Costa Rica Leatherback Turtle Volunteer Vacation
Will I love This Holiday?
Travel Style: Volunteer
Cost: $1,495 USD ex flights
Length: 7 days
Physical Rating: Active
Right For: Solo, small groups, & families, and teens. (Private trips available)
Children: 16-yrs+ (under 18-years with adult)
What: Volunteer Holiday Sea turtle data gathering, preparing nesting beaches.
Group Size: Small (max 16)
1. Help Gather Information About a Giant: Work with a local conservation organization to help gather data for the biggest sea turtle, Leatherback - they average more than 6 ft long 800 pounds!
2. Exciting Night life: Patrol the beach where the leatherback comes to nest.
3. Be Part of the Team: Work and live at a real research facility.
4. Making a Difference: This beach used to be a prime leatherback turtle poaching area, now, with the beach protected poaching has dropped to less than 5% of what it was. Being there helps turtles survive.
5. Birds, Primates and Butterflies: The grounds around the research center have regular visitors including: Toucans, howler monkeys and, Blue morph butterflies. Keep your camera ready!
6. Visit an (amazing!) Butterfly Farm: Run by a local family who invites you to a delicious traditional lunch! You may see a sloth, poison dart frog, tropical birds, and giant walking sticks, too!
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.
We started [this company] in 2008 to encourage travelers to visit turtle conservation projects where their visit will make a difference in efforts to protect these endangered creatures and this has been our most popular tour. With the help of travelers like you, we have generated more than $1 million for turtle conservation and local communities and have helped to save more than 1 million baby turtles at important nesting beaches.
This company was the world's first effort to protect sea turtles through (community based) ecotourism. Originally fiscally-sponsored by the Ocean Foundation and most recently Oceanic Society, it is now an independent 501c3 non-profit. Their programs provide support for important turtle nesting beaches and has helped save more than 1 million hatchlings. They are also responsible for the creation of a campaign working to end the demand for turtle shell products. School programs help teachers and students learn about these incredible animals and how to protect them.
DAY 1 - ARRIVE TO COSTA RICA
Start your leatherback adventure by arriving to 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. Get a good night’s sleep tonight, as the adventure starts early the next day. (Dinner the first is not included)
DAY 2 - LEATHERBACK RESEARCH
Today you will head out to the Caribbean coast to stay at a remote research station in the rainforest. First, wake up with a delicious Costa Rica breakfast buffet of eggs, gallo pinto (their famous breakfast rice and beans), fresh tropical fruit, delicious coffee, and more. After breakfast, board the private bus for a 4 hour ride to the Caribbean coast. You’ll pass through the country’s largest national park and then descend to the Caribbean lowlands.
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 research station. The short boat ride 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 the more than a decade of work that has gone into protecting this nesting beach. After dinner, you will head out for your first night of patrolling, accompanied by researchers who will guide you along the beach, spot the turtles, and help with the data collection. (B, L, D)
**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 basic and semi-private (shared between two rooms). Meals are simple 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. Years of hard work protecting these turtles has resulted in increases in nests in the Caribbean and the leatherback was downlisted from critically endangered to vulnerable in 2013. But despite this success, their numbers are still declining and protecting their nesting beaches is vital to their long-term survival.
The first thing you notice when a leatherback is nesting is their giant tracks, which look like a monster truck has driven up the beach. Tasks involved in the research include measuring the turtles’ length and width (no small task with a giant turtle!), moving the eggs to a hatchery (where they are protected until hatching), 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) and releasing them to the water. Green turtles also occasionally nest late in the season.
During the day, there is plenty of downtime to catch up on sleep, read a book, or 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 and a beach cleanup activity (even remote beaches have trash wash ashore). (B, L, D)
DAY 6 - CENTRAL VALLEY
This morning after breakfast, you will catch the boat back to meet your bus. Along the way back to San Jose, you will visit Jardin Pierella, a unique butterfly farm, to learn about these fascinating insects and other wildlife. 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 a final group dinner on the town, head to bed early to be awake in time to go to the airport for your flight the next day. Overnight at Rosa del Paseo. (B, L, D)
DAY 7 - DEPARTURE
Return home with a new appreciation for the hard work of conservation and to share your experiences or extend your stay and explore other parts of this beautiful country. You will be taken to the airport in plenty of time to catch your flight. (B)
What to Expect
Dates: May 19-25 (7 spots left) & June 9-15 (4 spots left)
Costs: $1,495 USD per person
Private trips available from March to June, cost depend on group size:
2-3 people: $1,795 USD per person
4+ people: $1,495 USD per person
Discounts available for private groups of 8 or more
$80 discount for paying by check
Includes: In-country transport, meals, lodging, activities, guides, and a donation to turtle conservation.
