Volunteering at the Wildlife Rescue Center

Our Wildlife Rescue Center has been working on social and ecological projects in rural communities in San Carlos for the past 12 years. And for the past six years, we have been offering Spanish classes and volunteer opportunities. Its founders are Jamie and Alvaro del Castillo, who are father and son. It is a Spanish Institute, Wildlife Rescue Center, and Volunteer Center whose motto is “Learn, serve, and share in harmony with nature.”

The Center is located in Javillos of San Carlos, which is located in the northern rural part of the providence of Alajuela, Costa Rica. You won’t be able to find us on a map, but we are more or less right in between La Fortuna and Ciudad Quesada, which are each about a 30 minute car-ride in either direction. We are approximately 120 km north of San Jose, which is an absolutely beautiful ride through the mountains. The town of Javillos is a small farming community. There is one small supermarket and a few pulperias (convenience stores). There are a few small family-run restaurants along the main road. The people of Javillos are warm, humble, and hard-working.

Our environment:
We are located on a private 8 acre ecological reserve near the entrance of the rainforest. It is an area of natural beauty with its mountains, wildlife, and rich botanical diversity. Here in San Carlos, we have more than 70 species of birds and more than 200 different types of animals and plants. As for our ambience here at the project site, it is relaxing, so don’t forget to bring a book, a camera, and an adventurous spirit to take advantage of our walking trails.

Javillos is an extremely small rural farming (cattle, diary, and ornamental plant farms) community about 2.5 hours north of San Jose. There are very few English speakers here, in fact, the host families might only know a few greetings and that is it! However, if you do not speak Spanish – do not despair (most of our volunteers do not speak Spanish) – you will be amazed how far some sign language and a few words of Spanish will go.

Preparation for departure:
Immigration and customs:
Currently all travellers are required to have a valid passport in order to enter Costa Rica. Please check to make sure your passport’s expiration date is NOT within the next six months at the time of entry in Costa Rica. Some nationalities also need to have a visa for Costa Rica. Check with your airline or nearest Costa Rican consulate for the most up-to-date information. Americans and most Europeans may enter Costa Rica on a tourist visa which is valid for 90 days. There is a departure fee when leaving Costa Rica. You must pay $26 in order to leave the country.

Since we are located in a dense tropical area, there can be a lot of bugs. Please take the appropriate measures in order to avoid being bitten. Bring repellent and if needed ask us for a bug net in order to sleep with peace of mind.

San Carlos is known for its rain. Even in our dry season, there is still a chance for rain everyday. We recommend you bring a raincoat, an umbrella, and shoes that can get wet.

All the water in Costa Rica is drinkable straight from the tap! It’s actually better tasting than most tap water from the States.

Emergency Information:
The Wildlife Rescue Center is located about 10 minutes from the Red Cross (the ambulance service). Their phone number is 2468-0143. The local hospitals are about 20 to 30 minutes away. Private Hospital: Hospital Cooperativo San Carlos Borromeo’s phone number: 2460-1080.
The Wildlife Rescue Center and the tour company in Fortuna that we recommend are fully insured, however, the other project sites might not be. Please take it upon yourself to research Traveler’s Insurance. See the Tropical Adventures’ website for more information on the medical insurance we provide and other Travel Insurance options – http://www.tropicaladventures.com/medicalinsurance.php.

Your daily schedule: Monday thru Friday 8am – 12pm
• 7:30 am pick up time from host family to project site or classes
• Classes are from 8-12pm with one break for a small snack.
o Remember your notebook, pens, or pencils.
• 12pm return to host family for lunch.
• Afternoons are free for you to explore or just relax. A staff member can help you organize activities. Example: volunteer activity, tour, or just relax at the center.
o For volunteer activities, please wear weather and activity appropriate clothing.
• All meals outside of your host family are out of pocket expenses.

We do have the internet here, however, we have very limited space. You may quickly check your email, but long internet sessions are not permitted. There are a few internet cafes in Ciudad Quesada, La Fortuna, and Santa Clara. Please utilize these places in order to surf the web, chat, or use SKYPE for long periods of time.

Local Buses / Taxi service:
The local public bus system is pretty good and a cheap way to travel. There are buses that run to La Fortuna and Ciudad Quesada every other hour or so. The staff will be more than happy to help you figure out a bus schedule and where there might be transfers, just ask.
A taxi can be quite expensive, especially when they know you are a tourist. We suggest exploring your options before taking a taxi.

Animal Rescue Center:
Always remember that the animals at our Wildlife Rescue Center are wild animals; please use caution when approaching them. If you have a question about the animals or you want to get close up, please ask Alvaro or Teniente.

Money exchange:

What we highly recommend is that you bring a certain quantity of cash with you and exchange at the San Jose airport for colones. There is an exchange counter where you pick up your suitcases. ASK FOR SMALL BILLS! It is extremely hard to pay at the small pulperias (convenience stores) with bills of 10.000 colones (approximately $20 bill).
Traveller’s Checks are also hard to use around here (San Carlos) because we are located in the countryside where small businesses, like a pulperia, have no use for them.
ATM cards… There are a variety of banks in Ciudad Quesada and La Fortuna where you can withdraw money from the ATM (colones or dollars), however, we have had problems in the past with Wells Fargo ATM cards. They work if you debit something at a store, but to take out money from an ATM doesn’t work. THERE ARE NO ATM’s OR BANKS IN JAVILLOS

Cultural Notes:
Costa Ricans are generally warm and friendly. They will offer you a lot of food, which you can politely decline. “Gracias, pero menos porque no tengo mucho hambre.”
Your house mom is used to serving food and will serve you at the table, while her children and grandchild will eat in the kitchen, living room, outside, or even on the floor. For the most part, a Tico’s socialization time does not happen over meals like it does in North America or Europe. Please do not take it personally if your señora or her family do not sit down and talk to you at dinner. The awkward silence is normal. Chat time is coffee time. Try to find out when coffee breaks are so that you can maximize your interaction with your family.

