Best Save-the-Earth Trips
Leatherback sea turtle conservation, Costa Rica
Where you go: Between late March and early July, to the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast (for the rest of the year the program switches to the country’s Pacific Coast, where the turtles nest during that time). Gandoca’s long stretches of beach, where the volcanic black sand abuts lush rainforest (and howler monkeys jeer from the trees) are where critically endangered leatherback sea turtles come to lay their eggs every year.
What you do: During the early months of the nesting season, volunteers (who can stay for as little as a week) patrol the beaches in nighttime shifts to monitor nesting leatherbacks—measuring and tagging the enormous turtles, which can weigh more than 500 pounds, and collecting their eggs for relocation to a protected hatchery. Volunteers during the later months get the payoff: helping to release turtle hatchlings into the sea.
Roughing-it rating: Medium-to-high. Program volunteers stay in locals’ homes in the tiny (pop. 175) community of Gandoca, where showers are cold, electricity is temperamental, and phone calls can only be made at the single pay phone on the town’s unpaved main street. On the plus side: the home-cooked meals are delicious and accompanied by lots of local fresh fruit (you can also hit the village’s single restaurant for a burger or the open-air bar for a beer).
Cost: Starting at $788 for one week; $300 for each week thereafter.