When putting together your gap year travel plans you are sure to want to include plenty of intrepid activities on your itinerary. But you may also wish to spend some of your break helping other people by undertaking volunteer work – something that is easy to do in Costa Rica.
This beautiful Central American country is perfect for adventure holidays, as it has volcanoes, mountains, rainforests, lakes and rivers to explore. It is also attracting more conventional tourists in increasing numbers thanks to its stunning beaches and opportunities for water sports.
However, the growth in tourism does not mean Costa Rica is an affluent country and there are lots of places where volunteers can make a real difference. Like many of the other countries with vast areas of rain and cloud forest, conservation is a major issue here and there are also problems with poverty in some areas – so donating your time during holidays in Costa Rica will certainly prove worthwhile.
If you have an interest in ecology and conservation, you will find there are plenty of opportunities that will allow you to indulge your passion while volunteering.
Head to the area around the town of Montezuma in Puntarenas province and you will find a project dedicated to restoring an area of forest to its natural state. The work is being carried out on privately-owned land with the hope of creating a self-sustaining nature reserve that can be enjoyed for generations.
The reserve is primarily intended to be a safe haven for indigenous plant and animal species, but there are also plans to introduce some new flora and fauna to the area. The forest runs down to the coast and also includes a beach, which project leaders hope will become a protected habitat for marine life.
There is lots of work that they need volunteers for here, including clearing the beach, planting trees and working in the organic greenhouse to help cultivate the plants that will eventually fill the forest. You can stay on site during your time working at the project and you will find it is a great base for exploring the local area.
You can enjoy surfing and snorkelling on the coast, sample the nightlife in Montezuma or take a trip to the beautiful Absolute Reserva Cabo Blanco, where you will be able to see monkeys in their natural habitat.
If wildlife is your passion, you may want to spend your time in Costa Rica working at a turtle conservation project. The country’s marine turtles have become endangered due to both a change in their habitat and the impact of poachers who prize their eggs.
There are a host of schemes in coastal areas designed to help save the turtle, but with no government funding available, they rely on volunteers. The projects have enjoyed some success in increasing the number of young turtles that make it to the sea, but they still need help clearing beaches, patrolling nesting areas to deter poachers and maintaining the hatcheries.
As the turtle conservation schemes are all based near beaches, you will be able to spend your free time working on your tan, enjoying some water sports or heading inland to explore the forests and mountains.
There are also opportunities to help the local people, such as the Fundacion para la Vivienda Rural Costa Rica-Canada programme. This project is designed to support impoverished rural communities by building high-quality homes and social infrastructure.
The intention is not that the homes should be constructed merely as a charitable gesture – and the families who are to live in the completed houses are expected to help build them – but to help improve the quality of life and economic prospects in the area for the long term.
As these can be huge construction projects and are often undertaken without the help of modern machinery, they are very labour intensive and there is an ongoing need for volunteers to complete tasks such as digging foundations, laying floors, mixing cement and carrying materials.
There are few more direct ways to assist families in poverty than by helping them to build a home and you are certain to find it a rewarding experience. But there is no reason why you should not also have some fun during your Costa Rica holiday and choose a building site near San Ramon where you will be able to explore the cloud forest, work on your tan on a Pacific coast beach and enjoy the city’s vibrant nightlife.