Rainforest Exploration and Biodiversity in Costa Rica

Explore the rainforest and conduct biodiversity research, while participating on a program taking place on the exquisite Costa Rican coast.

Program Information

Costa Rica is an exhilarating location in the heart of central America. In this program, participants will explore the alluring rainforest in Jalova, while conducting various necessary surveys, logging data and doing extensive research to ensure its preservation in the long run. The exquisite species that can be found in the Tortuguero National Park need all the help they can get in order to continue to thrive in their natural habitat. By working on this program and studying their behaviour, you will not only contribute to their sustainability, but you will also make a direct contribution to ensuring the sustainability of the region as well.

United Nations
Sustainable Development Goals


On this program, you will be joining a team of international participants stationed on base camp in the Tortuguero National Park. You will be participating in important research on wildlife species including Jaguars, Aquatic Birds, Sea Turtles, and more. You will be observing and interacting with the various species in their natural habitat, noting their behaviours, how they interact with others, and where they fit into the bigger picture of the Costa Rican habitat. This research is crucial to the local community and also aides conservation efforts by the Costa Rican government, who are working actively to preserve forests and national parks in the region.

Taking part with a GVI program shows you are committed to your own professional and personal development. This program will provide you with a range of transferable and practical skills, as well as providing you the sufficient training required in order to gain experience in the fields of both research and wildlife conservation. This program is the perfect stepping stone for a career in conservation and will set you up to pursue your dreams in the field should you wish to do so!

The Rainforest Exploration and Biodiversity program will provide you with a lifetime of memories, including:
- Meeting new friends from all over the world, who also have a passion for conservation;
- Calling the Costa Rican National Park your adventure-filled home during your stay;
- Being exposed to remarkable coastal environments and its noteworthy flora;
- Interacting with various notable bird species, sea turtles, monkeys, birds and amphibians, to name a few; and
- Gaining practical experience in the field, setting you up for a career in conservation should you wish to pursue employment after.

Program Details

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Project Life

This program starts out as an adventure from the minute you arrive, where you’ll be transported on the green canals via canoe or boat, immersing yourself in the authentic beauty of Tortuguero Caribbean rainforest. Seclusion is the name of the game, as travelling like this is the only way to or from base camp! Working with the base team in Jalova, you will receive extensive training upon your arrival, ensuring you are fully equipped to get the most out of your time spent in the region.

The base is small but comfortable, providing the perfect opportunity to get to know an connect with your fellow participants, who will likely be from a range of diverse backgrounds. Camp duties are rotated evenly and you will work together with the team to ensure that the area is kept clean and tidy for the duration of your stay.

GVI prides itself in working towards creating more global citizens in the world. Global citizens are people who display a passion for sustainable development, making a concerted effort to not only participate in, but also help spread the word about conservation and community development in all their interactions following the completion of the program. Sounds good? Sounds great!

Project Details

The rainforest exploration and biodiversity research program provides you with a hands-on opportunity to source, log and analyse long-term trend data, as well as conducting various assessment surveys in specifically defined habitat areas in Jalova. You may also be asked to participate with additional research in the conservation field over and above the specific focus on the promotion of biodiversity in the region. This could possibly include the study of jaguar behaviour, predation of sea turtles, as well as monitoring jaguars and other wildlife found in the area. Turtle nesting studies will also be conducted, but this is limited to the relevant time of the year when this takes place. No two days are going to be the same and TNP provides for an entertaining experience regardless of the type of work you will be conducting on any given day for the duration of the course.

How This Program Makes a Difference
GVI works closely with the Costa Rican Ministry of the Environment, Energy and Telecommunications (MINAET), and partners with world-renowned organisations such as Sea Turtle Conservancy and Panthera, providing data and collaborate on conservation efforts in Tortuguero. GVI program participants allows for more areas to be surveyed in greater detail, expanding the wealth of knowledge available to improve and build on current conservation efforts all over the world.

Jalova's short, mid, and long-term objectives:
All of GVI’s programs have short, mid and long-term objectives that are directly linked to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. 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 visualize their contribution to the UN SDGs.

Upon arrival to base, you will be educated about the history of the UN SDGs. You will learn about the specific goals of your location, the long, mid and short term objectives, as well as gain clarification on how your involvement contributes to these goals on a bigger scale.

Our aim is to educate you on local and global issues, so that you continue to act as active global citizens after completion of your program, helping to fulfil our mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.

In terms of the long-term objectives you will be contributing to in Jalova, these are the most prominent to keep in mind:
- Assisting to increase the scientific knowledge of Tortuguero National Park;
- Helping to increase awareness of GVI’s work in Jalova, as well as promoting the ecological value of the National Park;
- Building local capacity to support long-term conservation efforts, assisting with sustainable community development in Costa Rica;
- Continuing to raise awareness of environmental issues amongst all volunteers and visitors.

