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Tips Every Volunteer in Costa Rica Needs To Know

Costa Rican sunset while volunteering with IVHQ

In her final update, IVHQ's Teach and Volunteer Abroad Scholarship recipient, Hannah Pitts, shares her 7 top tips and 5 must see weekend destinations as a volunteer Teacher in Costa Rica...

7 weeks has flown by, and all of a sudden my time volunteering in Costa Rica is over! It's been an incredible month and a half; I've learned so much, made lifelong friends, and had some amazing experiences along the way. There have been plenty of challenges but it has absolutely been worthwhile. Thanks IVHQ for the opportunity of a lifetime, CCELT for the training given to me in the online TEFL course, and to everyone back home who voted in the IVHQ scholarship competition all those months ago. I wouldn't be here without you!!

As I reflect on my time volunteering at Coronado and exploring Costa Rica, I can pinpoint a few major things that helped make my trip as awesome as it was. There are also a few things I would do differently as a result of what I have learned. Here are my tips for making the most of your IVHQ volunteer trip in Costa Rica, and my top five must-see weekend destinations.

Volunteer and teach abroad in Costa Rica with IVHQ

7 TIPS FOR VOLUNTEERS IN COSTA RICA

1. Do your research
Before you go, investigate. Which places do you want to visit on your weekends? To make the most of your time in Costa Rica, have an idea of your 'must-see destinations'. Use Trip Advisor, Lonely Planet or even Pinterest to scope out some adventures and locations. Your new friends will be grateful for someone with a game-plan.

2. Plan your time
If you're only able to volunteer for one week, allow an extra week at the end of your trip to go exploring. There are plenty of adventure tours you can pre-book. If you're volunteering for a few weeks, try to book your flight home for a Monday or Tuesday so you can make the most of your final weekend. I had to rush my goodbyes and head back to San Jose from Puerto Viejo alone on a Saturday night bus, in order to make it to my 6am flight on Sunday morning. It wasn't ideal!

3. Learn Some Spanish
It's a fun language to learn and use, and it doesn't need to cost anything. Use the free app 'DuoLingo' to get started. When you arrive, practise on anybody who'll listen! You can take formal Spanish lessons once you're in-country. Also, why not try meeting with a 'tandem conversation' partner; a Spanish speaking friend to chat to, who wants to learn English while you learn Spanish. 

4. Be Prepared
Complete your online training modules, use the checklists to make sure you've done everything you need to do before you leave home. Join IVHQ's Facebook page to chat with other volunteers. Also, take some form of ID other than your passport (drivers licence, etc). Hostels often require identification before they'll let you hire bikes or other equipment. I wanted to hire a bike in Puerto Viejo but they wouldn't accept a photocopy of my passport.

5. Get Connected
Make friends with the local IVHQ staff. They are there to help you with any concerns, and can assist with anything from weekend plans and restaurant recommendations to setting up an appointment with the doctor (thanks Erica!) or arranging a housemate for your homestay when you're too lonely by yourself. (Thanks James!) All you need to do is ask. Plus they're great to chat to and also very good looking!

6. Get Involved
Bring your unique personality to the table at your project. If you have fun ideas you want to try, particularly in childcare and teaching placements, go ahead! Whether it's face painting, cooking, science experiments, songs, dancing or sports coaching or a puppet show, every volunteer has something special to contribute. Make it fun! And with that in mind....

7. Fundraise! 
If you see a need at your project; whether it is school supplies, hygiene items or sports equipment, take the initiative to start a fundraising page and raise some money to have a lasting impact on the community you're volunteering in. And be creative. One group of volunteers teaching English in a very disadvantaged area of San Jose wanted to take their students to an amusement park, and using social media they managed to raise $600 in just a couple of days!

Weekend adventures as a volunteer in Costa Rica with IVHQ

MY TOP 5 MUST-SEE LOCATIONS

1. Puerto Viejo
Hire bikes to cycle along the coast, visit La Playa Negra with its black sand, get ice cream at Alice's, stay the night in a hammock at Rockin J's for just $7, and you absolutely must visit the Jaguar Rescue Centre to see heaps of animals, especially sloths. I even got to see some babies! Puerto Viejo was my favourite place in Costa Rica- I went twice.

2. La Fortuna
Chase waterfalls and dive off the rocks or use a rope swing to jump into a waterhole. The Arenal Backpackers has a swim-up bar and pool volleyball. Find tiny colourful frogs and ancient, enormous trees in the jungle. Visit the stunning Rio Celeste with its magically bright blue water (you might need to hire a car or find a local who's 'in-the-know' to get here). Find a natural hot spring and give yourself a mud mask.

3. Montezuma
A stunning little beach town with live reggae and a laid-back atmosphere. Stay at Proyecto Montezuma, with its own private beach and beautiful backyard overlooking the ocean. Swim in a nearby warm rock pool. We made s'mores with a little fire on the beach one night and a giant nesting turtle wandered onto the sand just metres away from us! There are beautiful waterfalls to visit and some crazy people jump off them. Be warned though; you have to virtually climb up a cliff at a 70• angle to get there, just holding onto tree roots and rocks. If you're afraid of heights and are likely to have a panic attack halfway up (like yours truly), it might be best to avoid!

4. Monte Verde
Hike through Santa Elena reserve, walk through forest canopy on hanging bridges, find your inner Tarzan swinging on a hanging vine, and take the cable car up into the cloud forest go zip lining- we had a surprise 'mini bungee' jump at the end of our zip lining session. Take a jacket, it gets freezing cold up higher.

5. Tamarindo
A fun, lively beach town with plenty of beautiful and diverse beaches in the surrounding areas of Guanacaste. Some with shells completely covering the sand and beautiful water to swim in. Others with shady coves to have a picnic, and trees to hang hammocks. We also found a full moon party and a bonfire right next to the beach.

Muchas gracias, Costa Rica! Eres muy bonita. Pura Vida.

To learn more about volunteering in Costa Rica, see our range of project opportunities here. Or if you're interested in learning more about the online TEFL course Hannah took to prepare for teaching in Costa Rica, visit our TEFL course page.

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