Excludes: Airfare to Costa Rica, personal items, airport exit costs, and tips for the guide and driver.
► Individuals can join the set dates above.
► Minimum recommended age is 8 years old, under 18 needs to be accompanied by an adult.
► Group size is limited to 12 people maximum.
► We are not able to organize day trips or overnight stays to this station.
La Rosa del Paseo
Located in downtown San Jose on Paseo Colon, La Rosa del Paseo is a charming small hotel that is close to many city landmarks. The hotel is part of Costa Rica’s Certification for Sustainable Tourism for its standards of reducing energy and waste.
Las Tortugas Research Station
In 2000 Stanley Rodriguez, founded Estación Las Tortugas (The Turtle Station) in an effort to help save the population of sea turtles that visited Mondonguillo Beach. This beach lies between the Mondonguillo Lagoon in the north, bordering with the Pacuare Nature Reserve, and the Urpiano Lagoon in the south, bordering with the Urpiano Lagoon Turtle Project. The beach protected consists of three kilometres of land, and the station is located about 25 kilometers (as the crow flies) north of Limon, on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica.
The area where the actual station is situated today was a coconut plantation and the beach was a poacher hideout where all the turtles visiting the area were poached for either their eggs, their meat, or their shell. The poaching rate throughout the years has diminished quite drastically after initiating the protection of the beach and from 100% of poaching to begin with, it has fallen to less than 5%. This beach was and continues to be mainly a leatherback turtle nesting beach, but green and hawksbill turtles also nest in small numbers each year.
Las Tortugas includes a small educational center with displays and samples of sea turtles, as well as paths through the forest and many species of plants. Regular wild visitors include howler monkeys, sloths, blue morpho butterflies, toucans, and many other species of birds.
Wildlife You May See
Wildlife You May Work With: Leatherback turtles, green sea turtles.
Wildlife You Might See: Many species of butterflies including the beautiful blue morpho. Howler monkeys, sloths, toucans, and many other species of birds and poison dart frogs, giant walking sticks. Green sea turtles, hawksbill sea turtles.
About the Costa Rica Leatherback Turtle Program
The Program Partner
Las Tortugas Research Station
In 2000 Stanley Rodriguez, founded Estación Las Tortugas (The Turtle Station) in an effort to help save the population of sea turtles that visited Mondonguillo beach. This beach lies between the Mondonguillo Lagoon in the north, bordering with the Pacuare Nature Reserve, and the Urpiano Lagoon in the south, bordering with the Urpiano Lagoon Turtle Project. The beach protected consists of three kilometres of land, and the station is located about 25 kilometers (as the crow flies) north of Limon, on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica.
The area where the actual station is situated today used to be a coconut plantation and the beach was a poacher hideout where all the turtles visiting the area were poached for either their eggs, their meat, or their shell. The poaching rate throughout the years has diminished quite drastically after initiating the protection of the beach and from 100% of poaching to begin with, it has fallen to less than 5%. This beach was and continues to be mainly a leatherback turtle nesting beach, but green and hawksbill turtles also nest in small numbers each year.
What is Special About this Project?
Leatherback Sea Turtles
The largest of all sea turtles, and one of the largest reptiles on earth, the leatherback turtle ranges in size from 4-8 feet in length (1.2 - 2.4 meters) and weighs between 500-2,000 pounds (225 - 900 kg). The average adult measures in between 5-6 feet (1.5 - 1.8 m) and weighs 600-800 pounds (270 - 360 kg).
The oldest of all sea turtle species, it has been around for more than 150 million years! They survived the extinction of the dinosaurs and thrived until the last several decades when human interactions have taken a major toll. Leatherbacks are considered vulnerable according to the IUCN Red List, upgraded in 2013 from critically endangered due in large part to efforts around the Caribbean to protect important nesting beaches.
You will spend 4 nights working with giant leatherback turtles at a turtle research station along the northern Caribbean coast. Walk the nesting beach at night with local researchers 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 (late May - July)
How This Trip Makes a Difference
Wildlife and the Environment
The leatherback is one of nature’s truly unique creatures. Their immense size boggles the mind; these turtles can average more than 6 feet long and 800 lbs. But that’s not the only thing that makes them unique. Their softer shell allows them to dive deeper than any other sea turtle and their size and dark color allows them to inhabit cold waters. The leatherback has had an impressive recovery over the past decade but human activities like consumption of their eggs and getting caught in fishing gear continue to threaten these extraordinary reptiles.
Local Culture and Community
By joining this trip, you will be directly supporting community-based conservation of these turtles by providing alternative income to poaching and generating funds to expand their efforts.