Remember you are here to experience Costa Rican culture and food. You will be eating rice and beans everyday!

Please let a Tropical Adventures staff member know of any food allergies or special diets. We need to inform the señora of these in advance.

Please let your señora know in advance if you will not be there for a meal or will be late because she will be waiting with food for you!

Tico houses are known for being super clean. The señoras will sweep and mop every single day. Please make sure to keep your room tidy and not too many things left on the floor in order to make their cleaning process easier.
The señoras also wash clothes every single day. Please do not hesitate to give your dirty clothes to your señora. Your laundry is a part of our host family policy.

Your señora does not speak English! If you need her to slow down, please tell her, “No entiendo. Más despacio por favor.”

Phone calls:
Please keep them short and sweet. It is culturally rude to talk on the phone for more than 15 minutes. Phone cards must be used for all calls. They can be bought directly from Tropical Adventures or in town at in Super Cindy. You need to buy a card that has at least 3000 colones which will allow you to talk for 20 minutes. Phone cards from the States will work here, but you need to have the international access code. Please contact the card’s service provider for that information. To call the United States you need to dial: 001-then area code and number.

Not all the host families have landlines. The families that do not have landlines have cell phones, however, you will not be able to make phone calls from this phone. You are more than welcome to use our phone at the center with a calling card.

International cell phone service: You must talk with your service provider.

Host Families:
The most valuable aspect of the host family experience is the real cultural immersion of living with a family, making new friends, and experiencing the famous Costa Rican hospitality.

Conduct Code at host families:
Please read carefully. These are some of the issues that have arisen in the past and they are mostly due to cultural misunderstandings. We would like for you to be aware of these differences.
The Wildlife Rescue Center does not tolerate any alcohol or drug use, it is grounds to terminate you from the program without a refund.
– Tico houses are generally very clean, so please keep your things organized, neat,and in your room. The women will sweep and mop the floor every day, so we ask you to please make your bed and put everything on top of our bed in the morning.

  • Please do not waste water & electricity (not every house has HOT WATER). Hot water is a luxury here so please be conscious of your shower time and turn off the lights when you leave a room.
  • Please ask where you can smoke, since smoking inside the houses is prohibited. We also ask you not to smoke on Center grounds.

  • No late night disturbances. People here typically go to bed early and rise early (often between 4:30 and 5am) to start their day’s work.

  • Ticos are known for their generosity when it comes to food so please return the courtesy and always ask before taking. Snacks here are usually small, coffee and a piece of pound cake or cookies.

Most importantly we would like to share your world with your Tico family!
Bring your pictures, an easy card game to teach the kids, or a small souvenir from your home town is always appreciated.

For the most part, our weather here is hot and humid…and rainy! Even in the dry season we can expect afternoon showers. Below is a list of SUGGESTED items. These items are not required, but rather given as a guideline for what and how much to bring.

  • PASSPORT – check expiration dates
  • Toiletries – Bring what you think you need in order to get by. There’s also Super Cindy which sells brands such as Dove,Patene, Colgate, Gillette, etc.
  • Cool, breathable clothes:
    3 or 4 pants / capris
    2 or 3 shorts
    5 or 6 t-shirts or tank tops
    1 long sleeve shirt / light weight jacket
    Bathing suit
    Sandals and / or shoes
    Sneakers or hiking boots
    Sun hat / sunglasses
    1 outfit of nice clothes (if you go out)
  • Other items
    Battery-operated alarm clock,
    Small flashlight,
    Bug repellent,
    Camera & Accessories (Zip-lock bag),
    Reading Materials,
    Work Gloves!!

* Remember: It can get really DIRTY working here!*

Spanish Classes:
Notebook, pens & dictionary


Doña Castalia lives on the main road in La Lucha with her 26 year old son, Mario. Their four bedroom house is set back from the road and has many flowers and bushes. Doña Castalia is a do-it-yourself woman and loves to be outdoors. She loves plants and nature, which you can tell from her garden and side porch. Doña Castalia is also an animal lover. She has a cat, a dog, chickens, and cows.

This house is one of our most rustic host families. Doña Castalia even has a wood burning oven to cook on. She also has a fully equipped kitchen stove.

Doña Castalia enjoys playing cards and her favorite color is green. She receives constant visits from her grown children and small grandchild who live in the neighborhood.


Dona Ceyla lives with her husband, Joaquin, on the main road in San Pedro. They have no children. Dona Ceyla’s house is set back from the road and she has a pulperia (a small convenience store) on the side of their house where the neighborhood kids come to buy a drink or candy. Her house is known for it’s spectacular view of Arenal Volcano. Dona Ceyla has a pet dog who lives in the back yard.

Dona Ceyla is a bubbly woman, who always has a smile on her face. She is extremely giving and talkative. Her favourite color is mint green.

This house has a hot shower!!

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