe or as per their terms and conditions.

As GVI is providing this portal as a service we are not responsible for the accuracy of this site.

We are also not responsible for any loss, damage (including loss of profits or consequential damages), injury, illness, harm or death in relation to your flight and travel arrangements.

Your Impact

All of our programs have short-, mid- and long-term objectives that align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). This enables us to report on our collaborative impact across the world in a streamlined manner, measuring which UN SDGs we are making a substantial contribution to. Furthermore, this will help our local partners and communities measure and visualise their contribution to the UN SDGs.

Prior to your arrival on base, you will be educated about the UN SDGs. Then once you arrive on base, you’ll learn about the specific goals we have in this particular location, our various objectives, and also clarification of how your personal, shorter-term involvement contributes to these.

Our aim is to educate you on local and global issues, so that you continue to be an active global citizen after your program, helping to fulfil our mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.

Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve is a key area for many interlinked conservation efforts as it is home to several species including:

 

  • Jungle cats like pumas and ocelots. 
  • Peregrine falcons and plumbeous kites Kekoldi is the third most concentrated area for migratory raptors in the world.
  • Thousands of tropical bird, reptile and amphibian species.
  • Species like sloths, tamanduas and kinkajou.

 

Rainforest biodiversity surveys

We assist the Kekoldi Reserve science team with biological assessment surveys of the three major habitat and forest types in the reserve. We note a wide range of species on our surveys, including the rain frog, red-eyed treefrog, three species of toucan, spider monkey, mantled howler monkey, white-lipped peccary, eyelash palm pit viper and Baird’s tapir (although these are very elusive, so no promises!) Staff and participants walk marked paths in the forest, noting sightings, tracks and vocalisations. Only species identified with 100% certainty can be recorded. The data is shared with KIR, who uses a standardised methodology to monitor the condition of each trail over time. This helps them to understand the health of the local environment and whether their current conservation efforts are working.

Sea Turtle Research

We assist Turtle Rescue Cahuita (TRC) with sea turtle research and protection by patrolling the beach and assisting in hatchery opportunities – using internationally recognised protocols – during turtle nesting and hatching season. The prime time for turtle sightings, including green, hawksbill and leatherbacks, is April/May. For observing adult turtles, March to May is ideal, while May to August offers the best chance to see eggs and hatchlings.

To participate in the turtle project, you’ll need a good pair of rubber boots, thick socks and dark-coloured, long-sleeved, lightweight clothing.

From March to August a team walks the beach each night looking for nesting sea turtles. Depending on the time of year, you might not see a single turtle, or you might see multiple turtles in one night. When a turtle is encountered, different kinds of research activities might be carried out, depending on what stage of the nesting process she is in emerging from the sea, selecting a nest site, digging a body pit, digging her egg chamber to lay her eggs, covering her egg chamber, disguising her nest, or returning to sea. This might include checking for distinctive markings to see if she’s been to the beach before and making a note for future researchers if she returns, tagging her flippers, measuring her carapace, counting her eggs, marking her nest, or checking for abnormalities in the mother turtle or eggs. You might also determine whether any eggs have hatched, been eroded by the sea, been attacked by predators (like raccoons, white-nosed coatis or ghost crabs), or been poached by humans. This information is used to investigate whether any areas of the beach are more susceptible to nest loss. 

Hatched nests are excavated to determine hatchling success and survival rates, the reason for losses in egg development, and the actual status of the nests, including whether or not they were partially or fully poached.

Wild Cat Population And Predation Research

Kekoldi is home to several endangered or vulnerable wild jungle cat species – including ocelot, margay, puma and jaguarundi.

Our research assists reserve authorities and conservation teams to determine the population sizes of each cat species, map out the territoriality of individual cats within each of those species, and identify the availability of prey species in the area and the subsequent effect on feeding behaviour. Direct observations of these elusive animals can be difficult, but the use of remote observation techniques like camera trapping has proven very successful in surveying and monitoring wild cats across large areas of forest.

Bird Research

Kekoldi boasts the world’s third-largest concentration of migratory raptors, with 4.6 million counted from a single point. Notably, it’s a key migration spot for peregrine falcons and plumbeous kites.

We partner with Kekoldi Hawkwatch, studying raptors and predation in the reserve. Monitoring predator health yields crucial data on ecosystem vitality, environmental shifts and guides conservation efforts. Situated within the Talamanca-Caribbean Biological Corridor, the Hawkwatch site offers panoramic views of the biodiverse surroundings, including 59 mammal species, 43 amphibians and over 400 bird species. They’re the second-largest Hawkwatch in the Americas, dedicated to preserving their 6,000 ha sanctuary and educating visitors on conservation importance.

