When you volunteer in Costa Rica, you’ll want to make the most of your trip by experiencing authentic culture and exploring the diverse environments this tiny country is so famous for. There are so many well-known natural attractions, landmarks and cultural hotspots to visit, however, that it’s easy to overlook the hidden hideaways that offer a rare glimpse of Costa Rica at its genuine best.

Costa Rica is a compact country, making it relatively easy to explore over your long weekends off in-between volunteering. In fact, it only takes around four hours to get from one end of the country to the other by bus, so wherever you’re based you should find plenty to keep you occupied.

To experience the unspoiled beauty of the nation away from the usual tourist traps, take a look at our top 12 picks for getting under Costa Rica’s skin and enjoy unforgettable adventures when you volunteer abroad. From secluded beaches to rare dry forest habitats, there are all kinds of secret spots to discover when you leave the well-trodden track and carve out your own path during a volunteer vacation in Costa Rica.

Mini Tabacon hot springs

Travel to central Costa Rica during your volunteer vacation and one of your first stops will probably be the nation’s best-known natural attraction: Arenal Volcano. Visiting the volcano is a must for many Costa Rica volunteers but there are also various other hidden gems within the vicinity that are far less oversubscribed. Stop by the busy beach resort of Tabacon in the Arenal region – a famously high-end hotel with its very own hot springs - but rather than paying over the odds to visit the popular springs, cross over the road from the main resort and follow a short path through the forest to reach a hidden pool heated by those very same volcanic springs.

The natural hot spring here is essentially a pool of warm water – the offshoot of a river running through the volcanic region that becomes infused with natural minerals along its route. Popular among locals, the natural pool here is largely unknown to tourists, so your only company is likely to be local residents or the odd other tourist lucky enough to know about the free to use soothing waters. The left hand side of the pool is hot while the right is cooler, as this is where fresh water runs in from the river. Remember to change into your bathing suit at your hotel before setting out as there is nowhere to change in private here and don’t bring any valuables with you.

Ostional Beach

Costa Rica is famous for its glorious golden sands and unspoiled coastline but many of the beaches are popular with visitors and can get crowded. There are numerous stretches of sand along the coast, however, that are largely free from tourists, such as Ostional Beach to the north of the Nicoya Peninsula.

This secluded spot, along with being little-visited by tourists, has another important draw – between August and November, the beach becomes a magnet for nesting olive ridley sea turtles. This species of turtle is among the world’s most abundant, yet its numbers are in decline. The western Atlantic population of olive ridley turtles is endangered and all other populations are threatened; visiting Ostional Beach at nesting time could give Costa Rica volunteers the one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get close to these beautiful creatures.

Barra Honda Caves

Barra Honda National Park, located in the western region of Costa Rica, forms part of the Tempisque Conservation Area. This national park is home to a renowned network of limestone caves, thought to be the product of rainwater filtering through the craggy rockface of Barra Honda Peak over 70 million years. The network consist of more than 40 caves but fewer than half of these have been explored to date.

Visit the caves and admire the stalagmites, stalactites and unusual artistic formations, keeping your eyes peeled for the bat colonies and exotic animals that live within the limestone caverns, including rare blind salamanders. Watch your step, though – the caves vary in depth from a few feet to 780 feet!


The town of Montezuma in the north-west of Costa Rica started out as a sleepy fishing village, growing in popularity from the 1980s onwards. Head away from the bustling town center and you’ll discover an array of secluded beauty spots dotted throughout the surrounding landscape.

Hike to Montezuma Waterfall to witness the spectacular cascade at the foot of the falls as the water crashes around you, or take the canopy tour to enjoy stunning views of the natural surroundings and get close to nature. Alternatively, spend some time at Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve, where you can follow the main trail through the park to the oft-deserted beautiful beach of Playa Balsita. Within the beach areas closer to the town center, you can try out all sorts of watersports – surfing is especially popular.


The tiny, charming village of Uvita in south-western Costa Rica is an unspoiled, uncrowded gem with authentic Costa Rican appeal. The tropical hotspot boasts a two mile-long soft, sandy beach, which is dotted with palm trees. The laidback atmosphere makes Uvita is a great place to relax and unwind on the sand, or set out exploring on a kayak tour through the mangroves and surrounding estuaries. Depending on the time of year you visit, the quiet village comes alive with color and music for the annual events Best Fest and Envision Festival.

Hike a little further afield from the village to be wowed by the beautiful waterfalls, or venture underwater on a snorkelling or scuba diving excursion to explore the world beneath the waves. Alternatively, take a pony trek along the shore or travel further afield to the Oro Verde Biological Reserve, where you can wander through the jungle and admire the native wildlife, including sloths, toucans and a variety of reptiles.

San Ramon

The large coffee town of San Ramon in central Costa Rica is a little-known gem for authentic culture and beautiful landscapes. The childhood home of one of the nation’s best-loved poets Lisimaco Chavarria and the birthplace of several presidents, San Ramon is also known for agriculture, with the fertile local soils growing coffee and fresh produce in abundance. On a Saturday morning, visit the farmer’s market to experience the sight, smells and sounds of a traditional Costa Rican market and call in at the local museum, where you’ll find a replica campesino home.

