Join a team of international participants in Cahuita 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.
This expedition is the essence of remote adventure. Live in the heart of the jungle surrounded by the natural beauty of Cahuita’s rainforest-lined Caribbean beaches. Hike the jungle trails conducting biodiversity surveys, walk along the beach looking for evidence of sea turtles during turtle nesting season, check camera traps for footage of jaguars, and explore the rainforest canals noting important aquatic bird species.
Not only does this program offer you the opportunity to get involved in ongoing conservation efforts, but you will also be provided with the training and experience to grow professionally by mastering both transferable and technical skills. These include teamwork, intercultural communication, and best practices for recording biodiversity data.
Unplug and get in touch with nature in Cahuita National Park. Situated in the heart of the jungle on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, our Cahuita base is a photographer’s dream. During field work, you’ll walk the beaches looking for signs of turtles and jaguars, and travel by canoe through foliage-draped canals spotting aquatic bird species. While trekking through the jungle, you’re likely to see howler monkeys and toucans. Sloths and tamanduas (a type of anteater) also live in the jungle, but due to their elusive nature, you’re unlikely to spot them during your stay. Morning patrols feature spectacular sunrises over the Caribbean sea, and night walks reveal a star-filled sky. In their free time, GVI staff and team members from all around the world relax at the base. For those with a passion for wildlife and conservation, Cahuita is the ideal location.
Our base is located in the Cahuita National Park, with a beach right on your doorstep. Sleeping areas are dorm-style and bathrooms are shared. Wh...
For project work, you’ll only need your feet, although canoes might be available for canal bird surveys. To participate in the turtle project, yo...
While reception can be unpredictable due to our location in the park, participants can travel into town where there is WiFi. There’s also the opt...
Many of our ingredients are brought in from a little store in Cahuita. Breakfast consists of fruits, porridge and pancakes on Saturdays. Lunches ...
Costa Rica is a tropical country, with a climate ranging from warm and rainy to hot and humid. Being a rainforest, the weather is highly variable...
The program is physically demanding. Every day during turtle season, a survey party goes out for roughly 5 kilometres (on sand) in the heat, expo...
Enhanced cleaning and social-distancing measures in place.
For over 20 years, GVI has prioritised the health and safety of our staff, participants, partners and local community members. In response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, GVI has created the GVI health and hygiene team to put in place new standards of cleanliness, norms and behaviours that meet or exceed international recommendations to ensure the ongoing safety of GVI’s participants, staff and communities around the world. Internationally recommended practices, such as advice from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the governments Australia, UK and US, continue to be monitored and the standards are likely to change if and when international advice changes.
The work GVI is contributing to across the globe remains important and the following measures allow our participants to continue to join GVI’s programs and continue impacting positively on their world and the communities we work with. The following changes to our existing protocols have been made by the GVI health and hygiene team to strengthen our health and hygiene protocols and ensure that international standard safeguards are in place to protect our participants, staff and host communities.
Reef Conservation UK 13th Annual Meeting, Zoological Society of London
Reef Conservation UK 13th Annual Meeting, Zoological Society of London
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.
We want you to make the most of the chance to live in – and contribute towards – the most diverse and unique wildernesses and communities on earth. Introducing GVI Experiences – immersive adventure, cultural and wellness activities exclusive to GVI that have been specially designed in collaboration with our local partners to support and stimulate sustainable economic development.
Enhance your impact. Expand your adventure. Explore your world.
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.
Enhanced cleaning and social-distancing measures in place.
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.
Cahuita National Park is a key area for many interlinked conservation efforts. It’s a popular nesting area for vulnerable and endangered sea turtles. It’s a natural stronghold for jaguars, and the different landscapes within the park is a haven for different bird species. The park is home to several species which have been identified as important for the health of the local ecosystem and global diversity by the Costa Rican Ministry of Environment, Energy and Telecommunications (ICE).
We assist ICE with conducting a Biological Assessment Survey of the four major habitat types around our area of the park. 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 (due to its elusive nature, this species is rarely encountered). 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 sent to ICE, 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.
We also assist the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) 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 (from around March to December each year).
From April to October, 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.
From April to November, a team patrols the beach during the day to look for previously-marked nests to determine whether any of them 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. Depending on the season, we also take note of mother turtle tracks from the previous night.
Between June and December, 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.
Throughout the year, our teams carry out beach cleanups, ensuring there’s a good nesting place for mother turtles, and an uninterrupted passage for hatchlings to make their way to the sea.
