Untamed. Unbound. Undaunted.

Wildlife Expedition in Costa Rica

Discover the wild and wonderful world of conservation in the Costa Rican rainforest.

Durations:  2 - 12 weeks

Program information

Join a team of international participants in Tortuguero National Park on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. Your hands on work will contribute to the long-term management and conservation of this stunning rainforest reserve.

undefined 31 May 2022

Included in your program

Make the most of our unique programs with these exclusively curated local adventure and wellness experiences.

Learn to pick and husk a coconut

Visit the world's oldest sea turtle research group

Meditate on the beach at sunrise

Take a jungle nightwalk and frog watch

Canoe along jungle river canals at dawn

Stargaze and learn the northern constellations

Hike an extinct volcano, Cerro Tortuguero

Visit a sustainable chocolate farm

Connect with our alumni
Want to connect with some of our past participants about their adventures? Get in touch with hundreds of friendly ambassadors all over the world who would be more than happy to answer any questions.
Testimonial bg

Tea Sirolla

19 Oct, 2021
Having finished my education about 4 months before my next step (university) I wanted to fill the time with something worth while. I knew that I wanted to travel and do something related to conservation. GVI allowed me to do both travel to a new country, Costa Rica and help with its biodiversity. With various activities, beach cleans and counting turtle eggs in the dark. Not only that, but in the month I stayed on the Jalova base I gained insight about birds, turtles, amphibians, jaguars and butterflies through trainings, surveys and the staffs enthusiasm on the topic. Having developed a fascination I have kept learning since I’ve been back home. Aside from all of this I would like to say I grew as a person; I started to understand myself better. The opportunity to emerge yourself this much in a project still feels unreal. My stay was short I must admit but that is why I’ll be going back in a few months to do a 6 month internship.

Debbie Forster

11 Aug, 2021
My daughter told me her friend had signed up to volunteer for wildlife conservation in Costa Rica and that she wanted to join. Obviously, I had a lot of questions about the safety of the trip and reliability of the organization running it. I found it very reassuring that so many resources were provided online and that she had a point of contact before leaving, so that she could gather all the information she needed to prepare. This was not the first time she had gone travelling, although I was warned that communication and connectivity would be limited at the base she was staying at. She was able to give the occasional update and had a wonderful time, as well as gaining a lot of confidence and experience. Upon returning from her trip, she has completely realigned her career goals and passions towards wildlife conservation and environmental efforts. I believe this was invaluable for her and I was confident that while she was away that if she needed help, GVI had the staff and procedures in place to support her.

Chai Hong Lim

11 Aug, 2021
I am a serial GVI volunteer, having done stints on marine conservation programmes in Mexico, Fiji and the Seychelles since 2018. This year, I decided to try a terrestrial programme instead and chose the Costa Rica wildlife conservation programme at Jalova in Tortuguero national park. I’m so glad I did - I had a fantastic, action-packed and soul-enriching time. In common with other GVI bases, the staff were passionate and eager to share their knowledge while also ensuring we volunteers had fun. The work was so rewarding - I did the 28km jagwalk: the programme’s key data gathering exercise, which looks for evidence of jaguar predation on sea turtles and also the distribution of the big cats in Tortuguero national park, one of the densest populations of the wild felids in the world. I learned so much about camera-trapping and jaguar behaviour. I also loved learning to ID the target birds, not just visually but by their calls too, so forest surveys - in flooded swamps to dense forests to night trails - were eye- and ear-opening, even if the mosquitos and swarms of other bugs were sometimes a challenge. ;-) I also went on night turtle patrols and morning nest checks - green turtle season hadn't quite started, but one morning in my last week there, we did a leatherback nest excavation (to check on hatching success) after spotting little tracks left by hatchlings - only to find a live baby turtle which was just a little slower than the others. So we had to dig a little trench on the side and bury it so it could continue to strengthen its flippers as it clambered out for the battles ahead with the waves, and also to allow it to imprint on the location and get its internal GPS aligned with the Earth's magnetic field. Utterly magic!

