Justin’s Animal Rescue Volunteering in Costa Rica Recap
Animal Rescue Volunteering in Costa Rica was my first experience traveling solo and volunteering abroad. I was placed with the NGO we’re now currently working with through another placement agency for eleven weeks in Costa Rica. My initial placement was at a rescue center near Jacó Beach. I was not convinced this center was operating totally ethically (or efficiently), so I requested a transfer. The second location, in a mountainous region was run much better. This may have just been my American mentality not understanding the Costa Rican culture (remember, I was a rookie volunteer), but the NGO team was excellent in response to my request for transfer.
The work with the animals and other volunteers was an enormous amount of fun. We worked as a big team to ensure all the animals were fed and cages were clean on a daily basis. Special projects would occasionally be assigned, but if none were necessary, we would lounge by the pool or explore the waterfalls in the rain forest. We also took occasional road trips to the beach and local national parks.
As I want all potential volunteers to have an unfiltered, honest impression of volunteering on projects with our NGO partners, I’m sharing some highlights, challenges, surprises, and frustrations I experienced during my time in Costa Rica.
Seeing a sloth in the wild for the first time and becoming good friends with a spider monkey (and a few awesome humans too) were two of my biggest highlights. Hand feeding an orphaned baby squirrel wasn’t too awful either!
Adapting to the heat and humidity was my biggest challenge. Costa Rica is a very tropical place and coming from a blisteringly cold winter in Pittsburgh to the exact opposite end of the climate spectrum was a rough transition. It took me nearly 6 weeks to really acclimate.
Overcoming the language barrier. My Spanish skills are limited, so communicating with the staff members at the center who didn’t speak English was tough. But, they were incredibly friendly and we worked through it. Eventually, I could understand what was being said despite my very limited Spanish vocabulary.
Bugs. If there’s one thing in nature I truly dislike, it’s insects. The bugs in Costa Rica are, at times, overwhelming. The constant buzzing and flying into you by cicadas, vicious mosquitoes attacking any exposed skin, and having giant grasshoppers land on your back at dinner was in no way my favorite part of the experience. However, it did help me overcome of my “standard-sized” bug aversion since leaving the tropics, so that’s a silver lining!
Looking back at my time volunteering in Costa Rica, I feel like I got more out of it than I realized at the time. As my first place volunteering and first time traveling solo, my mentality going into it was more rigid than it should have been. If I had the chance to do it over, I’d relax more and have more of a “pura vida” attitude. I feel like it’d be a better situation if the human-animal interaction was a bit more limited, but overall, the experience was fantastic. The local staff was amazing (despite my lack of Spanish and their limited/no English) and the location, while very remote, is beautiful and comfortable. I definitely miss the fun and cultural experience of volunteering in Costa Rica!