La Tortuga Feliz is a non-profit on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast that works in collaboration with Latin American Sea Turtles (LAST) in Pacuare. In Summer 2015, I spent one week there leading a camp of aspiring marine biologists (all from the USA, all in high school) and volunteering with LAST. It was one of the best experiences I have had in the three years I ran that program.
La Tortuga Feliz is located almost adjacent to the LAST headquarters in Pacuare. LTF itself is a dorm-style facility with no warm water and no electricity (you are in the jungle in a developing nation!). It is run by Robert and the volunteers who are staying at LTF; Robert and the long-term volunteers do all of the cooking and guests are asked to help with cleaning up the dishes, kitchen, and keeping the dorms clean. Linens and pillows are provided and there is a spigot and washing powder available to do laundry. All the food is vegetarian and delicious – the servings are HUGE (thanks to 4 hours of night walks every night) and everything is delicious. Robert rotates meals, but a lot of the meals feature the same staples.
All volunteers (long-term or short term) are assigned to help out at LAST. While we were there, we helped with building the hatchery, relocating eggs, releasing hatchlings, supervising the hatchery, and participated in night walks. The shifts for hatchery duty and night walks are about 4 hours long and when it’s dark out, it is DARK!
The first two years that I participated as a leader of this marine biology camp, I did not see any leatherback sea turtles (called baulas in Spanish) and I was dying for some baby leatherbacks. I had mentioned this to the campers when we arrived and after we got orientated to LTF, we were sent down to LAST because they were going to release some baby leatherbacks! I was beside myself with excitement and even got to hold one!
The rest of the week was split up between hatchery construction, hatchery duty, and night walks. It was rainy season while we were there and we quickly learned that rain coats are of no use against constant torrential downpour. While I never saw any turtles on my night walks, three of my campers did and we all got our fair share of tortuguitas (baby turtles). The experience with LAST and LTF was one to remember and I would go back there to volunteer on my own in the future.
If you are interested in volunteering at La Tortuga Feliz, head to their website and check out their volunteer placements. They’re a great place for backpackers looking to volunteer and get some sea turtle experience!