Jess Forster

11 Aug, 2021
I volunteered for the Wildlife Conservation project at GVI Jalova in Costa Rica for 2 weeks in 2019. It was one of the most incredible and memorable experiences of my life. I wish I had longer there, but I am now booked onto a 3 month internship in South Africa to continue my journey with GVI. During my program I saw the most amazing things, met like minded people and felt like I was making a difference. Every day was different and made me more passionate the work we were doing. I'm incredibly grateful for the GVI staff, both the remote programme staff that helped me book and prepare for my trip and the wonderfully friendly and helpful staff that lived on base, trained us and led our surveys. The base amenities and creature comforts were extremely minimal and that was actually a massive bonus, combine that with being so secluded out in the jungle and you have the opportunity to really focus on what matters. I consider my time at Jalova to be one of the best decisions I could have made, and I really look forward to being at another GVI base soon!

Lauren Hunt

11 Aug, 2021
I've travelled all over the world, but I have never lived in a place quite like this. There is nothing more immersive than waking up in the middle of a rainforest; Frogs croaking, Birds singing & Monkeys howling. What a way to wake up. From taking surveys along the river, through the rainforest & on the beach there is no better way to feel so connected to nature & knowing that you are playing a part in looking after it. The wildlife is amazing to watch & see, with their diverse colors, hypnotic melodies & intriguing footprints. There is also something to see around every corner. If you really want to feel connected to nature & feel like you are making a difference; GVI Jalova is a trip worth taking. Whether you are there for two weeks or two months, you will feel a sense of serenity whilst make life-long friends.

Mona Ourtani

11 Aug, 2021
I was on the wildlife expedition project in Jalova, Costa Rica in 2019. We had the opportunity to do different surveys in the morning and in the afternoon depending on the schedule. Our goal was to collect datas that were later sent to partners: the Sea Turtle Conservancy and Costal Jaguar and MINAE. On a typical day we would wake up early, have breakfast then go on survey: birdboat, nestcheck, forest surveys and sometimes nightwalk in the evening! The volunteers were very friendly and devoted. The staff members were very supportive, passionate and here to help! My favorite survey was night walk because we could see turtles coming out of the see and get close to them! The view was also stuning at night, the sky was full of stars. GVI allowed me to discover a whole new field and career perspective! I did 3 years of biology and chemestry at university and I am currently completing a bachelor's degree in psychology. After that, I would like to get involved even more with GVI in the conservation field and volunteer again in July for a longer period! My dream job would be to be able to work in nature and support a cause surrounding by passionate people. In Jalova we received several trainings: health care training, bird species indentification, turtle training and jaguar training. I enjoyed my first experience as a volunteer and look forward to volunteer again in July, this time in marine conservation! I would recomend to future participants to come with an open mind and train a little before coming, surveys involve many hours walking!

John Collins

27 Oct, 2020
I stayed at the Jalova base in the beautiful Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica for two months and on the Wildlife Exhibition short-term internship. The GVI staff put my mind at ease all the way through the process so I was certain I was in safe hands from the moment I booked up. Staff were there on arrival at the airport in San Jose and ensured we were checked into our hostels without a problem. I found that extremely valuable in a foreign country when arriving on my own. The knowledge and passion of the base staff was truly inspiring, they made every effort to settle us in quickly and we were soon enjoying getting our hands dirty! GVI has got the balance right for an experience like this, and in such demanding conditions too - important scientific research but also immensely fun and a great opportunity to learn and make amazing friends. I have total trust in GVI to continue delivering exceptional ethical volunteering programmes and I can’t wait for the next trip with them!

