Costa Rica with IVHQ!

This past summer me (16) and my older sister (20) experienced our first trip abroad on our own on a sea turtle conservation project with! Before embarking on this incredible journey, as a family we had a few concerns. I wanted this post to be as helpful to the millions of people who had similar concerns and didn’t know where to go to have their questions answered. I will be covering these points below:

  • Why you chose to volunteer abroad?
  • What you gained from the experience?
  • Your top tips?
  • Your favourite experience/part of the trip?
  • What impact you had on the community and what they had on you?
  • Safety traveling as two teenage girls?
  • Sim Card?
  • Language Barriers?
  • Clothing?
  • Ask any additional questions in the comment section below!

Why you chose to volunteer abroad

A few months before our trip, we stumbled upon the website after hearing about it from family who thought this would be right up our alley. My sister and I are lucky enough to have a family that did not spare a moment in showing us around the world and got us in the car or on a plane across the world as early as eight months after we were born. So it was safe to say that traveling was something we both had a very strong passion for. While looking at the website we saw the Sea Turtle Conservation Volunteer Project. The project spoke to us since we both have a very soft spot for animals, especially sea turtles. We had heard so much about ocean pollution and wanted to help in any way we could to stop them from going extinct since they were so close to disappearing. Volunteering abroad was something completely new to us, and being able to do it in Costa Rica, the closest thing to paradise on earth seemed like a win-win for us. We had concerns about the price since the whole project seemed too good to be true and we are a budget-friendly family, but for the experience, the trip was well worth it and honestly affordable! Putting all of those factors together, the trip was something we knew we couldn’t pass up! 

What you gained from the experience

Traveling itself holds so many learning opportunities, but this trip specifically opened up our minds to brand new learning experiences.


Even though my sister and I were both together, this trip demanded plenty of independence from both. We had to make sure we were treating our electronics, passports, money, and luggage safely, and were carrying ourselves well. Costa Rica was safe, but wherever you go it is best to err on the side of caution, especially since it was our first time in a foreign country without our parents. Additionally, once we were in Parismina, which was where our location was, we were fully responsible for showing up to beach clean-ups and patrols by ourselves. Coming back from the trip we both felt we had a new sense of independence and responsibility and felt much more comfortable traveling solo.

Social Skills

From landing in the San Jose airport and finding the IVHQ representative, to meeting and talking with your host moms and other volunteers, to speaking to city/town folk, this trip demands plenty of social skills. Before the trip, I was very to myself, and not ht most social person in the world. This trip helped me get out of my comfort zone and I ended up making a great group of friends who I am still in touch with to this day! I would recommend going on this trip whether or not you are a very outgoing person since it can be a great chance to exercise those skills and strengthen them!

Appreciation for and connection with nature

In this program, we were constantly surrounded by nature the second we stepped out of our homes. Every day we would swim, walk at least 2 miles, and spend hours on the beautiful beach or on the streets which were full of chickens, cats, and dogs roaming free! Our group did an extra boat trip one weekend with one of Parismina’s guides to Tortuguero National Park where we hiked and saw different types of monkeys, sloths, iguanas, and crocodiles! There’s not one second where you aren’t fully immersed in nature on this trip, and it gives you a brand new love for the beautiful earth and everything that comes with it. After going home, we realized we had a new appreciation for where we lived and felt so blessed to have the life we had. The experience is truly life-changing and alters your perception of all of the things you once took for granted!

Your Top Tips

The IVHQ checklist and Maximo Nivel head quarters in San Jose do a great job of providing you with the correct information and steps of preparation for the trip, so my additional advice is limited. My first tip is to pack light. You will have to be lugging suitcases or huge backpacks around a lot and they can be very inconvenient. I would limit it to one carry-on-size suitcase per person, or even a single backpack, theres no issues with anything on wheels. Additionally, I would say to stay organized and make sure you have all of your correct travel documents with you, safely, at all times and to ALWAYS keep a copy of your passport on your phone in a photo just in case. Lastly, if you have any questions or concerns reach out to trusted sources and guides to help you out, and if it makes you feel more comfortable call the IVHQ headquarters phone, which should be on their website, with any questions you have (we did this!). They are extremely helpful and cleared up all of the concerns we had! And lastly, if you have any questions comment or reach out to me and I will get back as soon as possible!