Our work with Kekoldi Hawkwatch takes place during migration season (approx. mid-Feb to mid-May and early Sep to end-Nov) for conducting migration counts.    

Project objectives

 

GVI Kekoldi’s Long-term Objectives:

1. Increase scientific knowledge of Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve.

2. Increase awareness of the ecological value of the Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve.

3. Build local capacity to support long-term conservation of biodiversity and sustainable community development in Costa Rica.

4. Minimise our environmental impact on Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve and raise awareness of environmental issues amongst participants and visitors.

Publications

The best decisions in international development and conservation cannot be made without accurate and up-to-date data or informed research. Our many field teams around the world collaborate with local and international partners to analyse data and draw conclusions. In addition, many of our participants have used research they have collected on their various GVI projects to complete their Masters, Doctorate, or postdoctoral studies. We also run a fellowship program which connects postdoctoral researchers at globally-respected universities with our many sustainable development programs around the world to support their research and ensure continuous improvement of our best practices on base.

All of our publications are on Google Scholar
Google Scholar
View publications
Precipitous decline of white-lipped peccary populations in Mesoamerica
Scientific Publication
2020
Author(s)
D. Thornton, et al.
GVI Costa Rica Jalova Annual Achievement Report
Annual Report
2019
Author(s)
Stephanny Arroyo Arce and Ian Thomson
Coastal Jaguar Conservation Annual Achievement Report
Achievement Report
2018
Author(s)
Stephanny Arroyo Arce, Ian Thomson
‘Ecotourism overflow: local implications of restrictive conservation management.’
Conference Poster
2009

XXIII Mesoamerican society for Biology and conservation Symposium, Belize

Author(s)
Sarah Durose, David Jones, Rebeca Chaverri
‘Jaguar predation on marine turtles: multilateral threats on flagship species.’
Conference Poster
2009

International Sea Turtle Symposium

Author(s)
David Jones, Diogo Verisimio, Rebeca Chaverri
‘Priceless Monitoring without cost:the significance of incidental detection of species in conservation efforts.’
Conference
2010

Mesoamerican Society for Biology and Conservation Symposium

Author(s)
David Jones, Diogo Verisimio, Rebeca Chaverri
‘Accumulation and Changes in Species found within the Southern end of Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica, for the past 7 years.’
Scientific Publication
2017

Mesoamericana – Revista Oficial de la Sociedad Mesoamericana para la Biologia y la Conservacion

Author(s)
Brett Megan & Hawkins Victoria
‘Social Dynamics of Jaguar Population in the National Park Tortuguero, Costa Rica.’
Scientific Publication
2017

Mesoamericana – Revista Oficial de la Sociedad Mesoamericana para la Biologia y la Conservacion

Author(s)
Stephanny Arroyo-Arce1, Ian Thomson1, Danny Guy2, Grace Walburn2Salom-Pérez3
‘Impact of Jaguar’s Predation on the Population of Sea Turtles in the Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica.’
Scientific Publication
2017

Mesoamericana – Revista Oficial de la Sociedad Mesoamericana para la Biologia y la Conservacion

Author(s)
Ian Thomson1, Stephanny Arroyo-Arce1, Danny Guy2, Grace Walburn2, Roberto Salom-Pérez3
‘Population dynamic between Coastal jaguars (Panthera Oca), sea turtles and nest predators in Tortuguero Costa Rica.’
Field Report

28th International Sea turtle Symposium

Author(s)
Stephany Butera, Jaime Restrepo
‘Playa Norte Marine Turtle Conservation & Monitoring Programme.’
Field Report
2008

Leatherback season report 2009

Author(s)
Stephanny Arroyo Arce David Aneurin Jones
‘Playa Norte Marine Turtle Conservation & Monitoring Programme.’
Field Report
2008

Playa Norte Green Leatherback season Report 2008

Author(s)
Wing Tsui, Diogo Veríssimo, David Jones & Rebeca Chaverri
‘Playa Norte Marine Turtle Conservation & Monitoring Programme.’
Field Report
2008

Playa Norte Green Season Report 2008

Author(s)
Wing Tsui, Diogo Veríssimo, David Jones & Rebeca Chaverri
‘Feeding habits of the jaguar Panthera onca (Carnivora: Felidae) in Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica.’
Scientific Publication
2018