Our Ethics

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.

Our 10 Ethical Commitments


Locally Driven, Collaborative Projects

We aim to design all our projects in collaboration with local organizations and communities and ensure that they are locally driven.


Clear Objectives & Sustainable Outcomes

We aim to clearly define short-, mid-, and long-term objectives with sustainable outcomes for all our projects.


Impact Reporting

We aim to track, record, and publish the impact of each of our projects.


Working Against Dependency

We aim to build in-country capacity by assisting local organizations in becoming self-sustaining.


Responsible Exit Strategies

For each local organization we work with, we aim to have a plan in place for withdrawing support responsibly.


Clear Roles & Specialized Training

We aim to ensure that ever participant is assigned a clear role and that they are fully trained and supported to carry out their work by specialized staff.


Respect for all

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.


Local Ownership

We work to ensure that credit for the results of any project, along with any data collected, research conduct, or Intellectual Property developed, remains the property of local organizations.


Transitioning from the Orphanage Model

We do not condone and aim to withdraw support of orphanages and residential care centers.


Child and Vulnerable adult policies

We will live by our Child Protection and Vulnerable Adult policies.

Continual Development

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.

What's Included

  • 24-hour emergency phone
  • 24-hour in-country support
  • Access to Alumni Services and Discounts
  • Airport pick-up (unless otherwise stated)
  • All necessary project equipment and materials
  • All necessary project training by experienced staff
  • Location orientation
  • Long term experienced staff
  • Meals while on project (except on work placements for long term internships)
  • Safe and basic accommodations (usually shared)
  • Welcome meeting

What's Not Included

  • Additional drinks and gratuities
  • Extra local excursions
  • Flights
  • International and domestic airport taxes
  • Medical and travel insurance
  • Personal items and toiletries
  • Police or background check
  • Visa costs (where necessary)


Volunteering with GVI not only allows you to participate on programs assisting endangered ecosystems, but also offers wonderful opportunities to travel in the local area in your downtime, or further afield either before or after your program. Many decide to travel after completing a program, solidifying the lifetime friendships established on program.

Our long term field staff are a great source of advice and are here to help you make the most of your time abroad. Remember to ask about discounts on local activities and side trips through your association with GVI.

See below, where our Jalova field teams have helped us put together the following information on trips and travel options in Costa Rica.

Optional Side Trips
Given your isolated location, a lot of your down time will be spent on base. The rainforest is not exactly a place to go wandering! There are however still possibilities to travel in the immediate area, to make sure you make the most of your time in Costa Rica. These include a visit to Tortuguero Village, where you can browse through souvenir shops, visit the local bakery and experience what life is like in the local community.

Longer term participants, who will have the opportunity to take longer weekend breaks, the opportunity exists to head off base and further explore the Caribbean region of Costa Rica. Hiking, snorkelling, fishing, or canopy and zipline tours are just some of the activities that are available for you to book in the area. For something a bit more physically intense, you could raft on the white waters of the famous Pacuare River (on class III to IV rapids) over the course of one or two day trips. If the more adventurous activities are not for you, you could always explore the option a relaxing day in the laid back Caribbean village too.

Further Travelling Opportunities
Costa Rica is an amazing country with an abundance of travel opportunities further afield. The following is just a snapshot of the many possibilities you can explore. Feel free to reach out to GVI’s support team to learn more about the opportunities available to you.
- Admire the famous and active Volcan Arenal from a distance and relax in the natural hot springs;
- Surf the Salsa Brava – a hotspot of the Caribbean for the advanced surfer;
- Ride horseback on the beach in Puerto Viejo or simply enjoy miles and miles of beautiful beaches sun kissed by palm trees;
- Spot migratory raptor birds in the Talamanca Mountains;
- Visit indigenous villages to learn more about their amazing culture;
- Discover the cloud forest at Monteverde;
- Visit the hummingbird gallery;
- Enjoy the locally made ice cream and other fresh dairy products;
- Walk among the treetops on the hanging bridges;
- Enjoy the organised wildlife tours of Braulio Carrillo National Park;
- Travel across the country to discover the beautiful Pacific Coast with its hidden white sand beaches;
- Visit Volcan Irazu and discover coffee farms on the way back to San Jose.

The Team

Thjis Claes

Bird Poject Leader
Meet Thijs, our resident bird expert and project leader. Thijs was first attracted to GVI by the perfect mix of education, wildlife, science and communal living that we offer. He holds a Master in Biology (with a focus on freshwater biodiversity and ecosystem stability) and this knowledge comes in handy while in the field.

Thijs has explored deserts and swamp areas in southern Africa during a group journey, he has completed a Leadership and BST internships at GVI Jalova, and has volunteered for a scientific laboratory, governmental organisation and nature organisation. What is the best part about working for GVI? "Being in close contact with wildlife, the possibility to continuously learn and working in a close team towards valuable educational and sustainability goals."