The jaguar is the only member of the Panthera or “big cat” genus found in the Western Hemisphere. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List has given the jaguar the status of being “near threatened”.
We assist SINAC with identifying the availability of prey species in the area, noting any changes in jaguar feeding behaviour, and determining whether jaguars prey on sea turtles in this area, as they are known to do in other areas. The predation of marine turtles by jaguars has an impact on marine turtle populations and this information assists SINAC to develop well-rounded and consistent conservation policies within the national parks.
Direct observations of jaguars can be very difficult to achieve because of their elusive nature. Several projects of elusive species worldwide have turned to remote observation techniques in order to estimate population sizes. Camera trapping projects have been used to estimate tiger density within national parks in India. Projects in Costa Rica such as the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network, and the Jaguar Project in Corcovado National Park have had success with camera trapping of jaguars. Since 2006 we have assisted the jaguar camera trap program in Tortuguero, by collecting data for them, and we are going to implement the same techniques in Cahuita National Park, which borders the jaguar corridor. It is constantly evolving as new, more effective methodologies are developed.
We monitor aquatic bird species identified by SINAC as important indicators of the overall ecological health of the National Park. These include exotic species like the neotropic cormorant, the rufescent tiger-heron, the cattle egret, the green ibis and the amazon kingfisher. Species are identified and specifics such as their sex and breeding behaviour are noted.
This project aims to help researchers and governmental authorities understand when and where resident species migrate to. It’s generally believed that seasonal migration takes place within Costa Rica. We are the only organisation to study birds in the National Park. Each volunteer has a great impact on the preservation of the wetlands, a recognised RAMSAR site. The project also helps SINAC with developing an accurate management plan for Cahuita National Park. In addition, we collect information on all incidental species seen on the canals. Sightings of megafauna like endangered manatees are extremely important to SINAC as they provide evidence towards justifying the boundaries of the National Park and whether to extend them.
GVI Cahuita’s long-term objectives:
1. Increase scientific knowledge of Cahuita National Park.
2. Increase awareness of GVI’s Cahuita projects and the ecological value of the Cahuita National Park.
3. Build local capacity to support long-term conservation of biodiversity and sustainable community development in Costa Rica.
4. Minimise our environmental impact on Cahuita National Park and raise awareness of environmental issues amongst volunteers and visitors.
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.
We aim to design all our projects in collaboration with local organizations and communities and ensure that they are locally driven.
We aim to clearly define short-, mid-, and long-term objectives with sustainable outcomes for all our projects.
We aim to track, record, and publish the impact of each of our projects.
We aim to build in-country capacity by assisting local organizations in becoming self-sustaining.
For each local organization we work with, we aim to have a plan in place for withdrawing support responsibly.
We aim to ensure that every participant is assigned a clear role and that they are fully trained and supported to carry out their work by specialized staff.
In all our actions we aim to respect the skills and efforts of all and seek to protect the rights, culture and dignity of everyone who engages with GVI.
We work to ensure that credit for the results of any project, along with any data collected, research conducted, or Intellectual Property developed, remains the property of local organizations.
We do not condone and aim to withdraw support of orphanages and residential care centers.
We will live by our Child Protection and Vulnerable Adult policies.
As an organization, GVI is committed to striving toward best practice, and to educating both our potential participants, our partners, and the world at large about them. Both the volunteering and sustainable development sectors are increasingly, and rightly, under scrutiny. Many recent local and global articles highlight poor practices and questionable ethics. GVI is widely recognized for striving to apply global best practice in the volunteering, education and sustainable development sectors throughout our operations by reputable organizations such as ChildSafe.
However, global best practice is always evolving and we dedicate both time and resources to engage with internationally respected experts and learn from the latest research to ensure our programs both fulfil their potential to create maximum positive impact, and minimise their potential to create unintentional negative impact. Along with and as part of the sustainable development and volunteering community, we are constantly learning and applying this learning to practice. We do not always get everything right, but we seek feedback from our community members, partners, participants and our staff, and react accordingly. We know are already doing a great job, and feedback we have received confirms this, but we aim to do even better and are continuously refining our operations to improve upon our already excellent reputation.
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We don’t support or allow participants to work in institutional residential care facilities, also known as orphanages. We partner with ReThink Orphanages and Freedom United.
