Kaya Jumbe - Tropical Dry Forest Conservation in Costa Rica
Why I decided to volunteer in Costa Rica
I travelled from Europe to Costa Rica, where I spent the next two months volunteering at a National Park with Projects Abroad. Costa Rica is a renowned biodiversity hotspot - accounting for 6% of the world’s biodiversity despite constituting only 0.03% of its landmass - and home to a wide range of biomes and land formations: tropical rainforests, volcanoes, mangroves, beaches - if you can name it, you can probably find it in Costa Rica. As a biology undergraduate student interested in conservation, the Tropical Dry Forest Conservation Project seemed like the perfect way for me to learn more about my field, as well as explore such a rich and diverse part of the world.
Arrival at the National Park
I flew into San Jose airport, where I was met by a Projects Abroad staff member who took me and another volunteer to a hotel to stay at overnight. In the morning I rode the bus to the town of Nicoya, about 15km from the park. There I was picked up by two more staff members who greeted me with the customary ‘Pura Vida’, which means pure life. Almost immediately I felt at home. Both the staff and volunteers were friendly, relaxed and extremely welcoming. We chatted over lunch and what really struck me was how much like a family the staff was, and how much they enjoyed each other’s company.
My Conservation placement
In the mornings we would hike up to the top of the mountain, where most of the projects took place. Surveying the distribution of howler monkeys, replacing sensor camera traps, and catching and releasing butterflies for use as a bio indicator species to track the health of the forest were just a few of the activities we would engage in.
In the afternoons we would work around the camp, with activities ranging from helping to maintain the nursery garden - where we grew Tempisque and Ojoche to be planted outside the park during the wet season - to doing a clean-up of the litter in the surrounding village. Once or twice a week we would go to a nearby farm where the famed scarlet macaws made their nests and helped set up the equipment to monitor the nests, as well as observe their behaviour. Talking to the staff, it was clear that volunteers really do make a difference at the park, providing the manpower that allows them to conduct such a wide range of projects. These projects are essential in their efforts to conserve the park’s biodiversity, as well as to understand more about this rare and rapidly depleting ecosystem.
Travelling around Costa Rica
Weekends were for travelling. Guanacaste Province alone has a huge range of sights to see, from the cloud forests of Monteverde to the sandy beaches of Sámara. The Projects Abroad staff were always happy to help us plan our trips, and would give us suggestions on where to go, the best hostels to stay in, and the easiest way to get there.
Travelling in Costa Rica always felt safe, the transport was cheap and reliable, and some of my best memories are of travelling with other volunteers up and down the coast. If you decide to stay for a couple of months like I did, you’ll get the opportunity to take a week off so that you have time to travel even further afield and see the country’s other beautiful coastline – the Caribbean coast.
Reflecting on my time abroad
One of the most memorable moments came during the bat project. We had been working with mist nets outside one of the park’s many caves, when one of the park’s biologists took us to the mouth of the cave, revealing what they call the ‘Batnado’. Hundreds of fruit bats were swirling around in a frenzied mass before bursting out for a nocturnal hunt. I’d never seen anything like it, and this memory will stick with me forever. I had an amazing time in Costa Rica, befriending volunteers from all over the world, learning about the culture, exploring the country; even the simpler things, like kicking back and relaxing in a hammock or looking up into the starry night sky are still engraved in my memory. If you want to make powerful, unique memories like these, I would wholeheartedly recommend volunteering at Barra Honda.