Frequently Asked Questions

Please take some time to review the information in this section, which answers many of the most frequently asked questions about our programs. If you still have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

 

Where are you and your programs located?

We are currently operating programs in the Central Valley, the Caribbean side of Costa Rica in the area of Puerto Viejo and on the Talamanca Indigenous Reservation, as well as the Guanacaste Province in the Pacific Northwest.

Puerto Viejo is a small but lively coastal town nestled between lush rain forests and what are arguably Costa Rica’s most beautiful and pristine white- and black-sand beaches. The area features a relaxed atmosphere and a unique blend of Latino, Afro-Caribbean and Bribri indigenous cultures.

The Arenal Volcano area is home to our Wildlife Rescue project, as well as our National Park project.

In Guanacaste we have a wide variety of projects that cover a large area and can be found on beaches, in national forests and in animal reserves. The Guanacaste region tends to be more of a dry forest, except during the rainiest season, which is September and October.

Are there specific start dates for your programs, or can I plan my trip anytime?

Most of our programs are designed so that you can start any day of the year. Please check the project descriptions carefully, as there are a few exceptions. Or call us

anytime to discuss options. We’d love to speak with you!

Can I come for just a few days?

Yes! We are happy to customize a trip for you, based on the time you have available.

 

Why do I have to pay to volunteer?

Your fee covers the various necessary expenses of operating the program. These costs include volunteer training, food, transportation, insurance and support for the generous host families who open their homes to our participants.

Back in 2005, Verge Magazine published a great article about why people have to pay to volunteer. It’s entitled, “Why Pay to Volunteer?”.

Tropical Adventures, a non-profit organization, would not be able to support our many community development programs without your assistance. Thank you for your support!

What are the accommodations like?

Your project will determine what type of accommodations are available to you.

Please review the chart at the bottom of each project description page for more information. The majority of our volunteers choose to stay in with a host family, as it provides a rich and rewarding experience. Most of our volunteers end up maintaining a life-long connection with their family after they depart.

Hostel options, as well as upgrades to hotels and resorts are available in certain project locations.

 

All of our host families are well screened for cleanliness, safety and friendliness. Room sizes and styles will vary from house to house but normally you will have your own private room with private bathroom. Some rooms have fans and television sets. Not all homes have hot water showers. Please inquire for more info.

Some of our host families are Costa Rican and don’t speak any English. Other families are Caribbean and speak both English and Spanish. They are always glad to welcome our participants into their homes and appreciate the volunteer work you are doing.

Are there things we can bring with us to donate?

By all means! We support many needy children and families. For an up-to-date list of the kinds of supplies and materials needed, please click here.

Is there an age requirement?

Yes, you must be 16 years old to participate in our programs, unless you come with your parent(s) or legal guardian. Those who are 16 and 17 years old need parent permission.

How much spending money do I need?

The answer to this question really depends on what you intend to do in Costa Rica apart from your volunteer program. For instance, if you are staying with a host family, you don’t need any extra money for lodging or food. Most of our volunteers, however, do take part in several of our tours. Apart from tours, you may want money for snacks, a meal or two away from your host family to try our local cuisine, any souvenirs you want to bring home.

Most volunteers in the Puerto Viejo area rent a bicycle while they are here to get around. This runs about $4 per day. Laundry service is readily available and on average costs between $5 and $10 per load. Some host families will do it for you for free.

We did a small survey of our past volunteers and found that they spent average for a 2-week period approximately $250 per week if they ate meals, went on some tours and bought souvenirs. Also know that some volunteers have come with as little as $75 per week in spending money and didn’t feel they missed out on anything. It’s really up to your goals, intentions and your budget.

Important to note:

  • If you have chosen to stay in a hostel, you will be responsible for buying your own lunch and dinner ($20 per day should cover that easily).
  • Transportation between projects and back to the airport is not included in your package. Depending on how you decide to travel (bus versus shuttle van), transportation between projects and to the airport will vary anywhere between $1 and $45.
  • You will be required to pay a $26 exit tax at the airport per Costa Rica law.

 

Do whole families travel with you? Kids, grandparents?

Yes. Family travel in Costa Rica has become increasingly more popular. It’s an incredible way to vacation together and to spend quality time together. We have aunts coming with nephews, grandmothers traveling with grandchildren and whole families traveling together.

What’s the youngest age children you allow on your trips? Why?

Children traveling alone are restricted to 18 years of age or 16 and 17 with parent permission. We allow children of all ages to travel with a guardian. We also encourage it.

