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Volunteering with my sister on the IVHQ Costa Rica Program


Volunteering with my sister on the IVHQ Costa Rica Program

Over the summer my older sister (age 20) and I (age 16), experienced our first trip abroad on our own on the IVHQ Turtle Conservation Project in Costa Rica! Before embarking on this incredible journey, naturally we had a few questions. Why did we choose to volunteer abroad? Is it safe for two teenage girls to travel on their own? Is the experience truly worth it?

Don’t worry, I’ve got these answers for you!

Rithanyaa and volunteers at turtle conservation project in Costa Rica with IVHQ.

Why we chose to volunteer abroad

Well, it all started with a recommendation from another adventurous family who believed we’d be a perfect fit for the experience. Growing up, my sister and I were fortunate to have parents who instilled in us a love for exploration. Whether it was a road trip or a flight to a distant land, we were always on the move from as early as eight months old.

Enter International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ) - the gateway to a world of volunteering opportunities. As we browsed the website, a particular project caught our attention: the Turtle Conservation Volunteer Project. Given our shared passion for animals, especially majestic sea turtles, it was an instant interest for us both. With concerns about the imminent threat of extinction due to ocean pollution, we felt compelled to take action.

The prospect of volunteering abroad was a novel idea for us, and when we discovered that we could do it in the breathtaking Costa Rica – a slice of paradise on earth – it felt like it was meant to be! The allure of the experience, combined with the surprisingly affordable nature of the trip, made the decision a no-brainer.

Rithanyaa and her teen sister exploring and making friends in Costa Rica during their volunteer trip with IVHQ.

Favorite experiences on our IVHQ trip

The entire trip was full of incredible moments - how can you pick just one! To start with, the friendships formed in a short time was such a unique and lasting experience. It was so amazing to know that I had made incredible friends from all over the world.

We also did a wonderful boat trip to Tortuguero National Park where we had a private boat experience and hike, which included so many animals and sights I had never seen before.

Staying in Parismina, one of the locations where the Turtle Conservation project is based, was one of the best parts 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 leave!

Rithanyaa and her teen sister with the local community at the Turtle Conservation volunteer program in Costa Rica with IVHQ.

How the local community impacted me

Participating in this program left a lasting impact on me, as we actively contributed to cleaning up the beaches and preserving the beauty of the village and its local environment. Beyond the environmental efforts, connecting with the local townspeople was genuinely eye-opening.

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 like one of her own, showing us love and care and prioritizing our comfort at all times during our stay!

Rithanyaa and her teen sister in Costa Rica with IVHQ being and feeling safe.

We felt completely safe traveling as two young women

Ensuring our safety was a top concern as we set off on this journey. While Costa Rica is generally safe, the idea of two young women traveling alone sparked understandable reservations. Fortunately, our experience was safe and secure.

During our initial days at the local team headquarters, we had free time to explore San Jose without any issues. Traveling from San Jose to Parismina, we traveled in a supportive group, making us feel secure and safe on the bus ride.

Ubering in San Jose, though done cautiously with two male friends, felt safe. In Parismina, daytime strolls were secure, and night patrols were always accompanied by guides or our host mother.

Overall, safety was a non-issue. For those still apprehensive, my advice centers on common sense – avoid risky situations, be discreet with valuables, and maintain a modest appearance on public transportation. By following these guidelines, you should experience a worry-free journey. Remember, confidence is your greatest ally – how you present yourself shapes how others perceive you!

Rithanyaa's and her teen sister making friends, learning and growing through this volunteer experience in Costa Rica with IVHQ.

Key takeaways from our volunteer experience

Traveling itself holds so many learning opportunities, but this trip specifically opened up our minds to brand new learning experiences. It’s probably easier expressed in the variety of skills we were able to learn or expand on:


Even though my sister and I were both together, this trip demanded plenty of independence from us both. We had to make sure we were treating our electronics, passports, money, and luggage safely, and were carrying ourselves well.

Additionally, once we were in Parismina, 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 probably not the 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, from the moment we stepped out of our accommodation. 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!

We also ventured 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 live the life we have. The experience is truly life-changing and alters your perception of all of the things you once took for granted!

Rithanyaa's tips for others who wants to volunteer in Costa Rica.

My Top Tips

The IVHQ checklist and local team 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, there’s 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, the local team and your IVHQ Program Manager are there to support you 24/7. They are extremely helpful and cleared up any of the concerns we had!

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.


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 difficult. My older sister knew enough to communicate with our host mom, but I highly recommend taking Spanish lessons or learning some 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 acceptable to wear shorts, tank tops, bikinis, etc. But for the different parts of the trip and certain events, we recommend a variety of clothes:

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

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

You can read Rithanyaa’s full blog post here.

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