Our Child and Vulnerable Adult Protection Policy requires all our staff and participants to complete a criminal background check and to learn why you shouldn’t reveal a child’s identifying factors in photographs. We support the ChildSafe Movement.
We don’t offer any programs where our participants engage in medical treatment. This is because our participants aren’t typically qualified to do this work and would therefore not be able to do this work in their home country. Our participants only assist with public health programs.
We don’t offer any programs where our participants work directly with people with disabilities. This is because our participants aren’t typically qualified to do this work and would therefore not be able to do this work in their home country.
Each one of our initiatives is aligned to objectives set by a local organisation or professional. Our staff and participants work to support these local actors in achieving their specific goals.
Our participants don’t replace the staff employed by local organisations. Rather, they support currently employed staff with achieving their objectives. Our goal is always to increase local capacity to address local problems.
Participants require training and support to ensure that they carry out tasks correctly. Our staff provide this training and support so that local staff can focus on what is truly important to their organisation at the time.
We don’t support the use of wild animals for entertainment purposes. This includes riding animals, having them perform tricks, feeding or bathing them or getting close to them to take photos
We don’t encourage, support or allow the rearing of “orphaned” wild baby animals kept at a “sanctuary”. The conservation value of these types of programs is negligent and would only ethically be used in extremely rare cases
When wild animals are restricted for conservation purposes we follow the guidelines of Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa (FTTSA), approved by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.
We ensure that the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare are followed. These include the freedom to express normal behaviour and freedom from distress, discomfort, hunger, thirst, fear, pain, injury or disease.
We ensure that conservation efforts are also always locally led, that community needs are front-and centre of any conservation effort and that our participants, projects and partners work to increase local community engagement in local conservation efforts.
We don’t offer any veterinary programs or animal rescue and rehabilitation programs. We don’t allow participants to do any work they would not be able to do in their home country.
A GVI program is an investment in your career. No matter which you choose, you will be working toward improving your employability by mastering new social skills, gaining further technical expertise and earning qualifications in many cases. Most of our staff are, in fact, GVI Alumni, and we have helped many of our Alumni discover, move toward, and earn their own personal dream jobs. Each program includes introductory workshops, ongoing presentations, as well as on-the-ground professional support provided by our very own trained staff members. In addition, our training programs are critical for helping us to ensure the long-term impact of our sustainable development projects around the world.
Learn about COVID-19 pre-departure guidelines, base expectations, personal and area hygiene practices and what we are doing to keep you safe.
Learn about the importance of child and vulnerable adult protection best practices and how to apply them while on project.
Introduction to the history and evolution of sustainable development, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) and how these related to your project work.
Learn about our country locations and further opportunities available to you during or after your program.
Learn about gender equality, skills development and examples of income generating activities.
Learn about our empowerment principles.
An introduction to different survey techniques and best practice guidelines for surveys; introduction to different types of data and how to record information via a datasheet.
Learn about biodiversity and how biodiversity is measured, and classifying different species and how to identify species that indicate the health of the habitat.
Learn about issues with plastic and measures that can be taken to help reduce plastic consumption.
Learn about jaguar biology and behaviour, how to identify a specific specimen, how to identify tracks, and how to set up a camera on a trail or on a predated turtle.
Learn about turtle biology, how to measure a turtle, perform a health check, how to distinguish between old and new turtle tracks on the beach and how to excavate a nest.
Learn how to identify the 30 target species important to MINAE and Tortuguero park, and how to input data from these surveys.
Learn how to identify 40 jungle species that indicate the health of the habitat, how to record and enter data, and the protocol of forest surveys.
If you have a passion for wildlife conservation then this course will provide you with the foundational skills and understanding needed to achieve your conservation-related goals. You’ll learn about the various methods of wildlife monitoring, as well as exploring the delicate balance involved in terrestrial ecosystem management. After successfully completing the course, which you have the option of doing prior to your in-country program, you’ll receive a certificate from the University of Richmond.
This online course, valued at £295, is included in all volunteering programs. Full course details can be found here.
Joining a GVI program not only allows you to collaborate with communities or work toward preserving unique ecosystems – but it also offers plenty of opportunities to explore the surrounding area or travel further to see what other parts of the region have to offer over weekends.
Field staff are a great source of advice and have helped us put together the following information on local travel options. You can choose to travel before or after your experience with GVI (subject to immigration restrictions), solidifying the lifetime friendships you’ve established on the program. Please note that the below options are not included in the program fee, and would be up to you to arrange at your own expense.