Costa Rica is a very family-oriented country. There is no better way to get to know the country, culture, language and people than to come and live with another family for a while.

Almost all of our host families have small children themselves. So this cultural enrichment and exchange is not only good for the adults, but it is also great for the children. Some parents have been worried in the past that it would be hard for their children to adapt, but we’ve found the opposite. Their children have adapted much faster and easier than they have.

Do young(er) children get enough out of volunteer travel to make it a worthwhile family trip?

Absolutely! I recently asked a mother from California if she thought her young children got much out of their experience. She told me they commented to her upon returning home how nice it was to see how much in common they had with people from other parts of the world instead of focusing on their differences. They are now spending more time volunteering in their own community.

If I’m not a very savvy travel (read: not much travel experience outside the US) do you advise volunteer travel?

Because of my own experience, my desire to help and naivety, a few years ago I would have said yes emphatically. But I think each individual has to take into account for themselves what their own level of adventure really is. For that reason we have what I like to call “mild, medium and spicy” experiences.

I now suggest people who do not have much experience in traveling outside of their own area to start with something on the mild end. Culture shock is real. It not only affects the traveler, but also the family they are staying with, the community they are volunteering in and the organization they are working with.

So for instance, I might discourage a first-time traveler from signing up for a 2-week volunteer trip to work deep in the Talamanca Indigenous Reservation, and perhaps suggest teaching English in a small town closer to San Jose where they would be living with a more “modern” family in a type of house that would be more similar to the kind they are used to.

All that being said, I would certainly encourage volunteer travel, as it is an amazing way to learn more about one’s self and the world around them. I know for me it changed my life and made me the person I am today.

Why take a volunteer vacation with kids?

Costa Rica is a big playground for kids. Between the waterfalls, animals, other children, beaches, butterflies, etc….it’s a living classroom.

They really get another perspective of how other people live and it opens up their minds in a way that they can’t get out of a classroom or a book. It also helps prepare them to be more empathic adults and citizens.

But as far as any other issues go, I really can’t think of any. Children under the age of 12 in Costa Rica often get to stay in hotels free, travel in private shuttles for half-price, eat inexpensively, etc. So plan to stay a few extra days and we will help you plan a great excursion!

So, you can stay for a few extra days and tour the area you were volunteering in?

We are now offering “voluntours”…a way to just volunteer for a few days – or any customized number of days during your vacation instead of feeling like you have to build your entire vacation around volunteering. We are finding this option very popular. A great alternative to just sitting on the beach is considering a voluntour option. Combine any number of days of volunteering with touring around the country, and you’ll have a great chance to see the country, experience the culture and help out others at the same time.

What’s the benefit of traveling with a volunteer broker company (as opposed to doing the research yourself and booking everything on your own)?

It really depends on the country and what kind of experience you are looking for. In our case here in Costa Rica, we have spent years building relationships with organizations and communities and know from experience where help is needed and how to give help without inadvertently inflicting harm on a community (we hope).

We provide all our volunteers need in one package from the time they arrive, such as transportation, insurance, training, 24-hour support, language classes, volunteer coordinators to assist them with their projects, as well as culturally-sensitive and sustainable tours. All of this is especially helpful if you don’t speak the native language.

Do your prices include air transportation?

No. You are responsible for your own round-trip airfare. If you wish to purchase travel insurance, please see this page.

What airport should I fly into?

Please check with us before purchasing your airline tickets. San Jose International Airport (SJO) is the best airport to fly into for most of our projects. However, if you are going to be in a project in the Guanacaste Region only and will not be doing any traveling before or after throughout other parts of the country, then Liberia International Airport (LIR) might be the best choice for you.

We are currently providing transportation from the SJO airport to our projects for all of our volunteers – and transportation from the LIR airport for our Guanacaste volunteers. Should you decide to fly into Liberia International Airport (LIR) and have a project outside of the Guanacaste Region, there will be an extra charge for transportation.

Do I need a passport to enter the country?

Yes, you do need a valid passport to enter Costa Rica. US Citizens can obtain information about applying for a passport on the US Postal Service website.

Do I need a visa to enter the country?

Travelers need the following documents to enter Costa Rica:

  • A valid passport with at least one blank visa page. The expiration date of your passport must be greater than 6 months from your date of entry to Costa Rica.
  • A pre-paid airline ticket to exit Costa Rica, or proof of financial resources ($400.00US – $1,000.00 USD in cash, traveler checks, and/or ticket (either to return to your home country or to go to another country)
  • In the case of minors, if they do not have their own passport, they should be included in the passport of one of the parents.