Jake Modica

14 Jan, 2020
The Jalova base camp is located in one of the Earth’s biodiversity hotspots. I could step out of my dorm to be greeted by any number of fascinating species, and always present is the camp’s resident cockerels – the colourful and charismatic Aztec kings (Montezuma orapendula) – which never fail to wake us all up at the unfortunate hour of 6am. In fact, if you were feeling lazy you would not need to leave the dorm, because you share it with a few house geckos, a stowaway bat, and the resident rafter iguana we affectionately called Trevor. I was at Jalova for a month in April, 2017, and everything I did gave me a feeling of pride and accomplishment; simply put, my time there was life changing. Foremost is accommodation, which for me was a pleasant shared dorm, with kitchen and shower facilities, all of which located on the coast of the beautiful and secluded Tortuguero National Park: don’t expect a five-star hotel, we’re here to take part in jungle, beach, and canal research as a Jalova volunteers, and not to be shown around as tourists by guides. As for ‘events and entertainment’, it would be hard to put a price on the amount of time spent canoeing and hiking the jungle, or the education that was provided by the experienced and engaging staff members. And the food? It was awesome. Everybody there cooks with an emphasis on making exceptional meals for everyone. I literally couldn’t list all of the incredible animals I saw in my month here, so I’ll give you a couple of highlights: I first saw a great curassow in a zoo and thought they were a flightless bird – our legendary boat driver Jorge spotted one for us perched in a tree, and it quickly flew to another. The forest came alive for ten minutes when our survey was interrupted by a herd of at least 25 white lipped peccary – the canopy was wild with bird calls and monkey howls until something big (perhaps a tapiir or a jaguar) scared them away. On a quiet and serene canal survey, three neotropical river otters popped up and studied us not more than five meters away from the canoe – for five seconds, before they submerged again like little furry submarines, we were in the presence of animals so shy and rare that a lot of the staff hadn’t even seen them. During a night walk (a survey where you hike the beach without torches looking for nesting turtles) we spotted a leatherback disguising a nest – we were even able to measure her before she returned to the sea. I will conclude with something a holiday cannot provide: the valuable Conservation experience and education you can gain here. I’ve been told that employers love to see voluntary work on a CV, but my month at Jalova gave more than just a nice paragraph for my CV: it gave me the frame of mind that I can actually achieve whatever I set my mind to. This new frame of mind is of course something personal to me, and everyone will have a different experience, but based on my experience I would advise anybody thinking of volunteering to go for it and join the adventure.

Ashley Otte

11 Oct, 2018
I have recently taken part in a 4-week GVI volunteer program in Costa Rica. This was my first volunteer experience and thanks to the speculator location, welcoming and friendly team and well-structured programme, it won't be my last. During my placement, I had the opportunity to make a small difference in the local community as well as building friendships and memories that will remain with me forever. The team of volunteers quickly became family, each member brought a different skill to the project, enabling everyone to contribute and get involved. I would recommend GVI to any first-time traveller and I'm looking forward to my next GVI adventure! My skills on project helped me make some mini soccer goals out of PVC piping, also some goals on the beach out of bamboo, I concreted a spinning recycling bin so it couldn't be pinched, I painted the base coat on the kindergarten room before the artists decorated it, I fixed the taps so that water flowed straight and consistent, made some new table and chairs, and a portable ping pong table

Jessica Plumb

15 Aug, 2018
After completing my undergraduate degree, I decided to spend two months as an environmental volunteer with GVI. Located in the Tortuguero National Park on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast, the research base is very isolated and only accessible by motorboat, this in itself makes for a very unique experience! All the volunteers and staff were wonderful and it was great to make new friends and work with people from different backgrounds and nationalities. It does not matter too much whether you have an environmental background as volunteers receive training in the first week. The staff were all extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic. The training week was well structured and by the end of it we all understood the work that is carried out GVI in Tortuguero and felt confident enough to go out into the field and be able to identify a wide range of wildlife for survey data. I felt that we all slipped very easily into the daily life at Jalova, carrying out Biological Assessment Surveys, Canal Bird Surveys, Track Surveys and setting up and monitoring cameras traps to name a few. GVI, unlike some other organisations, make all the data collected in the field publically available and the survey work does have a scientific purpose; the data that volunteers collect has contributed to a recent paper published in an international conservation journal: https://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid... Volunteers have the opportunity to work towards BTEC awards (at an additional cost) in biological surveying and leadership skills. In today's competitive job market, this is certainly an added bonus to be able to add these skills to your CV. This, with the gained knowledge of conservation management and first hand experience from the field, will help give me an advantage and an edge professionally. Alongside making some friends whom I hope to be in contact with for years to come, the abundance and diversity of wildlife in the area is what I most enjoyed about my work with GVI. Central American Spider Monkeys and Eyelash Palm Pit Vipers, became almost as common as seeing a Pigeon back home, yet for me, the novelty never ceased to get old! Some other highlights included seeing a Northern Tamandua, Sloths, Paca, Toucans and one of the first Leatherback turtles of the 2012 season. The cost of the trip isn't cheap, but I do feel that you get good value for money; all food and accommodation is included in the price and I was very impressed with both their in-country and home support. GVI claim that 70% is directly re-invested into their projects and I certainly have no reason to believe otherwise. I was a little nervous before going as it was the first time that I had done this sort of thing independently, but I had no need to worry. Most of the volunteers were also travelling solo and all the staff were extremely friendly. During the two months there was not a single moment when I regretted going away with GVI, and I certainly wouldn't hesitate to recommend them!

