If the answer is yes to one or more of these questions, well, look no further, because we have the solution for you.
For starters, we cannot give enough praise to the La Tortuga Feliz organization, their founders, organizers and volunteers. And, everything they did for us from start to finish. This post is mostly to raise awareness and promote their organization and their conservation efforts, and if you’d like to read more on our experience, head to Turtles and Us.
About 10 months ago, we began discussing the types of volunteer experiences we wanted to pair up with on our honeymoon. We opened our “honeypot registry” (a New Zealand website that allows couples to select different items or experiences they would like monetary donations for).
We weren’t able to take physical gifts on our journey, and we didn’t want people to feel like they were just giving us cash, so we selected organizations or volunteer experiences we wanted to reach and help out with, and asked our friends and family to support us in those ventures.
If you’ve ever looked into “ecotourism” and volunteering around the globe, you’ll have found that at least with organizations with a stong online presence, it does not come cheap. Some places were upwards of $500USD per person per week, with a 4 week minimum stay!?! Some only included breakfast, and you were on your own for lunch and dinner, and some had very high expectations and low ratings from past volunteers.
It became a bit of a downer as we searched for the perfect places, being that we wanted to donate our time and didn’t have a whole lot of money to spend on it! Then we came across La Tortuga Feliz .
To be completely honest with you, all we read on the website was:
LA TORTUGA FELiZ – Affordable turtle conservation program in Costa Rica run by volunteers for volunteers.
These local inhabitants guard/patrol the beach (Caribbean coast of Costa Rica) together with volunteers, collect the turtle eggs and bring these eggs to a hatchery which is manned by volunteers on a 24 hours basis. Volunteers also participate in the care for and study of recuperating adult turtles in the turtle rescue and rehabilitation centre.
By helping to generate an income for the locals, we hope to take away the necessity for them to poach the turtles and their eggs.
The partnership between the locals and the volunteers helps create an ideal environment for the turtles to lay their eggs.
And we noticed that there was a 1 week minimum, so we were sold. We truly had no idea what we were getting into but were just excited to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. Our goals for our turtle conservation were not to meet a turtle, but it were to actually help with conservation efforts in any way we could. This seemed like the perfect place, so we booked.
A few months later we received an email that the Turtle Saving Hostel had opened and we had the opportunity to stay there prior to our stay at La Tortuga Feliz. They would help us get acquainted with San Jose and help us safely get to Batan, a town approximately 2 hours from San Jose, where the taxi would take us to the riverboat, which would then take us to La Tortuga Feliz. It was a no brainer. Anything to make the experience easier and more streamlined, sign us up!
We arrived before the sign was even put up on the outside, that’s how beautifully new this place is. Ivan greeted us and showed us around, security procedures and all, and it made us feel safe and secure in a crazy city. Then we met Robert. The hostel was (and the operations at La Tortuga Feliz were) his brainchild and it was incredible to hear his stories, his visions and how they came to fruition. “If you put it out there, it will happen.”
Robert asked us what we were hoping to get out of our volunteer experience, to which we both replied: we care mostly about the conservation side of things, so if we do not see a turtle, it’s ok, as long as we make a difference. We were definitely rewarded for our positive attitude and low expectations – we were hands on with a number of turtles!
They have private rooms and dorm rooms at the hostel, complete with a beautiful pancake and fresh fruit breakfast. We stayed 2 nights, and then were off to our jungle adventure. Robert assisted us in getting a taxi to the bus station and told us exactly what to do from there. It made the whole experience seem reasonable and easy.
Upon arrival back to the hostel after our stay in the jungle, we had Robert provide laundry service for a small cost, and many wonderful suggestions of places to visit in the area. We also had the absolute humbling pleasure of meeting Hank, one of the founding members of La Tortuga Feliz. We were so blessed to be surrounded by so many incredible human beings.
We took a taxi for about 30 minutes to a little riverbank and hopped in a boat with our trusty captain David, and drove under howler monkeys and amongst caiman crocodiles. Then all of a sudden, we were at our new home.
We were welcomed into open arms by the lead volunteer Jess (house Mama of sorts) and her 2 minions Bas and Bram, and all of the other volunteers. With no electricity or cell service, it’s pretty easy to get to know a person.
We were instantly known as the “honeymooners,” and shown to our honeymoon suite, an 8 bunk bed dorm complete with a cute little family of bats.
If you’re worried and thinking, this might not be for you, let me remind you that the bats want nothing to do with humans other than to eat all of the bugs that bite us. AND we were lucky enough to be in the same crew as a 50 year old woman from the UK that had literally never been backpacking or on an OE before, she loved her 5 star resorts, and somehow her best friend convinced her to join her on this experience…and she bloody loved every second of it.
The kitchen served us up INCREDIBLE food (vegetarian, but you didn’t even miss meat with how good the meals were – and all without refrigeration). We each took turns doing the dishes. The showers were cold water, but that was welcoming as it was so flipping hot, mostly in the evenings when the sun had gone down, which doesn’t seem to make sense but it’s true!
We were lucky to have been accepted as volunteers as this was the first week of our honeymoon, and the last week of the year that La Tortuga Feliz operates. Generally the turtles stop laying in August, and they begin again in April.
At La Tortuga Feliz, there are 2 types of volunteer jobs. Patrolling the beaches and monitoring the hatchery.
We were patrolling the beaches for turtles, to hopefully stumble across one coming up from the ocean to lay her eggs. Then we’d quietly watch her and take the eggs to the hatchery, make our own nest and let them mature and grow there.
The biggest threat to the turtles was the poaching (and tuna fish nets). Each turtle lays approximately 140 eggs, sold at $1USD/piece. Some of the locals are only making $8-10 per day.
La Tortuga Feliz has done an incredible job of keeping the peace with locals, with creating a small economy on the island, and hiring locals to assist in the patrol of the beaches, to help them generate income in an ethical way. They also helped us to understand that the poachers are not bad people, they are people trying to survive. So by giving them alternate means of raising an income, they do not have to resort to illegal activities.
We were so lucky to have seen 2 turtles laying, got to dig 1 nest for a green turtle’s eggs, and assisted with 2 nests hatching, and about 5 releases of baby turtles into the ocean.
The thing we loved the most about this experience was that we were out in nature, making a difference, but were able to do this for a reasonable amount of time. 1 week was great, 2 – 4 weeks would be recommended but having the option available is what makes La Tortuga Feliz stand out. They truly want to get the conservation word out there, and want their organization to reach as many people as possible.
If any of this interests you, please feel free to contact us and we would be happy to answer any questions you may have.
If you love the cause but are still not sure if you can make it happen for yourselves, you can donate here.