Danny Guy

Jaguar Project Leader
Meet Danny, our nature loving jaguar project leader! Danny has some extensive volunteer and travel experience, including volunteering at Kariega Game Reserve in South Africa, and travelling to see and experience animals in the wild (South Africa, Kenya, Rawanda, Tansania and Borneo) where him ad his team usually camped in tents with basic equipment. He also completed a wildlife internship at Jalova Tortuguero with GVI and he was especially interested in gaining more hands-on experience through this experience.

He fondly recalls his favourite travel memory: "When volunteering in South Africa, after the day’s work, we were on our way back to our house when the big bull elephant stopped us just before our gate. We decided to watch him for a while as he proceeded to pull down one of the trunks of our fig tree treehouse. Once he’d pulled it down he called the rest of the herd up from the valley below. They stayed around the tree for the rest of the night and we had to drive around the back of our volunteer area and climb over the fence."

Cormac Healy

Base Manager
Meet Cormac, our lovely Base Manager in Jalova, Costa Rica. This Scotsman is a rather eccentric guy and his fantastic sense of humour is one of his most appreciated characteristics. He achieved a Master's degree in History and Politics, and quite evidently can keep his own in any conversation on any topic.

His love for travelling started in his younger years already and since then he has explored New Zealand, Canada, the states, and South Africa! What is his one travel must-have? "A towel of course (for further information please read a Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy)."

Mac first joined our office team as a GVI Country Expert for Thailand and Costa Rica and he particularly enjoys getting the chance to meet people who are really passionate about volunteering. He thinks of himself as Carl Frederickson from the movie Up. "Just a bloke who enjoys sitting in a comfy chair; I think we can all relate to that." Mac, we absolutely agree!

Shayle Havemann

Director of Programs
Meet Shayle, our innovative and driven director for all our projects around the world. She has two honours degrees, one in Industrial and Organisational Psycology, and another in Developmental and Education Psycology. Shayle also has over 10 years experience in setting up, managing and evaluating environmental and community programs across Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America.

She is well-practiced in facilitating meaningful and effective intercultural engagement and this makes her the perfect person for overseeing our operations in the multicultural country of South Africa.

When not attending meetings or planning her next endeavour, Shayle can be found spending time with her family or taking part in some or other exciting outdoors activity!

Megan Brett

Incidentals Project Leader
Meet Megan, our Incidentals Project Leader in Jalova. She loves anoles, frogs, and all the other animals she can find in the jungle, which seems to be a good fit with what she is doing here with us at GVI. Megan has previous experience working on a dairy farm and with local conservation groups in New Zealand.

While working with GVI she gets plenty of chance to see and identify interesting animals. Costa Rica is quite a change from what she is used to but she loves the chance to use her training in zoology and ecology with a very different ecosystem than any she would find in New Zealand, her home country.

Laura Dix-Bowler

Business & Systems Analyst
Meet Laura. In addition to once being a promising figure skater, Laura is also a trained animal handler, and used to volunteer at a zoo in NYC. She likens herself to Blossom from the Powerpuff Girls, “She’s the brains of the operation”. We can’t argue there, HQ would fall apart without her!

She joined the Costa Rica Wildlife Expedition as a volunteer and immediately knew there was no going back to working for The Man. She became an ambassador and started planning her next trip when we sent her the Regional Coordinator vacancy. 5 weeks later she was in Cape Town!

Laura’s one travel must-have she recommends to volunteers? Coconut Desert Essence shampoo… “It smells amazing and it’s environmentally friendly. No-one should have to sacrifice their hair while travelling, even in remote environments.”

Cynthia Arochi Zendejas

Costa Rica Country Director
Meet Cynthia, our Country Director in Costa Rica. She started out with GVI as one of our National Scholarship Program participants in 2006 and later became our Programme Coordinator in Mexico. Her skills and enthusiasm just made it too hard to let her get away!

Cynthia is a certified Veterinarian, an EFR Instructor and holds a Master’s degree in International environmental Science. She is also a member of the Mesoamerican Society for Biology and Conservation, chapter Costa Rica.

The most interesting things she’s experienced during life in the field? “Watching the turtles hatching! Also finding jaguar tracks and being able to participate in community tours.” Apart from those, Cynthia also loves arranging and participating in the fun Charity Challenges with volunteers.

What does Cynthia think volunteers bring to the projects? Since our goal is to provide support to local organisations which don’t have the human or economic resources to achieve their conservation or sustainable development objectives, our volunteers play a key role by being the hands needed, or helping to fund raise for those projects.”

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Parent Info

‘If only every student could do this. It changes your life in all the right ways,’ says Chris Heritage, parent of Luke Herritage, 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.’

Parent Info Pack

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.
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.