Tropical Biology

Author(s)
Stephanny Arroyo-Arce1*, 2, Ian Thomson1, Kat Cutler3 & Stephanie Wilmott3
‘First record of jaguar (Panthera onca) predation on a loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) in Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica’
Scientific Publication
2017

Herpetology Notes

Author(s)
Stephanny Arroyo-Arce1,*, Ian Thomson1, Emma Harrison2, Stephanie Wilmott3 and Grant Baker3
‘First record of Puma concolor (Carnivora:Felidae) in Tortuguero National Park.’
Scientific Publication
2014

Brenesia

Author(s)
Stephanny Arroyo-Arce1 & Roberto Salom-Pérez3
‘Volunteering for conservation: You are the difference’
Conference Poster
2010

Volunteering for conservation: You are the difference

Author(s)
Diogo Verissimo, Sara Calcada, David Jones
‘Accumulation and changes in species found withing the Southern end of Trotugeuro National Park, Costa Rica for the past 6 years.’
Conference Poster
2016

Mesoamerican Society for Biology and Conservation Symposium Belize 2016

Author(s)
Megan Brett
‘Effects of weather events on incubation periods in green sea turtles in Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica.’
Conference Poster
2017

37th Annual symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation

Author(s)
Alejandra Carvallo
‘King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) scavenging at green turtle (Chelonia mydas) carcasses in Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica.’
Scientific Publication
2016

Vulture News

Author(s)
Stephanny Arroyo-Arce1*, Ian Thomson1 & Kat Cutler
‘Six years of conservation efforts in the South of Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica’
Popular Scientific
2016

36th Annual symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation

Author(s)
Alejandra Carvallo
‘Impact of jaguar Panthera onca (Carnivora: Felidae) predation on marine turtle populations in Tortuguero, Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.’
Scientific Poster
2015

Revistar de Biologia Tropical

Author(s)
Stephanny Arroyo-Arce1,2* & Roberto Salom-Pérez3
‘Habitat features influencing jaguar Panthera onca (Carnivora: Felidae) occupancy in Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica.’
Scientific Poster
2014

Rev. Biol. Trop

Author(s)
Stephanny Arroyo-Arce1*, James Guilder2 & Roberto Salom-Pérez
‘Relacion depredador-presa: depredacion de jaguar sobre presas terrestres y tortugas marinas, Parque Nacional Tortuguero’
Scientific Poster
2014

IV congreso Mesoamericano de Areas Protegidas

Author(s)
Stephanny Arroyo-Arce, Ian Thompson, Frank Spooner, Mariliana Leotta, Katherine Cutler
‘Comparaciones en tecnicas de valoracion de la Biodiversidad en el Parque Nacional Tortuguero.’
Scientific Poster
2014

IV congreso Mesoamericano de Areas Protegidas

Author(s)
Heather Jane Gilbert, Frank Spooner, Michael Park
‘Jaguar Panthera onca predation of marine turtles: conflict between flagship species in Tortuguero, Costa Rica.’
Journal Article
2012

Fauna & Flora International, Oryx

Author(s)
D. Veríssimo, D. A. Jones, R. Chaverri And S. R. Meyer
‘Observaciones de la avifauna en el area de Jalova en el anyo 2010 en el Parque Nacional Tortuguero.’
Scientific Report
2011

Zeledonia, Boletin de la Asociacion Ornitologica de Costa Rica

Author(s)
Jonathan Groom
‘Jaguar (Panthera onca) activity on the beach of Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica.’
Thesis
2011

Bachelor thesis

Author(s)
Erik Rosendahl
‘The aquatic avifauna of Tortuguero: the findings of GVI Costa Rica, 2007-2009’
Conference Poster
2010

Mesoamerican Society for Biology and Conservation Symposium

Author(s)
Richard Bull, Stephanny Arroyo Arce, David Jones and Rebeca Chaverri

Our Ethics

Below is a list of core ethics and best practices we believe are essential to the operation of high quality, ethical volunteer and sustainable development programs. We believe that all responsible volunteer and sustainable development operations should focus upon these principles. If you are considering volunteering, these are some of the key considerations you should question, to ensure that your time and money contributes towards positive change.

 

We want to constantly develop our own understanding of ethical best practice. In so doing, we aim to provide an exemplary industry standard for other education institutions, international development organisations, and social enterprises. Our Badge of Ethics stands for the drive to always do good, better. Find out more, click on the Badge below.