Spend the weekend in Costa Rica’s capital city, San Jose. You could visit one of the city’s many museums or parks, join a guided food and w...
Just south of Cahuita National Park is one of the most popular beach destinations on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. This town is known for Pu...
Head north up the coast to Tortuguero National Park, one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful national parks. The name “Tortuguero” can be transl...
Organise an adrenaline-inducing journey over the rapids of the Pacuare River. The beautiful Turrialba regi...
Cahuita National Park is home to the biggest and best-preserved coral reef in Costa Rica. Part of the park’s protected area extends into the ocea...
Book a tour of the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica
There are endless opportunities around the base for wildlife photography. Staff and other participants often bring camera equipment with them – a...
There’s a small library with lots of textbooks and flashcards for species study and identification practice, as well as educational materials abo...
Frisbee, volleyball, yoga and pretty much any exercise can be done on the beach. There’s also a ping-pong table on base....
An advantage of our remote location is the lack of air pollution. This means that on a clear night, you can look up and enjoy a sky filled with s...
Card games are a part of the culture on base. Whether you’re already a master or have never played before, be sure to join a game night – or even...
We’ve added many good books to our on-base library over the years. Pick one that looks interesting, find a spot overlooking the ocean and lose yo...
Join staff and other participants for movie nights. We set up the projector and make some popcorn. Do you like your popcorn sweet or salty?
Our base is home to a variety of bird and frog species. Fellow participants are likely to be just as passionate about conservation and the natura...
We’re based very close to the beach, which means you might be able to hear the waves as you fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning. If y...
Surfing, windsurfing and kayaking are just some of the many water s...
Learn more about how the raw products of these everyday treats are produced at one of Costa Rica’s many coffee and chocolate farms....
Explore the natural wonders of the Talamanca mountain range, including the UNESCO-protected La Amistad International Park. Hiring a guide is nece...
Travel to a few of Costa Rica’s many other National Parks, like Manuel Antonio Park, Corcovado National Park, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve (wh...
Engaging intimately with a new context teaches global awareness, adaptability and critical thinking – skills highly valued in the modern marketplace. Local and cultural immersion is encouraged on all our programs around the world, and will also be one of the most enjoyable aspects of your experience. Luckily, there are many different activities that you can get involved in during your free time, or before and after your program.
On our community programs, the focus is on cultural topics, while on marine or wildlife programs the emphasis is more on the environmental element. Use your evenings and weekends to explore topics like local cuisine and religion, or how sustainable development challenges are affecting local contexts.
Close to the small beach town of Cahuita, our base is located within the Cahuita National Park (CNP). Co-managed by the community, participants h...
Costa Rica is a wildlife lover’s paradise, featuring one of the highest biodiversities in the world, approximately 4% of the total species on the...
‘If only every student could do this. It changes your life in all the right ways,’ says Chris Heritage, parent of Luke Heritage, one of our teen volunteers who has participated on two GVI programs, one in Costa Rica and another in South Africa.
We are a parent-run organisation that is incredibly serious about health and safety, and increasing the impact, as well as the long-term career benefits of our programs. Our programs help young people develop the skills to select a career path that is personally fulfilling, and live a life aligned to the well-being of our planet and the global community.
Ken and Linda Jeffrey, whose son Sam volunteered with GVI in Thailand, talk about how the experience affected Sam. He also went on to volunteer with GVI again in South Africa. ‘I know it sounds like a cliche but in a sense, he did go away as a boy and he came back as a young man. Both of us could recommend GVI without any hesitation to any other parent thinking about exploring an opportunity for their children to explore the world and to see different parts of it.’
Download the Parent Pack and learn more about:
Our staff: All our projects are run by staff, selected, vetted, trained, and managed by our central office.
Health and safety: Our safety practices include a child and vulnerable adult protection policy and high participant ratios.
Staying in touch: See what’s happening on base, by following a hub’s dedicated Facebook page.
Free parent consultations: We would love to talk to you about exciting opportunities available for your child.
We won’t sugarcoat it — traveling abroad is usually a complex process that carries an element of risk. But this is exactly why we’re passionate about providing extensive support throughout the process as well as the highest safety standards during the in-country phase. We believe that volunteering abroad should not only be impactful, but an enjoyable experience that carries as little risk as possible. This is exactly how we’ve been able to maintain our reputation as the most highly respected volunteering organisations in the sector over the past two decades.