Ida Oden Uhrenius

15 Aug, 2018
Since I was a kid I have had this dream to live in the jungle. I wanted to explore the rainforest and fall asleep to the sound of wild animals. So when I started looking for something to do during my gap year between high school and medical school and came upon GVI’s Wildlife Expedition in Costa Rica, I knew instantly that that was what I wanted to do. I went for a month in April 2017 but I wish I could have stayed longer. Life in Jalova was almost completely sealed off from the rest of the world and very primitive and different from my life in Sweden. We went on surveys every day which, for example, could be walking knee deep in mud in the middle of the rainforest looking for wildlife, cruising down the canals in a canoe scanning the canopy for birds or walking 5 hours on the beach at night hoping to run in to a turtle so you could tag it and mark the nest. Every survey was different from the last and I was lucky to see a lot of amazing wild animals. Between surveys the staff and us volunteers had a lot of time to get to know each other. We played games, volleyball and laughed a lot. Even though we all came from different parts of the world we became like a family there in Tortuguero National Park.

Mark Olszowski

15 Aug, 2018
As an over-50s volunteer I approached my time in Jalova, Costa Rica with some trepidation. I knew I would love the wildlife, but how would I fit in with a bunch of gap year volunteers? Would I cope with the basic conditions after too many years of the good life? In fact in many ways I would say Jalova was ideal for more mature volunteers – as long as you don’t mind leaving home comforts behind for a few weeks. It is very isolated, and so there is a real team spirit – you have to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in. The conditions are basic, but you get used to it pretty quickly. The terrain is flat, but that doesn’t make it easy – heat, humidity, soft sand, mud, and biting insects all create challenges, but with basic fitness (and good clothing) you will be fine! Embrace the fact that the majority of staff and volunteers will be younger than you – for me they were an integral part of the experience, with varied backgrounds, a crazy sense of humour, and enormous enthusiasm…and I learned a few new card games! I never felt in any way restricted by my age. I chose this program because it promised a large variety of habitats and wildlife, all of which it delivered – turtles, jaguars, birds, invertebrates and more, with surveys on the beach, in the rainforest and along the canals (that’s me in the dark blue shirt, in case you hadn’t guessed). You get close to nature in ways which you never could as a tourist, while also contributing practically to the local wildlife conservation efforts. If you love wildlife and have the opportunity, give it a try!