Within the mountainous region are some beautiful misty cloud forests, which you can explore on foot. Admire the lush green scenery and take in the stunning views from the treetop canopy walkways, or get your adrenalin pumping with a thrilling zip-line ride through the rainforest.

Rio Celeste

One of Costa Rica’s most spectacular rivers, the Rio Celeste runs through the Tenorio Volcano National Park in the center of the nation. Winding through the rainforest, the river joins another downstream to create a dazzling light blue colored pool, infused with the volcanic minerals sulphur and calcium carbonate – it is these nutrients that give the water its unusual color. There are hot springs and mineral-rich mud pots along the river’s course, as well as a beautiful waterfall to admire about an hour’s walk from the park’s entrance.

Within the park, there are other notable features worth seeing, including four volcanic mountains and two craters. The best-known volcano in the park is Tenorio, which stands at 2,287 feet tall. It’s possible to hike to the mountain’s summit via a forest trail and spot wildlife such as puma and tapir along the way.

Playa Samara

Located in Guanacaste, north-western Costa Rica, the beach of Playa Samara is a secluded white sandy bay surrounded by verdant forest. Popular with locals, the palm tree-studded beach isn’t so well-known among tourists, so it’s not as crowded as many of the other beaches in the region. Playa Samara is a beautiful spot for relaxing and soaking up the sun, but it’s also a haven for adventurous volunteers as a result of the sheer variety of activities on offer.

If you want to make memories that will still get you smiling in years to come, try out some of the exhilarating pastimes at Playa Samara when you volunteer abroad in Costa Rica. Hire a kayak and paddle through the mangroves, fly a gyrocopter, go sea fishing, try surfing, snorkeling or paddle boarding, or simply enjoy a leisurely swim in the warm waters. Back on dry land you can try horseback riding, join a yoga group on the beach or stroll down the single street nearby for some freshly-caught tasty snacks.

Isla del Cano

If you want to explore under water during your volunteer vacation in Costa Rica, don’t miss paying a visit to the little Isla del Cano, about 20 km away from Drake Bay on the nation’s south-western coast. The island is a biological reserve and important archaeological site – artefacts dating back to pre-Columbian times have been unearthed here, including some mysterious round stones. The island is thought to have been a pirates’ hideaway in the 17th and 18th centuries but is now best-known as a brilliant dive site – there are five underwater areas marked out for exploring around the island.

As well coral beds, divers are treated to close encounters with all sorts of marine life, including manta rays, dolphins and sea turtles. From the shore, it’s possible to spot both Humpback and Pilot whales.

San Gerardo de Dota

Wildlife lovers looking for a secluded spot in which to view some of Costa Rica’s most beautiful birds should visit the town of San Gerardo de Dota, located in the central Talamanca Mountains. The rural area around the town is the perfect place for spotting rare birds, with the mountainous forests providing shelter and safe habitats for all kinds of species, such as the famous quetzal, which can be seen throughout the year but especially in May.

Other birds to call San Gerardo de Dota home include woodpeckers, hummingbirds and emerald toucanets, so keep an eye out on as you follow the hiking trails. For the best chance at spotting these beautiful but elusive birds, guided tours are offered, led by experienced rangers who are quick to spot and point out birds to the untrained eye.

Los Heroes

For a completely out of the ordinary experience when you volunteer in Costa Rica, journey to Los Heroes – a tiny replica Swiss town located on the banks of Lake Arenal. What was previously empty agricultural lands, except for a single cowshed, has rapidly grown into a small settlement surrounded by the rugged beauty of mountains and volcanoes.

The landowner imported materials from Switzerland decades ago to build a railroad, which is still in use today. The train ride provides visitors with stunning views over the lake and Arenal Volcano as they travel up to the revolving restaurant, which is entered through an informative gallery. Within the gallery are exhibits about the area’s pre-Columbian past, as well as information about Arenal Volcano and its historic eruptions. Afterwards, head to the Children’s Eternal Rainforest nearby to explore this protected natural site, which began life as a school project to conserve the rainforest.

Pacuare River

The Pacuare River runs through Costa Rica’s lush rainforests all the way to the Caribbean, spanning about 108 km in length. Fans of watersports and wildlife alike will enjoy a visit to the winding waterway, which provides habitats for a broad range of flora and fauna. Jaguars, ocelots and monkeys all reside on the banks of the river while an abundance of birds nest in the overhanging trees.

You can hike alongside the riverside for a tranquil views, or get your pulse racing with a whitewater rafting experience, Pacuare offers some of the world's best whitewater rafting.Other activities include kayaking and river-boarding, so why not take the opportunity to try out something new.


There truly is so much to see and do when you volunteer in Costa Rica. Whether your interests lie in nature, history or culture, there are attractions – both well-known and hidden – to tempt every traveler. For an authentic experience when you volunteer abroad, try to visit some of the lesser-known attractions, which can be cheaper (or free!) and less crowded than their popular counterparts, offering a genuine glimpse into a side of your host country that you wouldn’t see as a tourist.

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