If you are considering staying for more than 90 (ninety) days, a valid passport will be required and you must file for a stay extension at the Immigration Department of Costa Rica (or a local travel agency). Alternatively, you may exit Costa Rica and re-enter. Most tourists visit Nicaragua or Panama (Costa Rica’s neighbor countries) and remain outside of Costa Rica for 72 hours before returning.

A $20.00 U.S. dollar fine will be charged upon departure from Costa Rica if you overstay your permitted length in the country.

For more information about visa requirements, please visit the Costa Rica Visa Resource Center.

 

What kinds of shots or vaccines do I need before entering Costa Rica?

Ninety five percent of our guests receive no shots or vaccines, nor have any of our guests run into any medical problems during or just following their trip. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control do not require any vaccinations prior to leaving the United States. They do, however, offer some helpful information for travelers to consider on their website.

You might also want to review the Costa Rica Consular page on the US State Department’s website.

What should I bring?

We suggest you consider brining the following items:

  • Insect repellent with Deet
  • Shampoo (biodegradable)
  • Towel
  • Light-weight cargo pants
  • Light-weight long-sleeve shirt
  • Sturdy, open air shoes (such as Keens)
  • Light Clothes….it can be hot and humid
  • Mosquito net (optional, but nice to have)
  • Rain Coat
  • Bathing suit
  • Small Umbrella
  • Snack Bars (you will receive three meals if with a host family and breakfast if at the hostel, but these come in handy!)
  • Flashlight (non-battery if possible)
  • Toothpaste / toothbrush
  • If volunteering at a school, you’ll have to have sleeves and you must wear pants or a skirt. You might also want to bring stickers, temporary tattoos or other small gift to hand out as prizes in class.
  • Backpack
  • Sun block
  • Camera (don’t forget extra batteries and memory cards)
  • Passport (and copy of your passport)
  • Money and ATM card
  • English / Spanish Dictionary
  • Possibly gift(s) for your host family (if applicable), such as photos of your family, post cards and a map from your community, a “treat” local to your area such as maple syrup or something fun to share.
  • Any required medications in their original container
  • A few plastic bags to keep soiled/wet clothing in
  • Consider filling up any extra space with donations for the orphans or students! Ask us for more details…

If you are participating in one of our programs on the indigenous reservation, Monte Alto, Barra Honda, or Monkey Park, please consider bringing the following:

  • Hooded sweatshirt
  • Hiking Boots

Some countries require their citizens to get a Yellow Fever vaccination before returning back to their home country after visiting Costa Rica. This is not the case for the US or Canada. For more information please see this chart.

Do I need an electrical adapter?

Costa Rica’s electrical system is the same as the USA’s and Canada’s, so no adapters or transformers are needed. But, obviously, if you are traveling from outside of the USA or Canada, you’ll need to bring the appropriate adapter or transformer. Outlets here are 110 V, with standard US two-prong plugs (or three prong if grounded). Adapters are tough to find here, so try to remember to bring yours!

Will my cell phone work in Costa Rica?

If you want to use your own cell phone, you need to know the following:

  • 1. Your telephone must be a GSM phone with either Tri-Band capacity or work on the 1800Mhz frequency
  • 2. Your telephone must have the bands “unblocked”. Many carriers in the U.S. like AT&T, T-Mobile and Cingular block their bands when you the telephone is included on their plans. If your telephone is blocked it will not work in Costa Rica. You can purchase unlocked, prepaid phones that will provide service in Costa Rica.
  • 3. Most European phones are not blocked and will work well in Costa Rica if you meet the criteria in item 1 above.
We recommend that you buy a Costa Rican SIM card at the airport. You can buy it from the ICE / Kolbi stand to the right of the staircase down to the Immigration section. There is no charge for the card if you put a minimum amount on it. The price is very reasonable, such as $5 or $6 USD.

If I’m considering volunteer travel with my kids, what do I need to be aware of in terms of health issues?

I am thankful to say that out of the several hundred volunteers we have received here in our program we have never had more than a couple of scrapes and bruises, or traveler{s diarrhea. However the US State Department and the Centers for Disease Control keep current information on their websites (that we maintain links to form our website) with information about recommended precautions and shots one should consider before traveling to any country.