Jessica Rudd

15 Aug, 2018
1) I have always wanted to volunteer with wildlife as it has always interested me greatly. I was also about to start a degree in Zoology, so I wanted a hands on experience of what my studies could lead me to. It was the best decision I ever made, and has opened up so many doors for me. 2) The reason why I chose GVI was because the organisation looked so professional, not like those many dodgy scams you may come across as a gap year student. The website and the reviews were very helpful at showing that the organisation was well lead too. Furthermore, the amount of experience and qualification offered out-competed any of the other organisations I was looking at at the time, from getting my first aid course, learning how to use a camera trap to being qualified in biological survey techniques are invaluable, especially for my studies. I was very impressed with all the documents sent out for preparing for your departure, from the kit list to the contact information, and the slides to learn in advance the canal birds we had to know how to identify for one of the surveys. 3) It is hard to choose which experience was my favorite while volunteering with GVI as there were so many. But one of the best must have been the first Jag walk I went on where I saw two jaguars out on the beach. This survey was completed once a week where a team of 6 would trek 15 miles up the beach from base to the town Tortuguero, recording all the turtles which had been predated on by jaguars, what parts had been eaten and when they had been killed. We would also count all the new nests and half moons, as well as jaguar activity on the beach by recording the presence of paw prints in the sand as well as their entry/exit points into the vegetation. We had been walking for at least two hours already when our team leader took out his binoculars from his bag, scanning the horizon for any signs of vultures which are the clue for killed turtles. He spotted some, and then to his astonishment, a jaguar coming out of the jungle! We had to refrain ourselves from jumping with excitement so we could creep up and get a better look at this amazing animal. We went from palm tree to palm tree until we got 50m away, and he still hadn't seen us, too engrossed in eating his victim, a female leatherback turtle who had almost made it back to sea after laying her eggs. We marveled at the site from our hiding spot, when all of a sudden, a second jaguar emerged from the vegetation! Tortuguero National Park is home to unique behaviour of jaguars which is has not been recorded anywhere else, where these inhabitants seem to be a lot more social then their usually solitary jaguars found elsewere. It was an experience beyond belief to have witnessed such an event, until the second jag noticed us and they both returned to the jungle. We could hardly feel the next 10 miles from all the excitement! 4) Make sure you look at all the programs offered, it took me 2 weeks just to narrow the expeditions down to 2. The kit list supplied is very useful and you do in fact pretty much need everything on it, and bring as many pairs of socks and insect repellent as possible! Living conditions are not like home, the faster you get to terms with it, the faster you enjoy sharing your dorm with more wildlife than humans. You will have an incredible experience, not only by the things you see and do, but the people you meet will become your family away from home.

Colleen Donovan

15 Aug, 2018
My GIV experience was a fantastic break for me during the winter months to advance my experience and knowledge. I researched many programs before settling on GVI, and the reason for that was direct impact. A lot of study or volunteer abroad programs are just eco-tourism programs disguised as research. I choose this particular expedition with GVI because the surveys being done in Tortuguero would not happen without GVI, and perhaps one day will facilitate a greater investment in research in the area. As a volunteer, I felt as if I was making a difference and contributing to the incidental knowledge of Tortuguero. The base camp sits alongside a critically important sea turtle nesting beach which is also home to the elusive Jaguar. As not much is known about the interactions between the two species, GVI is aiding in knowledge gathering that otherwise would not happen. As a volunteer you take part in ongoing research started and maintained by the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) during the nesting season. We also set up camera traps to monitor the jaguars in the area and collected information on how they use the beach. I took part in wildlife surveys along the canals of Tortuguero as well as the surrounding forest. This allows for a better understanding of the biodiversity of that area of Tortuguero, as there currently is no funded research being done in that particular area. There truly is a great mix of people and everyone has different reasons for going on a GVI program. I had co-volunteers who were receiving college credit, to people between jobs, or attempting a career change. Some volunteers were young, while others were older and above 30. In addition I had the chance to see amazing animals; including a jaguar far off in the distance (a rare site), several types of monkey's and elusive forest creatures (sloths!), wonderful birds such as toucans, mankins and trogans, tons of insects and notably butterflies, as well as amphibians and reptiles of the tropical rain forest. It was a unique experience that inspired me to begin pursuing my passion for conservation work. While on the expedition, I choose the optional certification in Biological Survey Techniques. This allowed me to not only have great memories, but take something back with me that can be added to my resume. My only regret is that I could not take more time off from work and stay for a longer period of time!

Josh Haley

25 Nov, 2013
Surrounded by amazing, rich and diverse rainforest is surreal. Whether its trudging knee deep in mud or working a leatherback, it is truly a rewarding and unforgettable experience!! Plus, there aren´t many opportunities to meet people from such different walks of life.

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