Costa Rica’s Best Rainforest Conservation Programs for Families

Costa Rica’s rainforest canopy, filled with the melodic tweets of hundreds of creatures, covers nearly half of the country with a rich layer of oxygen-producing vegetation. Not only do rainforests slow climate change, they also produce the plants that treat malaria, heart disease, and leukemia, as well as providing a large range of ecosystems for biodiversity.

Thanks to Costa Rica’s large eco-friendly tourist sector, families have the opportunity to participate in rainforest wellness programs that create awareness, aid research, and rescue wildlife within the rainforest, all while giving participants an authentic place to commune with nature.

Whether you plan to stay for just a day or two, or you’ve blocked off a few weeks or months, there are lots of programs to choose from. See what meets your family’s needs and set off on your eco-adventure!

When and Where

It’s always a good season to save the rainforest, and there are plenty of places within Costa Rica to offer your efforts.

Kids Saving the Rainforest, working on the Central Pacific coast in Manuel Antonio, has animal-centered programs for families with kids as young as eight. Their single-day programs on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, are a perfect way to volunteer on a short trip to Costa Rica. Longer opportunities, starting with a two-week commitment, are restricted to 18-and-up and include lodging near the town of Quepos.

In the Tirimbina Rainforest, kids and families can go on eco-tourism walks that explore the frogs, birds, bats, and coffee farms inside the Tirimbina Biological Reserve. Workshops and classes on conservation are available to anyone interested in ecology or conservation; research volunteer opportunities require a 15-day minimum commitment.

Want an individualized opportunity to fit your family’s schedule and strengths? Contact Children’s Eternal Rainforest, which works inland around Arenal National Park, between Monteverde and San Miguel. Volunteer projects range from reforesting to research, and are designed in collaboration with the organization. You can choose a homestay or on-site field accommodation for any length of time.

At the Carara Rainforest Reserve, families can spend a week as a Global Aware volunteer in a rainforest village. All volunteers participate in service projects for the local population, which can vary from planting trees to literally building bridges. Although you’ll be in the middle of the rainforest, the project’s unique focus on native peoples makes it a great way for your family to immerse themselves in Costa Rican life while combining humanitarian and ecological service goals.

What’s Involved

Depending on your program, you might be helping researchers collect data on rainforest species (at Trimibina), help monitor, observe, and care for baby sloths (Kids Saving the Rainforest), planting forests along watersheds (Children’s Eternal Rainforest), or helping grow a community organic garden (Global Aware). But that’s only a small fraction of the animal, plant, and water conservation projects that these programs generate.

While there’s a lot of variety to choose from, some of these programs place volunteers exactly where they’re needed on the day you arrive. Call ahead to make special requests or to ensure that the project you want to be involved with will be happening while you are there. You should also communicate with the volunteer coordinator to make sure your desired program will be suitable for your kids’ age.

Because the rainforest takes up so much of Costa Rica’s land mass, each program will have its own on-site accommodations, usually included in the cost of the trip, or a list of nearby hotels or homestays available to participants at their own cost.

Plan to spend at least one night near the project site, even if you’re just volunteering for one day. All the hours of travel on small roads and in remote villages will be more worth it if you don’t have to repeat the same arduous travel path in one day.

On Your Day Off

Try your hand at spotting some of the forest’s wildlife. Birdwatching is just one area: Jaguars, Titi monkeys, sloths, and a host of other cute and furry creatures can be seen in their natural habitats here too. This is the real-life zoo!

If you have chosen a longer-term project, spend your days off getting to know the local community. Staying with locals at a homestay is a great way to break the ice. Ask for directions and recommendations, and don’t forget to ask questions about the hosts themselves!

In local villages, ask to see sugar cane processing, coffee harvesting, or other local trades. Giving your kids a picture of how the things they use every day are made is part of the priceless experience of travel.

Most project sites offer Spanish language classes, which might be valuable if you’re planning on spending a month or more in the country. Your kids might pick up the basics pretty quickly too.

Need to get out of the forest? Go for a horseback ride – or a swim – on the beach, do some snorkeling, or just relax in your hammock and listen to the trees. If this is work, you just might never take a break.

Ever participated in a conservation program while on vacation? Share your travel adventures with us!

Tags : travel   voluntourism   costa rica   

Kids Saving the Rainforest
Hello. I am the Volunteer Coordinator for Kids Saving the Rainforest. We sincerely appreciate you including our organization in this post! We love having families come from all over the world to learn about our work rescuing and rehabilitating Costa Rican wildlife. One of our main missions is to educate the public on respectful and ethical tourism when it comes to wildlife. I would like everyone to know that it is extremely illegal to touch, hold, or possess wildlife in Costa Rica, and any tour or group permitting you to do so is breaking the law, and does not have the best interest of the animals in mind. While we do accept volunteers (and love families!), our volunteers help prepare food for animals or perform enrichment to help make the animal's lives better, but they will not be handling them. Also, while we do have orphan baby sloths (and other animals) in our wildlife nursery, they are not seen by the public and our volunteers do not help care for them. This is very important for their survival, and eventual release back into the wild. All proceeds from the tour and volunteering do go to support this work however, and your visit to our sanctuary will help many animals on their journey to be wild and free again. Thanks again for including us, and we encourage all families visiting Costa Rica to support tours and activities that respect wildlife and promote a sustainable message.