This information should always be carefully considered before traveling. Then each individual should decide for themselves how to proceed. We also always recommend to anyone considering visiting us that they speak with some past volunteers to get an idea of what it is really like in Costa Rica and what it is like working with us. I think this is the best way to put any major issues to rest.

Safety is our number one concern. We spend a lot of time addressing this in our orientation and we do our best to inform people about the proper do’s and don’ts while they are here.

What is the weather like? When is the best season to come?

Costa Rica has two seasons, dry and rainy. The dry seasons typically runs from late November to late April and represents the high tourist season. In many parts of the country, especially along the Caribbean coast, you can expect some kind of rain year-round (it is the rainforest after all). Most days, however, start out sunny with just a few hours of rainfall in the afternoon and evening.

Temperatures vary primarily with elevations, not with seasons. The Central Valley region feels much cooler, due to higher altitudes. Beach regions such as Puerto Viejo, where our programs are based, tend to feel much warmer and can be very humid. Average year-round temperatures are 75 degrees during the day and 65 degrees at night. Puerto Viejo historically tends to get a lot of rain in December and January for some reason.

The Guanacaste Region in the Pacific Northwest is a more dry and arid area when they are not in their rainy season. They get the most rain between September and October. Between December and April it might not rain a drop.

How do I get around?

Airport pickup is included with all packages, as well as bus transportation directly to the city of your project after one night at a hotel near the airport if needed as determined by your flight schedule (also included in the price of the package).

At almost all projects, most everything is within walking distance or a short bike or bus ride away. Once you are at your program location, you can rent a bicycle in town (Puerto Viejo) for about $4 per day using our group discount, or rent a scooter. Busses in Costa Rica are reasonably new, comfortable and fast.

We do offer alternative transportation options for those who require it, including airplane, shuttle buses, private drivers and rental cars. Contact us directly for more information.

Do I have to worry about safety issues?

Costa Rica, like any other country, has good people and bad people. Some areas where our volunteers work, such as Puerto Viejo, have their fair share of petty theft, but very low rates of dangerous crimes. It’s very rare to even find petty theft in our Central Valley and indigenous reservation areas. A certain level of common sense is needed no matter where you travel in Costa Rica, and this issue will be covered extensively in your orientation session upon arrival.

What do I need to do about money?

The unit of currency in Costa Rica is the colón (plural is colones). The current exchange rate is approximately 500 colones to the American dollar. We will drive you to an ATM machine or a hotel to withdraw or exchange your money. You will receive the best rate of exchange by withdrawing cash with your ATM card, however, major hotels will exchange money at decent rates as well.

You can bring traveler’s checks with you, but only some banks and possibly some hotels will cash them, and you will be charged a fee. Credit cards are widely accepted in Costa Rica, though Visa has a much wider acceptance than MasterCard or American Express.

Is there internet access available?

Some of the host families you may be staying with have internet access in their homes, and there are many, very inexpensive internet cafes throughout the country.

What kind of food can I expect?

For breakfast, expect wonderful, fresh fruit along with eggs and Gallo Pinto, a national dish of fried rice and black beans. Typical lunch and dinner meals include rice and beans, salads, and either fish, chicken or beef. On the Caribbean Coast you will also find delicious homemade Caribbean-style food, such as jerk chicken or curry dishes. The food will vary depending on which center or host family you are staying with.

What is there to do on my free time?

We plan most packages based on a four-day volunteer week so that participants have ample free time to enjoy themselves, play on the beach and experience all that Costa Rica has to offer. We are happy to help you arrange special activities and tours, such as:

  • Irazu Volcano National Park
  • Orosi Valley
  • Cartago Basilica
  • Bribri Waterfall
  • Bribri Indigenous Chocolate Factory
  • San Jose Walking Tour
  • La Paz Waterfall and Butterfly Garden
  • Arenal Volcano
  • Manuel Antonio National Park
  • Tapanti National Rainforest
  • Canopy (zip line) Tours
  • Kayaking
  • River Rafting
  • Snorkeling
  • Surfing
  • Bocas del Toro, Panama weekend trip
  • Tortuguero Island
  • Cahuita National Park

Are there bugs and snakes in Costa Rica?

Yes, we are located in a tropical region. There are creepy crawly things here. Though we are happy to say none of our hundreds of guests have had any problem with bugs or snakes. That’s not to say that some people haven’t been bothered by them. They are, after all, annoying! For more information about Costa Rica’s bugs and snakes, please see this article.