Your favourite experience/part of the trip

The entire trip was full of incredible moments! If I had to bring it down to a few I would say one of the most bittersweet parts of my trip was saying goodbye to my friends and host family and being in tears that night! it was so amazing to know how I made incredible friends from all over the world and the amazing bonds we had created. Additionally, we had a wonderful boat trip to Tortuguero National Park where we had a private boat experience and hike surrounded by a bunch of animals and sights I had never seen before. Lastly, staying in Parismina specifically was the best part of the trip. I was so lucky to be placed there since the small village is so comforting and beautiful. It is such a tight-knit community and everyone there makes the volunteers feel very welcome and safe. Along with that, the beautiful beaches, animals, and livelihood make the village a place you never want to to leave!

What impact you had on the community and what they had on you?

Doing this program felt great since we were able to clean up the beaches and help take care of and maintain the village’s beauty. Additionally, meeting with and getting to know the townspeople who had such different upbringings and lives than us was such an eye-opening experience. It showed us how people all over the world live their lives and are brought up. The small community is so different from where we live and there were no words that could sufficiently sum up the experience. The people were so welcoming and kind and our host mother treated us one of her own showing us love and care and prioritizing our comfort at all times during our stay!

Safety traveling as two teenage girls?

One of the biggest concerns we had going into this trip was safety. We knew that Costa Rica was relatively a safe country but there was always a concern with two young women on their own. We are very comfortable with travel but there are still certain things to think about. Throughout our experience, there were only a few times we were alone or had to be alone after leaving the airport. The first few days when we were in the Maximo Nivel headquarters, the free time we had was our time to use. Using common sense, the San Jose city was not an issue at all, and me and my sister were comfortably able to go out to restaurants for meals, and go to the mall to shop and get our SIM cards. Additionally, when traveling from San Jose to Parismina there was a chance we could’ve been alone, but luckily enough we had our big group of five volunteers with us. The transportation was pretty safe and not at any time did I feel afraid or vulnerable on the busses. We Ubered one time while in San Jose, and to be cautious we went with two of our other volunteer friends who were men, but plenty of girls were fully comfortable with ubering all by themselves. While in Parismina, it was fully safe to walk around during the day, the only issue would be at night. Walking to and from the parolsight, a guide or your host mother would accompany you. During the patrols, there were a few instances where there were drunk poachers on the beach, but you are with guides who were fully familiar with those situations were with you the whole time, so there was no concern with that. During the night in the village, I would recommend staying with somebody else at all times, since there were some drunk adults but if you are with someone there are issues at all. Overall, safety was not an issue on our trip at all, but if you are still worried my biggest piece of advice is to use common sense. Stay away from homeless people, don’t open flashy jewelry or expensive things that could attract thieves and pickpockets outside of the privacy of your homestays, and dress somewhat conservatively on the busses. Other than simple things like that, you should be perfectly fine. And always remember the way you present yourself is how others will perceive you! Confidence is key!

Sim Card?

For the Sea Turtle Conservation program, the Kolbi SIM card is the only card that works in all four locations. If you are going to buy a SIM card when you go, choose the Kolbi Card and we recommend the 5-gigabyte card for two weeks. That one was just enough for each of us, but we were mindful of our usage. In Parismina there was a spot to recharge the SIM cards, but I wouldn’t bet on that.

Language Barriers?

In our group, we had one fluent Spanish speaker, and it’s safe to say that without her the transportation and communication with locals would have been a nightmare. My older sister knew enough to which she could communicate with our host mom, but I very highly suggest taking Spanish lessons or knowing enough to communicate with people. In Parismina itself, the locals were pretty used to volunteers, but the language barrier was still there. If you don’t know any Spanish, don’t worry, since I knew little to none and I was fine. But I also got extremely lucky with my group so make sure you prioritize brushing up on the language.


Going into the trip one of our biggest concerns was how to pack appropriately. We weren’t sure whether we should go more on the conservative side, and we didn’t even know if it was okay for us to pack two-piece swimsuits! While in Parismina, we dressed exactly like we would in the States, for example, it was fully normal to wear shorts, tank tops, bikinis, etc. But for the different parts of the trip and certain events, we recommend a variety of clothes:

  1. Thin full length pajamas (mosquitos are insane in the nights)
  2. 2-3 Bathing suits (we swam almost every morning!!)
  3. Shorts (athletic and denim are both fine, but definitely pack athletic shorts, waterproof are even better)
  4. Tank tops
  5. Full length clothes for the bus rides and San Jose (better to be more cautious there)
  6. Linen pants
  7. Leggings
  8. Dark clothing
  9. Long skirts
  10. Cover ups for the beach

Again, these are just our recommendations, but based off of everyone around us and the other volunteers these items were the most convenient and comfortable!


Lastly if you guys have any other questions, please ask! I have my facebook linked above. Please feel free to reach out with any questions! I hope this guide was very helpful, and I can’t wait to hear from you all!

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